Joshua’s stomach bubbled, making its intentions known for the first time in three days. He rubbed it, looked out onto Broad and Chestnut Streets, and closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. He could feel his heart quicken and his hands moisten. His knees shook as if unsure of his footing, and strings of thickened saliva stretched between his lips.
Joshua wore an assortment of tattered clothes that he had found or stolen. Peaks of dusty grey hair jutted out in no discernable pattern above his dull brown skin, and his beard grew in lonely patches. He had a few bags with him—all of his worldly positions.
Above him, skyscrapers towered and the Philly rush hour traffic was deafening. To his right, a food cart—or roach coach as he liked to call it—was serving breakfast, and to his left, a reporter had just stepped out of a news van. Ahead of him, a man was giving out the daily newspaper.
“A mmm… Metro, please,” Joshua held out his hand.
“Get out of here, man!” The paper man’s eyebrows squeezed together.
Joshua nudged his hand forward, “It’s, it’s free.”
“If you don’t get out of here, I’m gonna call the cops.”
“You gave it to him.” Joshua pointed to a man headed down South Broad Street. “You gave it to them. You can give it to me. It’s free!”
“I said get the fuck outa here!”
“It’s free! It’s free! It’s free!”
The paper man looked around and saw that a few people had started to stare. Even the reporter had taken notice. Joshua was growing louder.
“Here, you freak.” He whispered as he handed Joshua the paper.
Joshua grabbed it and slobbered, “This…this paper ain’t worth shhhhit!” Then he quickly staggered away.
He traveled a few blocks before finding an out-of-the-way ally without any pedestrians. Between a building outcrop and a large wheeled trash dumpster, he squatted, pulled down his pants, and placed his hand against the wall behind him, leaning back as not to soil his trousers. Across the alley, there were pigeons enjoying a feast of discarded pretzels.
When Joshua was done, he wiped himself with the paper and then held it above his head and shouted, “I ggguess it is worth shit!” Then he burst out laughing and lost his balance, falling to his left and against the wall behind him, hitting his head. He sat there a moment with his eyes closed and pants still hugging his ankles.
Moments later Joshua opened his eyes and carefully stood. “Fly food,” he remarked as he looked to his right. Then Joshua faced forward and his eyes beheld what he thought was the most amazing thing. The pigeons, who were still feasting on the pretzel, were arranged in the shape of the letter “B”. He closed his eyes, rattled his head, and then reopened them, but his vision didn’t change.
Joshua didn’t think much of it at first, especially since he had learned not to trust his eyes. Pigeons can’t spell, he thought, but then, over the months that followed, he saw more letters, each appearing in the least likely of places involving the most peculiar of circumstances (some fireflies had formed the letter G). He had become convinced that the occurrences were not accidental, and after each discovery, he would find a piece of cardboard and fashion his newly found letter. In all, there were twenty-four letters: two W’s, one A, two G’s, one S, three E’s, two H’s, one B, one O, and two T’s, one R, four N’s, one D, and three I’s.
* * *
A sudden gust of wind blew the letters from in front of Joshua and down the Samson Street sidewalk. He darted about in an effort to recover them, nearly bumping into several horrified downtowners. Sometimes he kicked the letters farther down the street, and at other times, he would step on a letter mistakenly and find it impossible to lift before realizing where he had placed his foot.
Finally, he was able to gather all twenty-four of the letters and he settled back down on the sidewalk in front of a parking garage. There, under an overcast sky, he arranged and rearranged the letters, trying to form words that he hoped would make coherent sentences.
He spelled the words god and rent and then looked at the rest of the letters. After a while, his eyes started to blink and tear, and his lips quivered. Eventually, like so many times before, he mumbled, “Fuck it!” and brushed the letters aside. He began stuffing them in his bag but an O slipped from his hand. Joshua reached down to pick it up and dropped a D and an R. He reached for those letters and a B and an A fell from his bag. Frustrated, he balled his hands into fists and shook, letting out a muted scream. When he looked down again at his letters, he saw a word: BROAD. He turned and looked west, towards the longest straight street in Philadelphia.
