Terena Elizabeth Bell
"But honey,” Lucy said, looking at her husband, “you arrested Jesus.”
“He's not really Jesus,” he replied, “and besides, folks were complaining.”
And they were. People had been complaining since Monday, when the Jesus man was first seen buying a slushie at Minit-Mart.
“He came in here all filthy-looking and got himself a jumbo cherry, when it clearly says on the door, 'No shirt, no shoes, no service.'” The Minit-Mart cashier was first to call the sheriff. “I know it ain't against the law to walk in a store barefoot, but just the same,” she added, “I thought y'all'd like to know he was in town.”
The next day, Sarah Groves also called. “I just looked out the window,” she said, “and he was sitting on the park bench across the street. Now I know it ain't illegal to sit on a park bench, but the man looks peculiar so I thought you'd like to know he was in town.”
After the Mint-Mart on Monday and Sarah on Tuesday, there was simply nothing else to discuss on Wednesday at church. “Now that Jesus came,” Sarah told the other ladies, “and that Jesus is coming back,” she continued, “I do not deny. But that he is walking down the streets of Calvertsville, Tennessee? That I have a problem with.”
“It ain't Jesus, Sarah.” Ellen Nottingham spread out tablecloths in the basement, getting ready for fellowship supper. “If it really were Jesus, it'd be all over CNN.”
By Thursday, if there’d been any doubt as to whether the stranger actually was the Christ, it dispelled when the mayor dismissed the man as entirely incapable of performing any miracle whatsoever. “I walked up to him and asked what he thought of our liquor-by-the-drink campaign,” he cried indignantly, “and the man had no opinion.”
“And how does that tell you whether or not he's the Christ?” asked the mayor's wife.
“Because, my love,” the mayor said with a smile, “everybody knows Jesus turned water into wine.”
“That mayor'll do anything to push liquor-by-the-drink,” Sarah Groves said Thursday on the phone. “Obviously this man is not an alcoholic or he would have asked if they had beer at the Minit-Mart instead of slushies.”
“So you saying Jesus wouldn't drink a slushie?” Ellen Nottingham balanced the receiver between her cheek and her shoulder.
“No,” Sarah replied, “I'm just saying an alcoholic would drink a beer.”
Two days and one hundred, ninety-four gossiping comments later, the mayor and Lucy's sheriff-husband took the Jesus man into custody.
“It was for his own protection,” Lucy's husband said. “His protection and the community's.”
Lucy looked at him, then looked back at the checkbook. She wrote out the electric bill and copied the sum in her register.
“The man's insane, honey,” he went on. “He belongs behind bars.”
She looked at him again, then took care of the phone bill.
“Stop doing the bills, Lucy. Look at me.”
“You,” she paused, “arrested,” looking up, “Jesus.”
And there was nothing her husband had to say after that.
The people of Calvertsville reacted, for the most part, the same as Lucy’s husband: assuming law enforcement had taken the correct action. There were a few -- like Lucy -- who thought an innocent man was behind bars. “And that's exactly like the Christ,” Lucy said, “and whether you think he's Jesus or not, you have to admit we've made him a bit like Him.”
“No one is going to hang this man on a cross,” Ellen Nottingham snapped back.
“Then what are we going to do with him?”
“That's up to the mayor.”
The mayor wouldn't say much. A lot of folk thought it was because he didn't quite know what to say. After all, there was no official charge. You couldn't throw somebody in the slammer for being a barefoot, long-haired Jew, so they originally brought the Jesus man in on reckless endangerment, but before his arrest, the only contact he’d had with other people was to pay the Minit-Mart cashier for his slushie, so they knew damn well that would never hold. Nor would public nudity, although the sight of his bare feet was rather grotesque. They couldn't get him on drunk and disorderly or on proselytizing the multitudes, so finally the mayor decided to keep him behind bars under the Patriot Act. “That Patriot Act's a lovely thing, a lovely thing,” he told his wife. “I can keep anybody in jail I want just because I think,” he said, laying heavy emphasis on the word “think” and wink-winking at his wife, “because I think they may pose a danger.”
