“Help me Jesus” Lone whispers from the outhouse where he hides amongst the doodlebugs, the cobwebs and the glucose tracks of slugs. He can hear Pa rampaging through the house, can hear his muffled cusses and threats. Lone wills himself small, thinks about the tiniest, most minute things he can, spider eggs cocooned within silk-spun nests, dandelion spores that lift and drift on passing zephyrs like zeppelins, escaping the scrubby patch Pa calls ‘his portion’.
“Help me Jesus” Lone thinks as the door creeks and the light pierces the gloom like a laser, hard and intense. Lone can smell sweat and sour breath, can hear the croupy wheeze of Pa’s anger. Lone ain’t sure what he’s done this time, but he sure as shit don’t wanna find out. “Help me Jesus.”
“You in there Lone?” Pa calls, lying with the softness of his tone. Lone holds his breath and thinks small thoughts, and pictures Jesus’s supportive eyes, devoted mouth, his honest hands.
When the door closes Lone uncoils slowly, stacking his spine, filling the spaces with prairie air. He’s certain now of three fundamental truths – if Ma hadn’t left when she did Pa would have killed her and, if Lone doesn’t find a way Pa’ll kill him instead and, that Pa needs to kill. It’s the only way he’ll be able to hate himself fully, the only way to justify drinking himself to death.
Pa used to ask Jesus for help himself. Used to ask for the crops to grow and the cow to calf, and for Mary-Anne to get better.
Ma asked Jesus for second chances.
Jesus didn’t come then. Lone knows he ain’t coming now.
Later, as the shack burns Lone stands beyond the firelight, watching Pa’s soul spin like glitter towards heaven, waiting for the judgement to descend, still waiting for Jesus.