Christ the Virgin

 

       

Christ the Virgin

 

The two times I have winked at a stranger involved panic and tacos. I am not one for winking. In my awkward blob of a body and inability to make eye contact, winking would be too much. It would be like me calling someone “M’lady” or wearing a fedora. A neckbeard with tits, in other words.

 

Some people can get away with it. At an art gallery, an older woman I hadn’t met before winked at me mid-sentence. We had collaborated over emails: I was to write a poem for her painting, and she was to paint a picture for my poems. It was a nice way to meet somebody. When we met in person at the art gallery opening, she shook my hand, said it’s nice to meet you, and she winked. I smiled a bit but kept on talking. It might just be an old person thing—how they wink to let you in on something, that it’ll all be okay. It is the right amount of jarring and soothing when the elderly do it—they’re sly, but they’re on your side.

 

My first wink was a response wink. When I was working in insurance and hating any minute of it but pretending not to because that would mean everybody who said to go to grad school was right, I would take myself out to lunch. Once a week, I would tell myself, but it ended up being more like two or three times. Taco Bueno was nearby and cheap, and no one else from my office ever ate there. I would go in the drive-thru, get a quesadilla the size of my torso and eat in the parking lot at work. It’s me time, goddamnit. I took my pleasures where I could. 

 

At this particular Taco Bueno in Irving, Texas worked an older woman, the sort of woman for whom the word “spry” was invented. She had close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and an easy smile. Cheerful and a voice like a tire-iron. She seemed excited to be working there, at the drive- thru, grateful almost to have found something part-time to ease retirement, I told myself. But I suspect the truth was much sadder, it often is. It’s not funny to see older fast-food workers, is it? It’s not amusing like seeing a hog in a dress, or an adult dressed like toddler. It’s deeply sad, or potentially so. I don’t know her story or why she worked there. Her smile may have been a band-aide over a blackhole, for all I knew.

 

Anyways, seeing her was always a joy—so friendly, speedy, and joyous, living out her working life in a tiny cube, reeking of frying oil. I wanted to get quesadillas and have 45 minutes of respite in my horrible day. It wasn’t that the work was horrible (that too, it was way too much for me), it was mostly the people. Everyone sniped at me for being too masculine. I wore dresses and tights, but not heals and makeup. My hair was short, but a sensible pixie, not buzzed like it is now. It wasn’t so much that my work was especially poor (it wasn’t great either); it was more that I just did not belong, at a backwards, male-dominated, MAGA-loving insurance agency, where the only way to be in the world was to be thin, blonde, and caked in makeup and pray to Republican Jesus. So I went to Taco Bueno.

 

The older woman was working the cashier part of the drive-thru today. She always when I went. When I handed her my debit card, as she was sticking it in the slot, she winked. Fast as lightning but unmistakable. A wink. Folding down to make more crinkles in her face. I have no idea what she meant. Was it the similar haircuts, the exuding of Sapphic energies, that she sensed I was having a bad day? Some old people just wink and you don’t know why, it’s just a thing they do, like keep unwrapped mints in their pockets. When she was handing back my debit card and the food, wouldn’t you know it? I winked back. And she saw.

 

I’m not sure if it were a come-on. In retrospect, probably not. But there wasn’t a good way to explain to a stranger that you winked because you panicked. That it’s like if someone shouts Marco your brain automatically goes Polo, and you don’t know why. Maybe you’re not even at the pool, but it’s ingrained. It feels polite. If someone drops something, you pick it up.

 

I guess some part of me wanted to let her know that I too was in on it. That I too knew what the joke was—we don’t belong in our stations of life. But we’ve found ourselves here, nonetheless, and are taking our pleasures where we can.

 

I overthought it and never went back. I was too hung up on what she thought it was. Did she think it was flirty? Did she think I was mocking her? Did she know it was just a panic-wink, a real thing that people do? It didn’t matter a whole lot, going without those quesadillas, because a few months later, I quit my job anyways.

 

**

 

What if when you get to Heaven, Christ says “No, no, your right, my left.”

 

Ah, beans!

