A. I’m not a whore. Let’s get that straight.

B. When I washed His feet with my hair, it’s because I felt a love fools like you will never understand. You try to make love into some nasty thing, the way you take your wives under your thumbs and crush them like bugs. You call that love, right?

So when a girl, yeah, maybe scantily clad, but smarter than you know, busts into your holier-than-thou party with some tears in her hair, you get all up in arms about what’s proper and what’s not. Like you’d know. You don’t know shit. You keep saying He’s nothing special, getting all up in His grill, and hey, I’m not saying my rock star’s God, but He’s got something going on. Anyway, when was the last time you fools walked on water?

He says this thing about throwing pearls before swine, about how it’s a waste of time. I guess that’s what I’m doing now, but anyway, I’ll tell you how it went down, try to make you understand what’s what.

The first time I saw Him was at this park one night. The air smelled like caramel corn, and little kids were hula hooping in the grass, shaking there hips and saying, “Nah, nah, nah.” The festival fliers said something about entertainment, but me and my sister, Missy, were there for the free food and fireworks. We were walking along, chewing on cotton candy, and Missy pointed and said, “Hey, there’s a guitarist.” I looked.

Holy shit. There He was, adjusting his mic stand, getting ready to sing, and I swear, the sight of Him knocked the wind out of me. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared. He was tall and lanky. But strong. You could tell that just by looking. He moved like water flowing over stones. Smooth. And He had this glow about Him. So did everything. The trees. The grass. The sky. Man, those stars were wearing halos, I swear, and so was He, standing there on that stage. His nose was kind of big, but it didn’t matter. It was like all the rules for beauty flew right out the window. He was the beauty standard.

He tossed the hair from His face and started strumming, and even from far away, at the back of the crowd, I knew what I knew. I was looking at something else. Something not of this world. Something from another place. Maybe heaven. Maybe outer space. I didn’t know. All I knew was when I saw His eyes, the way they burned like that, I wanted to take Him on my tongue and swallow Him whole.

“Holy shit,” I said under my breath.

“What?” Missy asked. She had pink cotton on her lip.

I wanted to say, “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” but that didn’t seem right to say to Missy, what with her being my husband John’s biggest fan, so instead, I asked, “Do we know Him?”

“Not likely.” Missy narrowed her eyes at me and licked the candy off her mouth.

But I felt like I knew Him. When He started to sing, I stood the way I would if my feet had roots winding into the ground. I couldn’t move. His voice was cool milk washing out over the crowd. He was wearing these cowboy boots, and He tapped his foot against the amp in time with the music. The way He did it, it was like all the power in the whole world was locked inside that foot. I was surprised the amp survived it.

Standing there, watching him shout and spring all over that stage, this warm feeling came over me, and it wasn’t just the summer wind. It was like I did know Him, like He’d been a part of me since the beginning of time. I wasn’t seeing someone new. I was seeing a memory I’d forgotten. I was seeing something that had been inside me all along. I was seeing an x-ray of my bones. He got me to thinking about things like reincarnation, doctrines I’d been scared to believe before. Heresy.

So I looked at Missy and said, “Hey, what’s this guy’s name?” Real casual, you know, but Missy, she must have seen the thirst in my eyes.

“Anne Marie, you think I’m gonna let you get all slutty with some rock star? Let’s go.”   Missy always said I was possessed by demons that made men love me. “You are a whore through and through,” she’d say. Between you and me, I think it was because her boyfriend Frank put the moves on me once. It was all my fault, never mind that I told him to go straight to hell. “Hussy,” Missy muttered under her breath as we walked away. I glanced back over my shoulder for one last look, but the night had swallowed Him. That was that. I left not even knowing His name.

It was weird after that, because here I was, a good little wife who couldn’t stop thinking about some rock star. He had a stranglehold on my soul. When I dreamed, I’d see those burning eyes, every time. I’d wake up at sweaty between my thighs and think about Him, wonder how He got that glow all around Him. Like, could it have just been the stage lights?   But I knew it wasn’t. It was something else.

