Joe Christ's Custom-made Chopsticks

ben ohmart

Joe asked for the three-high nails. They always measured things by the height of the centipede since it never altered its length, so Jes knew to give his dad the cup of nails that contained the flat-head nails sticking up over the wooden container's edge. They were building an aesthetically displeasing bird house together, but Joe had failed to remember to drill a hole in it so the birds could come home at night.

"Hey, lookit that," Joe said and nodded to the backyard's southernmost sand dune. Up on the ridge was walking a young man, a bald easterner. In a flaming red dress, the odd visitor would be there in a moment. Jes was captivated and his arm didn't see the leak-proof bag of glue made from camel intestines. It spilled and Joe threw his glance to the somewhat destroyed workshop. Glue all over the bird house. Jes covered his ears.

"Jesus Christ! What's the matter with you!" his dad yelled. He tried hitting the kid in the ear, but there were those miraculous hands in the way. "Now what do I do for glue, uh? What do I do for glue, uh?" He kept slapping Jes until he pulled his hand away. Joe got a competent hit to his son's left ear, and it was a pacifier. "Do you know of any rotting camels anywhere around here?"

"No, sir," Jes answered unto him.

"Do you?"

"No, sir."

"Well, you're going to have to find one anyway or kill one, you realize that, don't you?"

Jes nodded sullenly. He didn't feel like being repetitious again. Joe gave a light slap to Jes' chin, but the stranger was upon them suddenly, and asked, "I have traveled far?"

Joe turned. He was cordial where potential business would lie in doubt. "Yes, sir, you sound Jewish."

"No, no," the stranger admitted, flaking off his soaking red dress. It was tattered and came off in installments. "I have traveled far. You might do me a great service."

"You think it up, I can build it, what's thy name, stranger?" Joe asked. He signaled for Jes, who was lightly crying, to run on in, into the main house.

"I am Kane." He sat his bag, made from four squares of bright yellow material, down; it materialized out of nowhere. The bag kept moving. "I would like a pair of chopsticks from your good establishment. I lost mine in a dice game."

"Did you?" Joe's whole tone was changing, but not necessarily for the worse. "Did you now? Well, see. This is a family business?" "I. Have no money."

"Ah," said Joe. "That makes it tough. - Hey, though. Draw water?"

"I have done my share."

"Well in the front yard. You draw til they're done. Chopsticks, right? That's far out."

"Far east, yes," Kane admitted.

"What I meant, yeah. Okay. You just set yourself out - that's fat at one end, small at the other, right?, how the sticks look?"

"You honor me with your perception." And Kane bowed to the master craftsman.

Joe took him out into the front yard, just behind what Jes loved to call Dune 27, and stuck a bucket in the easterner's hand. Kane tied a rope around the handle of the bucket and labored 4 hours til darkness set in.

Jes was silent at dinner and Mary kicked Joe under the table. She could tell something was wrong. Joe for the last couple hours had been feeling the pangs of guilt from his previous parental guidance, and now just felt an aversion to his wife for butting in on his own selfless mood.

"You smell like shit," he told her, and left the table. But then Joe smelled the same; they'd fixed up their double bed in the stables long ago, since that kind of room held such fond memories for them both of their early years together. Mary didn't even notice him, his smell or his leaving. She used a super sharp knife and carved the dirty layer off the wooden plates they'd just eaten on, as Joe went to his son's room to make good his confession of earlier intolerance. The pine room was locked again. Joe put his shoulder to it, it gave way easily. He hated barriers between his family. It was empty. Joe went to the window; locked from the outside. It was typical. Jes was out talking to the clouds again.

"Fucking brain dead," and father closed the door.

There was no reconciliation on that following day. Kane was still pulling liquid from the ground. Joe had one chopstick under control but the design of the second baffled him, and he knew for a fact that if he wanted this set symmetrically similar, this stick pair was going to cripple this week's work output.

The third day Joe finally saw Jes. He was sitting on the sand pile talking with Kane. They seemed content. Joe felt the undefined remorse of jealous affection. Why was this stranger getting it out of him? Jes never talked to his old man with such undramatic happiness. When they'd go fishing, or sandstone whipping, the boy would be laughing and jumping about in his enclosed sandals - but here was this... fucker, stranger fucker, getting the best mental, quiet, content attitudes out of a teen; well, Joe just couldn't stand it.

He came up to them. "Kane. It's going to be at least another day on those chopsticks," he said stiffly.

"Another day?" The oriental was surprised. He grabbed for his moving bag.