Joshua walked down Sansom Street until he met Broad Street. He looked down at the pavement and kept his eyes fixed upon it. He turned left and traveled a few blocks. People jumped out of his way as he sped past. One guy yelled, “Lift your head, nut funk!”
Before long, his boots started to slip from his feet. He was surprised that he had not noticed that his shoes were untied. He bent down, dropped his bags and tied his laces, and he would have continued walking were it not for the flyer he noticed on the pavement just ahead of him. He leaned forward and picked up the piece of paper. It read: Come and celebrate The Word with the World Renown Tabernacle Gospel Choir. Performing live at the O’Neil Center for the Performing Arts.
Joshua’s eyes went over the words again and again. He was drawn to the flyer, but he didn’t know what to make of it or of himself. Then his eyes focused on two words, words that offered no significance to him other than his eyes’ refusal to let them be. Joshua stared at them until they were seared onto his cornea. He closed his eyes to view them against the blackness of his lids. “The Word,” he read. O’Neil Center, he thought. Reaching into his bag, he spelled two words: T-H-E-W-O-R-D.
Joshua stared straight ahead, but peripherally, he took in as much of Broad Street as was possible. Broad Street was daunting to him, a divide that he hadn’t crossed for nearly five years, a perpetual red light.
He breathed a deep sigh and felt his hands shake. Joshua snapped them into tight fists, quelling the quaking. Breathing deeply once more, he stood and looked across the street at the O’Neil Center, then up at the Broad Street sign. He didn’t know why his aversion to the west side of Broad Street was so strong, at least not in the typical sense of knowing. There were no facts or figures to mull about, it just felt wrong, and that was all the knowing he needed. Still, he was more tired of being flummoxed by the letters than he was afraid of crossing Broad Street.
Picking up his bags, Joshua walked up and down Broad, looking over to the west side. For an hour, he trudged back and forth from Pine Street to City Hall, and then he stopped at Chestnut Street and inched to the curb. Joshua turned sideways and lowered his foot into the street as if entering a pool, but he quickly pulled his leg back, frightened.
Then, a woman walked past and bumped him. It was a hard enough push to send him into the street. A horn blared. A man grabbed him and pulled him onto the sidewalk.
“Are you crazy?” The man yelled. “Open your eyes! You don’t see that red light?”
“She…she…” Joshua tried to explain.
“Wait until it turns green!”
“Leave me alone!”
“What,” said the man as he caught a whiff of his stench, “’See if I do you any more favors, Piss Pot.”
Unthinkingly, Joshua started to run, “Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”
A car was turning right and Joshua moved quickly to avoid it. He leaped, catching the edge of the curb, but not enough of it. The sidewalk hit him hard, and his bags slid forward. He turned around to his back and looked skyward at the gray canvass. Then Joshua sat up, held his ribs and realized he was on the west side of Broad Street. He smiled.
* * *
To his left was the O’Neil Center, so Joshua walked up to one of the large windows and peered into the building at the huge lobby. He didn’t see a choir. He didn’t see anyone, but he was determined to wait, and he would have done so if not for a police officer.
“You can’t stay here,” the cop said, startling Joshua, “Keep it movin’.”
Joshua huffed as he walked off. He walked north to Chestnut Street and then turned left. After a few blocks, he stopped in front of a store front to look into the window. There were shoes of all types: work boots, play boots and sneakers. He bent his leg back and stared at his holding-on-by-a-thread boots. Then he moved on.
A few stores down next to a men’s clothier there was a door that didn’t lead into a store. Under some scratched out letters was the word Studio. Joshua reached out and touched the word, tracing each letter with his finger. It felt familiar to him, but the feeling was fleeting, so he turned to walk away. At that moment, the sun peeked through the clouds and shone on the door. The outline of the scratched out letters became visible, and Joshua was able to discern several words, but only one stood out: Hurd. Joshua Hurd, he mused.
