Baldomero Jiminez saw Jesus Christ since the age of four. The first time was in a plate of eggs and sesos. When he pointed the nose and beard out to his sister, she laughed and scraped her fork across his plate and shattered the face into pieces. Three days later, the face reappeared among the fragments of flakes in his Raisin Bran. He grasped his spoon and stared into the eyes and convinced himself they blinked. Baldomero nudged his younger brother and told him of the face but when his brother leaned over, the milk from his spoon tumbled into Baldomero’s bowl. He searched the soft, bobbing flakes but found no trace of God. The fleeting vision unsettled young Baldomero throughout the day and, as he lay awake beside his brother, he whispered a prayer to God to tell his son to stay out of his food.
At mass, Baldomero knelt beside his father behind the pews as the congregation recited the Eucharist with heads bowed. But Baldomero kept his eyes lifted toward the mournful statue and the face so often revealed to him. He stared long into the opaque eyes and wondered if God really looked from behind those stolid pupils to hear the prayers of his children. When the service ended and his father and mother chatted with the priest, Baldomero wandered under the stained glass windows and searched for God in the hues and the strata behind the colors. The other children would run past him, sometimes bumping with their frivolous arms, but Baldomero kept his eyes firm until his father’s hand laid on his shoulder. The touch always startled him and, from his periphery, Baldomero saw the black soil under his father’s fingernails and peace washed over him.
The third time he saw the face in his chorizo, he remembered his Tita Isabel and how she often wandered into their room late at night mumbling of her husband and cursing to herself and reading passages from the fifth chapter of Proverbs. The whiteness in her eyes terrified him as they caught the glow of the streetlamps. The painted canvas of her iris erased by time and grief until it returned to what it once had been before life’s influence. He recalled how his mother had said God was the reason for Tita’s blindness and Baldomero feared that each time he saw the face in his breakfast, the brown from his own eyes faded. When the sunlight replaced the streetlamps in the boys’ room, Baldomero awoke with his stomach roiling behind his skin. He stayed in bed until his mother called to him. He entered the kitchen and sat at the table but would not look to his food. He placed one hand over his eyes and stabbed in blind inaccuracy at the potatoes. His siblings laughed while his mother scolded and threatened him. Despite the consequences, he would not see that face. Even when her hand stung across his cheek, he kept his hand over his eyes and a tear slipped from under his hand. After she had sent him to his room and her raging voice diminished behind his closed door, he laid in bed and removed his hand from his eyes. Baldomero smiled and danced on his back, flicking blankets and sheets as his body contorted in victory.
Baldomero did not see God for months after his defiance. When his thinning body ran across the fields of Port Lake High School with his eye on the makeshift goal, the wind seemed to wisp across his skin faster than before and a power all his own burst from his foot as the ball sailed between the posts of net-less goals. His fists pumping as he mocked the celebrations of his father’s heroes he watched on Telemundo. At meals, he inspected the beans and corn and sauces for any semblance of the face and, when no trace could be found, he devoured his food with such voracity, his mother shook her head and commented es tal cerdo. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand and smiled a caked grin.
He continued to go to mass with his father but would not let his eyes fall on the face around him. His secular prayer a mantra against the catechisms and liturgy echoing around him. The only face he allowed his eyes to see was that of the virgin Guadalupe. He stared upward into those soft, oceanic eyes and found solace and protection from the somber face so imposed upon him. After mass, he stole a candle from the altar with Guadalupe’s face and stuck it in the waistband of his slacks. He never lit the candle but kept it under his pillow, slipping his fingers between sheet and case to grasp the glass in his soft palm as he slept.