 

**

 

I’ve been calling Christ “Christ the Virgin” for a few months now, and let me tell you, people are not pleased. Some Christian religions differ on this point, regarding the Christly pee pee and where it’s been, but the majority of Christians agree; a virgin. (They all seem to agree that His Holy boy-cherry was still intact.) And yet, nobody wants to make A Thing of It. So I will, in the interest of fairness. Christ the Virgin.

 

**

 

According to some apocrypha, Christ (the Virgin) whispered something to his Virgin Mother as he was dying on the cross. This part is left vague. Christ called His Mother to the foot and said something that the crowd didn’t hear. Wanting to know His final words, a time-traveler went back two thousand years. He attended the crucifixion and stood waiting with the crowd of women and disciples. Sure enough, about three hours into the ordeal, Christ summoned His Mother forward. The time-traveler crept behind her. And Christ said, “Hey ma, I can see the whole town from up here.”

 

**

 

The other time I winked at a stranger was after completing the drive-thru at Taco Bueno. In a giant bag was a quesadilla for me and some tacos with beans for my husband. In the cupholder was a Pepsi the size of the Atlantic Ocean. I swung around through connecting parking lots so that I could make a left at the light. It was a busy intersection, where all the fastfood joints clustered in Cedar Hill. This was by my house, where restaurants weren’t as populous as in Irving. As I was waiting for the green arrow, I couldn’t help but notice on the island between traffic directions was a preacher. You know the type. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen all of them. Wild-eyed, rabid, shouting. This one had a megaphone and was jerking up and down like marionette. (Perhaps God held the strings.)

 

He looked younger than you might have imagined, and for whatever reason, his youth was what was frightening to me. Imagine finding something to be that manic about when you haven’t even been around that long, not really.

 

His face was all mouth made mouthier by the megaphone.

 

At the red light, I was right next to him. A car window between me and the hate. I glanced at him then steeled my eyes forward. I wasn’t in the mood. This was a taco run on a Wednesday, that’s the kind of day it was, not for fighting, not for shouting, not for figuring out what the hell my duty was in this scenario.

 

Out of the corner of my eye, I see the preacher raise the megaphone to his lips again. I turned my head. He turned his head. He shouted, “You’re going to hell!”. I believe he meant me specifically.

 

I had just buzzed my hair using my husband’s beard trimmer. I was wearing a men’s tank top and I thought, Look, man, just be glad I put on a sport’s bra. That counts as trying these days. Then I thought, Oh, I’m visibly queer today, I guess. That’s why he picked me.

 

People have always told me I’m going to hell, for not believing in God, for having sex, but never for being visibly queer.

 

I didn’t look like a proper woman. I’m not a proper woman. Strangers knew this. My ex-coworkers knew this. And that meant I was going to hell.

 

Panic started to rise in my throat like vomit. My first instinct was to cry, maybe, for so much uncontrolled hate, for being hated for existing. But then I thought, I have rebelled all my life. And my biggest act of rebellion has always been joy.

 

So while we were making eye-contact, in that brief, infinite moment, I winked at him. Cheesy, over the top, I put my whole head into it.

 

Him: You’re going to hell!

Me: *Wink*

 

If I have to live with the mystery of why me, then so does he.

 

I didn’t know it, but I knew it, and I was letting him know it—I was finally in on the joke. Going to hell or not, I’m going laughing.

 

  

Nadia Arioli

 

Nadia Arioli is the co-founder and editor in chief of Thimble Literary Magazine. Their recent publications include Penn Review, Hunger Mountain, Cider Press Review, Kissing Dynamite, Heavy Feather Review, and San Pedro River Review. They have chapbooks from Cringe-Worthy Poetry Collective, Dancing Girl Press, Spartan, and a full-length from Luchador. They were nominated for Best of the Net in 2021 by As It Ought to Be, West Trestle Review, Angel Rust, and Voicemail Poems.

2 Comments

  1. not my cup of tea. got no problem with atheists until they spend time mocking what i believe. hopefully the next nonfiction outing will be about an idiot writer whose head is shaped like a penis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looking forward to your next nonfiction work, then. Good luck, and God bless.

      Delete
Previous Post Next Post