He’s been coming around a lot but I’ve only recently started calling the dog Jesus because if Jesus were to return, this is how he would do it. In this shape, in this form, in these times. I’m sure of it. My best and only friend, Holy Amy, who thinks of herself as a kind of very powerful and sexually budding nun, disagrees. She says Jesus would return in the form of a handsome kisser, not some ugly mutt. Someone with a beautiful face, so we would know it was him. I say he’s not ugly. She says I am “vexed,” “cursed,” and that I am doomed to repeat the mistakes of those before me, though I’m not sure whom she’s talking about. All I know is it’s true: he’s not ugly. The dog suit he wears isn’t even a dog suit.
When the Reverend Houston was seventy he was retired from the ministry with a pension, paid by the national church organization, that was slightly in excess of the salary he had been receiving for nearly fifty years from his parish at New Babylon, Missouri. There were no strings attached to this pension. He could do with it and with himself, thereafter, practically anything that pleased his rational fancy. Naturally enough, he quit preaching. He had been preaching for nearly fifty years and he was getting just as tired of it as his congregation was. One Sunday morning during the summer of his seventieth year he shook hands with his successor, a vigorous young man who would attract plenty of spinsters to the Sunday-school faculty, walked calmly out of the church and never returned.
He walked for two years across the putrid surface of the solid crust: he learned how not to die by gnawing on it and how not to dissolve in its salt at night; he healed his own bones when the wind whipped him through the air like a rag and flung him onto the stiff waves. He was perpetually dazzled by the glare, but every once in a while he glimpsed shadows beneath the crust, brooding their bodies from one side to another and bashing themselves against the surface. Once he caught sight of an old man, inexplicably gleeful, jigging from one little plastic islet to the next. They waved at each other, arms aloft; he managed to make out the other man’s silhouette, stretched tall against the glare of the crust, and at that precise moment an enormous, jagged mouth rose up around the old man’s feet and carried him down to the depths of that filthy chowder.