“He died for our sins,” Alex said as he put the small wood-and-metal crucifix on the pressboard dresser of the Days Inn room Lydia had reserved under her name. “He might as well get his money’s worth.”
They met like this every few months, in a room at the Days Inn just off Rt. 1. He made excuses to his wife and Lydia made excuses to the woman who fed her cat. She had no delusions about where this was going; she knew he had no plans to leave his wife. She got a little thrill out of being the mistress, out of pillow talk and false promises that one day, they’d be together. For the first time in her life, a man needed her more than she needed him.
As a child, Lydia couldn’t bring herself to love Jesus. It was pointless, she thought, because no matter how much she loved him, she would never be his only one. She wondered if he would even remember her name when she saw him in Heaven. God was like her own father-distant, aloof, reduced to a card sent a few weeks after her birthday with ten bucks and no return address. He may have loved her somewhere in his heart, but he certainly didn’t have time for her.
Jesus watched as Lydia got under the cheap motel sheets and took Alex in her mouth. He moaned and reached between her legs. She pushed his hand away. She didn’t want to be touched, didn’t want sex, jut wanted to satisfy him because she owed him that much. It was part of her duty. She couldn’t be one of those girls-the nagging wife, the lonely heart, the beautiful blackmailer. He’d taken her on because she was eager and young and she liked sex. She was just there to love him, just to adore. It wasn’t her place to need him
In college she’d dated a Jew, then an atheist, then a boy with whom the topic of God never came up. But her first love was Rev. Chandler, who spoke of Jesus’ love and forgiveness in sweet southern tones, smiling down from the pulpit as though he was speaking just to her. She was fourteen, and he was well in his fifties but still single, and she knew if she could wait until her eighteenth birthday, they could be together. She needed him; her own prayers seemed unheard without him. Her dad never came back. Rev. Chandler never noticed her any more than he did any of his other parishioners.
Then one day her mom brought home a man. Then one day her mother married that man. And one day they stopped going to church because that man didn’t go to church. The first trip she made after getting her drivers license was to church on Sunday, but by then there was a new preacher, with slicked-back black hair and an oily voice. Lydia abandoned Jesus before he too could abandon her.
Lydia lay on her back and stared at the high ceiling of the motel room. It wasn’t that she was bored with Alex. It wasn’t that she felt guilty. She wasn’t tired or frustrated. She didn’t feel anything at all. She sold him a story of love and romance because he needed something to have faith in. He had his Jesus, but her body was his church, his ritual, his religion.
She imagined the space of the crucifix in the dark. She wanted to say “take me back.” She wanted to say, “forgive me.” But she couldn’t be for Jesus what she wouldn’t be for Alex. Needy. Nagging. Manipulative.
Alex packed up his Jesus in his overnight bag. Lydia told him to leave his wife and prayed to packed-up Jesus that he didn’t. She told him this to make him feel adored, needed, worshipped. It was their Our Father, their parting prayer. But she was no more ready to upend her life than he was to upend his. If he showed up at her door with flowers and a getaway car, she knew she would tell him No . . . no, go back to where you came from. He could be forgiven for his sins. She would never ask forgiveness for hers.