Verse, page 1
Verse copyright © 2015 Moses Roth.
A version of Chapter 3 was originally published in the literary magazine Number Nine as “The Book of Moses Roth” copyright © 2000 Moses Roth.
Cover design by Moses Roth, adapted from “Dome of Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem” by idobi, licensed under Creative Commons.
Book design by Moses Roth.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means whatsoever without express written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations.
I gasp for breath and choke on water.
I thrash, but the surface of the pool eludes me.
Water fills my nose, my mouth, my lungs.
Darkness seeps into the edges and envelops me.
I float away from myself.
Into a tunnel of energy, pulled up toward a bright light, like a massive star.
The light shimmers, growing brighter and dimmer and brighter again.
I drift toward it, drawn through the tunnel.
I can’t look away from the light, it burns my eyes, searing into my vision, leaving sunspots around the edges.
It envelops me, all I see is the light, there’s nothing else.
Inside is a figure, made of light, exuding the light.
Am I dead?
YOU ARE THE MESSIAH.
Who are you?
I reach for it, but I’m slammed in the chest, back down the tunnel, back into darkness.
Someone breathes into me and I breathe in.
Their hands slam against my chest.
I gasp and cough and spit water and cough and gasp.
I open my eyes and sit up off the concrete, next to the swimming pool, water dripping off me.
Around me kids shout and cheer and the man kneeling by me laughs and puts a hand on my shoulder and I gasp for air, heave it out, lean back, and it all goes da—
The white ceiling of my hospital room shines in the fluorescent light. I look down to the blank screen of the television.
I grab the remote and turn it on.
gotiations with Palestine once again broke down. The White House has released a statement that
Mom and the nurse come in and I turn the TV off and sit up.
They come to my bedside and the nurse says, “You’re a lucky young man, Manuel. The doctor says your test results all look good and after the first 24 hours the risk of further complications is very low. We believe you’ll make a full recovery.”
Mom says, “Have you remembered anything about how you fell in the pool?”
I shake my head.
The nurse says, “A little short-term memory loss isn’t anything to worry about. Oxygen deprivation to the brain can get you a little mixed up, some people have some hallucinations, that sort of thing. Unless you start noticing any new problems, then you should call us or talk to your school nurse or have your Mom call us.”
Mom says, “We will.”
The nurse says, “We discussed it and the doctor thinks you should be able to check out tonight.”
Mom says, “Isn’t that great, Manuel?”
The nurse says, “I’ll let you guys talk it over, unless you have any more questions for me?”
I shake my head and the nurse pats me on the arm and leaves.
Mom says, “I stopped by school and picked up your homework. That’ll give you something to do while I’m at work. You could even be back at school Monday.” She sets my assignments on the bed next to me.
She kisses my forehead and leaves.
I pick up my assignments and look through them.
Algebra, Chemistry, History, English.
I put them aside.
I lie back and look up at the ceiling.
The ceiling of my bedroom peels with yellow patches. My eyes sting with exhaustion. I blink. My mouth tastes sour and bland. My bladder stings.
ERR ERR ERR ERR ERR ERR ERR ERR ERR
I shut the alarm off.
I get ready and catch my bus.
Downtown, I transfer to another bus, it’s crowded.
We get to my stop and I get off and walk down the street toward school.
I go inside and to History.
In Chemistry we learn about element 92, uranium.
The bell rings and the teacher says, “Don’t forget we have assembly today.”
I follow the stream of kids into the auditorium, filling with thousands of students and teachers. I take a seat near the back by the aisle, next to a guy sitting alone.
The dean comes to the microphone on the stage and says, “May I have your attention please?” The room slowly quiets down and everyone takes their seats.
He discusses news from the last week, upcoming academic events, and the prom fundraiser. Other teachers come up and talk.
The librarian says, “Don’t forget, all books are due back by the end of the term, so don’t forget to return them, or there’s a fifteen dollar fine.”
No more teachers have announcements, so the students take their turns.
A girl says, “We don’t have enough submissions for the spring issue of the literary magazine, we’re past the deadline, but if you have any last minute stories or poems or anything, please send them to us.”
Washington comes back to the mic and says, “Are there any more announcements?”
No one raises their hand.
I raise my hand.
He says, “Oh, yes, you,” and I stand up.
I walk down the aisle.
I walk up the stairs onto the stage.
I cross the stage to the microphone.
“I am the messiah,” I say.
