It's Tuesday. Into the gym I go—strength-building, weight-training, core-defining. It is not the type of body that generally gym-goes, but I go, and I go gorgeous. I go to a potluck after. I am swole and famished; I carb-fill. Pizza with olives on top. Cheese-coated breadsticks dipped in liquid garlic. Who brought pizza to a potluck? someone says. I wish spring would make up its mind, someone else says. Other people announce similar thoughts. The voices continue on in the divinity of casual conversation. Can you watch my cat for a week? I ask someone. Can you watch my cat for a week? I ask someone else. Why? they ask. It's almost Easter and thus I have to be crucified, I say.
Because I am at Pontius Pilates, that means it is Wednesday. It is the morning. My body is alphabetical—"T", "X", "Y", a really screwed up "K" that pushes me to my limits. I am on the foam mat and my legs bend into the air. I am off the foam mat and my arms bend into the unknown. All these letters I have become.
Can I suspend my membership for a week? I ask. Probably not, the membership coordinator responds. It's for religious reasons, I say. I am being crucified, I say. In that case, the membership coordinator says, I can make an exception. Pilates are good practice for being nailed to a cross, the membership coordinator says, as if I do not know this already.
I eat a lot of homemade bread, guttered down with wine. My cat is named Judas. My father was a carpenter. I understand how this all might sound. I am lesser. I dabble in whittling. Spoons, cartoon character figurines, whistles, clothespins with outlandish alligator jaws. My largest project has been an axe. The metal was an old rust-piece found at an antique mall. Since then it has been de-aged, un-rusted, anachronistic as the old head has found its way onto a freshly carved body. I have shared many photos of my handiwork on the currents of the internet. My axe has been featured in many prominent handcraft lumberjack blogs.
Later, when the city has gone to bed, I go to Papa John's website and order my favorite—anchovy and olives. I slide the time-frame button that says ASAP to next week. In the comments section I leave a note for the pizza artist: All these days in-between is not an accident! I am leaving town for Eden! I am being crucified and I will not be back until then! Please do not deliver ASAP!
At dawn it is another Wednesday, and I begin to pack my backpack (clothes, silver wristwatch, smartphone, toothpaste, chapstick, hemp rope, my axe...). This is where the movements change—how the exercised body becomes prepared to trek at a length. The back already feeling the phantom of all the weight it will suffer. I prepare to be scourged. I walk east.
The walk can be condensed as: windmills and hay devils, red farms, dead crops, cows, horses, cows, cows, highway sidelines, purple weeds, heliotropes, semis, vultures, crows, cars. Sea grapes, saw palmettos, sand. I walk across the Atlantic. I walk through the Strait of Gibraltar. Tangier and Tarifa, Ceuta cornered as I expand into the Alboran Sea. I sit on the waves and comb my hair, brush my teeth in the brine. Catania past toes of Italy. Tunisia. In Beirut I land. I take a selfie with the water behind me. I send it to my friend who is caring for my cat. A picture of my cat comes back, raw chicken on whiskers. Judas looks happy, although can a cat’s face ever show its true interior?
When I arrive at Eden it is still Wednesday, the sun still high in the sky. The well-watered garden has vines climbing down and gnarled wood rising up, and it's impossible to get in unless you know someone or are a good talker. After that whole serpent incident, security became tighter. I know this sounds ridiculously expected, but that’s just how things are when you’re supposed to be crucified: everything, by its essence, becomes slightly over-the-top.
At the entrance of Eden there is a giant plastic egg with a digital screen hovering in front of the gate. High noon: the shadow under the hovering egg is a small circle. The screen lights up as I approach. Security. In the bauble is a little pixelated angel with a swoop of cartoonish ice-cream-scoop hair. The wings only have three frames of animation, and they flap lazily. We're full, says the angel. I can check your ID, but you have to wait, the angel says in a pixel font that appears over its head. I look around. There is no else here except myself and the angel simulation. I left it inside, actually, I say. I left my entire wallet inside, actually. I've been in already. You checked it before. My credit card is at the bar. Can you let me back in? I need to get my wallet. The angel is quiet.