So I bided my time, did what a wife does, you know? I cooked and cleaned. Always walked around smelling like bleach and fucking paprika. That didn’t seem to bother John. Every night, he undressed right down to his socks. I don’t know why, but he left those on. He had these skinny legs, and a bulbous belly too, even though he was a Navy Seal when I met him. It had been a long time since then, so he didn’t look like a Navy Seal anymore. He looked like Mr. Potato Head wearing tube socks. But I didn’t say two words about it. Just let him crawl inside me and do what he had to do, then prayed and prayed I wasn’t knocked up. I wasn’t ready for John’s baby. I don’t know why. Because John, he was a good man, in his way.

He mowed the lawn every Saturday, and he bought me pretty things sometimes. Flowers and earrings and once a clock shaped like a chicken. On the downside, he liked to punch holes in things. Windows. Walls. Probably would have hit me too if I didn’t have the good sense to hide in the closet when he was going nuts. The one time I tried to stop him from destroying the china cabinet my momma gave me, he raised his fist and near socked me in the face. That’s when I ran to the closet. Huddling there in the dirty laundry, I cried and decided I would never go near him again when he was mad. And I didn’t.

John always liked to brag that even though he had a temper, he never took it out on me. I didn’t think he should get points for that. He only never hit me because I knew how to hide. That’s why I didn’t want his baby. Babies aren’t born knowing how to be invisible when they need to be. Also, when he crawled inside me, it made me think of one of those little, beady-eyed crabs that crawl into their shells. God, did he grunt and moan. In his grunts, I’d hear the ugly words he said to me in the daytime. Whore. Slut. Fat-lard-assed warthog, which was his personal favorite because he made it up himself and thought it showed off his ingenuity. I’m paraphrasing because John couldn’t have used the word “ingenuity” in a sentence if his life depended on it. But anyway, now that I found my rock star, when John was on top of me, I’d go someplace else, think about those haloed stars and those fiery eyes.

Now, this is where my story gets funky. Because right now, I bet you’re thinking I’m a sinner, right? Like the way I’m thinking about this rock star is going to send me straight to hell. I thought so too, but I couldn’t help it. He made me thirsty inside. Like stuck-in-the-desert-for-forty-days thirsty. Like if I don’t get a drink, I’ll die.

So finally, one day, I’m washing dishes, watching the water spill from the faucet, wanting to suck it all down, but knowing it won’t cure the thirst inside me. This thirst isn’t going anywhere no matter how much I drink, because this thirst isn’t about plain old water. All of the sudden, it hurts in my guts. Like something is missing. And it’s Him. I know it’s Him. So I fall to my knees on the linoleum and say, “Hey, Big Cheese, if you’re up there, bring Him back to me.” Like I’m sure I had Him in the first place, in some life before this one. Like He’s always been mine, and I know it. I’m talking to God like that.

Well, Big Cheese, he hears. The next day, I go visit Missy, and she has the newspaper spread open on the bed. When I get bored and pick it up, the picture is Him. His face. I only saw Him once, but I could never mistake those fiery eyes. It says His name, and where He’s going to be too. He’s playing a gig at some holy-roller party. They’re raising funds for orphans. And get this. The day he’s playing this gig is my 30th birthday. It’s like God is wrapping Him up for me and giving Him to me for a present. That’s when I want to cry, happy tears, because maybe God is bigger than you holy-rollers say. Maybe God is the kind of person who answers the crazy prayers, not the prim-proper ones, right?

Looking down at that picture of Him, I’m swooning back on the bed, just overwhelmed. “You ok?” Missy asks, narrowing her eyes and pressing her hand against my forehead. Her curlers make her head look all bumpy.

“Yeah,” I say. “Just a little dizzy is all.”

“You don’t have a fever,” she tells me.

I feel like I do though. I’m hot all over. I think, Dear God in Heaven, it should be a sin for a mortal man to be that beautiful. I don’t think the word “love” though. I’m still confused like you, thinking that love is the thing that me and John have, washing dishes and mowing lawns and crawling into me like a crab. That’s love. The thing I feel for Him is crazy.