The murmur quiets. Five thousand people looking at me.
Are they waiting for me to say something else? I can’t think of anything.
I walk back across the stage, down the steps and up the aisle. The murmur rises again and becomes a roar.
I take my seat.
A lot of them are still looking at me. The kid next to me is staring.
The dean, stunned, says, “That’s it for assembly. You’re all expected in class in ten minutes.”
People stand and head for the exit. I get up and slowly move up the aisle with the crowd.
They’re saying things to me:
Someone is shoving me. Don’t look, just move forward with the crowd.
“Suck my dick, Jesus.”
I avoid eye contact, stare at the back of this girl’s head, and watch her ponytail bob.
I get through the door and head to Algebra.
A girl leans over from her desk and says, “Why did you do that?”
Lunchtime, I don’t want to go to the cafeteria. I’m not hungry anyway.
Outside, it’s raining and it’s pretty deserted, thank God. I go around the school, under the overhang and lean against the wall and slide down it, into a crouch.
A car drives by, spraying water.
I’ll be in trouble for this.
Lunch period ends and the bell rings and I go back inside.
The final bell rings and I’m the first one out of my class and I head for the exit, beating the crowd.
I run down the street, my backpack slamming against my back, and turn right, rounding the corner. I slow down, breathing heavily. I’d rather walk to my bus than catch another one and transfer. I head down the hill.
At my stop I take my pack off, lean against the building, and sit.
A bus arrives and people get off and on and it leave
Mine arrives. I get on and take a seat behind the back door.
At home, I drop my pack on the floor next to the door and sit on the couch and turn on the television.
I flip the channel.
An Asian channel.
A Spanish channel.
The Christian channel. I stop. A talk show with a guy in sort of a cowboy outfit, talking next to a woman with big hair.
And the word was made flesh, and dwelled among us
and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only, um, begotten of the father, full of grace and, um, truth.
A movie. An older cop is chewing out a younger cop.
Yeah, you're a real blue flame special, aren't you, son? Young, dumb, and full of EHRP. I know. What I don't know is how— how you got yourself assigned out here to Los Angeles with us. Know what I mean, huh? I guess we must just have ourselves an EHRPhole shortage, huh?
The phone rings.
I shut the TV off and go to the kitchen counter and answer it, “Hello?”
A man says, “Hello, Man-well?”
“My name is Manuel.”
“Sorry, Manuel. It’s Louis Washington, the dean.”
My stomach drops. “Oh, hi.”
“Is your mom or dad there?”
“Well, I’d appreciate it if you’d have one of them give me a call. Do you have a pen?”
I take down his number and hang up.
I walk back to the TV.
No, my eyes are burning, I’m tired.
I go to my room and lie down on my bed. I won’t be able to sleep. I can never sleep in the middle of the—
“What were you thinking, Manuel?”
That’s weird, because I’m in… where am I? And I’m lying down, I thought I was… I was dreaming. I had to, what did I have to do? I— it’s gone.
I roll over and Mom is in the doorway, filling it. I have to go— no, wait, that’s what I was— what?
“I saw your note, I called Mr. Washington. What were you thinking?”
I check the clock.
That doesn’t make any— I was asleep for… how long was I—?
“Well? Say something.”
I look at her.
She says, “Why would you do something like that?”
“Because I, um, I don’t know.”
“You’re the messiah.”
“Because if you are, why didn’t you tell me? Let me bow down and worship you, Lord.”
“This is crazy. You’d have to be crazy to do that. First you make this ‘cry for help’ like the doctor calls it, and I’m trying to be sensitive, but now you’re legitimately acting like a crazy person.”
I sit up, and rub my face, and squeeze my eyes to clear my vision. “It’s not.”
“I know it must seem that way, but I was told to when I was dead. I visited the afterlife, I was dead, so it was real, and I was told to do this.”
“This is crazy, you’re acting crazy. I have a crappy day at work and now I have to come home and deal with this crap!”
“We have a conference with Mr. Washington tomorrow night. Which I’m gonna have to get off work early for!”
“We’ll talk about this later. Dinner’s ready.” She leaves.
I lie back.
I get up and leave the room.
It’s take-out chicken and potatoes. Greasy and cold and it makes my stomach a little sick.
We eat in silence.
Finally she says, “I had an interesting day. This woman got refused a loan and she was screaming at me, of course. But then I realized she had filled out the wrong forms! She was so stupid, it was all so stupid, such a waste of time.”