"You try getting wood out here in the middle of this shitty desert! - There's hay in the stable if you get hungry. Just during the day!" Joe tried to put his hand on Jes' back, but the lad pretended like he was interested in the well. He look down into its depths.

"No," Kane explained cordially. "I have been fasting. I will further fast."

Jes jumped into the well. Joe's eyes went wild with frustration. "Jesus!" He ran to the edge of the well, fearing the worse for his namesake.

Joe bowed his head for a moment that seemed like forever. When his head came up, there were trails of tears on his cheeks. He squinted. Joe could just make out the distant image of a man. Almost floating on Dune 3A; Jes' favorite play-park as a child.

It was Jes! Coming forward, ever closer. Jes could hear the obscenities spurting from Joe's mouth become an audible music to his ears. Joe kicked sand in the kid's face, warning about heartattacks, etc., and Jes said unto him, "I know you care. I forgive you." Then Jes went in the house, and Joe shrugged his shoulders.

"What's a parent going to do, uh? I mean, fuck this!!"

Joe noticed a few scorpions escaping from the easterner's bag. Kane had been surprised by the miracle, but he jumped back quickly and reclaimed his pets. "Food," he said, "to be cooked. Eaten. When my sticks are ready. Peace."

Joe waved a condescending hand and let the stranger get back to bucket dragging. The father went back to the workshop and toiled his feeble brain over the problems of straight stick making, but he couldn't shake the son of God from his mind. It was tough being a second father. There was blood everywhere, and Joe realized his thoughts had made him take his carving knife to his own forearm. How he cursed Jes!, but he was upset that the blade was too far down in his skin and he'd definitely have to buy a new one.

The next day saw a tiny improvement, and Joe was feeling rather good about how the chunky end of the second stick was coming along when a loud shriek erupted from the backyard and almost instantly Jes came running in, shouting tongues that to his ignorant mind sounded like foul curses directed at Jes' mother's recent husband. He slapped his son for that, but Jes just wanted to be held, and dove deep into his embrace.

Jes had pointed out to the front yard, so once the boy had calmed sufficiently, Joe went out to see if Kane could undo the mystery. Kane simply shrugged his shoulders when asked. He didn't seem to know.

But suddenly, there was Jes. In front of them, and he said unto them, "But, dad, he was trying to touch me. Here," and he illustrated unto them the area just below his waist. Joe felt himself becoming nasty.

"Get up!" he yelled at the stranger.

"Oh, that," Kane said, with a shrug and slight laugh. "He had some sand on his pants. I was just trying to -"

"There's sand all over this fucking place! What?"

"For a full minute to brush it?" Jes asked unto Kane.

Kane smiled again, and Joe tried a surprise punch. Kane moved and Joe fell to the ground. "I do not wish to hurt you." But Joe was determined, and began to go for every kick and punch opening he thought was painful. Joe was beaten to a pulp in less than five minutes. The kicks came and went, Kane was barely moving, but it was Joe who was breathing hard for his inactivity; Joe was rolled up in the sand, it was all stuck to him from the blood that was gushing out at various places.

The sky became dark when Joe had nothing left to give. Kane sat back to finish the dinner the father had interrupted. He put a dead, pleasantly cooked scorpion in his mouth, and delighted in the salty taste as it moved down his throat. Thunder claimed the sky, and Kane used the first chopstick Joe had given him hours ago - broken in two to serve as a set - to pick another meaty brown piece from the scorched bowl that hung above a smoldering set of ashes. Lightning showed a wind-swept desert, and the piece at Kane's mouth suddenly came alive and stung him on the lower lip. Desert gusts blew the storm into another field of existence, while Jes tried to carry the big bleeding man to the half-comfort of the stables.

"Water," Joe silently exclaimed, and Jes was quick to comply. Mary was baking biscuits in the kitchen. Jes didn't feel like wounding her with news. Jes passed the water to his dad; the liquid in the cow-gut bowl was turning red, but neither noticed. Jes only thought of comforts and wondered at the stupidity of his parents' weird desires for wanting to make night-slumbers in the donkey building. He didn't know wine, he didn't know strange sexual preferences, he went back to smell the rising aroma of new bread and dog meat. Joe felt woozy. The wine was having its effects, and he climbed out of bed. He stumbled to the workshop, never noticing the sand-covered corpse, he was feeling better. Joe giggled and sputtered saliva dreamily all the time, all the time engrossed in carving rude objects out of his reserve stock of beech planks.

He showed them to Mary in the morning. Sober, head in an invisible vice, he thought they were amusing. Jes was still asleep. Mary loved them, she thought they were wonderful. They were the best work Joe had ever done.