A blinding white light flashed, and Joshua saw himself grab the metal bar that stretched from one side of the door to the other. He pulled it open and walked up the stairs. On the first landing, there were three rooms. He walked over and looked into a diamond shaped window. Inside, a woman was standing in front of a suspended microphone. She appeared to be singing. In the rear, a secretary was busy typing. Several feet down the hall there was another studio room. Joshua walked down the hall and put his eye up to the window. In the recording booth he saw a healthier, well-dressed, more vibrant version of himself.
“Move on,” another police officer urged. “No loitering.”
In a flash, Joshua’s awareness retreated from the studio and back to the front door. He spun around, his back now flat against the window of the neighboring shop. Joshua was breathing hard. Then, in moment of panic, he pushed past the officer and ran west on Chestnut and then left on Eighteenth Street. He ran until he found an alley. Stopping there, he collapsed and slept.
* * *
A rat poked his head into Joshua’s coat pocket, trying to get at the candy bar that was aging there. Joshua woke in a rush, slapping at his chest and legs, gyrating wildly. He stood up, soon enough to see the rat scurry off with his candy bar.
He fell back against the wall behind him and slid down. Reaching into his bag he dumped out his letters and began to spell. Guided by some intuitive force he grabbed three N’s, two I’s, one B, two G’s, and one E.
”Imagine that,” Joshua remarked. He played with the letters for a moment before it came to him.
“B-E-G-I-N-N-I-N-G.” It was a simple word, but one that he had never thought to spell before. Joshua was sure that his vision at the store front and the word beginning were connected, and he was determined to find out how.
It was still early, so Joshua grabbed his things and made his way back to Chestnut Street and the studio door entrance. He pulled on the handle, but the door didn’t open. Joshua saw an intercom to his right, so he pushed the button and waited.
“Do you have an appointment?” a female voice on the intercom asked.
“Yes,” said Joshua. Somehow, it didn’t feel like he lied.
“Who should I say is calling?”
“Joshua, Joshua Hurd.”
The sound of papers ruffling and pencils falling replaced the voice, and right before the intercom went off, a chair creaked. Then there was the sound of feet bounding down the stairs.
“Joshua?” a lady asked, as she opened the door, “Is that you?”
Joshua moved closer. His eyes covered every detail of her face trying to find something that would unlock a memory. He had the distinct feeling that he knew her.
“That is you, but God damn,” she waved her hand in front of her nose, “You stink!”
Although he was not surprised by her candor, he was taken aback by her reception, which, of course, he welcomed; he just didn’t know what to make of it.
“Can I come in?” Joshua asked. His brow was furrowed and crow’s feet formed at the corners of his eyes. Faith noticed.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” She rubbed her chin. “I’m Faith.”
“Now that I know your name, ccc…can I come in?” There was desperation in Joshua’s voice as he looked over and around Faith to get a better view of the inside. His obscured glimpses of the stairwell provided hope that his prior vision had been a remembrance, not a hallucination.
Faith put her finger under her nose, “Okay, but don’t touch or sit on anything.”
They climbed the stair well that was plastered with pictures of artists and awards, and Joshua was now confident that he had been at this studio before. And, when Faith took him into her office and closed the door, he was certain of it, certain that of whom she was as well. She sat down at her desk; he stood against the wall.
“Your Faith,” he blurted out.
“No shit!” she responded. “You remember me now.”
“What happened to me?”
“Selective memory, huh?” Faith’s head tilted forward. She unwrapped a stick of gum that was on her desk and popped it in her mouth. She chewed it vigorously, popping it loudly. Her hair, set high above her head and stiffened by holding gels, vibrated with each churn of her jaw.
“I really don’t remember a lot,” stressed Joshua.
“Relax,” Faith picked up a file and began to clean underneath her French manicured nails. “It’ll come back to you.” In-between chews, she discarded dirt particles and stole glances of Joshua, trying hard not to stare.
