From the outside world that still audaciously existed, clouds shifted, and sunlight found its way through the stained glass windows surrounding Ava and me. Its rays, a mockery of our downtroddenness and our seclusion, turned into brilliant shades of red, green, blue, and yellow, sharing their refracted glory with the dark carpet that gobbled up all the light. I followed the path of the sunlight, and I could not help but take notice of a ray of yellowness that fell from one of the windows onto Ava’s hair. Tracing the light back to its beginning, I saw that the yellow light was coming from a halo around a stained glass rendition of the Christ Child. It looked far different on Baby Jesus than it did on the weeping woman beside me.
Ava was the next to speak. “And he doesn’t even look sad at all,” she whispered, her voice breaking from the tears she hasn’t yet let me see. “I don’t care how much they say he loves us. No amount of love can keep you from crying out when it hurts.” She slumped even further forward, her hands gripping the pew in front of her, her face resting atop them.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” I echoed my previous thoughts—or rather, lack of them. I only hesitated for one breath before covering her shoulder with my own hand. I began to stroke gentle circles around her shoulder and her back, but the thickness of her sweater diluted the strength of my touch. I lifted strands of her hair from her back and draped them over her shoulder, then let my hand cease its work so that it could lie reassuringly on her back, which heaved up and down now with each quick breath she drew.
“Do you really think he loved us that much?” Ava asked, her back muscles tensing as she lifted her face to meet mine.
“I have no doubt,” I replied, but something akin to a lack of faith plithered through my mind as I watched Ava’s makeup make a painting out of her face, settling in the grooves near her eyes, nose, and mouth. Her mascara smeared across her cheeks like soot, and when she tucked her hair behind her ears, I saw lipstick on the backs of her hands from where she had pressed her face against them.
I felt the coldness of impending tears settle in between my lungs, in the place they call the chest cavity, swelling like it was about to crack my sternum. A sob rose from my belly and paused in my throat, threatening to burst forth if I tried to speak another word.
“How can you have no doubt?” Ava whispered again, but this time, it was more of a stage whisper, as if she wanted Bronze Jesus to overhear. “He cut up his arms so bad, so many times, that he can’t even feel it anymore.” She pounded her fist against her chest, a new sheet of tears slipping from her eyes, all the way down to her chin, where it dripped unceremoniously onto my arm. “He can’t even feel it anymore….”
And I knew she wasn’t talking about Jesus anymore.
“It’s going to be okay, Ava,” I choked out, but my own weeping contradicted my words.
“They put him in a bed with scratchy sheets, Elena. He has a cotton allergy, but how are they going to know that?”
“On the forms you have to fill out, I’m sure there’s a spot where he can let them know that—”
“And what if they put more skeletal Jesuses in his hospital room? Catholic hospitals have no tact!” Ava continued, cutting me off as she peppered her words with gasping sobs.
I doubted another anorexic Jesus would push Peyton over the edge, but I allowed Ava to have her grief.