Jesus lay between my breasts on my 18ct cross. My future husband fell in love with Jesus before he fell in love with me, but I married him, anyway.
I always wanted to marry a man like my father. Someone who would protect me when screen doors unhinged from their wooden frame and flew across our farm. A man who ran toward flames in January and February and returned home with singed hair and face covered in soot. A man who sat still, silent, letting my voice take center stage when I needed to be heard.
When I met the man who found my dangling necklace very interesting, I observed his features. Moistureless hands, shirtless arms revealing bulging veins—my narrow shoulders could welcome those arms, I thought, and a mouth that uttered few sounds letting me speak, my monologue eclipsing rock lyrics in the background. We finished our beer. I followed his eyes as his head tipped back, trying desperately to keep his focus on Jesus. I grabbed my 18ct necklace, twirling it around my finger, suffocating the cross as if I trapped it in an eyewall. It never happened when dad was around.
For my communion, I received a glow-in-the-dark cross. It was the colour of whey juice. The cross was supposed to remind me Jesus was always with me and I was with him and God and Jesus were one, but I never understood how that could be. My father never understood that either. We had much in common.
When I showed my new husband objects from my childhood, the glow-in-the-dark cross lay in between a metal spinning top and a Walkman decorated with stickers. He curled his lip. Compared to the cross that dangled in between my breasts, we were unanimous in which cross was more beautiful—the only issue we ever agreed upon.
My dad used to take me to watch football. We had to drive through a railroad crossing. I would stretch the seat belt and stick my head between the driver and passenger seat, looking straight ahead. I didn’t care whether the train came from the left or right. I wanted to be surprised. There was always a chorus of scents in his car. Nicotine and mint blending harmoniously with the hypnotic, on-off effect of two premonitory red eyes. My father enhanced this symphony with a tune he hummed quietly—suddenly broken by the roaring engine of a train.
When my husband got behind the wheel, his breath didn’t smell like mint. I felt as if I were in a wooden cask, surrounded by stalks of wheat. Evaporation. Condensation. Distillation. Metamorphosis of brown. Hot and cold temperatures in a collision course.
When I was bad, I imagined my father walking up a winding staircase with comfortable tread width, rising slowly, thinking what punishment he could deliver on the top step. Once he was midway, I knew what was coming.
When I was with my husband, he was like a high-speed elevator. From a gentle caress at ground floor to the suffocation of vowels and consonants at the top level. No red button for emergencies. Windows were wet, but my finger couldn’t reach the window. My finger couldn’t draw “Help” on his 1980s clapped-out sedan, which left black deposits on our concrete—reminiscent of those on my arm. Once my arm was liberated, vowels and consonants could only form a scrambled mess: P H L E. Makeup application was his specialty—black and blue, his favourite tones. He wanted to spice up our sex life, so he suggested a fuck in the backseat followed by a heart stopping game of tie one’s wife on the railroad tracks when the moon was visible but helpless.
I didn’t want two crosses on my chest, so I put my 18ct gold necklace and Jesus pendant away. The cross that remained was a gift from my husband. An intersection of two lines. I don’t think he intended them to become a cross. The horizontal came after I refused to have sex with him. The vertical when I threatened to call the police. The doctor performed a vertical mattress stitch. From afar, the permanent cross looks like a tattoo. It looks pretty. Everything looks fine as long as one doesn’t ask questions and looks beyond closed clapped-out sedans.
My father, husband and I were in the same room at the same time. Rare. I forgot to button up my shirt. I could visualize the staircase. My father walking up the staircase slowly. It was my father who taught me to respond to a situation, never to react. He was staring at the cross stitch, studying it. He asked me to roll up my sleeves and then he studied my arms. He searched for my birthmark, hidden beneath a smudge of black and blue. Both my father and I could hear sounds much like an angle grinder cutting metal early on a Sunday morning. My father, who battled bushfires, was not afraid of angle grinders, so he extinguished the noise much like he did the monstrous flames. It was time to call the police.
I have many crosses in my new apartment. I have taken up cross-stitch. My latest creation, a floral pillow. I tried to keep sharp and pointy instruments to a minimum when he was around, but now I can keep needles and scissors. I have a skull and crossbones T-shirt my girlfriend and I wore a few weeks ago for Halloween, our first Halloween in years. Phone calls, door-knocking and bell ringing have returned like in the days when I was living with my father. I don’t have any crosses above my single bed.
I take the Hume Highway to visit my father often. It’s a three-hour drive. I didn’t want to move so far, but my ex would be out of prison soon. I have asked my father to move closer to me but bushfire season is coming up. He says he wants to be ready when danger strikes.
Someone else wears the Jesus pendant now. I’m glad Jesus no longer dangles between my breasts. I’m not ready to unbutton my shirt. I have three job interviews in the same week. The last thing I want is for a complete stranger to stare at his cross-stitch creation. If I get the job, I’m thinking about installing an alarm for the apartment and bars on my windows. I’ve gathered a couple of quotes already—just in case he returns.
Isabelle B.L. is a teacher based in France. She has published a novel inspired by the life of a New Caledonian feminist and politician. Her work can be found in the Birth Lifespan Vol. 1 and Growing Up Lifespan Vol. 2 anthologies for Pure Slush Books, Flash Fiction Magazine, A Story in 100 Words, Visual Verse, FlashBack Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed, Free Flash Fiction, Ample Remains, Found Polaroids, Five Minutes, Kitchen Sink Magazine, Splintered Disorder Press and The Antihumanist. Her work is forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys, someshortstories.com, and Appointment at 10.30 Vol. 22 anthology for Pure Slush Books.
[image: Sophia Sideri]