Joshua’s head rotated, taking in every detail of the room, from the noisy coffee pot to the autographed picture of Isaac Hayes. There was a crack in the wall by the only window, and a large cabinet sat in the corner.
“Did I work here?” Joshua touched the yellowing wall paper.
“Six years. Hold on.” Faith got up from her chair and walked over to the cabinet where the coffee pot sat. She slid back a door, grabbed a can of Lysol, and started to spray. “I can’t take this shit no more.”
She walked back to her seat and sat down. “Yeah, you worked here for six years, and you made us all a whole bunch of money, too.”
“Hmm.” Joshua pointed towards the cabinet. That should be against the other wall.”
“We moved it.” Faith smiled, “There was a mouse hole behind it. Mickey kept getting into all the goodies.”
“So what happened then?”
“Well, Omar ...”
“Omar?” Joshua scratched his head.
“Your former partner…Omar. He says your ass got religion.”
“Your ass went crazy.” Faith’s eyes widened and her head bobbed from side-to-side.
“Why you say that?” He scratched under his arms.
Faith sprayed the Lysol again, “Gettin’ religion is one thing, but givin’ up all that money is another.”
“What do you mean by ggg…gettin’ religion? Did I get saved or somethin’?”
“Look at yourself,” Faith’s face grimaced, “Do it look like you saved? You started spoutin’ off about The Word and how we were desecratin’ it by sellin’ it. And yeah, you actually said desecratin’. You wanted to just give the records away. Talkin’ about how you were gonna make this place into a temple and have people comin’ to pray and shit!” Faith chuckled a bit. “You lost your damn mind, and then you lost your damn job. Damn shame.” Faith shook her head and popped her gum again.
“Pray to who?” Joshua asked. His eyes were narrow slits, but he was awake, more awake than he had been in a long time.
“Hell, that’s what I would like to know. Who were you gonna pray to?” said Faith as she sprayed once more.
“I don’t know. I…I…”
Faith coughed and then strained to speak, “Look, I don’t mean no harm, but you’ve got to go. I can only spray so much before this Lysol becomes toxic.”
“I’ll go,” said Joshua, “But one more thing, you mentioned The Word, what about it?”
“You had this crazy ass idea about how everything ever written that was inspired by god was part of—how’d you say it—the revealed word, just like the Bible or the Koran.”
Wide-eyed and nodding her head up and down, Faith said, “Funny you should say that. Now let’s go. You can have the ten dollars I’ve got in my pocket, but nothin’ else. And Joshua, go see your mother, she’s worried sick about you.
“Yeah, your mother. And the last time I checked she was one of those sanctified Christians. If you’re lookin’ for more answers on how you got strung out on religion, she might be the one to ask.”
* * *
Joshua had no idea of how to find his mother, and he had forgotten to ask Faith. There were several public transit routes to choose from in Philadelphia, but it was a big city. Where would he start?
There were two major rail lines in Philly: the Market-Frankford Line (otherwise known as the “L”) and the Broad Street Line. Given his former struggles with Broad Street, Joshua thought that there had to be more to his difficulties with the street than just the studio that was geographically positioned on the west side of it.
Joshua walked east on Chestnut until he hit Broad. A subway entrance, hewn out of marble, rose above the sidewalk. Joshua walked towards it and then down the steps. He traveled along the concourse until he came to a fare booth. Behind the glass of the booth was a lady. Joshua slid three dollars underneath the opening and she gave him a transfer pass. He looked at it oddly and walked through the turnstile.
To his left were the northbound trains and to his right the sign read “Southbound.” Joshua closed his eyes and imagined himself above ground. Again, before he had gotten over his fear of Broad Street he had kept to the side of the street where the northbound trains were routed. Trusting his instincts, Joshua turned left and walked down the stairs.
An express train was just arriving. As the doors opened, Joshua hopped on. He sat down on a forward facing seat, and a man seated about ten feet from him immediately got up and walked to the other end of the sparsely populated car. The orange trim and hard slippery seats of the car were familiar to him, but he needed help. He had no idea of which station to get off at, nor of what to do once he left the subway.
