Rural Route 1
So come to find out, Jesus is my mailman. It's funny because I always thought he looked a little bit like the real Jesus. Well, kind of an Asiany-Hispanicky-looking Jesus, and he's a little shorter than I thought Jesus might be. But other than that, the resemblance to the Sunday School pictures was striking.
I found out he was Jesus more or less by accident, assuming there can be accidents when you're talking about Him. I was leaving my building, coming down the stairs and there he was at the mailboxes reading my copy of Nature magazine. Needless to say I was taken aback, but only slightly. On most things I'm pretty easy-going so I didn't mind my mailman reading my magazine all that much, and anyway I'm always glad to see my fellow citizens taking an interest in science. So mostly it just struck me as funny.
He was engrossed by whatever article he was reading and didn't notice me at first, so I just stood there smiling at him. Finally he noticed me and looked up. His smile was the beauty of the world, and that's how I knew right away he was Jesus. Thank god I've always tipped him $20 at the holidays.
"Oh, sorry," he said. "I'm a little behind schedule today. Normally I've read all your mail before I get to your box. I just wanted to finish that one article."
I'm like: what??
"Be not afraid. I read everybody's mail," he said, dropping bills and circulars into my box. "It's how I know what's in people's hearts. Well, that and their cable TV boxes."
"Why are you reading my Nature?"
"Oh." He studied the picture of the Dictyostelium genome on the cover. "It's a little bit like a playwright reading his reviews, I guess." He dropped the magazine into my box. "I know I shouldn't, but I do."
"I thought you could just, you know, see what's in people's hearts."
"Well, I can if I want. But after a while it's a bit tedious, isn't it? No dramatic tension. What's it like for you when you're reading a book or watching a movie and you already know everything there is to know about what's going to happen? Bit boring, eh?"
"Yeah. I guess so."
He locked up the mailboxes.
"There's got to be some mystery. There's got to be some tension, otherwise what the hell? So sometimes I just switch off the know-it-all stuff and read the story of the cosmos as it goes along. The mail is good for that. It's full of clues and puzzles. About what's going on inside."
He pocketed his keys and started for the lobby door.
"Wait." I plucked lightly at his shirtsleeve. He stopped, looked at me querulously.
"Will I go to heaven? Even though I don't believe in you?"
"You'll probably do all right. You've got some problems, things you've done and said. You know what I mean." He looked at me significantly. "I read your mail, remember."
I glanced down, visions of crab apples dancing in my head. "Yeah."
"You feel bad about those things, right? You intend never to be like that again, right?"
"Okay, so your heart's in the right place even if your head isn't always." He turned toward the lobby door again.
I knew he was late. I knew he was behind schedule, but I could not help myself. I needed answers.
I gripped his arm.
"You read everybody's mail?"
"Sure. Like I said."
"Everybody's? In the whole world? How can you do that?"
He chuckled. "Well, lemme ask you. How does Santa Claus do what he does? All those toys to all the kids, all in one night?"
"But Santa Claus isn't real. Nobody really believes in Santa."
"So maybe that's how he does it. Nobody really believes in him, so he can do anything he wants."
"That's a stupid answer, Jesus. That doesn't answer anything at all."
He laughed out loud. His laugh was deep and soft and the sound of it melted into the hard walls of the lobby like cocoa into warm milk. He started to pull away but I gripped his arm tighter.
"Wait. Could you fix my diabetic cat, please? I have to give him two shots a day and he won't let anyone else do it and one time I left him with the vet so I could go on a trip and they almost killed him. It cost me twelve hundred dollars to save him."
"Twelve hundred? Jeez. That's impressive." He pondered this for a moment, then frowned at me. "That's it? That's the best you can do? Your diabetic cat? You've got Jesus by the arm in your lobby and that's what you come up with?"
"Oh. Sorry." I was ashamed. "It's just that I wish I could travel more."
He studied my face a moment, then smiled. He reached up and set three fingertips against my temple.
"Travel there. There's plenty left to see in there."
"But I've traveled inside there my whole life. I'm tired of it."
"You think that makes you special? I'll tell you what. Try getting off the freeways and the interstates. Try some of the back roads in there. Those little two lane jobs that wander off the map and go places you've never heard of. The rural routes. That's what you want. That'll spice things up."
He could tell he wasn't making the sale.
"Okay, how about this?" He patted my shoulder. "After you die, you can travel the universe in a disembodied, ethereal form. You can spend eternity reading the universe's mail, so to speak, discovering all its best kept secrets. How's that sound?"
"I give you the Word. You can't do better than that."
"No." I beamed. "I guess not."
He headed for the door.
"Oh, and cancel some of your credit cards, will you? You've got way more than you need." He stopped, lost in thought for a moment, facing away from me. "But keep the Macy's card. You hear me?"
He nodded, then left. Somehow I knew -- without knowing how I knew -- that he would not be further stayed from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.
Later that day, I cancelled all my cards except for one Visa, one Mastercard, and, of course, my Macy's.
I still don't believe in Him, but he was right about the cards.