Three Fishes

I arrived at the Sunshine Market #2 around seven. The morning was golden, the broken glass glinting, weeds glistening, even the trash scraping across the street had a rhythm to it. Near the back, near the alley, Marvin Jenkins sat hunched on milk crate, working on his breakfast.

“Morning, Jesus,” he said between chews, some stringy egg dangling from his beard. He wore a tattered sleeping bag draped over his shoulders, a grease-stained bag sat between his feet.

Jesus. They got a kick out of it.

I stretched, took in the sun. Once again I wondered if today was the day or just another meander through the slog. Again. Why this city? Why this world? Sure, I had more answers than most, but rhetorical or not, the questions—like the graffiti on the wall–kept popping up.

“Good morning, Melvin.”

The stairwell reeked of tale smoke, malt liquor, urine. Of soggy dreams and abandoned hope.

“Got some saving to do?”

“Well,” I said, finishing up my morning pee and zipping my pants. I found a spot beside him. “I would start with you, if I thought it was worth the time.”

Marvin cackled, showing gums, biscuit flakes falling as he doubled over. “You ain’t right man, ain’t right at all.” He straightened up, found the bite of food he’d lost on the pavement and picked it up. “Little bit of advice, though. A black man claiming to be Jesus is asking for trouble, just so you know.”

A blast of sunshine as the few strands of clouds cleared out. “A picture-perfect day,” the forecaster had predicted. Prophecy. Predictions. Weather. Even the son of god knew it was all a gamble.

The Market was anchored by an abandoned factory, a carwash/garage, across the street, the lot filled with the old husks of rusted out cars. Two kids passed, hopping on their heels, talking loud and tossing trash to the collection on the curb. I studied my hands, making a fist then spreading out my fingers, grimacing as Marvin went on about which one of us was crazy.

What if they were right? What if I wasn’t the son of god? What if it never happened, the cross, the sins, the betrayal. What if it was all in my head?

“What if today’s the day, Marvin?”

Marvin stopped his mumbling. “Well,” he said, digging into the bag and coming out with the home fries. “I guess I’m packed and ready.”

“Marvin, do you ever go to church?”

“Oh yeah, course so. First Pres on Rivermont, those folks run a buffet on Thursday nights. Church of Zion on Brent has free breakfast every day. Baptists make the best pies, for sure. I stay clear from the Pentecostals, though. They’re about as crazy as you.”

I set my head against the wall. Every day was supposed to be the day. Only it never was.

Two cars raced to the stoplight, both honking and yelling and screaming. Wishing death upon the other. Each day was never the day.

“Yo, Jesus. You’re looking, down today.”

I put a smile on my face, closed my eyes and turned upwards, wondering, daring my father to make a move. Why was I not in Gaza, Syria, Israel? Anywhere but here, wandering. I’ve slept under overpasses, at bus stations, camped with hikers, even dated a bartender. Now, I looked for a sign, which I found hanging crookedly in the window of Sunshine Market $2.

Lotto Scratch! Instant Jackpot. 10,000

“Hey Marvin,” I said, reaching in my pocket. “Go get a scratch ticket, the Three Fishes one.”

Some gray in the sky approached from the hills. Deep, silvery clouds, the kind that usually take a full day to work up a thunder. Marvin licked his fingers, his face still suspicious but perking up at the sight of cash. “Hey, get your own ticket, young buck. I just spent my last dollar on breakfast.”

“No,” I smiled, bowed my head the way I’d done for Paul. “For you.”

“Yeah?”

He shuffled to his feet. Took the dollar and started for the door, looking back at me over his shoulder. I leaned against the wall as a breeze hit my face. I heard a grumble overhead.

What are you doing?

I’m helping.

No you’re not.

I am.

This is not why you’re here.

So tell me why I’m here.

A jingle of the bell. Marvin came ripping across the lot, waving the ticket he’d already scratched. “You’ll never—Hey Jesus Christ. You’ll never believe this. I won. I won. Ten grand. I won.”

I stood up and got to my feet, checked the sky.

Maybe today was the day.

 

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