The morning after he stole the candle, Baldomero saw the face in his eggs again and he shut his eyes and whispered his prayer, only to open his eyes and find the face sharper and more defined. He slapped his hands against his eyes. The clatter of his fork against the plate clashed against the morning. His mother stood, her chair falling behind her, and ripped Baldomero from the seat by his hair. His siblings’ laughter mingled with his kicks and screams. The welts from his father’s belt rose across his backside. He blubbered and stared at his mother’s blurry, bitter face as she pointed a red nailed finger toward him and told him Dios está muerto. No hay nada en la comida pero mi amor, que es todo lo que necesita. Her voice faded and he saw traces of Guadalupe in the eyes and lines of her face. He marched in tow to the lone plate waiting for him. He dragged himself to the seat and the face waited, the features so defined and divine he could not eat it, thinking of the cannibals he had heard about on KVIE. His mother snatched his fork from his hand and stirred the cold eggs, stabbing chunks and forcing communion till he choked. When he joined his father for mass the following week, he walked up to Padre Miguel, handed him the candle, and informed him it doesn’t work.
By age six, Baldomero saw God every week. He endured alone, eating bits of cheek and nose and eye and ear among his food. Some meals, he feared he enjoyed the taste and wondered if he was becoming a cannibal but remembered Jesus had told the disciples to eat of his body and drink his blood. On the meals the face seemed to blink, he trembled with a holy fear and he fought to show it for another fear. At dinner, when an outstretched arm accompanied the face, he looked to his father, hunched and shoveling in macaroni and cerveza in mechanized motions, and wished to show him what he saw. But his father set down the bottle with a click and cast tired eyes at his son and told him no esté tan melindroso. When Baldomero began to cry, his mother rolled her Basque eyes and his father reached a reluctant arm over and pulled his son close to him where Baldomero could smell the remnants of soil and leaves with the beer on his breath.
When it rained at school and the water puddled under the picnic benches, the blonde children made boats from juice boxes and sent them sailing across the puddle at recess. Baldomero thought of Noah and if the ark stunk with all those animals and, perhaps, Noah regretted being tasked with the responsibility of saving the world. He watched seated at the bench until a large-headed boy stomped the puddle, capsizing the boats and the cries rose from the other children. The water trembled in violent protest and, within the chaos, Baldomero caught a glimpse of the face and his dark skin paled. Laughter pattered with the rain drops around him, never touching him. At lunch, he saw God in the peanut butter of his sandwich. He turned away and gave the sandwich to the thin girl with freckles.
He entered mass the following week soaking. His black hair dampened to his forehead and his shoes slipped and squeaked against the tile with every other step. The faces of God and the saints and virgins towered above him and the clatter of rain on the windows made him think of Tita Isabel again, lingering at the living room window and claiming she could see through the raindrops at the figure of Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ did not need the rain. Her brittle, gnarled fingers turned the translucent pages in delicate motions, almost like the caress of a lover and read from her Santa Biblia verse upon verse. His mother often placed guiding hands on Tita Isabel and directed her to sit down and rest, then roll those eyes as she returned to the stove. He wondered if Jesus Christ walked on the water because he didn’t want to get wet or because he could. His serene face looked down on Baldomero and he did not turn away but stared into the eyes of his hauntings. The eyes blinked and Baldomero looked to Padre Miguel at the alter and looked back to the eyes but they would not blink again.
His ashen face sunk and an age spread through his young body and the battle for Baldomero continued. Lines creased from his nostrils and bags hung under his eyes. The outline of his bones stretched against his skin and his emaciated figure roamed church and school and home like a shadow without a body. He would not eat. Nor would he pray his secular prayer. His siblings ceased to play when he drug his feet past them, forlorn eyes watching. His father prayed and lit candles for him each weekend, even interceding with Padre Miguel to come and exorcise what had stolen his son. When Baldomero slept, his mother uttered bitter condemnations on the God of her husband and their vicious spats imbued the home. She uttered a pledge to burn Padre Miguel’s church and would defecate on the altar for what this superstition had done to her child. Her husband’s palm slapped against her skin and she continued to pledge, spitting out her tears that ran down her hot skin. Baldomero’s father contacted Kiko, the horse doctor at Hairston’s Ranch out Scotts Valley Road, and asked him to see Baldomero. When Kiko saw the boy, he shook his head and pulled his belt buckle over his low belly and leaned over. He examined the boy then told Baldomero’s parents that he was dying and only God could save him. His mother spat at Kiko and stomped from the room. Her husband nodded, left, and headed to the church.
