Jesus in the Bathroom Tile

Jesus in the Bathroom Tile

By Elizabeth Visscher

Leaning to the side, Thomas Mallory clicked a picture of the unfolded letter resting on the passenger’s seat. Studying his cellphone screen instead of the road, he checked to insure the image was clear before pressing send. One eye on the road. Thomas’s tie hung loose around his neck. As he rounded a corner, the silk slipped from around his pressed collar. His hand jerked to catch the other end and yank the fabric back into place, dropping the phone. The wheel spun back. The car shuddered as cat’s eyes were covered by wayward tires. Thomas corrected his course, and his cellphone rang. He felt for the device, but couldn’t find it. Another turn, another search. He maneuvered around a lethargic Lexis. The car groaned as its speed increased, fifty-five, sixty. Three more rings. Thomas strained to reach the phone on the floorboard, seizing the phone on the last ring. 

“Augusta. I’m coming. I told you I’m coming.”

She’d called him earlier, urging him to come immediately. Something was in the house.

Red lights rippled from one car to the next as each vehicle halted. Thomas jammed the brake to the floor. 

“Shit.”

Four inches from the car in front. Thomas blew air from his lips violently and pushed the hair from his face. 

“Tommy,” called a small, high-pitched voice. 

As he looked at the phone, another number flashed on the screen. 

Augusta, I’ll be there when I’m there.” 

He switched calls and hands, rearranging, so he could seize the paper again. 

“O’Brian.” Thomas watched the orange-digit timer tick down to the light change. 

“Mallory, do you think this is the best time? Everyone is here.”

“What’s the verdict?”

Dashes disappeared, reappeared—more seconds went by before a deep sigh resounded on the other end. 

“It’s enough to do battle, Mallory. You’ve got some things working against you—the date, signature, notary—”

“But I am the executor.”

“It’s still enough to stand in place of a will. You know the game; all depends on how we spin it.”

“Time isn’t my concern.” Red became green, and Thomas’s car inched forward before the car in front had moved.

Right, Mallory,” responds a voice, seasoned by whiskey and war. “But if you can get her on board, that’ll save you time. Probably would have been easier to sort through this mess when you first received the copy of the letter—” 

“But all I need is a signature on the document acknowledging executorship.”

“Mallory, just get it before she goes in the ground.”

Thomas’s phone beeped, punctuating O’Brian’s final words. Looking to the screen, Thomas replied, “Got another call. I’ll meet you at the funeral home.” 

Ending the call, Thomas switched again. 

“Mr. Mallory? Palmer here. Just spoke with the pastor. He says there’s a software problem with the DVD.” 

 “Just tell him to replace it with another hymn.”

“…Ok. Do you have another hymn in mind?”

“Palmer. I’m under no illusion she’ll actually hear it.”

Thomas hung up and turned into the driveway, barely missing the painted mailbox—, made to look like a birdhouse—,with a bent flag. The car bucked and jumped as it came to a stop. Thomas grabbed the document and the letter, and slammed the car door. He checked the tread on his front tire as he hurried past. 

“Augusta?” he yelled, as he entered through the porch door. The dizzying clatter from a frenzied wind chime announced his visit. Thomas bopped it aside, tussling more jangling jewels, as he pushed it out of his face. 

The home’s sweet aroma hung in the air like dissolved sugar in a hummingbird feeder. The interior space was equally stagnant. Every room, from Thomas’s view, was in the condition of abandonment, but not in a neglectful manner. Two chairs sat in front of a small television with two foldable dinner tables in front. The chairs’ fabric was discolored and sunken in the center. In the kitchen, dishes in the sink were still cradled in water, and a sponge rested on the counter, barely kissing the crumbs it was meant to collect. Even the spirometer, resting on the table near Thomas, hung between two numbers, as though the stolen breath of its user halted the gauge—all unlike the description of the house Augusta gave during their phone conversation a few months back. 

“Up here! It’s in the bathroom!” 

Climbing the stairs, two at a time, he buttoned his suit and resituated his cuff. 

