A Savior, Belief, Tupac, and Balloons

by Venita Blackburn

Water balloon wars are primal, vicious productions. Each balloon must be treated with delicacy like a goat bladder, organic, fragile, something sacrificed for the glory of man. The rusty smoke from tin drum barbeque pits makes low hanging clouds: Independence Day. Faith and Emmanuel were deep in water war. Emmanuel would lose, always bearing the biblical task of martyr, too small. He stops and sits. The long bony crab grass reaches out across the porch, aching to touch, be touched, or just acknowledged. He is born an old man. Progeria is the diagnosis.  Faith is not perturbed. Their friendship exists as all chemical or biological bonds exist, regardless of science or heaven, regardless of belief; they go on like the ants and the snow. He rests and is later smacked in the face, in the legs, the chest, and the ass with hot wet rubber. M-80s, cherry bombs, helicopters, Roman candles, and all the pretty lights that can burn a building or tear off a finger scream here is the night.

Faith becomes oddly pretty in a way that makes people wonder if she might really be ugly. She collects candy, any kind of candy as long as it has some manufacturer defect. She owned a prized Siamese peanut M&M, a quadruplet. That one sits in a jar atop a pile of mangled gummy bears, all missing limbs or faceless. The awe of childhood morphs into the horror of puberty.  They grow armpit hair, start to smell weird, skunky like sweet smoke and body odor, and fail to notice. Brains get cloudy. Arthritis carves an L shape into Emmanuel’s toes. Hair soft as corn silk peppers the sides of his head. He looks like a boy being syphoned away by some invisible gremlin that is stealing his bulk and no one can make it stop. Faith leaves him for long periods and says you’re not going to miss anything. He misses everything. When together they have the sensory capability to detect only food and rap music. Their clothes are designed to frighten, arouse, or camouflage. Music permeates the house from Emmanuel’s room: Tupac, always Tupac. Rhymes of blood, death, and tears beat like an elephant heart in the air vents. Somewhere a hopeless, misguided, futile love persists. Emmanuel turns cruel, ignores Faith when she visits, watches The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Tingler on an endless loop. He roosts. There is room for malice in their exchanges. She disappears for a while. Even when present she is absent. He shrinks into the posture of an apology and they are inseparable again like a motorcycle and its sidecar.

An accented stranger with a dove wing tattoo and black eyebrows that sit low like willow branches, interrupts to say hello. Faith hears Jell-O and is amazed. She believes. She marries the stranger, a priest, with whom sex feels like a round of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. They knot themselves together with exhausting mental effort. Faith never leaves the city for proximity to Emmanuel. Internal pleasure of being willfully inert is achieved in his presence alone. She makes eggs, snatches candy from her children. Emmanuel rises like a wooden puppet. Cold fingers shock him like drops of water when Faith assists. He curses her strength and takes back his arm. She might have spit on him, kicked him dizzy, and yanked his bones like an irate milkmaid. She jokes instead about lost socks. Clothes go in the washer but never come out. She arches over the laundry and reveals her tailbone and little dimples.

Faith can make babies. Emmanuel bends over like he should be reading a book in his palms but with nothing in his hands. Take me to heaven, amongst a dying breed, he says. I’m going to fry two extra eggs tonight, Faith says in response. The visits are exuberant at times like a fist to a breastbone. However, on most days the dim rooms indicate somebody must have died. Childhood freedom, purity, and innocence splattered on a tiled floor. The sky is full of orange clouds on one side and clear blue on the other. Cars dump oil like diarrhea. Everyone alive doesn’t know something about the people they know best. To the very young and the unimaginative, mamas and papas fall out of the sky, neatly paired up and ready to have kids. No one ever has bad luck or disease that lingers like black slime under fingernails.

The stranger tells Faith and Emmanuel about a trip to pay penitence to the Virgin of Guadalupe. All of the travelers must crawl there on hands and knees. There were fire ants. Everyone stayed really quiet. Bored babies would not remember the quiet or what feels right to adults. Emmanuel declares he needs a new weed-whacker to stop the stranger from speaking. Everybody has a silly little monster that lives in their throat. It never lies. Are…are you sick? Dying? Seems the only question he hears even if the conversation is on water lilies or the Mayans and the Aztecs. The stranger then explains that being a warrior meant you played soccer. They finished the game with their skulls. If you won then they treated you like a God. The dove wings are completely still. I suck at soccer, Emmanuel says. The little monster climbs up. It’s in their mouths. Am I hurting you now? Faith asks about nothing specific. Emmanuel opens a window with difficulty. Giant black donut stacks of tires stood in rows. The wind makes their sinuses ache. The tires are resilient as if they were expecting it and don’t tumble over.

Emmanuel is twenty-eight, a miracle, and a virgin. He carries poems around. People with faces like Faith never live very long, something would happen, someone would happen. There were others—Elijah (the beloved), Enoch (the misplaced), Remedios (the beauty)—all with faces too terrible to bear, faces that hummed, sucked, slid and scraped against reason, faces for which even God could not wait. Straight into heaven they were drawn, lighter than a falling sheet. She brings him tequila and cola and says the rain is almost here. Her face strikes him, spotted moths fluttering in dark caves where her eyes should be and a hundred more stretching their wings from beneath her hair. He wants to hit her, draw down a yolk of spit and blood. She pops her gum. The stranger is outside in the hall, a dark shadow passes like the back of some giant insect, a beetle, with dips and livable crevices. Emmanuel hums and the minute long flash of depravity passes over. They love without bones, snake bodies humming, united as if this and only this will save the world.

Faith is afraid. She dreams often of laundry and assault weapons. She dreams her sweatshirt is flopping through the air, the arms pumping, it struggles but it gets going. Airborne. Soon there are a dozen more sweatshirts all different, some have pictures, some have hoods. They flap their arms together and sketch a V in the sky; it looks wobbly for a second, a lumpy U, but then it happens. They get it right, and someone yells Pull! Faith’s sweatshirt falls out of the sky all popped with holes, the arms folded in the hunch of a stomach ache. She wakes changed, altered like burnt paper and knows soon the dream would not be undone or healed over. Emmanuel passes away. Faith is tempted like many to join a lost love by force. She dreams they both drop dead, out of the sky, sitting in invisible chairs with their ankles crossed. It doesn’t hurt, he says, but I’m tired though. The rain falls. A billion little fingers beat a rhythm on the concrete, more complicated than every kind of person. A tinkling lullaby. Emmanuel rests with his hands zipped together and brought to his chin. The half sewn seam between earth and sky is severed, and the rain makes all sleep.

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