I can imagine it's hard to be a bouncer for Eden, I add, trying to be empathetic. Yeah, the bouncer angel replies, not really supposed to let anyone in after the last few times. People always eat the fruit and then I get into trouble. Are you sure you've been in before? I go to do a sign of the cross before I remember I’m not religious, so my hand just circles my chest to make an infinity sign. Forever positive, I say. The angel’s pixels seem a little more relaxed. Humans, I scoff, and the angel chuckles. Alright, get in here. I thank the angel and say, Selfieee, and move my head toward the giant egg as I raise my smartphone above us to catch a good angle. The angel crosses its torch and sabre in some gladiatoresque pose.
After the angel lets me into Eden, I sit beneath a canopy of leaves, light casting through, shrubs bending around to form a bar. Haven't seen a human in a while, the polar bear says from behind the bar. I'm being crucified, I respond. Well, you'll come down from the cross when you're good and ready, says the bear sympathetically, and I say, Yes, thank you. I order one wine spritzer after another, take the refilled glass with me as I leave the bar, approaching the arboretum.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the most notorious. The Tree of Life has bleached fruit, meaty with anemic wings. They look like terrible pigeons trying to fly away. They move, windless. I move away from the celebrity arbors and into the lesser trees. The Tree of Honesty and the Tree of Honor. Tree of Abstention and Tree of Benevolence. Tree of Generosity and Tree of Sacrifice and Tree of Persistence and Tree of Rectitude. Tree of Sufferance and Tree of Mercy and Tree of Loyalty and Tree of Satisfaction and Tree of Compassion and Tree of Integrity. Past the Tree of Reverence there is the Tree of Happiness, which I am not permitted to eat from. It is smaller than the other trees, and glass-like, translucent. Inside, past the clear bark, there is black honey dripping and some filament buzzing like parasite.
I take out my axe from my backpack. I start to chop. A lion walks by and says, Hey, what are you doing? and I say, Landscaping, and it looks at me incredulously, but keeps walking. It is a long time before the tree falls. The light and the Wednesday never changes. I lean against the trunk on the garden floor, sweating, taking another selfie with the fallen tree, tweeting it out into the digital ether.
Just because something is hard to access, doesn’t mean it isn’t mine. This is the thing I needed, the thing my body must be attached to. The Tree of Happiness will grow again. I hold my faith. There are other trees, but this one is the furthest away from me, and thus the one I need to be nailed to. Despite its lack of opacity, the tree is heavier than it looks. I tie it to myself with hemp rope and walk. I bear my patibulum. Mmmnt-mm, a deer sasses me, shaking its head disapprovingly as I carry my burden. Sorry, I say. Sorry, I say to the disappointed looking polar bear as I return my spritzer glass. Sorry, I say as I drag my burden past the egg, out of Eden, as the pixels diminish, and the screen fades out in dejection. Humans, I say to the appraising air.
When I am home, it is still Wednesday. My body is ravaged. Tell Judas I will see him in three days! I text my catsitter friend. I put my phone on airplane mode. It would be rude to interrupt the process of crucifixion. Although I am back home, I do not go home. Instead, I walk atop the highest hill. With my carpenter's wisdom, I begin to hack away with my axe, making purposeful registers. The Tree of Happiness no longer looks like itself. It is amazing what you can do with a single tool. A little rustic, yes, but the parts look good. Strange angles of glass and dark goo dripping into the grass, smothering as tar. I take out a large mallet and long spikes from my backpack. The two pieces nailed together—a cross is formed. It looks sculptural, something that could be sold in expensive art galleries. Yet, a thing with purpose.
