--and that's going to stay right there. No period, no little dot after the p that means "don't go on any further", because he doesn't really want the story to end.
So there's a man. His brow is long, his eye is keen, his mind is sharp. Two thousand years ago he was a carpenter in the desert. Today he's quiet in New York City.
He's sitting at a workbench with a knife in his hands, tracing it over the slab of cedar in front of him lovingly, almost sensually. Slowly his design becomes clear; the barest hints of women with orange oil veils and wood shaving eyes peek through the grain.
His friend, the one in the leather jacket and sunglasses, the one who always hangs about the workshop watching and trying to understand, starts in. It's the second time today.
I don't understand. I just don't get it. What are you doing anymore? We could be doing things. We should be outside, doing things. What difference is this going to make, in the long run? God, you, you have the ability to really change things--forever--and what are you doing? Still the same old shit. And you--you know I'd never lie to you. But I'm worried.
And then he gives the first man a long, deep look and says Stop, not stop with a period but stop with a comma.
Give all this some space, he pleads to the first man, who's smoothing his hands all over the newborn guitar. We can go somewhere else. Not for long--just long enough to breathe. To think. Even if--even if you want to-- relax, just for tonight, with her. God, I need you to--just, just for a little while.
No, the first man says, firmly, his eyes struggling to say something entirely different. I can't stop; (there's the little dot now, but it has a train dragging beneath it; semicolon which means just keep on going, I'll explain later.) I have to finish this, Judas, I have to get it done soon. There will be time to rest-in time.
His friend, the worrier--Judas--twists his mouth into a sneer, and stands up. What's the hurry? he asks the sky as he leaves, the pupils and iris (green) and vitreous humor under his plastic sunglasses answering the other man's eyes. What's the hurry, anyway? You have forever, fool.
Jesus forgets he's supposed to answer, because he's back in a world of wood and oil, shaping it with a razor, listening carefully to the voices in his head. The guitar will be something to leave behind--one last miracle.
Alright, look, Judas says from the driver's seat. I'm not going to pretend I understand what you're doing---I never have-okay, I trust you. Okay? You've got to know I trust you. It's just everybody else I'm not sure of, you got me?
Jesus hates the passenger's seat, because it's terrible to drive, instinctively terrorizing as it is to be solely in charge of controlling far too many pounds of plastic and steel going far too fast. It's terrible.
But the passenger's seat is worse.
Judas keeps talking, his sunglasses turning to face him every few seconds. Jesus has to turn on the radio, and Joni Mitchell fills the car like hard rock.
Look--will you at least listen to me?
I'm listening, Judas. Will you look at the road while we talk?
And Jesus lets the syllables roll over him without replying, because he can see what Judas cannot-- the bright red beside the road, stapled onto a tree like a late warped apple, and he can read the words that say STOP in all capitals this time, but still with no period, no end, no exclamation even, just S-T-O-P outlined in white.
I'm afraid, that's all. It can't end up the way it did last time...but you have to help me.
Jesus feels those white letters burning through him when the car slides past the octagon far too quickly, and there are no other cars on the road for them to run into, but still, he catches his breath as they keep gliding past the sign onto a never-ending highway.
He knows the word very well. Before everything dissolved into road and road and endless journey going on, he remembers hearing it in class, at home, from his lovers, from his friends. Laughingly, automatically, whenever he accidentally scared them.
He remembers how the lyrics in his heart spilled out of his mouth unthinkingly when he was younger, remembers how his mother would look worried and demand that he stop ranting now, stop, stop, hands over her ears. Only a comma protected them both from eternal nothingness.
He remembers everything. He remembers every single time he was born, and every time he was kissed in a garden, and every single miracle wished out of his fingers, and he tries his hardest to forget every single one of his deaths. He fails, of course. He remembers when it all began.
Judas wanted an acoustic guitar.
It was that simple. He walked in, with black leather and sunglasses perched on the crown of his head, and asked Are you Joseph?
Jesus turned around from his bench and looked into Judas' eyes (green so dark that anyone else would have called them brown) and saw something he didn't expect, and it hurt him so sweetly that he gasped aloud and then realized he'd dropped his hammer on his foot and had probably broken a few toes.
Judas didn't bother hiding his grin, that Jesus remembers.
No. I'm his son.
Judas laughed and stooped to pick the hammer off Jesus' foot, wincing at the squelching noise it made because it had fallen sharp end first. Jesus thought that his eyes were exactly the same color as pine trees in the dark.
But that wasn't a stop at all--that was green, and green meant go.
Now it's just the two of them in the car, one black head (grown slightly bald) and one blonde head, and there aren't any stop signs on the freeway. The only thing that keeps Jesus from letting Judas have his way and guide the car away from Jerusalem to San Francisco is the music; he has to keep changing the CDs, from the Beatles to The Plastic Ono Band and The Magic Flute and Miles Davis and Pirates of Penzance and George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh and then Judas asks, from underneath his sunglasses, why he's only listening to stuff dead guys wrote.
For the two of us? It's fitting, Jesus wants to tell him. And there it is--death, the ultimate stop (there should be a period at the end of this one, he is sure, but he stubbornly refuses to put it on, not yet, not yet.)
Only half of the Beatles are dead, he says instead.
The important half, Judas tells him, flicking his cigarette butt out the window.
At the next gas station he is surprised to see the people, throngs of people in black with pleading mouths that used to be sneers. For a long time, it seems, there's been only the two of them, empty roads, ten million white lines before and behind and the vague blur of fields and sheep.
Why are they all here? Judas asks, the line between his forehead sharpening into a cross. We can't have left the ghost towns yet.
He starts to unbuckle himself, but Jesus puts a hand over the clasp, getting out of the car himself. He shuts the car door quickly, and while it's not a spoken stop, it's a stop all the same. He fumbles with the hose and meets Judas' eyes through the windshield, and Judas' sunglasses have slipped down a little so he can see the fear in the green.
Jesus ignores the men and women in black calling to him, and picks up the credit card with soft fingers.
No, he says, resuming filling up the tank. We've only just come into them.
Stop, Jesus thinks, maybe a hundred miles later, just outside of his City. He doesn't say it, because he knows there will only be another comma, another repetition of "the road goes ever on and on", and he doesn't want to waste his energy crying bloody tears because he knows there are questions that cannot be answered, even two thousand years later.
Their music has all been played over and over by now, long-lost ghosts singing their final songs to the travelers, and Not Yet still sounds in Jesus' head so he turns it off. They listen to the radio's white noise instead.
Stop, his fingers drum against the dashboard. Stop stop stop stop stop now please I want I change my mind stop stop now, not one of them has any punctuation at all.
Stop, Judas says harshly, fingers whitened on the steering wheel, bright green fractured and curled in on itself.
We can't stop, Jesus whispers, but Judas presses on the gas a little harder, and they swerve into the fast lane.
Next exit, Jesus tells him, or maybe he only mouths it but anyway he can't resist. His fingers go across to the driver's seat, and just lightly brush the skin underneath Judas' ear.
Stop, Judas snarls, painfully, and Jesus won't because they've both heard this story before and they know what happens next.
Arms lock, fingers grasp at leather and bright gold curls and the smalls of backs and sharp hipbones that cut at palms, lips meet lips and neither of them close their eyes because that would be too much like goodbye.
The car keeps rolling, no-one's hands on the steering wheel.
I could stop, Judas says into Jesus' ear, shuddering and grasping oh so tightly. I could stop right now and turn around. We could--you know I--
No, Jesus tells him, and doesn't (ever) let go. We can't stop.