While this happened, Baldomero lay limp and placid in his bed, sweat gathering between his hair and the pillow. The thick texture blotched upon the ceiling appeared to drip. He watched somewhere between spirit and body the phantom drops until he heard a voice, faint and pacific, inch its way closer within him. Such wondrous colors oscillated above him and the texture dripped and foamed into the almighty face of his hauntings. A tear crept from his eye and slid to his ear as the face morphed from its abstraction. The eyes the last to solidify. In a whisper, Baldomero asked the face qué quiere conmigo? The eyes of sky reigned compassion and the tears flowed silent, saturating his pillow. The voice spoke his name again and Baldomero asked again qué quiere conmigo but the eyes bore through his weak body and fire surged through Baldomero’s palms and feet. Burning with such voracity he could not open his mouth to scream. From below the face raised wounded hands and Baldomero writhed in the intensity of his becoming. The face spoke and the impact of such holy timbre rocked him from consciousness to whiteness. The blood surging through his veins muted all around him and he lay paralyzed as the brilliance of the vision receded and he lay stricken on his bed before a bare ceiling. For a moment, Baldomero could not move nor speak his secular prayer and waited, enduring the fire in his palms and feet. When he gathered strength to move, he lifted his stinging hands and saw the blood dripping from the holes in them. The G.I. Joe bedsheet soaked and smeared with blood at the foot of the bed. He gathered the material, exposing his feet, and the puddle of blood that pooled at his heels.
His father, seeing the wounds, fetched Kiko again who examined Baldomero’s hands and feet. He had no diagnosis for what he saw and muttered no creo over and over as he left. His mother sat by him, one hand moving the damp hairs from his head and the other clasped over her mouth. She blamed her husband for causing their boy to do such a thing to himself and she cursed God for being maldad. Her husband begged her to take back her blasphemy but she kept her face to her son, whose glassy eyes stared beyond her. Baldomero’s father bandaged his palms and feet and called Padre Miguel and informed him of what had happened. Tia Carmen took the other children home just as Padre Miguel arrived, shaking the dust from his vestments and ran his fingers over his bushy black mustache as he followed Baldomero’s father into the boy’s room.
In seeing the boy, Padre Miguel dropped to his knees and prayed querido Santo padre, su gracia es sobre este niño and wept at Baldomero’s bedside. Baldomero heard the prayers and, seeing the bald scalp near him, wished to vanish from what had been implied upon him. His heart filled with rancor at seeing the face again but, as Padre Miguel’s solemn head tilted toward him, his hand began to tremor. As if a puppet, he lifted a shaky hand and placed it on Padre Miguel’s head. The priest wept, gathering fistfuls of stained sheets, and repeated gracias dios. The dried and red bandages on Baldomero’s palms stuck to the scant hairs. His mother watched with liminal eyes and said nothing of God nor her husband, who knelt beside Padre Miguel, head bowed.
Baldomero recovered through his seventh birthday. The bandages covering his wounds were replaced every day and, for the brief moments when the air touched his open skin, his spirit lifted until the cloth wrapped tight against his skin. During his recovery, the congregation of Iglesia de Nuestro Salvador de la Cruz rumored and whispered of the Jiminez boy miracle. They lingered with eyes above the pew backs and watched the Jiminez boy’s father kneel in fervent prayer on the first pew, penitent before the facsimiles of divinity standing over him. After the mass, Rosa Flores told of how she had heard from a neighbor that a luminescent Christo had walked out the front door of the Jiminez home just yesterday and how the boy had been chosen by Dios to perform miracles. Those listening moved their hands up and down across their chests and muttered prayers of gratitude.
