Once, when I was young and moldable as the brown clay in the hands of the creation deity, my eyes alighted on a peculiar picture in a heavy, glossy covered book.

It was a painting in light pastels and comfortable grays, the colors making the observer feel warm and relaxed while experiencing something outside their realm. In the picture, an old, wrinkled, brown paper bag of a woman, her face echoing the vitality of a fleeting youth, lay asleep on a tatami mat with a large comforter pulled up to her long chin. She was turned towards a far thin paper wall. This wall was illuminated by a light in the next room and two silhouettes could be clearly seen. One was of a younger woman, her kimono open in the front and her new, elastic breasts bouncing against the harsh scattered light of the room. Her hair held many intricate hair pins and gave the impression that she was a lower caste geisha.

The other shadow was of an older man, perhaps the older woman's husband. He had his body and arms stretched out towards the young woman, about to receive her in a deep embrace of carnal love.

However, the interesting thing to me was not the man and the woman with their grotesque behavior, but the older woman's expression.

At first glance, she appeared to be in a deep meditative sleep. But upon my scrutinized view, it was apparent that one eye was firmly shut and the other eye opened a sliver smaller than a thin sheet of worn Egyptian papyrus. The eye bore silent, quiet witness to the scene with an eerie discrepancy. The old woman's mouth was twisted up into a smile, a jest at the follies and the cruelties of her condition. She was the unseen, unaccounted for observer, not wishing to look in for fear of sin but not entirely certain she should look away either.

I feel sure that the next morning, when the woman would have served the man his breakfast and tea, she would not have mentioned what she had seen. She merely would have smiled that inscrutable smile. Perhaps her husband has been wondering all of his life what that smile means, perhaps that is why he was driven into the arms of the hired courtesan so late in life. I can readily guess that if I were to tell the old woman of this possibility, she would turn from the painting and grin at me; cold, numb, and unfeeling.

In the years since that painting enchanted me, I have strived to be that woman, the underestimated and invisible one. And it has always served me quite well, living my life as if I were partially insane made everyone else take me for the slightly challenged silent following sheep, the fool. But it has not been I that has been cast as the fool in this spectacular performance. That role belongs only to you, grandfather, for you could never witness what was right before your eyes in a pink tulle dress; a woman with desires and emotions all her own, only pretending to be swayed by your thundering voice and menacing hand. Yes, I cowered in the corner of the church alcove when you assailed me for my atheist tendencies, but in my head I wasn't singing any Negro spiritual. And when I belted hymns on Easter with that loud, elephantine voice of mine, I gripped the pew and clenched my teeth so tightly just to resist the urge to scream out to the parapets that the sound of the choir made me want to vomit.

Dogma and doctrine never affected my brain the way it did yours, my pious embodiment of the Nicene Creed. But then again, nothing ever infiltrated behind my visage and alligator tears. But I never feel guilty for saying my Doxology while writing my grocery list.

I stopped that long ago… I stopped it all because of you. Funny how the things you hate the most in people are sometimes the very same things you drove them towards, isn't it? Funny how my whole body shakes with sardonic laughter as I tell my story, and you can only wretch in pain.

It hung in the entranceway to Fellowship Hall next to the door and above a heavy table, its cherry frame standing our awkwardly against the putrid urine colored walls. Sometimes, if you flung the door open too hard, the picture would tilt off kilter and the eyes of Jesus would look up at the ceiling instead of straight ahead like they were supposed to. This gave the impression that he might be sighing in exasperation rather than contemplating the sins of the world. It was a quite normal picture, a dime-a-dozen messiah from a mail order catalog, his hair waving in the slight wind off of the Sea of Galilee and his itchy brown cloth hanging off of his scrawny shoulders. In the foreground, he held a shepherd's staff and the land around him appeared to be the studio set for the Sound of Music, the green grass dotted with alabaster sheep newly cleansed in the fires of the Anointed One. There was no way to pass around his scrutinized gaze if one wanted to enter the hall, and from my childish point of view it always appeared like Jesus was watching out for us all. It was kind of like Santa Claus, I imagined, and if someone did something wrong, Divine Punishment would come swiftly and painfully.

