We’re the only two Jews—accompanied by one agnostic Christian—in Walsh’s Funeral Home, a very Irish Catholic business near Hoppy’s Liquor Store in Framingham.
My uncle Seth, my best friend, Chris, and I sit on one side of a stony gray conference table staring at the same horrendous thing: the massive crucifix hanging on the wall across from us.
“It’s frightening,” I whisper, because it is.
The cross, with Jesus pinned to it, has to be four feet tall and just as wide. Jesus’s miserable face looks like it’s made of porcelain. There are tiny cracks on his forehead, spreading like spiderwebs just under his thorny crown. Blood is coming from his eyes.
“Jeeeee-sus,” Uncle Seth says, his own face sour as he narrows his eyes to examine Jesus’s anguished expression.
“Indeed, it is,” I say.
“He could not look more . . . unpleasant,” Seth adds, waving his hand toward the sculpture.
“He’s having a very bad day,” I say, and Seth smirks at my understatement.
Seth’s graying black hair sticks up in all directions. My uncle is the coolest person in my family, now that Grandma Sheryl is dead. He usually looks New York sleek, like a distinguished man in an advertisement for a watch, but right now he’s red-eyed and messy, and so am I. I know from a recent trip to the funeral home bathroom that my cat eyeliner has spread across my face and is inching its way to my ears. I can smell my own armpits. There are hospital cafeteria blueberry muffin crumbs stuck between my teeth.
We’re doing the best we can. We just lost our matriarch, the best person in the world.
Chris shifts in his seat next to me. Our commentary about Jesus has made him uncomfortable. He taps his foot on the floor before he responds.
“They can’t make a crucifix where Jesus is, like, smiling,” he says, keeping his voice just above a whisper. “He’s literally dying on the cross.”
Chris, whose family helped found the new Black church off Route 9, isn’t sure what he believes anymore, but he knows the rules of Christianity and still tries to follow them when he can. He lives in the kind of house where you say grace before eating yogurt. He does not take the Lord’s name in vain.
His mother, Grace Burke, is a tall woman with flawless dark brown skin and the world’s highest cheekbones, which she passed down to her sons. She loves to remind me, like every few weeks, that Jesus was a Jew, and that when the “time comes” (by this, I like to assume, she means the alien apocalypse), I, too, will be saved. I tell her this is good to know.
Seth nods his acquiescence on the Jesus point but continues. “Okay, fine, he’s being crucified, it’s horrible, I get it, but who wants to look at this in a funeral home, of all places? It’s so bleak.”
“It’s exactly where Christian people want to look at something like this,” Chris—whose name is literally Christian—explains. “For somebody like my mom, a crucifix is a comfort. She believes it’s a reminder that Jesus died to save us.”
“I get that,” I volunteer, “but I don’t like that this particular Jesus has a body made of so many different materials. His face is clearly breakable, but his stomach is, like, plastic. His fingers are made of fabric. He’s . . . Franken-Jesus.”
Seth erupts, letting out an exhausted cackle. “Good line, Lor. You should write that down and use it for something.”
And with that—even on what is probably one of the worst days of my life—I am floating. I am a ray of light. I am a genius.
Uncle Seth has written two novels and teaches creative writing to college students at some of the best schools in New York. He doesn’t just throw out compliments, so when he likes my work, it makes me feel invincible. Like I can see my future. It looks a lot like his life, hopefully.
“Franken-Jesus,” I repeat as I text it to myself so I don’t forget.
“Let’s try to keep it down,” Chris says, noticing that people are walking by the door. “There are grieving families looking at coffins in the next room.”
It’s true. When we entered Walsh’s Funeral Home, the three of us huddled together as if we were embarking on a haunted house tour, we passed a room full of coffins, with sad-looking families perusing them in rows. Most of the coffins had brownish wood with a soft satin interior—but there was one shiny white one with silver trim that reminded me of the cheesy white limos some kids rent for prom. I imagined that it might have fluorescent lights inside. Maybe when you close the lid of the white party coffin, it plays EDM.
I grin, hearing the coffin beats in my head, but I keep that thought to myself. I don’t want to say anything else that will make Chris uncomfortable. There are crucifixes here, which means this is his world, not mine.
I take a closer look at him to see how he’s holding up, and I can’t help but notice his perfect ears. I would like to trace them with my finger.
I shake my head, as if the action will knock every forbidden thought I have about my best friend out of my system, and I focus on Uncle Seth instead. I can’t figure out how he is related to my mom, let alone that he is her twin brother. They look the same, I guess. They have curly dark hair that’s turning white at the same speed. They’re both compact and fit.
But they couldn’t be more opposite in every way that counts. Seth is hilarious and talented and dedicated to his one passion. He has the world’s most perfect relationship with his partner, the very dashing—and very British—Ethan. Seth travels the world and sends me a keychain from every place he visits.
Meanwhile, my mom is, as Grandma Sheryl used to say, still searching for her rudder. She goes from job to job, claiming that each one is her destiny. She is a life coach who pretty much reads only self-help books, and she preaches about them to everyone around her. She’s on her sixth boyfriend in five years, and goes all in with every single one of them.
She’s so messy as a parent that she’s not even here right now. Her own mother died more than twenty-four hours ago, and somehow she’s still trying to figure out how she’ll get from Maryland to Massachusetts. It’s only eight hours away, a...