“Oh,” I say.
“If you had seen her, she was such an idiot.”
“Maybe it was just an honest mistake.”
“Yeah, but now she’s gonna come back next week and waste our time again.”
We eat in silence.
I finish my chicken and take my plate to the sink.
Mom and I meet Washington out in front of the school. They shake hands and he says, “We met at one of the mixers at the middle school a few years ago, remember?”
“Oh yeah,” she says. “Thanks for staying so late, it’s hard for me to get off work earlier.”
“Oh it’s no problem at all.” We go inside and to his office. The school is empty aside from us. We take seats at his desk.
He opens a manila folder, my file, with my transcript and a few other papers. “Well let’s see.” He looks it over and looks up at me. “Transitioning to high school can be difficult. You’re in a new place, you don’t know anybody. And if you don’t make any friends in those first couple months, I know that it can start to feel hopeless.”
He says, “Sometimes we express those feelings in an unhealthy way. They can make us act out.”
I look away. On his desk is a photo with him and his son Sydney, but a few years younger, smiling in front of Mount Saint Helens.
Mom says, “Look, he’s been under a lot of pressure lately.”
Washington says, “I know that and I appreciate that. But the first thing I need to say, before we get into what’s behind all this is, Manuel, this is a public school, do you understand what that means?”
I say, “Yes.”
“Okay, what does it mean?”
“It means, I mean…”
“It means you’re not allowed to preach any religion, whatever it might be. If you made an announcement about Jesus, that Jesus is the messiah, or about Buddha, that Buddha is… whatever you think Buddha is, well, that wouldn’t have been allowed either. You can’t talk about religion in a school setting. It’s against the law. It’s unconstitutional. Do you understand that?”
I say, “I’m not trying to start a religion or anything.”
He says, “That’s good.”
“It’s not a religious cause, it’s a universal one. I was just telling people that I intend to fight the corruption and evil that exists within our school. And in the entire world.”
They both say, “What?” at the same time.
Washington says, “I was kind of hoping you were just acting out, like trying to get some attention. Talk like that worries me. You’re obviously a smart kid, but… People talk like that before they bring guns to school.”
Mom says, “Manuel’s not gonna shoot up the school! Tell him, Manuel.”
I say, “No, of course not.”
He says, “Okay, I’m glad to hear that.”
Mom puts a hand on my leg and squeezes and says, “He’s a good boy. He’s gonna be good from now on, aren’t you, Manuel?”
I say, “I always try to be good.”
She says, “Well, okay then.”
He says, “I know Manuel is a good kid.”
She says, “He’s just under a lot of pressure. He had a lot of trouble starting high school and then his accident and everything. And it’s my partly my fault, I’m always so busy at work.”
“I understand. It’s the same with my son, Sydney. You have to work so hard being a single parent, but you don’t have time to give them the extra attention.” Then to me, he says, “I understand you say you want to fight evil, but why make the announcement? What did you hope to gain?”
“I guess I just wanted people to know about me, so they would join me, if they wanted to.”
“Yeah, follow me.”
“No. I mean yes, but that’s not what I’m trying to say. I mean I would hope I would be friends with those who join me, but…”
Mom says, “Yeah, that’s what he means. He’s been so lonely.”
He says, “I talked to some of your teachers about you. They say you’re doing well, but you’re quiet. They never see you talking with any of the other students.”
“Do you have any friends?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you kept in touch with any of your old friends from middle school?”
“That must be hard. Look, Manuel, just tell me what you intend to do with these other students you want to follow you.”
I say, “I said, fight evil.”
“What does ‘fight evil’ mean exactly? Fight evil how?”
“That’s not clear yet.”
“Maybe you could give me an example of one way.”
I say, “I have to take things one step at a time. When it’s time to know, I’ll know.”
He leans back in his chair and rubs his mouth. He lowers his hand and says, “Manuel, I need you to promise me you’re not going to do this.”
“Start a cult.”
“I’m not starting a cult.”
“Okay, gather a religious following.”
“It’s not religious.”
“You know what I mean.”
“No I don’t.”
“If you don’t promise, then we’re going to have issues.”
Mom says, “Tell him, Manuel.”
I say to Washington, “It’s just like a group or a club, sort of. If I were starting a chess club or a debate club, you wouldn’t try to stop me.”
“We already have a chess club and a debate club.”
“And you’re not starting a chess club or a debate club.”