In the master, the bed was unmade, and the bathroom door stood open. Augusta stood in the shower with her face turned from Thomas. The bathroom mats were piled in the corner, and a few cleaning supplies sat beside them. The cream-colored shower curtain was pulled from the bar and lay folded upon itself like whipping cream, melting in summer heat. Augusta stood in the shower’s basin. Her flowing jumper swallowed her in a sea of dizzying patterns and colors. Her hands were barely visible from where he stood, but he could see her studying the wall, an Egyptian prophetess reading painted stories from an ancient past. Her fingers traced the tiles with such delicacy, as if the walls would wake at too firm a touch. 

“Augusta?” 

His sister didn’t turn. 

“Tommy. I’m glad you’re here. I wanted you to see it.”

Thomas took a step closer. His eyes squinted.  

“See what?” he said. 

“Jesus.” Her head turned around. “Jesus is in the bathroom tile.” Her eyes were wild, and the blue of her irises shone. A soft smile parted her lips. “He’s right here. Look.” She motioned for him to come over. 

Thomas lowered his head and sighed. 

“You’re not dressed,” he said, as he moved to the adjacent vanity to knot his tie. The tie’s geometric patterns twisted and pinched together, as he looped the fabric, a kaleidoscope of shapes. His chin lifted in the air as he made the adjustments. “Also, don’t you think it’s a bit weird sleeping in Mom’s bed. You have your own bed.” 

“Tommy, none of that matters.”

“Right, because what really matters is being on time.” 

“She doesn’t need me there. She’s with the Lord, and the Lord is here.”

 “It’s not about her needing anything. It’s about finalizing arrangements,” Thomas said to his sister’s reflection.

“Yes, I know…And it’ll be nice to see everybody.” Augusta pulled her face to the side. “It’s been so long since Mom and I’ve seen them—”

“My family and I have lives of our own, Augusta.” Thomas picked up a small clock, fashioned to resemble an old radio, to read the face. He set it back down with a heavy sigh. Staring at his hands, he held them out in front of his face. His brow pinched together, as if he were struggling to count all ten fingers.

“Yes, of course—sorry, everything needs dusting. The floor is slick too. I usually clean the bathroom after Mom gets her corndog, and I sit her down to watch Judge Judy. But now, the bathrooms are half clean, and I have a freezer full of frozen dogs. But I guess it’s in the moments when things fall apart that you truly seek God’s face.”

“That is a very literal interpretation of scripture, Augusta—”

“It’s not God’s words; its Mama’s.”    

Thomas’s lips pursed. He wiped his hands on a towel, draped over the vanity stool.

She continued, “She said I saw God’s hand in everything. In her letter.”

With his back towards his sister, Thomas laid the document and letter on the countertop, smoothing the edges as he scanned the letter’s cursive script. He read briefly till he found the words. He turned back around.

“Mom said a lot of things in that letter, many of which weren’t exactly…fair.”

“Fair?

“Logical.”

Augusta turned away from the tile. Her head cocked slightly, and her eyes blinked slowly. Her lips opened, forming a rosebud shape. 

“Logical?”

Thomas walked in front of her with his hands behind his back, looking at her through a slanted gaze. 

“Do you think anyone who finds out they are going to die,”—Augusta flinched at the word,—“is in any position to make big decisions, alone? Do you think anybody would believe that mom was capable of making that decision, alone?”

Thomas crossed again in front of her. Augusta searched the water’s still surface below her, seeing only a dark shadow above her feet. 

“Why does it matter what people believe? Doesn’t it just matter what Mama wrote?” 

Moving back to the counter, Thomas placed one hand on the letter, gingerly. “What matters is that we take time to reevaluate what’s best for everyone, as a whole—as a family. I just think you should read it again. With that perspective in mind.” 

“Tommy, I have all my answers,”—Augusta turned back to the tile—“Here. If you’d just look.” Her arms raised at her sides, and her sleeves draped down, displaying the design, and even Thomas half expected the water in the tub to separate to the sides at the touch of her feet.

