When four-year-old Doug threw his Jesus Christ ornament into the fireplace, everyone in the family jumped up at once, but his grandmother Deb led the way. Deb was a retired high school English teacher with a beautician’s posture and unusually long bangs. She shook the poker free from the fireplace set and stabbed it into the hearth.
“Use the shovel!” said her husband Allen, an almond-shaped man.
Deb dropped the poker and used the shovel to dig out the ornament. They rushed into the kitchen and ran cold water over it. Steam and smoke wafted up from the ash. The fire alarm sounded and Allen shut it off. Once the Jesus ornament cooled, Deb held it out to them on the shovel, which was dripping gray water onto the floor.
“I suppose we could still use it,” said Deb.
“Show it to Doug,” said Allen. “This is one of those lessons a boy has to learn.”
“Shut up,” said Deb. She reached to touch the ornament and pulled her fingers back. “It doesn’t make sense now,” she said. “Jesus’ lacrosse stick looks like a noodle. And that stocky boy has a melted face.”
“We could cut him out,” said Allen. “And we could cut off Jesus’s stick, too. It will look like he’s just giving them instruction.”
Deb began to clean the figure’s face with the folded edge of a paper towel but she paused. “Oh. Look at this. What do you think, Doug?”
The face looked very sad. He shook his head.
She held it out to Allen. “Doesn’t he look sad? But realistically sad. It’s uncanny.”
“Peter’s gone and disowned him,” said Allen, drifting back into the kitchen.
Deb rubbed some smeared ash from Jesus’ body with her finger and wiped it off on her apron. “It’s nothing a marker can’t fix. Project time, Doug.” She laid a placemat on the kitchen table and set up his booster seat. Doug climbed in while Deb brought him a thin-tipped black marker. Doug took the figurine in his hand and with his other hand held the pen like a chisel. He carefully drew a smile arcing up from the frown. But the pen slipped and he accidentally rubbed a knuckle against Jesus’ face, smudging the ink.
Doug held it up. There were words for how Jesus looked, but he didn’t know them yet. To him, it appeared as though every shape a mouth could make had been laid down at once in black and gray ink. He didn’t know what to make of it.
Ross McMeekin’s stories have appeared in places like Virginia Quarterly Review, X‑R-A‑Y, Redivider, Lost Balloon, and Post Road Magazine. His debut novel, The Hummingbirds (Skyhorse), came out in 2018. He’s received fellowships from the Hugo House and Jack Straw Cultural Center in Seattle. He edits the literary journal Spartan.