The New Quarterly, a literary magazine published in Waterloo, ON staged a contest inviting writers to submit a story named “Bad Men Who Love Jesus.” This was my entry. It did not win but it did elicit a bemused letter from the organizers.
“Calamity! Calamity! Calamity!” shouted Corny as he ambled into Waywotowich’s Garage, wiping his sweaty forehead with an oily rag, leaving a smear of Valvoline across his wrinkled brow.
“What’s the matter Corny?” asked the cherub from its perch on the gumball machine on the counter near the window at front of the garage on the corner of Reach and Beach.
“Durn. Durn. Durn.”
“Strong language there, Corny. What’s got you so riled up?”
“Ink blots and cumquats!”
“You are angry! You okay, Corny?”
“Blasted oil definitions!! I can’t get usta them.”
“Huh? I thought you’d worked all that out with the pointy-headed Egyptians and the Saudis and the so-ons.”
“Me too Cheruby, me to. But these new rules sure make a difference. Like, No Scissors On Sunday. Hoooo leeeeee! No Scissors On Sunday!!”
On the counter next to the gumball machine, a bright cardboard display of pink and blue rabbit foot key chains and a hardcard of cheap plastic sunglasses lay a big greasy pair of scissors.
“What about these?” asked Cheruby pointing to the scissors. “It’s Sunday, isn’t it?”
A worried look came over Corny’s freckled face. He didn’t know what to do about the scissors. He wiped more Valvoline on his forehead and stood staring dumbly at the counter. Corny resorted to his usual problem-solving tactic: he burst into song, his rich baritone filling the cavernous empty service station.
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the three-hole punch, the three-hole punch, the three-hole punch,” he sang over and over.
“Corny. You’re stuck. Corny! CORNY! You’re stuck on the three-hole punch again.” Cheruby had to get a little feisty with the nodder sometimes. “YOU’RE STUCK” at peak volume brought Corny back to the immediate service station arising around him.
“I’m stuck.” Corny took a small hammer from his belt and struck his right elbow with a light tap. Innumerable ones and zeroes unraveled inside his head and spun back onto a digital plate.
“I’m stuck.” He brought a wavering hand up holding a blue screwdriver and tightened a few screws along his left leg.
“They’ll be makin’ us register our screwdrivers next, blastomycosis or not. I’m still a little stuck, Cheruby.”
“That’s okay Corny. You stay a little stuck and I’ll keep an eye on the store.”
“Would ya?” said Corny.
“Sure thing, little stuck buddy, buddy, buddy, buddy.” Corny tapped his elbow again but the word didn’t stop. Cheruby was having some fun with him, is all.
“Clown pants and romance and bright shiny kittens, eagles in snowsuits, mufflers and mittens, porridge with tycoons, shamblers and foes, these are the ways of the world I suppose.” Corny’s song filled the garage once more. Cheruby peered through the dirty window into the lot and the street beyond.
Corny’s song was interrupted by the resonant clang of the bell hose – a pleasant, ringing tone that bounced around inside the big room.
“Cadillac,” said Cheruby. “Cad eee lack.”
Corny paused in mid chorus to peer through the grime.
“A customer,” he whispered conspiratorially to Cheruby. “What do we do?”
“What we always do. Serve them!” said Cheruby.
“Oh yeah,” was Corny’s astonished reply. It was triumph.
“Still a little stuck,” Cheruby said under its breath as Corny went to serve the customer.
Cheruby seldom left its perch in the window of Waywotowich’s Garage. It wasn’t because it was naked, winged, pink and chubby; it was because the small plastic children sometimes called it “fat”, “fleshy”, and “organic” as they walked from their day boxes to their night boxes.
“Organic! Pah!” Cheruby would scoff. “How can a cherub be organic? Idiot plastic children!” It resented the small plastic thoughts of the children in this little tourist town.
All true cherubim are hermaphrodites – they possess the genitalia of both sexes, lingam and yoni. That is why Cheruby is an IT and not a HE or a SHE. It could be a BOTH or a THEM, I suppose.
Across the street at the QuikDikWhipSlik Dairy Isle, they were advertising ICE CREAM HATS. The line-up was half a block long.
Corny reluctantly approached the long black Cadillac and the driver’s window slid down two inches.
“Hello,” said Corny hopefully.
“Fill’er up,” a gruff voice said from inside the car.
The metal nozzle slipped into the side of the Cadillac. Corny noticed the bumper sticker that read, “I ♥ Jesus.” He peered into the car to see who was driving as he washed the windows. He could barely reach the top of the front windshield with the squeegee. Due to the smoked glass, Corny couldn’t see inside the car but he did notice the puffy face of Cheruby peeking out the garage window. He waved to Cheruby who flapped its wings excitedly in reply.
As Corny moved around the car washing the windows, the passenger door opened and a large man stepped out onto the concrete service pad. He was well over six feet tall, barrel-chested and thick-limbed with piercing blue eyes, a winning smile and a red goatee. He was completely naked, his white skin covered in curly red hair of varying textures and densities. His bald head sported two stubby horns. His voice was loud and clear.
“Hey there, my little buddy, which way to the pisser?”
Cowering, Corny said “You’re…you’re…the Devil.”
“Yup. I am the Devil but you can call me Satan, all my friends do. And Satan needs to take a piss.” The Devil gestured for directions with question-mark arms and a shrug.
“Through the door to the back on the left.”
The Devil grinned at Corny. “Thanks little buddy.”
Corny was transfixed by the small red-haired tail jiggling at the base of the Devil’s spine as the naked man disappeared into the shadows of Waywotowich’s Garage. When Cheruby recognized who was coming toward the garage it slipped down into its hiding nook beneath the counter.
Corny finished the fill, replaced the gas cap and told the driver it was twenty-five dollars. He never saw the face of the person who paid him. As Corny was walking away, the Devil came out of the garage.
“Much obliged buddy,” he said to Corny.
“Okay. Then, answer me a question.” Corny was quizzing the Devil! “How come, if you’re the Devil, you have a bumper sticker that says, “I ♥ Jesus”? Do you love Jesus?”
A wry smile came over the Devil’s face. “Yeah, about that bumper sticker. That’s my sense of humour. Some kid stuck it there. I thought it was funny so I left it.”
“So you don’t really love Jesus?”
“No, my huckleberry friend, I don’t. Jesus is a dickhead. But I do love the idea of his bumper sticker on my Cadillac. See ya, little buddy.”
For a minute it looked like the Devil was getting back into his car but instead he just dissolved through the door and the car sped away. The clang of the bell hose echoed through the empty garage. Emerging from its hiding place, Cheruby saw Corny standing next to the bowsers with $25 in his hand singing at the top of his lungs.
“Bee stings and coil kings and spaniels in tartans, claptraps with dewlaps, bingo and cartons, glimpses of turtles, myrtles and woe, this is the way we all need to go.”
The line-up for ICE CREAM HATS at the QuikDikWhipSlik Dairy Isle was now two blocks long.