I tiptoed past the painting and bowed my head in a show of reverence until I was clear of it. It had been a Sunday like any other, after a three-hour sermon, the church had gathered to share Sunday Night Dinner together. The women of the congregation were in the Church kitchen shelling beans and slicing potatoes. Already, the scent of country cooking was wafting out towards the men sitting around wooden tables. They talked in low, hushed voices to one another so that their wives wouldn't hear what they were saying. However, the wives didn't have to hear to know.

Dragging my toes across the carpet, I pushed myself up to a big glass window and sighed. It was during Indian Summer and the sun was just beginning to dip behind the blue-backed hills in the west. With each passing minute, the air cooled a bit and set itself alive again, free from the heat it had borne all day. It danced in the trees, casting long and delicate shadows on the grass that looked like a lady's fingers spreading. The creek caught a sliver of the rising moon's glow and danced, alive and flowing with pure silver liquid.

Water bugs alighted on little rocks and stones, tripping over the crystalline water as gracefully as a woman swishes her skirt from side to side. They walked the water, making little ripples with their fragile legs and stayed perfectly poised over the depths. I scrunched my nose up against the glass as I stared out at it, making me appear more like an animal than any young child. Behind me, the noises of men's trousers sticking to their chairs and the light blush of teenage poster-children for chastity could be heard. And every few seconds, a tapping sounded out across the room, a rhythmic banging. It repeated itself over and over again, hardwood against hardwood, until beads of sweat began to collect on my forehead and drip down my neck. It was Grandfather, his way of calling me. I turned from the window and saw his agitated expression, his gray hair sticking up in random shoots like rows of corn, his mahogany-handled cane beating against the leg of the old piano.

I placed my hands behind my back and locked them, turning my eyes down and lilting across the room until I was near enough for him to grab my arm and pull me closer to him. He smiled his fake smile and stared down into my face, then looked up expectantly at the two people standing beside him.

My almond eyes stared up at them and I gasped, their sheer beauty overwhelming me. The women stood over my seated grandfather, one blonde and one brunette. The brunette one wore an empire-waist blue dress and white crochet gloves. She couldn't have been more than 25 and her hair fell in perfect ringlets around her round moon face. There was a kindness in her eyes, the type of kindness one finds belonging to a volunteer at a child hospital.

The other one was an entirely different kind of beauty. She had not raised her face to look at me, rather she fished around in her black purse for her 'Crimson Frost' lipstick. Her flaxen locks were positioned on top of her head revealing a graceful swan's neck flowing down towards a creamy collarbone accented with pearls bigger than any harvest moon I had ever seen. Around her waist, a red sash hung, accenting her white and red polka-dot dress with brass buttons down the front and making her appear even more tiny than she really was. At the peak of her collar, a little lace stuck out and the hint of cleavage could be seen.

"Missy, I want you t' intr'duce yourself to these two nahce ladies. They're down all the way from Cleveland, Ohio to visit Sister Jones." My grandfather's genteel southern accent made the ladies giggle, he shook his handsome head and shed quite a few of his fifty-five years on the floor around him.

I rocked back on my feet and stuck my bottom lip out. "How d'ya do." My voice was timid and hardly audible, a whisper in a vast chasm.

"Oh Marion!" The brunette one took a step towards me, her northern accent falling on my ears harshly, "Oh, Marion, isn't she just the cutest? Why, Paul, you never told me your daughter was such a darling!"

"Well, ah didn't tell you because she's not my Dahtah. She's m' Grandbaby." I furrowed my brows. Grandbaby? Never in my life had he referred to me by anything but my name or 'you'.

"Well, she's just so very cute! Marion, isn't she cute?" The brunette elbowed Crimson Frost, who narrowed her pooled blue eyes at me.

"Where are your socks?" She pointed down to my feet while one hand was still in her purse.

"My socks, ma'am? Down at th' creek."

Crimson Frost frowned and the sight of her angry glare jolted through my body. "Why on earth would you leave them down there? Are you dim or something?" her words fired at me and stung like pounding drops of winter rain.

"I… I was…..just…"

"You heard Miss Marion, girl! Don't stand 'round like you're dumb. Go down to the creek and fetch 'em!" By this point, I was near tears. "G'on!" He shooed me away with his hand and I began to run away, out past the picture of Jesus and into the twilight air. I heard my grandfather speaking in hushed tones as I left and I buried my chin in my chest as I caught pieces of the conversation. "You'll have t' s'cuse her. Her mama ran off t' Chicago after she was born and we don't know who her daddy is, so the burden 's fallen on us. But that's how 't is in these parts, people always lookin' after other people's mistakes."