Because I am a very do-it-yourself person, I begin to crucify myself. This ultimately doesn't matter in the end, because Roman soldiers always show up. I start like this though: the sharpest spike is pushed against the wrist. Most people never learn the proper way to crucify themselves. You don't go through the hands. You want to push the nail between your ulna and radius bones—right in the gap—so the weight of your dying body doesn't rip your hand. If you fall off the cross through torn flesh, what's the point of being crucified in the first place? A living body touching the ground during a crucifixion is worse than a flag touching the ground. Both result in flames.
No one really wants to be crucified, but it's different when you know you have to. My incredible strength makes it easy as I suffer the nail through the left wrist with my right hand. The veins get tangled a bit, but I don't push through anything vital. It would be a shame to bleed to death when I have gotten this far. But still I bleed. The hardest part is piercing the thick skin of the other side. When the skin expands as a pyramid at the top of my left wrist, I have to move my right fingers around it. I push at the sides as hard as I can until there is a light pop and the spike has broken through completely. The thin blood goes everywhere, and I have to keep wiping to see where everything is. This is when I lay flush against the cross. The redness of me so dramatic against the clearness of the cross. I take the mallet in my right hand and push the spike completely into the wood. This is the point where I am stuck, as it's very hard to nail your right wrist into a cross when your left hand is already nailed flat, but it doesn't matter, as this is always the point when the Roman soldiers show up.
After they do their job, I am high in the air, looking across the maquette-like houses on the horizon. A soldier is putting the final two nails through my feet. As I am when I am at the phlebotomist, I focus outward. The excruciating burst of the metal hitting nerves. I feel horrible electricity in me—imagine sea anemone, brutality, lightning, the shatter running through my legs and sweat upon my sweat. Something about the pain is making my brain processes go haywire. Needles. Synaptic lightning.
I can see my apartment complex from up here, I say to the only Roman soldier I know by name—Longinus. There is always a Longinus because he is the one who has to poke you at the end of the crucifixion to make sure you are dead. Uh-huh, he says. I'll probably talk less from this point out, I say. I need to conserve my breath. It hurts to be crucified. Longinus looks up at me. Then shut up, he says. He is being cold, but I know he has some affection for me—it is an important role to be able to test if someone is dead or not during a crucifixion. I have little affection for Longinus; it's his lance that matters. Gilded and sharp. Spear, javelin, syringe, revenge, I say in a quiet sing-song voice as the sun beats down on me. I am more delirious than I presumed I would be as I approach my death. At least I wasn't birched, although I am deserving of that too, it just wasn't in the cards. Some of the soldiers sit in the grass and play Euchre. From above their red centurion helmets look like a drag queen's eyelashes, blinking.
The Romans perfected crucifixion, at least its capacity as a punishment that both maximizes pain and suffering. They're oh-so-particular about it too: the feet not touching holy ground, how the disgraceful death is mostly reserved for slaves and revolutionaries. I am neither. Because the Romans perfected this persecution of the body, it is simultaneously disturbing for others to watch. Because of the horror it is to look-on, a weeping woman is always attracted by the act. This is just the way the world works when you’re the type of person who has to be crucified.
A weeping woman doesn’t actually have to identify as a woman—it’s certainly an antiquated and essentializing term. A lot of actors-out-of-work and drag queens take up side jobs as weeping women. My assigned weeping woman comes in a full-blue body suit. Sequined lycra. She mirror-balls across the grass. She weeps. She resembles an old camp star with her high cyan eyeshadow. She is doing some performance art type of stretching as she cries loudly. If no one takes care of your body, it gets consumed by predatory animals. I need someone to watch me, to make sure my body is whole.
The thing is, most people assume the crucified die from starvation and dehydration, or bleeding into emptiness. This is an underestimation of the capacity for the human body to suffer. It is one's body weight that becomes totality when hung by one's own arms. Even with all my gym strength and my Pilates-earned flexibility, each breath is acute and harrowing. As I rise up to breathe I feel the textured walls of the spike rotating against the edge of my bones, impulses of nerve igniting again in intensity. The burning. It's the aggravation of the body's corners that makes one want to stop, give up, prevent the self from rising to intake one shallow, unbearable breath into the weakened lungs. Just when you think you're ready to die, you rise and open the wounds wider.