“Augusta!”

Thomas. Just look.” She traced the tile. 

Thomas darted to the adjacent walk-in closet. He slung the clothes back with the force of a typist readying a platen for another line of letters. The hangers clicked together and screeched, as Thomas rifled through them, and a couple landed on the floor.  

“Here,” he said as he emerged from the closet, dress in hand. “This will work.” He extended the hanger out before him forcibly as if it were a king’s scepter, ready to knight a lowborn subject. 

It touched her shoulder, but she didn’t turn. “Tommy, please. I can’t go.”

Thomas threw the garment back behind him. The hanger clattered against the grey-stroked marble, and the rock’s smoky signature was covered by the dress’s daisy print.

“You can’t not go.”  

“I’m needed here.”

Thomas spun in circles in a jerky manner, a toy top just before it crashes into the ground. “Because you’re seeing God in a shower? Am I in the blender? And your neighbor in the doorknob? Put the dress on and let’s go.”

Augusta remained silent. Her arms dropped to her side. The fallen leaves tapped the window to the left of the shower as they were tossed by the breeze. Thomas watched the movement outside and imagined the smell of the wind. But the air around him was quite different,—stale and filled with man-made scents. Coconut-butter body wash and cherry-blossom conditioner, all mixed, gave the room a sickeningly sweet aroma.  

“He’s here, Tommy…”

Thomas watched her from behind. Closing his eyes, he pressed his face into his hands. He sighed heavily, and the hot breath, trapped in the cup of his palms, blew back against his face. Bending over, he lifted one leg after another to untie his shoes. The black material glistened so beautifully under the fluorescent lights that Thomas looked for his reflection. The laces were stubborn, and he labored to loosen them. After removing his shoes, he took pains to roll up his slacks and stepped into the tub beside Augusta. 

“Do you see Him?” she asked.

He squinted. “I see them.” 

Them?

“Yes.” Thomas turned to her. “The impurities in the marble that make the color variations look like shapes that look like a face. Your Christ is a rock flaw.” Thomas pivoted to step out of the tub, but Augusta caught his arm. 

“I can’t go, Tommy.” 

The halting motion dropped his rolled-up slacks into the water, and he felt the liquid slowly ascend his legs, soaking and undoing the iron-pressed ridges in the center of each leg. 

“You aren’t needed here anymore. That’s why it’s better for you to be in another place.”

“I don’t want to be in another place. The letter says I can stay.”

 “That’s unfair, Augusta. And things need to be made fair.”

“Fair? Like before she passed?”

Augusta dropped Thomas’s arm. She looked at him till he could look at her no more. Thomas let his heartbeat settle like the water below.

“I loved her too, Augusta,” he said, working to clear his throat. “I just…couldn’t watch her die.” He peered into her eyes in such a way as to make her see him, to reveal a glimpse of his tormented soul, to allow her to judge his weakness. 

She reached out to him, again, pulling his arm. “Then look again.” 

Thomas looked again, and as a form began to take shape before him, his eyes widened. Turning away, he wobbled and threw his hand out to balance, slapping his hand against the sacred tile. 

“Jesus, my saving Grace, is in the tile, Tommy.”

Thomas yanked his arm from his sister and pivoted, pushing off from the wall. But as he shoved away, the water below him seemed to move, and he lost his footing. His right foot flung out from under him before the left, splashing water onto the walls. Thomas grabbed at the air, desperately hoping to cling to the shower curtain, no longer there. His body hit the tiles below him, and his limbs twisted in the same manner he’d knotted his tie. The water rocked in the basin, slower and slower, till its surface became as still as Thomas’s figure on the floor.

Augusta leaned over to look at him, waiting. Her sleeves draped over the porcelain shell, and her hem dipped lower into the steadied water. She stepped out of the tub and over Thomas. Approaching the counter, she picked up the document, smoothing out the creased corners as she read each page. She placed the paper back down, and the leaves outside the window stopped.

“He’s in those tiles too,” she said.