Joshua thought of his letters and looked to a man dressed in soiled work clothes and boots seated on the other side of the car. He glared at him and spoke, dropping his letters onto the floor, “I…I don’t know www…where I’m going. Ccc…can you help me?”
The man refused to acknowledge him.
“Please,” pleaded Joshua. He looked out the window and saw a station disappear behind the fast moving train. “Look at the letters, is there a bbb…bus route named for one of the lll…letters?”
“If you don’t leave me alone!” The man yelled.
“I need your help.”
“Jesus H. Christ! I said leave me alone!”
“H!” Joshua whispered to himself. “Where do I catch the H?”
“At Broad and fuckin’ Erie!” The heads of the other passengers snapped around.
Joshua felt the train slow down as it pulled into a station. He could see the signs that hung from the ceiling as well as the ones that lined the walls. They read, “Erie.” Joshua hurriedly picked up his letters and stuffed them into his bag as the train pulled to a stop and the doors opened. As he made his way to the doors, he stepped on the laces of his shoes that had come untied again and fell to the floor. The warning bell for the door closing sounded as Joshua scrambled to his feet with his things. He rushed to the doors as they were about to shut. Joshua stuck his arm out and the doors sandwiched it. He tried to squeeze his body through, but the doors wouldn’t budge. Then they opened and closed again, just enough for Joshua to stick his head and leg through. Finally, the doors opened once more and he was able to pull through entirely. Now on the station platform, Joshua leaned over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.
Mom, Joshua thought as he looked at a movie advertisement depicting a mother and daughter. His mother was a vague memory, as vague as the recollection of the way home.
* * *
Joshua took the “H” bus into Germantown—the Chelten and Greene Stop. From there, he walked a few blocks north. He wasn’t sure of where he was going; it just felt right.
After making a few turns, Joshua stopped in the middle of the block of a small street. He stood outside of a row house and looked up and down the street filled with people talking on their porches, throwing footballs, and playing tag.
He turned to the house in front of him. The address plate on the wall beside the front door had turned on its side. The curtains on all the windows were pulled shut, and the porch furniture leaned against the front wall of the house.
As he walked up the stairs, his hand dislodged bits of paint from the banister. He grabbed the knob to the screen door; it shook in his hand. The turn he gave it did not catch completely, and it took him several more tries before he was able to open the door.
Not looking for a doorbell that wasn’t there, Joshua knocked three times on the door, waited a minute, and then knocked again. Still, no one answered. He closed the screen door and sat down upon the steps, planning to either wait until his mother got home, woke up, or someone informed him that this was the wrong residence. And just when he was about to reach into his bag and pull out his letters, he heard the creak of the door.
“Now,” said an elderly woman peaking through the screen door. Her hair had been straightened with a hot comb and she wore a knee-length flower-patterned dress. “If I told you Jehovah’s Witnesses once, I told you a thousand times. I’ll have nothin’ to do with you. So, if you don’t…” Then the woman paused, getting a clear look at Joshua for the first time. “Wait a minute; you’re…you’re not the Jehovah’s Witnesses.” She stepped through the screen door. Joshua stood and walked towards her. “And you sure don’t smell like ‘em.” Her head cocked a bit and one eyebrow rose while the other eye squinted. Then it hit her.
“My god.” Her trembling hands rose to her face, “You’ve come home. Oh, my god! You’ve come home!”
“Mom?” Joshua muttered.
She rushed to the edge of the porch and grabbed Joshua, almost knocking him backwards. Her arms looked like they went around twice. People from the neighborhood looked on curiously, then amusingly as they started to laugh.
“Come on in, chile,” she left one arm around his back and led with the other, “You must be hungry, ‘cause you sure do look it.”
“I…I am.” Joshua answered.
“Still stutterin’, I see. D’you remember what I used to say?”