“I doubt this fellow's a terrorist,” his wife muttered, filling the teapot with water and putting it on the stove. “Get me the sugar down out of the pantry.”
And actually, the more the mayor's wife thought about it, the more she sided with Lucy that their husbands had arrested Jesus. “He ain't got nobody to call,” she said sitting at Lucy’s kitchen table, “no lawyer, no nothing, and you know what,” she added, “I think he don't even minds being in jail.”
“This is all too strange for color tv,” Lucy said. “You want some more sugar?”
And so for three more days, the Jesus man sat in jail, refusing to confirm or deny his godhead.
“We ought to send him to the nut house is what we ought to do,” said Lucy's husband. “You can have somebody committed if they're dangerous.”
“But what,” Lucy put her hands on her hips, “makes you think this particular man is dangerous?”
“Honey, he may not have said it in so many words, but with his actions he’s all but claimed to be Jesus of Nazareth.” Her husband was being as patient as he could, shifting back and forth from one foot to the other, hoping that if he moved his weight a little, his anger might go down into his feet instead of at his wife.
“You can't honestly mean that.” Left to right, right to left, then back again.
“I admit it's a lofty idea,” she continued, “but it ain't no crime to go around dressed up like a savior.”
“David Koresh? That Heaven's Gate sicko? Any of this ring a bell?” Right to left, left to right, as slowly as he could.
“They kidnapped people. And brainwashed them.” Lucy stood still, staring at the oddly peculiar movement of her husband’s feet. “Honey, you got to go to the bathroom or something?”
“No,” he said, “I do not have to go to the bathroom.” He looked his wife in the eye for an instant, then said, “Lucy, that man is staying behind bars. And that's all there is to it.”
The next Sunday at church, the whole congregation was in an uproar. “Well,” Ellen Nottingham said, speaking out from beneath last year's Easter hat, “if he is the son of God, surely the preacher will have something to say about it.”
But the preacher did not say a word, deciding to discuss liquor by the “devil's” drink instead, making everybody except the mayor mad. The mayor, agreeing all PR is good PR, was elated vis-a-vis the pulpit mention. “It means the constituency is concerned, that my liquor-by-the-drink initiative is deep within the pulse of the community.”
“The only thing,” his wife proclaimed, “that your constituency is concerned about is whether or not your police force did or did not arrest Jesus the Christ, back from the dead.”
“Does this look like Gethsemane to you?” the mayor responded.
“I don't know what it looks like, mayor,” Ellen Nottingham snorted, “but it must not look like Jesus too much or the media'd be here,” hat feathers bobbing up and down, down and up as she spoke. She’d only worn that hat to look good on tv in case CNN came and everybody knew it. “I don't see no reporters,” she said, staring back at the church vestibule.
“What makes you think the mayor told the media?” said Lucy. “If you'd put Jesus behind bars, would you want the world to know?”
Her husband the sheriff sat next to her, shifting his weight from left haunch to right, right to left. “I wish you would quit sayin’ that,” he said, “I wish you would quit accusing me of arresting Jesus.”
At this point the preacher decided this was his congregation after all and he probably should put an end to this. “I am tired,” he exclaimed from under his black robe, “of people talkin' non-stop about this Jesus.”
That afternoon, a mob gathered outside the courthouse, people setting picnic baskets and styrofoam slushie cups down on the lawn that ran between Elm Street and the side of the building that housed the jail. Nobody had any picket signs, but a group of high school girls had brought some votives and Ellen Nottingham had the good family Bible from her sitting room. “Put him to the test, I say,” Easter hat gone, Aigner pumps sinking in the ground. “See how well he knows the Scriptures, if the boy speaks in red.”