But this crazy’s a fire that won’t go away. When my sister isn’t looking, I tear his picture out of the paper and fold it up in my pocket. I get back home, and all day, I keep taking it out, looking at it, mulling it over like a secret.

John comes home, sees me sitting there in his big overstuffed chair, and says, “What’re you doing in my chair, and what’re you looking at anyway?”

I say, “Just some shoes I was thinking of buying,” and stand up. But then I go to the bathroom, prop myself on the toilet, and stare into those fiery eyes. It’s there that I decide I’m going to go to that holy-roller party and watch Him play, close up this time.

It’s two weeks away. So I work out a lot and give myself facials and pray blasphemous prayers, asking for Him, and I wait. I don’t remind John about my birthday, because I know if I don’t, he’ll forget to cook for me like he does once a year. The last thing I need is some overcooked chicken getting in the way of my plans.

The night before the show, John wants to crawl inside me. I can’t do it. It’s like I’m betraying my bones. Like I’m betraying Him.

“Nah, not tonight,” I say.

John, he rolls away, making angry snorting noises like a pig. Finally, he falls asleep, and I see his socks sticking out from under the covers. I think, Big Cheese, save me from this hell. Which isn’t fair. John’s a good man, like I said. But still, I can’t sleep with him snoring next to me.

So I get up and go to the bathroom, look deep into my own eyes. They’re pretty. Kinda pale blue, you know?   Then, I jump in the shower, take out this lilac soap John bought me once, soap I was saving for special. I scrub and scrub, my arms and my face and my hair, until the only thing you can smell on me is lilacs. No more bleach. No more paprika. I get out. My feet drip puddles on the tile, and I feel fresh. Washed clean. Baptized.

I wander to John’s overstuffed chair. Maybe I sleep. Maybe I don’t. I only know I see my grandma standing beside me. She’s the one person in this whole world that truly loved me, but she’s been dead for years. “Baby, do you really wanna be here?” she asks. Before I can answer, she disappears like mist.

When morning comes, I wake up in John’s chair. The first thing I smell is that lilac soap coming off my hair. The first thing I think is, It’s show time. I don’t do any of my chores, all day, even though I should. Just primp and preen and watch the seconds tick past on that clock John bought me, the one that’s shaped like a chicken.

When I go to the mirror and brush my hair, I feel fire all over me, everywhere, on my skin, my tongue, deep inside. I watch the brown waves fall over my breasts. I think about His fiery eyes, and before I can stop myself, I whisper the word to the girl staring back from the mirror: “Love.”   She says it too, then looks all surprised at how brave I am. But now that we’ve said it, we can’t take it back. Me and the girl in the mirror, we love Him. We want to give Him something beautiful.

I look around the room wondering, you know? What do I see here that says I love you? I see nothing. Nothing that can come close to the beauty of this thing burning inside me. I mean, that chicken clock is downright tacky, and the only plants we have are made of plastic. And who wants a framed picture of John in his Navy Seal uniform? Hell, I don’t even want that picture, and I’m married to the man. Finally, I go outside and pick a white rose from the hedge, thinking maybe I can give Him that.   These roses, they’re something else. I grow them myself, and you’ve never smelled anything like them. They smell like everything good in the world. They smell like peace.

It’s only when I am in the bathroom, applying red lipstick and tucking the flower behind my ear that it comes to me how deep down beautiful I am. I never thought so before, but I look into my eyes, and they’re burning with that fire I saw in Him. Those wrinkles around my eyes start to look like the halos around the stars. I think about the way it was when I was a little girl. The way all my prayers would get answered the second I prayed them. Even the big ones, even when I asked Big Cheese to bring my baby chicken back from the dead. I remember that little chick, stone cold dead one minute, hopping around the next, right after I prayed. And I wasn’t even surprised, because I knew what I knew. I knew you could make anything happen just by believing it enough. I remember the way those visions would come to me, colors and lights and angels. I almost forgot those things, hid them away like dirty secrets, until He made me remember how I used to be, before John, before high school, when I was just a ratty-haired girl who didn’t know much in her head, but knew a whole lot in her heart. Maybe me and Him, we’re made from the same stuff, I think. Suddenly, the most beautiful thing in this house is me. So that’s what I’ll give Him. Me. I put on little clothes so he can see all of me, because like I said, me, I’m pretty.

