Through the wall, and the whole night, I hear her shouting: ‘Jesus!’ and ‘Jesus Christ!’ and ‘Jesus!’ and more of the same shit until the morning comes creeping in.
At breakfast, while the sun makes its way over the tiles in the kitchen, I tease her about it over our smokes and coffee, and she plays along, like a coy teenager. ‘Jesus?’ she says, playing with her lank grey hair, ‘I don’t know anybody of that name.’
‘Why, sure you do, Mama’ I tell her.
‘I’ve seen you with him outside the Casino. Him, standing under the streetlamp, in his emerald suit, and you all dolled up like Celine Dion.’
And though she wants to keep playing the game with me something dark like the shadow of a zeppelin passes across her face, and I know it’s the mention of the Casino. Which I did deliberately.
See, our deal is this: what she wins on the slots, she is supposed to split with me, 50-50. And for my part, the money I make spinning records in Mullion’s, I am supposed to split the same with her. But we both welsh on the deal, and we both know it.
An old shoebox hidden under her bed, stuffed with notes, tells her side of the story; the bracelets around my wrist, and the gas in my car, and the bags of powder at the back of my wardrobe all tell mine.
‘What’s up, Mama?’ I ask her, with a look of counterfeit concern on my face. ‘This Jesus dude not treating you proper? You say the word and I’ll throw him in the water tied up in a burlap sack, like a spare kitten.’
She dips her finger in the cup and flicks coffee at me.
‘Or maybe he’s rushing things?’ I say, with a leer. ‘Wants to let his big Jesus hands roam all over you like a pair of hungry rats, and get himself a double portion of that famous Mama love? The kind that chased four of your five children away before the age of 15.’
I am practised and too fast for her; I dodge the fat orange she has picked up from the plate to throw at my face. It hits the glass door of the old dresser behind me, shaking the plates.
And now we are both giggling and hissing like snakes. And her bathrobe falls open and I see one of her grey tits just hanging there like an old gourd and the thought that it was this that sent me on my way into the world all those years prior, like a champagne bottle launching a warship, just makes me laugh even harder.
But instead, I stop laughing in a dead second and fix her with my serious eyebrows and say, ‘But the thing is, Mama. This Jesus you’re seeing. And all the other Jesuses I know you see at the Casino when you think I don’t know — but I do know — you need to remember none of them will ever love you the way I do.’
And here I pout, in the childish way I know gets her going. And she stands up and shuffles around the kitchen table, her pink rubber slippers squeaking on the tiles, and she hugs me and presses my face to her cold tit and strokes my thinning greasy hair and tells me to shush now and everything’s ok, Mama is here. And while she does this, I close my eyes and make the low humming noise I know she likes and silently thank Jesus for keeping an eye on us and say to him — pray to him — I hope when it all gets totted up at the end, things work out about even between us.
Tim Craig lives in London. Winner of the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction in 2018, his short-short stories have been placed or commended four times in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and have appeared in the Best Microfiction 2019 and 2022 anthologies, as well as many literary journals in both the UK and USA. His debut collection, ‘Now You See Him,’ is available from Ad Hoc Fiction.