“No. I don’t remember much.”
“Moses stuttered, and look what he did with his life.” She opened the door and led Joshua through a living room with plastic covered furniture and antique lamps, passed a dining room with a dining table and china closet made of cherry wood and into the kitchen. There were closets on each wall and plaques with cute motherly sayings and reminders. The kitchen table was a pale tan and divided into three sections. Four chairs with white padded backs and seats surrounded the table. There was a clanking of pots, pans and dishes and then a plate of food Joshua hadn’t seen in years. He began to sit down to eat but was stopped. “Wash your hands first, Son.”
After Joshua cleaned his hands, he sat down at the table. He tore into the meal, leaving not a morsel of food on the plate when he was finished.
“Tell me somethin’, Son. Why now? Why come home now?” She asked.
“I was told to come see you, that you may have some answers.”
“Who told you that?”
“Faith,” his mother tapped her lip with her finger, “Faith. Ahhh.”
“She still sweet on you?”
“Ignoring her question, he asked, “Why’d you ask me, why now?”
“Your daddy died a month ago today. It just seems very odd that you would show up now after you’ve been missing off and on for five years.”
“Off and on?”
“A couple of times we went looking for you, and we found you, but each time we brought you home, you would leave. The last time you left, you’re father decided that enough was enough.”
“Yeah, you and him were close, tighter than a fly’s behind. She sat down in the chair beside Joshua. “You remember your Daddy, don’t you?”
“You two had a fallin’ out just before you went missin’ the first time. He was more stubborn than a dry turd—and you just as bad!” She shook her finger at Joshua. “But come, let me show you somethin’.”
Mrs. Hurd pulled him into the living room and they sat together on the couch. Leaning forward, she pulled an album off of the coffee table in front of the sofa. Then with the reverence most Jews would have for the Torah, she opened it.
“This is you and your father when you were about six,” she laughed and slapped her thigh, “And here’s you at eight on your daddy’s shoulders.”
She flipped the pages twice. “Now, here is you and your father at your college graduation. He was so proud that day, as only a father can be.”
Joshua’s memory began to clear. Images started to flood into his mind, and one in particular caught his interest.
“Mom.” Joshua looked up.
“Yes, Son,” said his mother as she placed one hand on top of the other.
“Did my father have any records?”
“If you didn’t have a hard time rememberin’, I would think that you were tryin’ to pull a fast one. Yes, your daddy had records—the best collection money could buy. Upstairs, son.”
Joshua followed his mother upstairs to the back room. They both sat on the bed next to nine huge Rubbermaid tubs and a recliner. He opened one and fingered through it. Inside was a diverse collection of CD’s, albums, and tapes: Santana’s Abraxas, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, U2’s Joshua tree, and A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory.
“It was here that I thought I had lost your father,” said Joshua’s mother, “He used to read for hours and hours. Afterwards, he would listen to his music. I used to think that he would come here to escape from the world, escape from me perhaps, but I was wrong. He wasn’t trying to escape; he was trying to find something. I didn’t realize it until you started having trouble.”
“What was he trying to find?” Joshua said.
“He was looking for God...” Mrs. Hurd said as she shook her head, “in places I would never look.” She rose, turned and walked away. “There’s a towel, washrag, and some of your father’s clothes in your room. You’re welcome to them. I’m gonna go and get off of these feet; I’m so tired.”
Joshua looked inside the other tubs before taking his mother up on her offer. He walked down the hall and into his old room. He recognized everything. On the wall was a poster of Santana—an advertisement of the same album that was in his father’s crate. There were also video tapes of old sci-fi movies. Now tired, he walked over to the bed, grabbed the towel and washrag, and dragged himself to the room that makes the rain, a melodious voice sang in his mind. Terence Trent D’arby, he thought to himself.
He turned on the hot water. Then he shed his clothes and stepped into the glass stall shower. Joshua placed his hands against the glass and let the water hit his back. It stung, like the lash, but he was glad to rid himself of the layers of dirt and stink he had accumulated.