Well, finally, John comes home. “What’s for dinner?” he says. He doesn’t even notice how pretty I look, doesn’t even say, “Hey, nice dress.”

“Whatever you can find in the freezer.” I run a brush through my hair one last time.

His eyes go wide. He opens and closes his mouth like a fish. Can’t even talk.

“What, you can’t fend for yourself for one night?” I ask.

He loosens his tie. “Where you going?” His voice is strained, like he is about to cry or start yelling. I hope it’s yelling. When he cries, I feel bad.

“Going to have a drink with the girls,” I say.

“Which girls?” Yep, he’s gonna yell, not cry. Good.

“Missy,” I say.

“You said ‘girls.’ How come you said ‘girls’ if it’s just one girl?”

“I meant Missy.”

His eyes get all buggy. “You listen here,” he says. And that’s when I stop listening.

I run to the door to grab my purse, but he follows me, shouting thing I don’t bother to understand. I do hear this: “I’m not having my wife go out looking like some whore of Babylon!” That’s when I grab that chicken clock from the wall and throw it at him. It misses, but it stops him dead, and I run to the car and start the engine. As I peel out of the driveway, he shouts ugly things into my rearview.

“Sionara, mother fucker,” I say.

I drive into town, pissed off because I’m late and my lipstick’s smeared. Finally, I get to the place where He’s supposed to be singing. It’s this little white church with a sharp steeple poking the eyes of the sky. It’s a strange place for a rock star to play, but I guess he’s not really a rock star. He’s just a guy with a guitar, and he takes whatever he can get. Still, to me, he’s a rock star. Always will be.

I throw the car into park and try to fix my makeup. It doesn’t do a whole lot of good, but it’s alright. As mad as I am, I’m still shining. I smile at the little square of my face that’s looking out from the rearview, breathe deep, let the pissed off feeling bleed away. Finally, I’m not mad anymore.

When I tap-tap up the walkway in my high heels, the woman selling tickets looks at me funny from under her glasses, like maybe she just found a roach under the couch. She doesn’t like my cleavage, I guess, but I don’t care, because I can hear His voice. Even from far away, it sounds like cool milk.

I go inside. There he is, all dressed in a loose shirt and tight jeans. Seeing Him does that thing it did to me the first time. I can hardly breathe. It’s almost like I can’t think either, like I just have to get to Him, no matter what. When I shove up to the front of the stage, He doesn’t even look mad. Instead, His eyes go wide, the way a man’s eyes do when He sees you and falls in love right away. I know, because that’s what John’s eyes did when he saw me for the first time. A whole lot of other men too. Men, they’ve always loved me. None of them ever got a hold on my heart though. Not until now.

He stops playing. You holy-rollers sitting in your pews, now you don’t like that. “He was just about to sing ‘Amazing Grace,’” you say. Like I’m getting in the way. What you don’t understand is that amazing grace is happening right in front of your eyes, only you’re too blind to see it. But I don’t care, because Him, He doesn’t seem to mind my coming at all. Just smiles a little, like He’s been expecting me, and waits.

What does He look like up close? Well, He looks like this. Right away, I see those eyes again, chocolate brown, and burning, with these crinkles around the edges. And He’s got this crazy hair. Almost nappy, but not. It falls around the edges of His chin, which is sharp and covered in beard stubble. I bet it’s scratchy if he kisses you. His teeth, they’re white, you know? I want to lick them. And His throat? God, that throat. A woman could die from heatstroke just looking at the hollow place there, sprouting a little bit of hair, and His chest too. You can see some of it, peeking out above His pirate shirt. All in all, He looks like love, and words don’t do Him justice.

