by J. Ryan
I wouldn’t say I started losing my grip on the title of Messiah when Marissa gave me a son, especially since we’d only broken ground on my palace and I was still living in the communal huts. But the cracks spread as Ezra Bartholomew Crowe, Jr. came into the world in the blackest hour of a muggy Peruvian night. Marissa labored in the bathtub for half a day with the mosquito net clinging to her wet shoulders and hair, making the laying on of hands difficult. And as we ran out of anointing oil and her screams wouldn’t quit, I caved and allowed one of the midwives to give her some of my morphine.
“Say ‘hello’ to your son,” Marissa said from under the mesh after the final push produced a bundle of squealing purple skin. Her chest heaved, but my drugs had soothed her voice to a slur. With Ezra Jr. in my arms sucking in his first breaths, I looked at Marissa and knew she’d made me vulnerable. And I hated her.
Back in my bungalow, I interrupted Clarice’s snores with a slap on her bare ass and I flipped her from my hammock. She tumbled naked onto the clay.
“I’m a father now,” I said and tossed back two tablets, washing them down with a pull from my desk drawer flask. Messiah’s little helper.
Clarice gathered her scattered clothes and disappeared into the dark without a word. Unlike Marissa, she knew her place. I spent the night alone for the first time since we moved Tabernacle of the Lamb south of the Equator. Next morning, I refused to see my child. I went about my business of prophecy and healing, the occasional exorcism. My nightly marathon sermons were steered by a divine hand and fueled with enough amphetamine that, behind the pulpit, my heart nearly leapt from my chest and every muscle shivered with the joy of the Lord.
Though I refused to look upon my son, I found it impossible to avoid the other children. Even when the Spirit didn’t move me, Caruthers did, making a point of parading me around the commune grounds. He navigated the jeep, the Tabernacle’s only motor vehicle, through a herd of goats moseying along the lumpy trail. The children, picking blackberries in the briars alongside our bean fields, dropped their baskets and ran over to us. Their mothers trailed behind. Caruthers killed the engine and the jeep coasted to a stop.
Kids drew to me like metal shavings to a magnet. Their tiny hands—stained purple—nibbled the bottom of my shirt, my arms and fingers. Their voices twittered. The smaller ones wrapped around my knees and sat on my shoes, their thorn-scratched arms oozing against my shins. The bigger kids choked me as they jumped onto my back.
Let the all little children come to me, my ass.
I’d stopped giving out candy long ago, so only God knows what their mothers told these children to keep them so enamored with me. At one point or another, I’d been with all their mothers, but I was always careful to keep my seed from finding fertile ground. Jesus never had a son. Still, these women would linger around me, hoping not only to touch the hem of my garments but to strip me from them altogether.
But with Marissa I’d been reckless and shown her a side of myself I’d kept hidden. Most notably, I knocked her up. No going back from that. She’d given me a son. Proof of my own mortality. Living, breathing evidence I was not a god, but a flesh and blood man who would one day grow old. I was someone’s father. So, after that I let loose the floodgates and spread my seed like Abraham, descendants to rival the stars. But even as, one by one, my concubines grew round and rosy, I knew it was Ezra Jr. who would, in one form or another, be the end of me.