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He woke with original sin. It hung on him like a leech.
Feeling nauseated, he tried to pinpoint it. Find it, grasp it, pull it off. He looked to his skin, the bruises still livid, etchings following the course of veins and arteries, trying to detect a trace of its movement, anticipating the slimy trail that had to accompany the feeling. But it crawled, slid, oozed away from his touch, invisible to sight. Tangible in sense, intangible in form.
And it wasn’t alone.
He retched, emptying his stomach of bile laced with vinegar onto the crayola green grass that he lay on. A scent of evergreen lurked underneath the rancid vomit smell in his nostrils. He retched again.
Warm blood trickled into his eyes from above, mixing with his tears and forming a rosy cloud before his vision. Through the glaze he saw wing-tips seperated by the perfectly formed feet.
“God is Lord,” Gabriel’s voice opened the silence in celebration, a chorus in song.
Dry heaves racked his broken body, his side splitting as he gasped for air.
He began the climb that afternoon, his injured feet causing him to wince with every step, weighted with the burden of the ages. Gabriel followed, light as air.
Stumbling, sending pebbles clattering down the rocky slope, he fell to his knees, gouging another hole, another path for the blood to exit. Behind him, greenery and a track of red. Forward, the peak still hidden in the clouds. Here, the sweat and ache, the bitterness of urine that he couldn’t remove from his teeth, causing him to spit, a gesture that only wasted more of his moisture.
“God is Good,” Gabriel sang, a regular intonation to mark the passage of time.
Raising himself by his hands, he lurched upwards, his hands leaving two stains, a center in each boulder boring into the mountain. With each footfall, the load became lighter. With each step, the slope became steeper.
Halfway up, halfway down.
The footprints that led through the snow to the garden gate were a progression, each successive print a shade of pink lighter than the print before it, each depression less pronounced, until — in front of the gate — it was as if no one had passed.
Inside, a figure stood gazing into the branches of the tree that stood in the middle of the garden.
Along its limbs glistened the fruit of its roots — deep, dark red spheres, bulging with over-ripeness, cloying in their sickly sweet scent. Each was moist and ready to pluck.
“It is done,” said Jesus, his body pale, a pure white, his stigma healed over in scars, each wound dry.
“It is begun,” sang Gabriel, as Jesus returned to prove his love.
This story was originally published in New Pathways, a small-press magazine out of Dallas, on January 1991, then reprinted in April 1999 by Alexandria Digital Literature.
You don’t have to read these to enjoy the story, but these notes explain some of the choices I made when I wrote it.
The title is a reference to the bosom of Abraham, a term used in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 16:22), and in poetry often refers to the peace of Heaven. In this story, I use the bosom of Abraham to mean the area of Purgatory, or some other place besides earth, heaven, or hell.
“Original sin” is the sin of Adam and Eve, the essential event in the Fall of Man. According to the most common teaching of Christianity, all descendants of Adam and Eve — i.e., all people — share in this sin and are, from the time they are conceived, in a state of sin. In German, the term used is Erbsunde, meaning “inherited sin,” a more explanatory term than the English one.
In the story, Jesus arrives in Purgatory with bruises. According to accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus was beaten by guards before being crucified.
When he throws up vinegar, it is in reference to how, on the cross, a soldier “took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink” (Matthew 27:48).
Jesus’s brow is bleeding because, according to some of the gospels, a crown of thorns was placed upon Jesus’s head, piercing the skin.
The one reference I regret putting in now is the line about his side-splitting, which comes across too much like a pun. “But one of the soldiers pierced [Jesus’] side with a spear…” (John 19:34).
As he starts the climb, I mention injured feet. Actually the reference should be to injured ankles rather than feet. In the process of crucifixion, a nail was driven through the wrists and ankles. If the nails had been driven through the feet and hands as popularly depicted, the weight of Jesus’s body would ripped through them rather than actually holding him on the cross. Later I mention holes in the palms of his hands. In this use, I stuck with the common visual rather than trying to correct it for the actual crucifixion practice.
I make several references to the many holes for blood to exit his body: during the crucifixion, there were at least five major wounds (the two wrists, the two ankles, and his side) and then many smaller ones (the crown of thorns, possibly from whipping, etc.).
The taste of urine in his mouth is a subtle way to talk to how he was able to slake his thirst during this strenuous climb. As disgusting as it might sound, it is possible to resolve thirst for at least a time by drinking your own urine, which is mainly water.
The garden is, of course, the Garden of Eden.
The point of the story is made in the footsteps leading to the garden. In an attempt to “explain” what Jesus did for the three days between his death and his rising, I postulate here that he goes to Purgatory and climbs a mountain to the garden of Eden, the journey draining his body of blood and original sin as he climbs. The mountain with the garden at the top of it is also a reference to the garden in C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, which is itself a reference to the biblical Garden of Eden.
The tree in the garden is the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). Each of these fruits (not apples as is commonly depicted) is the original sin of the Fall of Man. The fruits are glistening and ripe because they have been replenished on the tree by Jesus’ journey, which drained the sin into the mountain to be taken by the roots of the tree, then into the fruits. Jesus’s action has restored the fruit, and the sin contained therein, that Adam and Eve ate from the tree in Genesis.
And, finally, the last line refers to the resurrection, but also tries to echo the beginnings and ends that are throughout the Bible, in that an ending becomes a beginning, and vice versa.