The grass around the creek hadn't been cut since mid-June and it parted at my waist as I fumbled clumsily through it. While still moving forward, I kicked off my shoes and splashed up to my ankles in the cool water, droplets accenting the hem of my yellow Sunday dress. Out in the middle of the stream, a flat rock stood, and I stepped up on it and plopped down. I drew my knees up to my chest and heaved a great sigh, letting the tears fall freely down my chubby cheeks. Sitting beside me were the white socks I had left, a perfect pair afloat in a sea of dividedness. The stars hung above me, suspended by imaginary threads from heaven and reflecting their light in the creek below. All around me, the water bugs walked on the water and the reflection of the sky, as if controlling both worlds at once.

I nursed my wounds for another minute, and then finally heaved up and out over the banks and into the grass with socks in hand. With each step, my tears began to recede and my face was less and less red. When I reached the door to the hallway I had stopped crying. I lifted my hand and put it on the iron doorknob, bowing my head in reverence, but I stopped mid-action. Something had caught my eye, something inside. I moved over to one of the tall windows by the door and squatted down to peer in. Two people entered the hallway and closed the door to Fellowship Hall behind them. This was strange because no one ever closed the door, there was no real need to. Then I noticed who the people were.

My grandfather and Crimson Frost.

Crimson Frost leaned up against the table and then sat down on it, her legs stretching from here to hell in an instant. I could hear my grandfather chuckle and then move in close to her, whispering something in her ear. Her eyes lit up and she giggled, then took his hand in hers and moved it to the front of her dress. Like a professional that has repeated the action a thousand times, Grandfather undid the brass buttons on the front revealing Crimson Frost's lacy brassiere underneath. He grinned, his canines protruding like fangs, and began to slip the straps down her silken shoulders. Crimson Frost let out a sigh of unhurried satisfaction.

I tried to look away, to cry out for help and expose them, to do anything but stand there and watch, but I was frozen to the spot. My eyes slipped within a fraction of closing and the world around me fuzzed and blended, but they wouldn't snap shut all the way. And like that, through small slits of sin, I watched the scene between Crimson Red and Grandfather unfold.

But inwardly I laughed.

Because I knew that any second, Jesus was going to see through that painting what they were doing and hurt them for it, Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. So, I braced my chubby little legs and waited for the lightning bolt to strike them dead.

Any second now…

Any second…


Grandfather zipped up his pants and smiled at Crimson Red as she buttoned her dress back up. Then, the two of them retreated back to the Fellowship Hall.

After they were gone, I burst into the room and stared at the painting of Jesus. His eyes were the same as ever, unchanging. As if he didn't see what had happened, as if he had pardoned the sin of Grandfather. I was too shocked to kick or scream, I just stared up at his smiling face and began to hate him more with every passing moment. Then I turned my back towards him, my head held high and irreverent, and walked away.

My grandmother was in the kitchen with the other women, and when she saw me enter, she picked me up in her arms and held me tight to her. The smell of buttermilk biscuits hung heavily on her and her tired eyes took me in and bathed me in their warmth.

"Sugah, dinner 'll be ready soon." She saw the water-spots in the hem of my dress and rubbed them with one of her hands. "Soon enough, you'll be too big for me to hold you like this." Her smile lit up the kitchen and I clasped my hands around her neck. "Where's your grandpa? Why don't you go find him?"

I brought my face away from the comfort of her shoulder and stared deeply at her. Held in each wrinkle of her face was a year, a year she had lived in hell with this man that I call Grandfather. I did not speak. I merely smiled, cold and indecipherable.

And since that moment, dear Grandfather, my head has been a sieve to your old-time religion. After that moment, even the name Jesus never looked right to me, knowing that he had seen your adultery and done nothing. From then on, every time you yelled at me, from then on, it was always the face of Crimson Red's I saw in front of me. And when I became a teenager, when you wouldn't let me go to the bathroom during church, I felt the blood running down my legs and cursed you and your damned painting, you, your sin, and your Jesus.

And for months endlessly flowing, I was caustic and bereft of feeling solely because you and your god gave me nowhere else to grow but down. But you see, Grandfather, now I realize, water-bugs walk on water, too.