* * *
The rhythmic Latin music swayed as the needle glided over the Santana LP. Joshua could feel the bass beneath his chest. Sitting in the recliner, he felt more relaxed than he had ever felt before. Then the music ended leaving the sound of static grating through the room. Joshua removed the needle from the record and turned on the radio.
“And in an unrelated report, western powers, including the U.S.A., refuse to close borders amid reports that the epidemic of Super Flu which has decimated southeastern Asia has made the jump to mainland China. There have been record fatalities in China already, and The World Health…”
Joshua tuned to another station. He looked up; his mother was standing in the doorway. “The world is going to need a new faith,” Mrs. Hurd said, her head hanging low, “I just don’t know if Jesus is gonna be enough to get us through what’s comin’.”
“Why’s that?” said Joshua, remembering his mother’s words from earlier.
“Communication,” she answered, “Christians understand Christians…sometimes, but Muslims don’t and neither do Jews. As a matter of fact, religions don’t understand each other period. This entire planet stinks of ignorance, but like maggots, a new faith might just eat away at the filth of this world.”
“Fly food,” Joshua mumbled.
“What’s that, Son?”
“Nothin’.” He answered. “I…it’s funny to hear you talk this way? About religion, I mean.”
“Religion is what drove a wedge between your father and I. We just couldn’t talk anymore, because I didn’t understand him. I didn’t even try to. Hell, you heard me earlier talkin’ about those Witness people.”
“But nothin. It don’t cost a thing to be nice or to listen. I’m just so set in my ways, just like everyone else. Here, take this. It was your father’s.”
“It’s the Bible? I thought that Dad…”
“Yeah, I know. But there’s a passage in there that your father liked. In fact, he marked it. I’ll be in my room if you need me; I’m so tired, son.” She turned and walked down the hall and disappeared into darkness beyond the threshold of her room.
Joshua looked at the book. His hands found it foreign. Yet, there was an inkling of familiarity much deeper than his hands could feel. He remembered his mother’s home sermons now, how she went on from Genesis to Revelations, how she bade him to return to Jesus Christ and accept him as his lord and savior. He also remembered the deaf ears her words fell upon.
Joshua remembered his father’s sermons as well, they had intrigued him, but he had not time for either god, their gods of the hereafter. His god demanded tribute in the here and now.
There was only one bookmark. Joshua opened it up to the Book of John, chapter one, verse one. It read: “In the beginning was The Word, and The Word was with God, and The Word was God.”
“My letters,” Joshua whispered to himself. He ran downstairs to the living room, where he had left his bags. He took out his letters, spread them out on the floor and spelled each word carefully, “I-n-t-h-e-b-e-g-i-n-n-i-n-g-w-a-s-t-h-e-w-o-r-d.” Joshua began to shake uncontrollably as all the memories of the past five years resurfaced. He remembered a visit to a poetry slam where he first heard a poet speak of his father’s religion and the blinding white light that immediately followed; it burned his eyes but didn’t consume them. He remembered his untimely firing from the studio leading to his four day sojourn on the streets, his arrest and five day stay in prison before turning himself in to the Barkley Center for Comprehensive Treatment, and his discharge back to the streets after he exercised his rights as a 201 patient. When the last of the images faded, his body calmed itself, and he sat for a while.
Later that evening, Joshua walked back upstairs and into his mother’s room, Bible in hand—hoping to return it. He clicked on the light. She was lying on the bed. Her chest, which should have been heaving up and down, was still. He knelt down to see if she was breathing, putting his hand to her nose and mouth; she wasn’t. He wanted to mourn her passing, but felt no urge to do so. She had stayed around long enough to do what she needed to do, as did Joshua’s father, and as Joshua rose to his feet he looked at a portrait of his father on the wall and then again at his mother, at the Bible in his hand and at the picture of his father’s records etched in his mind and realized that during the last five years he had not been insane at all, he had just been in-between gods.