So, on the way to the show, I was planning this speech, things I’d say to Him, only now that I’m looking at Him, I don’t remember. He takes my words away. All I can do is take the flower from my hair. I go to press it into his hand, but it breaks apart, and white petals fall over his feet. The whole room smells like peace.

“Thank you,” He whispers, smiling. I notice then He has wrinkles around His eyes too. My skin starts to tingle all over, like something warm is washing over it, and I realize that thing on my skin is love. Love is swallowing me whole. I want to tell Him, but the words won’t come. I feel this burning in my belly, and the room starts to get fuzzy, the way it would get when I was a little girl, before I saw one of my visions. I look down, and blood is pouring out from two holes in His feet. I know it’s a vision. I know it’s not real. But I also know what it means. I know you fuckers are going to kill Him, drill Him with holes, for being something bigger than you.

“No,” I whisper, and I start to cry. Falling to my knees, I touch the places that show the blood, and then, I start to kiss them, like the way you’d kiss a little kid if he fell down and cut himself. Like that.

All the while, that fire I saw in His eyes is burning through me. It’s like I’m waking up inside. The love I feel for Him is so strong, I just want to do something with it. I want to give him a little something. A lot of something. I want to give Him everything. I want to wash His face with my tears, but I can’t reach, so instead, I wash His bleeding feet. My tears make little white paths through the grime on his feet, and I wipe the wet away with my lilac smelling hair. While I’m doing this thing, He brings His hand to rest on the back of my head, and here’s a secret. He has electricity in His hands. So when I stand, and all of you fools are looking at me like I just took a dump in the corner, it doesn’t matter, because He touched me.

I leave everything after that. Leave John standing on the lawn wearing those stupid socks, grunting and screaming. I buy a beat-up truck and follow Him from town to town. I get to every show early and stand right there in front of His mic stand, wearing red. No matter how many shows I see, when He takes the stage, the wind gets knocked out of me. He’s that beautiful. He spreads His arms out wide and sings, not just with his mouth, but with His blood.   The whole room grows quiet, like for a minute, they all know what I know. They know what He is. Maybe not in their heads, but in their hearts, something tells them He’s different. While He sings, I love Him with my eyes. He knows it. He smiles just for me.   Teeth so white, they light up the night.

I tell you, I’ve had that other kind of love, the one you holy-rollers talk about. My love beats your love, hands down. I’m alive. I drive with the windows down and eat crackers and sleep in the bed of the truck, under those haloed stars, talking to the Big Cheese, dreaming dreams, having visions, knowing things. Just going where He goes, you know? The holy-rollers all hate me. Sit around on their web pages and say, “Little slut, all sassy and dancing with her arms up in front of His microphone. Man, we can’t even see His face through her hands. We should chop that Jezebel to pieces and feed her to the dogs. Who does she think she is?”

Well, it’s a good question, isn’t it? Who do I think I am? I’ll tell you, though you don’t deserve an answer. I think I am a girl that loves. If I could, I’d show you how it feels to stand at His feet, have Him look down and see me. Man, it’s like a thousand firecrackers go off in my head all at once when He does that. Bam! He looks at me, and my brain blows a fuse, you know? Sometimes, when He reaches down to grab my hand, man, it’s like the best sex I’ve ever had. I don’t want Him to ever let go. I said it once, but I’ll say it again, just so you know. He has electric hands.

Once, he took my fingers and pressed them to his lips. Once, he brought me white daisies. Once, he held my hand his chest while He sang. I could feel His heart, beating like a leather drum, and it was like coming home. That’s when I knew what I had to do. That’s why I got his name tattooed over my heart. Not on the front, but on the back, between my shoulder blades.

I knew while that needle was driving into my skin again and again and again that it would never wash away. It scared me, and it hurt, but that was the point. Love is supposed to feel like that. Like jumping off a cliff you can never come back from. His name was written on my heart before I saw Him. Might as well write it on my skin. While the tattoo artist worked, I stared at the dirty tile and listened to His voice in my headphones, singing things about love.

I thought about love, the way it is, the real thing, I mean. It’s like this. Love isn’t something you choose. It chooses you. Real love is Big Cheese’s best gift, and he doesn’t give it lightly. Instead, He wraps it all up in a crazy package that looks all wrong, says, “Open this, and you will have to take some bullets. This planet isn’t ready for real love just yet. But if you’re not willing to stand there and take the bullets, you’re not ready either.”

You don’t get to pick from a list of eligible bachelors and say, this one has nice eyes, and this one smiles right. Love melts the eligible bachelors. It busts out the barbecue and roasts suitable suitors alive. Real love isn’t going to make everyone you want to impress happy. In fact, it’s guaranteed to piss everybody off. Count on it.

You will know real love when you meet it. When you find it, don’t let go. Ever. For anything. Not for money or fame and society’s acclaim or an illusion of safety. Trade everything for it. Like He says, it’s the pearl of great price. Real love is a fire. Don’t try to put it out. Love only burns brighter when you shove it under water. Give into it, no matter how hot it burns, how crazy it seems. Love will burn away the lies and make you into the thing you always were deep down. Love will make you a god.

Today, with the tattoo still bleeding, leaving little spots of red on the back of my T-shirt, I go to one of those internet cafes. I order a latte and log in to see what you holy-rollers are saying on your web page. You’ve been all up in arms since He raised that dead cat. You said it was a crime against nature and drowned the cat again. Watching your ugliness is like watching a train wreck. It’s bad, but you can’t look away. I’m staring at that computer screen. My tattoo hurts, and my coffee burns my throat, but that’s not what makes me flinch. Today, you’re looking for a way to kill Him.

I feel like I get punched when I read that because the thought of living in a world where there’s no Him makes me wonder if this place is hell after all, and you holy-rollers, well, maybe you’re the devil. You sit around, sleek and fat, hiding behind your computer screens, typing ugly things, saying, “He thinks He’s better than us.” Well, I have news for you fools. He is, though He would never say so Himself. Him standing next to you is like a hawk standing next to a chicken. And not a pretty chicken either. Like one of those soup hens that lives under the house and has half its feathers pulled out, all gangly and showing pink, puckered skin. You peck and you shit and you lie, and when he says you have planks in your eyes, you get pissed, and start talking about execution.

Know this. If you come for Him, in some garden, or bar room, or beach, or anywhere, you’ll have to get through that girl in red kneeling at His feet. “Ain’t no thing,” you say. “We’ll do that today, slit you’re throat if we have to.” I know how you holy-rollers roll. You don’t have respect for anything. “All’s fair in love and war,” you say, but you don’t know shit about love, and you make the whole world a war. Him, He’s wants to make this a better place. He says He wants to bring Heaven to Earth, and maybe you should believe Him.

So I guess this is how it’ll go down. He’ll be sitting on some bench in some park somewhere, and I’ll see you in the bushes over there, and you’ll pull out your revolver, right? I’ll scream His name into the haloed night. Kneeling in front of Him one last time, I’ll take your bullet through my spine, through that tattoo I told you about. The one that says His name. And you might call it selfless or crazy or both when you watch my blood pooling there in the grass. It’s none of those things, and it’s all those things. It’s love.

Or what if it goes some other way? What if, someday, like today, you come for Him, drag Him down to the electric chair? I scream and scratch and whip my hair in your faces, but it doesn’t do any good. You laugh at me. Grab my breasts. A fist to my face knocks me flat. My Head spins while you hit Him. All I can do is say, “No, no, no.” But you don’t listen. He bleeds, and I cry and ask Big Cheese for a thousand centipedes to crawl up your pant legs and bite you where it counts. But they don’t come.

So you fry Him. He dies. Right before His light goes out though, He looks at me, and His eyes. Man, those eyes, there’s fire there. I swear. He passes it on to me. It lights up my face and hands, and in a few days when He stands up at His own funeral, I’ll be the one to say it first. “It’s Him. My soul’s husband. He’s back from the dead.”

Of course, you won’t listen to me. But then, you fools never did

C. You can’t kill love, dumbasses. Love is the most powerful substance in the universe. It’s like cockroaches in nuclear holocaust.

Now you know.