by P. Ivan Young
In the White Castle
On Sunrise, I caught him,
Bun top in one hand,
Dragging his other thumb
Across a napkin. He gave
Me a sheepish grin.
“I don’t like onions much,” he said.
“You can get them without,” I answered.
“I know, but then all that cutting
for nothing. All that shedding of tears.”
The salesman cupped his heel,
slid the loosely laced Merrill
on his foot. They both stood
and looked in the mirror. Jesus seemed unsure.
“Do you have anything in Goretex?
I do a lot of walking.” The salesman
Disappeared into the cavernous stockroom,
Returned with boxes, a bowl, a cup.
“Try these,” he said, slipping a pair
on Jesus’s feet. He held the foot
over the bowl, poured water over it.
“100% water proof, my friend.”
Jesus was impressed. He paid cash
And wore them out into the hot Phoenix sun.
When Jesus asked her to dance,
he didn’t know the DJ prepared to segue
into a slow song. Still, he pulled her close.
Her hair smelled like lilac and her eyes
Were the color of almonds. He could feel her
Breath when she whispered in his ear,
“You got a date tonight, Hon?”
“No.” Jesus smiled and slipped his hand
further down the small of her back.
We sat on a bench, the broken loaf
between us. Jesus flicked his foot
to scatter the pigeons. “Titanic?”
he said. “Yeah, loved that one. That
Julia Roberts is something.” I wanted
To correct him, but he seemed so happy
To have thought of it in that way.
Sometimes when you’ve been drinking
you get bold. So I asked, “What is it
with all these miracles?” He took a coin
from his pocket, wrapped it in a napkin,
and lit it with a match. The coin vanished
in the smoke. “Learned that one from David Blaine.”
Before we left, he laid a dollar on the bar,
Ran his hand over the bowl of pretzels,
Leaving a perfect likeness of the Virgin Mary.
He winked, “Something to keep them busy.”
In Periodicals, he thumbed through
copies of Cooking Light. He dog-eared
a recipe for dark Russian bread, another
for Arctic char. When the woman at the desk
was called away, he neatly tore each
from the cover and folded it away. I wondered
if anyone ever thought him so beautiful.
You could see it coming, the way
she flew full speed down the drive,
the scooter was bound to bottom out.
Jesus helped her up, knelt before her,
lifted the leg and kissed the skinned knee.
Even though it still stung, she managed a thank you.
I was the only one who saw her mother
frowning from the window.
"The one with the bourbon and the nuts,"
he said, handing her the dessert menu.
The waitress brought us two forks
and he sat, head bowed, slowly chewing
each bite. When he reached again, I said,
"Hey, that's more than half." "But it's so good,"
he said. "Let's get another."
At the newsstand, he held up Time,
"So who do you think will be man of the year?"
he asked the vendor. "Or woman," I suggested.
Jesus shrugged and kept chatting. I could see
a bit of lettuce in his teeth, and pointed to my mouth.
He thought I meant for him to smile. I pointed
again; he only smiled bigger. "Jesus," I said
sometimes I don't think you understand me."
In the parking lot outside Union Station,
Jesus stopped to pee between the parked cars.
"Check this out," he said, reading from a bumper sticker:
"If God wanted us to filter beer, he wouldn't have
given us livers." He laughed. "I got to get one of those."
"You got to get a bigger bladder," I said. "Look,
I will smite your ass." He pointed an unsteady finger.
I pointed back, our fingers almost touching.
He grinned. "Let's find another pub."
I can't tell you if he was serious,
but he said he loved Bourbon Street.
And at some point, after crawfish
and beignets, Jesus got hold of a foam finger.
"Go Saints," he shouted over the zydeco.
I turned to the man next to me. "Thirty
dollars says the Steelers take it."
I was sure later I would regret it,
but someone had to pay the tab.
I'll never forget how quiet he went
at Luray, how in the Giant's Hall, he craned his neck
to see the highest stalactites. "Alright?"
I asked. "Yea," he said, "just don't understand
why anyone would want to leave such beauty."
On that last day in Aspen, we spent morning
skating across a frozen pond. The afternoon
skiing. Late in the day we stood by the lift.
"One more time?" he asked. "I've had enough,"
I said. He nodded and slipped into the seat
where I watched him rise until he was a silhouette,
skis crossed against the distant sun.
P. Ivan Young is author of Smell of Salt, Ghost of Rain (Brick House Books 2015) and the chapbook, A Shape in the Waves (Stepping Stones Press 2008). He received an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council (2011), and is the 2013 winner of the Norton Girault Literary Prize. His most recent publications are in the anthology A Sense of the Midlands (Muddy Ford Press) and in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Apple Valley Review, Blood Lotus, The Delaware Review, and Crab Orchard Review. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with his wife and two children.