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Jesi Bender

The Book of Exxonodus

And he set forth a dove from him,

to see if the waters were abated.” – Genesis 8:8-12

Come on, come onnn.

Arthur Noyes was standing in the narrow cubicle, hovering above the toilet and pulling on himself, leaning all his weight on one arm; the middle finger thumb of his left hand formed a tight circle. He squeezed his eyes shut and grit his teeth into a strained smile. His movements were manic and his thoughts bumped haphazardly from image to image, trying to latch onto something substantive. But he always circled back to the comb, moving back and forth like waves in the sea, pushed by a thin, white hand—sometimes it was the little boy, his face punctuated by siren cries.

There were three stalls in this men’s room. Arthur had chosen the middle one because he never went into the first (the most used) and the other was a handicapped stall. It was nicer inside the tighter space anyway, felt like less air existed in there, a little bit like choking. The metal had been painted green, sloppy with streaks and age, and the white tiled walls were etched with thick brown grit. Sweat beads formed between the blonde strands of Arthur’s thinning hair as he feverishly tugged on what felt like bread dough. Despite his best efforts, there was the faint noise of a man holding his breath (the breathing in, the sound of the lack of sound) coupled with something close to a wet napkin being flattened (repeatedly and rhythmically—squish, squish, squish). After a few moments more, struggling in vain, Arthur paused, leaned his head down a bit and let a large glob of spit fall into his open palm.

When Arthur was a child, every night after dinner his mother would brush back his hair with one of her silver decorative combs. In the summer, they’d sit on the porch, he on the lower step, both of them facing the same direction with Arthur cradled between her knees. Mother would take the comb from her pinned-back hair and drag it slowly across Arthur’s scalp as they talked of the day or as she sang or as they sat in silence watching the sun set.

The comb was about four inches wide with a dove etched into the handle, nested between scrolls of Art Nouveau thistles and fleurs. His mother wore it almost every day, the grey face of the dove peeking out from her hair. When she died, it was the one thing Arthur kept. It sat in his desk drawer now. But he still saw it when he closed his eyes—the dove’s black eye and pointed face. In between the imagined genitals and moaning, it kept surfacing—the dove flying at the behest of her long fingers. Arthur grew frustrated. If he stuck his stomach out as far as he could, he couldn’t see his dick. He opened his eyes for a moment, looking down, and there was nothing there but movement off the horizon. When he closed his eyes again, Arthur could see his mother’s hands rubbing that protrusion and then moving slowly up his chest to his throat. The frustration began to subside.

The door inside the gas station bathroom swung open with a proclamation of hinges and quick-moving feet. The other man’s breath was heavy and even. He moved into and latched the first stall. Though nothing in the second stall paused, the thought of how many germs lived in the first stall flashed across Arthur’s mind. He heard the weight of a large man falling on the seat, the stranger’s weary sigh.

“Fuck,” the voice muttered lowly on the other side.

Arthur squeezed his eyes shut and, holding his breath, moved faster. Something was happening now. In the darkness inside him, images oscillated between Mother and genitals and the boy he had come to know. Sometimes a bird flew in. Sometimes images of a large man on the toilet. Jeans around thick ankles. Maybe a moustache. Time was at once rattling and lugubrious in the black. People, real and fake, alive and dead, came in and out whenever they pleased.

There was straining on both sides of the green wall that separated them. The stranger tried to escape it but Arthur tried to lose himself in it. He had a son now. A son of sorts. A little boy had come into his life and Arthur seized the opportunity to shape him into something greater than himself. He cried for hours when Arthur cut all the evil away, like it was an irreparable loss. A death of sorts. Arthur moved along that boy’s body with the same thin white hands as his mother. The same white hands pulling and pulling now on something stronger than it had been before. A parent is an adult who shapes the life of a child. Grooming, one might call it. There was a prolonged grunt from next door and the splash of release. Arthur’s whole body contracted. Surrounded by shit, a white dove flew forth—finally released from the long, white fingers. A death of sorts. It smelled like rot and salt—just like the sea.

Jesi Bender is a writer and artist living in upstate New York. She is a librarian at a local university whose interests include inevitable tragedies, the grey scale, dissonance, and books. For her bibliography and creative CV, please visit www.jesibender.com.

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