Dried, my lips react to the abundance of light. Longinus is moving a sea sponge on the end of his lance. I cannot speak. I have only three words left in me. To use that energy.... I attempt and close my mouth, bite down before the wet mass touches. C'mon, Longinus insists, annoyed. It's champagne. You love champagne, don't you? It'll numb the pain. It'll help. I keep my mouth closed tight. It's either this or we break your legs and end this now, Longinus says, as if I didn't have the power to end this at any moment. The weeping woman is bursting aural blues—as if her teardrops were entering the air—hitting us all. Oh FATHER, FATHER! she cries. THE FATHER! THE FATHER! she cries again, louder. The centurions gather beneath my feet. Longinus pushes harder. FATHER! FATHER! HE WHO CREATED THE TREE OF HAPPINESS THAT YOU ARE NOT PERMITTED TO EAT FROM! I turn my head slightly. Each micro-movement of the body affects it as a whole. Don't you like champagne, Longinus offers in a sweet voice. What brand? I gasp out in slow hesitations. It's André, Longinus offers back. Never, I say, and die.
When I die it goes like this for three days:
Then I return, entombed. It is no longer Wednesday. It is like waking up in a hospital, drugged through the kiss of anesthesia. There is a circular crevasse and this is the only way the light enters. I wriggle until the tight gauze wrapped around my body becomes loose. There are dried herbs between various layers of the wrap and my body smells of thyme, garlic, rot. In the layer closest to my skin is my smartphone. I stand, and I am nude, but my muscle has returned to full form. I am hungry, but I am also full of vigor, a dizzy passion in my hands. There are holes and these holes are all over me, inside me, but I am cleansed of that life that existed before me. I am famished for the unclean though, an interior space that continuously needs retribution. I crave pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, pesto, anchovy, onions. I think of Judas's soft fur between my fingers. I take a selfie with the flash. I sent it to my catsitter friend. Be back soon. Just was resurrected, lol.
With all my strength I grab whatever blocks the light, some huge boulder, and I push. My feet sink into the dirt, and I push. It rolls. It is Easter. Where I am there are children with chocolate smeared across their mouths. Pastel suits in white, lavender, seafoam, pale yellow. Floral dresses. Plastic eggs with coins and candy hidden inside. From a distance I hear the outburst of tears again, the weeping woman returning, coming closer in her jumpsuit, screaming, YOU HAVE RISEN! THE FATHER! THE FATHER! THE FATHER HAS BROUGHT YOU BACK! WHAT WAS ONCE DEAD RETURNS IN FLESH ANEW! She drops a basket of Cadbury at my bare toes. Dizzied, I wish she was still—but I don’t want to patronize her because after all we all have roles—so instead I stand there and listen as she sings her song of the paternal, the song of the fatherly ghost.
I knew what I had to do, what the self had to do in a state of devastation, that totality, the cross through litanies, craftwork and agony. The weeping woman is here because I was crucified, and I was crucified because I had to. It's okay. It's okay. This was preordained. This was meant to happen. She replies, NO, THE FATHER. YOUR FATHER. WE MUST GIVE PRAISE TO THE FATHER! THE ONE WHO HAS BROUGHT YOU BACK. The sun catches the burnished plastic of a turquoise egg, a beam of light splintering, casting white beams on the grass. My stomach growls.
No, I reply, hungry and dizzied. He is not my father. I have but one father and his name is Papa John. With this I turn, begin my walk again, move in a direction only known to me, toward that single thing I desired all along.
JD Scott is the author of two chapbooks: FUNERALS & THRONES (Birds of Lace Press, 2013) and Night Errands (YellowJacket Press, 2012). Recent and forthcoming publications include Best American Experimental Writing, Prairie Schooner, Salt Hill, Sonora Review, No Tokens, The Baltimore Review, Hotel Amerika, and elsewhere. More of JD’s work can be found at jdscott.com.