The Unexpected Guest (Part 1 of 3)Featured, Fiction — By David Zimmerman on August 24, 2011 at 7:08 am
[Editor's Note: Over the next three days, we are going to be running excerpts from David Zimmerman's new work, The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. David is an editor at IVP Books and a columnist here at the Writers Collective. Follow ongoing adventures with the unexpected guest on Twitter at @unexpguest.]
Part 1 of 3
I didn’t typically get a lot of knocks on my door. I lived on the top floor of my building, close to the elevator, and most of the other apartments on my floor were empty—or at least they seemed empty. I kept my door locked, just in case.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when one day I heard a knock.
Now imagine my surprise when I found myself answering it.
There he was, standing at my door. His hair—messy, but in a way that suggested fresh air, not neglect. His skin—tight, wrinkled around the eyes, not clean exactly but not unclean either. His eyes—soft, kind, but intense. His clothes—simple and functional, but not quite in style, like he never stopped walking.
Of course, I recognized him immediately. I guess I should have seen him coming.
He looked at me and smiled. I smiled and looked away.
“Hey you,” he said. “Can I come in?”
I paused. Just because I knew who he was didn’t necessarily mean that I could predict what would happen next. And yet . . .
There was just something about him standing there. The knock on the door had somehow morphed from an irritation, to an invasion, to a relief. Now that I had a guest, I suddenly felt less secure in my apartment and more isolated, alone.
“Sure,” I found myself saying as I stepped aside to let him enter.
I still can’t say why I did it. What will the neighbors think? crossed my mind, until I remembered that I didn’t really have neighbors. Still, it is mildly scandalous for a single woman to let such an odd-looking man into her home. Maybe that’s why I let him in.
He came inside. I took his coat and asked if he would remove his shoes, which he did immediately.
“Nice to see you, Jesus,” I said.
I’d known of Jesus from way back. Heard the stories, seen the movies. All that stuff. I knew I only had one chance to make an impression.
I glanced self-consciously around my family room. I made a mental note of which parts of my apartment would be off limits during this visit. I offered him a drink. He asked if I had any wine.
“How ’bout I get you some water, and you make some yourself?” I replied. Being nervous always makes me a little cranky.
He laughed. “I was kidding about the wine,” he said. “Water would be great.”
In the kitchen, I quickly pulled one of the really nice glasses off the shelf, poured him some water, added a pair of ice cubes and, at the last minute, scattered some store-bought cookies onto a plate. When I reentered the family room, though, Jesus was gone.
Typical, I thought. He must have left. But then I noticed that his shoes were still by the door.
I set down the plate and the glass and went after him. Turning a corner I saw him standing outside my bedroom with a quizzical look on his face.
“What’s this?” he asked, pointing above the door.
“It’s a cross,” I said. “I would think you’d recognize it.”
I know, I know. You’re not supposed to talk to Jesus like that. When I get nervous, I get snarky.
“I know it’s a cross,” he said. “I’m wondering why you have it hanging here.”
I had taken it from my parents’ house some time back. I hadn’t told them until after the fact. They were fine with it—but still, it didn’t exactly belong to me. Technically, I had stolen it.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I like it, I guess. It’s pretty. And it makes me feel safe.” It was pretty: wooden, plated with shiny brass, backed by a thin porcelain circle with some phrase about God watching over us on it.
I peeked into my bedroom; nothing incriminating in view, so far as I could see.
“I can see why you like it,” Jesus said. Was that a smile?
“Why don’t I show you the rest of the apartment?” I grabbed his arm, maybe a bit tighter than was necessary, but I didn’t want him wandering off anymore. I walked him from room to room, and he asked the strangest questions, making me question everything and see it all through new eyes. This was the weirdest tour of my home I’d ever been on. But it’s a small place; eventually I ran out of rooms, so I took him back to the family room.
That’s what I’d come to call it—the “family room”—even though I live alone. All my roommates had moved on, and instead of replacing them with other roommates, I’d replaced them with stuff. It probably would have made more sense to call this the “TV room,” but “family room” had a nicer ring to it.
Now, though, I was struck by the irony: there’s something intuitively obvious about the fact that homes are meant for relationship, and yet they’re often places of isolation.
Jesus went straight to the piano and plunked out a few notes. “I love music,” he said, as much to himself as to me.
“I don’t play,” I mumbled. “I play the radio.” It was a vain attempt at humor, I admit, but it had been one of my grandfather’s favorite jokes, so I use it when I can.
Jesus looked up and smiled but didn’t laugh. I wondered if he knew my grandfather.
Jesus took a seat on my recliner, twisting so that he faced me instead of the television. “Look,” he said. “How would you feel about me crashing here for a while?”
I think I had known it was coming. He had acted just a bit like he owned the place from the moment he showed up. But it was so rare for me to have visitors, and even rarer for people to stay for longer periods of time. There was something terrifyingly appealing about his suggestion.
“Sure,” I said, trying to remain calm. “Why not?”
“The Unexpected Guest” is adapted from The Parable of the Unexpected Guest (http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=29). Written by David A. Zimmerman. Used by permission.