When Baldomero had recovered enough to sit up in bed, his mother made him eat salted crackers to sustain him. The crumbs stuck and gummed in his tacky mouth. A clamor of voices arose from the front door and when Baldomero’s mother answered the door, Rosa Flores stood with her niece and pleaded to be touched by the boy. His mother fought against her and called her such foul names for a Catholic to act so evil. Baldomero, hearing the vociferous calls, stood and inched his way toward the front. As he came around the hall, he saw Rosa’s desperate face and, in weak authority, told his mother to let them come. She turned and saw his baggy eyes. Her lip trembled behind her anger and sorrow and she pushed the door open with a lethargic flick. Baldomero sat on the carpet, feeling the hard crumbs like sand under his legs. As the plump woman descended toward him with her niece’s hand clasped tight, he felt used and enslaved with compassion. He removed the bandages from his palms and, as the girl knelt before him and proclaimed her malady, he touched her scalp, leaving faint, red outline of himself on her yet strong enough to be revealed on the blackness of her hair.
The next day, Lucia Lopes, who his mother believed as a curandera, and Iván Quiroz, the picker, arrived at the Jiminez doorstep seeking a touch of el santo niño. When the doorbell rang, it chimed inside his heart and he longed for the strength to flee but, captive to his compassion, he sat in the hallway and placed naked palms on those who sought his touch. Each day, the congregation arrived with wants and meager gifts from their trade. Rocío Garza brought a quilt of the Holy Mother. Facundo Delgado parked his truck in the Jiminez driveway, piled with green pear boxes that cluttered the Jiminez garage. After a week since Rosa Flores first visit, believers came during all hours of the day and night and Baldomero could not deny them. During the times when the seekers lined the hallway in single file, awaiting their moment of grace, Baldomero would catch glimpses out the front door of Pilar and Gael Torres chasing each other, arms waving and striving to swipe a tag, and he would ask God with his spirit where his youth had been stored. The moans and praises often silenced the cry within him.
The toll of his ministry returned Baldomero to his bed where he lay limp and bandaged. A bed had been made in his parents’ room on his father’s side. At night, when his father snored and his mother wept, God would visit him and say nothing and the brilliant colors that swayed and swirled around Christ’s passive face remained long after the face departed and his persistent question was swallowed by the night. Each morning before the sun rose, his father leaned over from his side of the bed and stroked Baldomero’s thin hair with his hands of soil and whisper how blessed he was to have a son chosen by God and he lit candles on his nightstand before he dressed for work.
After two months, the doorbell stopped ringing. His father prayed harder but still their home returned to normalcy. His mother sighed and smirked at her husband as if victor in some passive battle. The wounds stayed with Baldomero into the dry summer. In the afternoons, he heard the children laughing and screaming as they ran through cheap sprinklers. His heart asked God the question and it came in the voice of Tita Isabel. Her raspy words spoke as audible as the laughter from the window and they told Baldomero se hace, mi hijo fiel and, at once, his spirit awoke from its captive state. His limbs stirred and moved as if revived from a dormancy and, looking at his hands, removed the bandages in meticulous movements. The red bandages stuck to his skin and peeled away to reveal restored skin on his palms and feet. His head swooned and, at once, he felt the gradual pressure of youth surging through his veins. Color returned to his eyes and, standing on unsecure legs, he left the bed made for him and stumbled down the hall, steadying himself on the walls. He reached the door and opened unto the world, feeling the rush of hot wind against his skin and smelling the smoke that filled the air. He breathed through his nostrils and the laughter of the children beckoned him like a siren song and he walked to it, slow and intrepid. The other children stared as he approached, curious and terrified by the ashen, frail body. The droplets of water sprayed and Baldomero, arms out and face upward, walked under the sprinkler’s wave, each droplet reverberated his soul and body and he laughed as loud as his body would allow. The hazy, discolored clouds, tainted by smoke, hung above him and he looked to them and the face watched him. And he smiled.
N.T. McQueen is the author of the novel, Between Lions and Lambs, and the children’s book, Moses Jones and the Case of the Missing Sneaker. He received his MA in Creative Writing from CSU-Sacramento under the direction of Douglas Rice. He has won two Bazzanella Literary Awards and his work has appeared in issues of the Calaveras Station and Burning Daylight. He lives in Northern California with his wife and three children.
Artwork: “Sweet Disposition” by Jonny Ruzzo