It was as though there were no bills to pay, no floors to sweep, nothing else to do that day -- half the crowd caring about the Jesus man's fate with their own belief one way or the other, the other half there for the sake of being. If Calvertsville had ever seen anything close to a mob, this was it, and that mob was angry. “This is all a diversion the Baptists have drummed up,” a representative from the mayor's office was saying, “Something to keep the good taxpaying citizens of Calvertsville from focusing on the mayor's essential, liquor-by-the-drink reform.”
“Liquor-by-the-drink, liquor-by-the-drink,” parroted Sarah Groves, “That's all y’all care about, is liquor by the gosh-dang drink.”
Inside the courthouse, Lucy’s sheriff-husband paced back and forth, forth and back, arguing with the mayor. “We'll have to arraign him eventually. This Patriot Act gig can't hold forever.”
The mayor cocked halfway back in his Shaker-style chair, feet on the desk like a character off of tv, eyes focused sharply on his nail file. “I want CNN here,” he said, “I'm with Ellen Nottingham. Bring the press in on this sucker.”
Lucy’s sheriff-husband stopped pacing and stilled his feet for once, staring at the mayor's knees. “You really think that's a good idea?”
“I think it's the perfect idea,” the mayor replied, whipping his feet off the desk. “Show them we're the only seat left in the whole state of Tennessee where an honest man can't buy a drink.” Looking back at his nails, he casually added, “We could try the man on television. Live on CNN.”
“You really want a beer that bad, mayor,” the sheriff said, some of Lucy’s fire starting to move within, “that you'd start all this up? Did you hire that man?”
“Never said I put the key in the ignition, boy,” nails file-file-filing away, “but ain't no harm in taking a ride in a truck that’s already movin’.”
In the hallway outside, Lucy leaned against the manila concrete, weight in her feet, eyes on the crack where the floor met the wall, listening. She didn't care if the man was Jesus or not, to be honest. She was just so pissed that her husband had a hand in this, constantly the mayor's patsy, bowing at his beck and call. “Poor sap,” she thought, “barefoot, homeless sap, made the mistake of walking through this town.”
She turned her eyes down the hall and looked at how the light came through a tiny window in the stairwell door -- not through the cracks around it or even from the fixture in the ceiling -- just from that window -- and thought maybe she should care after all, that maybe the Jesus man could be Him “if only because he ain't done nothing wrong and we're building a cross for him nonetheless.” But she knew he wasn't Jesus, that he couldn't be Jesus, because if he were she wouldn't be here to see it, having been apocalypsed away. There'd have been scrolls opening up and bodies ascending and a woman birthing beasts as she flew in from the wilderness. Jesus would not come into this world walking silently from the east, slurping Minit-Mart slushies as He went. The first time He was born a baby, yes, but the next time He would come with a bang.
All this, Lucy knew in her head, had been taught every Sunday of her life. She'd recited the verses at VBS, repeated them year after year for a prize. This man was not Jesus and logically she knew it as badly as she knew who Jesus really was.
But still, there was the light. There was something in how it came from such a tiny window, but managed to illuminate everything -- even that tiny little crack she was staring at before. There was something in this light that made her think maybe, just maybe, if this man were Jesus, none of them would know, that maybe when Jesus did come back He might not be on CNN and a soul might not know it save she.
Lucy raised her body off the wall and walked toward the window, heels silent on the manila tiles until she got to the door. She stood before it, eyes shut, light on her face. Slowly, she turned the knob and walked through, going down the courthouse stairs until she found herself before the Jesus man himself: body in the cell, bottom on the bench, head between his hands.
She didn't say a word, just walked to the wall and took her husband’s key-ring down off of it. Opening the cell door wide, she thought, “Let him deal with the mob himself. But for my part, I've done set Him free.”
About the Author: Terena Elizabeth Bell is returning to fiction after more than a decade away. A Kentuckian in New York, she works as a journalist for The Atlantic, The Guardian, Washington Post, and others. "Calvertsville Resurrection" was inspired by a news article she read that said an arrested man "looked like Jesus."