The Messiah of Coney Island

The Messiah of Coney Island

Darlene Cah

Mami is not religious. Fact is, I never even heard her say the word “God” not followed by “damn.” So when she jumps out of her chair praising Jesus, tears rolling down her face, I nearly spill my beer down my blouse. There she is on her knees, praying like a Pentecostal, arms in the air, swaying, the whole deal.

Then I see it. The face of Jesus on the window shade. Our very own Shroud of Turin.

I start to pull down the shade to get a closer look, but Mami lunges forward on her knees, all two hundred pounds of her, and grabs my sweater, wailing half in Spanish, half in English, saying only the pure of heart can touch Jesus.

“Well, then, José the maintenance man must be a saint,” I say, “He fixed that shade last week.”

Mami pounds her chest, and begs God to forgive me.

“Sarita, Jesus loves you.”

Yeah. Right. If he loved me, Tonio would still be alive. We’d still be living above the pizzeria on the avenue. I would be a medical assistant, working in a doctor’s office, not cleaning up piss and spit and who knows what in a cheap motel downtown.

I put my arm around Mami, and to my surprise, she doesn’t shove me away.

“Mami, this has to be an optical illusion. A shadow. Dirt.”

Mami’s eyes never leave the window. I follow her gaze and he’s still there: the hair, the beard, the mournful eyes, the crown of thorns, in shades of gray to black on the shade with its years of nicotine and cooking grease stains. I half-expect to see his mouth start moving like some Saturday morning cartoon.

I go to the kitchen, and call my friend Lucrecia in 7D. She works for a chiropractor in Williamsburg. She’d know what to do.

“Lu, you gotta get down here. Jesus is in my window.”

I explain that Mommy Dearest has turned into Mother Theresa.

I pour my beer down the drain, and look out the kitchen window.

Pleasant View Houses. Yeah, right. The pastoral scene I see is a trashed-up, dirt lot that used to be a lawn, and beyond it, another bleak high-rise building, tattooed guys huddled in puffed-up jackets under the yellow light by the bench, passing around a joint, waiting to make a sale. It was under that light Tonio and I first kissed.

I jump when there’s pounding at my door. Lu barges in, followed by Chubby, her husband, and half the damn building.

Amelia Flores from 6E, sick with breast cancer; Mr. Wilson from 2D, the stink of whisky wafting off him; Ruby Daniels from 1G, whose son, Ty was killed in Afghanistan; Marta and her near-blind mother from 5D. Leesha from 4H sashays in, drenched in perfume, praising the Lord, swinging a bottle of wine.

They keep coming: Kia, the teenager from 3F, whose mother OD’d last year; Wayne, the high school basketball star; Buzz, one of the X-Boyz; Vinny and Joe from the candy store; Sasha from next door, rapping a prayer. Pilgrims, every one, kneeling before the shade, seeking hope, I imagined, a miracle, some kind of reassurance there’s more to life than this. The last place my neighbors are gonna find hope is in apartment 2B at Pleasant View Houses in Coney Island.

I watch Mami greet everyone, shaking their hands, praying and crying with them. Most of these people avoid her. Many are victims of her tirades.

I look at the shade and I dare Jesus to give me a sign.

Maybe it was a breeze from the open window.

Maybe someone jostled the lamp on the table.

Maybe I’m, looking for a miracle, too. But I swear I see Jesus glow, golden, warm, inviting.


Darlene CanDarlene Cah used to improvise on stage in New York. Now she improvises with words in North Carolina. Her stories have appeared in various journals including Smokelong QuarterlyReferential MagazineWilderness House Literary Review, and Red Earth Review. Among her awards is the 2018 Hub City/Emrys Writing Prize. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash