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Vision
a story by Carole Evans

Last night I was in the Winn-Dixie on Carrollton Avenue inspecting grapefruit. I palmed a Ruby Red, juggled it from hand to hand. Then I punctured its thick, oily skin with my right thumbnail, like I always do. It’s a foolproof method for testing freshness that my mother taught me, but this time something went wrong. As I lowered my head to smell the grapefruit, I inhaled the steely smell of ripe blood, and in my hand was the severed head of John the Baptist. I don’t believe in visions, but there I stood holding the awful evidence beneath the fluorescence, a trail of blood snaking down my arm.

Ten minutes later I was in the parking lot with a can of Wolfe brand chile, a quart of buttermilk, and the grapefruit. I noticed a teenage couple hanging around my car. I have an ugly habit of thinking teenagers look suspicious if they aren’t engaged in some sort of organized activity. It’s a character flaw I’m trying to work on. The girl gave me a look before she left. I’ve seen that look on Judith Boudreaux who sits in the front row of a class I teach at Immaculate Conception high school: it’s a look that says, you’re a twenty-six-year-old looser with a sun-bleached Hyundai and a dead-end job.

As I got into my car, flash frames of the grocery store transformation came back: the martyr’s mouth agape, the open, overly dramatic eyes, the collar of clotted blood around his neck. Leftover images, maybe, from a college art history class, a famous oil of John the B. with his head on a platter and Salome about to perform the Dance of the Seven Veils. I don’t remember how John got himself into such a mess with Salome, and I wonder what any of it has to do with me. When I got home, I rummaged the grocery bag for clues, found the Ruby Red mute at the bottom of the bag.

This morning I called in sick, left a message on the school’s answering machine before the office opened. I’m not fond of my job. I’m the audio/visual director and teach a course called "Mass Media Literacy." I tell my students to think about how the media influence their reality maps. Last week I gave them magic markers and had them trace their maps onto thick pieces of white freezer paper. My reality map says staying at Immaculate Conception past this year is pretty unlikely.

The message was short. I said I wasn’t feeling well, wouldn’t be in. I let the last words trail off a bit like I was about to cough or throw up. I couldn’t tell the truth. I couldn’t say, "Hi, this is Cal Richards. I won’t be able to teach today because I’m trying to figure out why a grapefruit morphed into the head of John the Baptist while I was holding it at the Winn-Dixie. I plan to eat the little martyr for breakfast, let you know how things work out."

I won’t be missed. Even if the kids like you, they’re never disappointed if you don’t show up.

After I hung up the phone, I closed my eyes and tried to reconstruct what had happened last night. I saw myself walking toward the produce aisle. A Muzak rendition of "Blueberry Hill" played over the loudspeaker. I was wearing baggy khaki pants with a black turtleneck. A woman in white tennis shorts was pushing a cart. She looked about thirty, had thick brown hair, nice eyes, and muscular, evenly tanned legs. I smiled; she threw back a grimace. I turned and picked up the grapefruit.

I play this part over and over in my head, reverse it, slow it down, pause it. I expect to see the martyr’s betrayed forehead, pale as marble, his aquiline nose, but my mind shuts down after picking up the grapefruit. I think about calling the manager at the Winn-Dixie to see if there was a surveillance camera. Maybe I could watch the tape. There might be a logical explanation, a reflection of light, something to explain away my vision.

I remember reading about a woman in Las Cruces, New Mexico, who saw the Virgin of Guadalupe in her husband’s underwear, which she displayed just in time for Easter weekend. Thousands of people showed up. The picture in the New Orleans Times-Picayune looked like a bleach stain, accidental or maybe measured out with care to take on the Virgin’s shape. In Washington state, near Yakima, highway signs were spotted with this same Virgin. The superintendent of highways said, "oxidation," and I believe him. A church spokesman said there was no indication that anything supernatural was going on: the church didn't investigate.

People have seen Christ in a tortilla, Mother Theresa in a hot cross bun. There’s a logical explanation for that stuff. Visions of the Virgin Mary are the most common, an estimated twenty thousand. I found out about this on the internet, though there was nothing about John the Baptist. An ex-Jesuit I know says visions are the machinations of the uneducated, important to the cultural history of the church, but trivial in terms of a "thinking man’s" beliefs.

I went to the kitchen, made two pieces of toast, and heated milk for cocoa. The grapefruit was there, lurking on the kitchen table next to an over-ripe banana. I usually peel grapefruit and eat them like an orange. This one deserved something different. I opened the utensil drawer, pulled out my sharpest boning knife and carried it to the cutting board. I held the grapefruit up to the light and inspected it carefully, looking for a blemish, something to give me a clue about what had happened. But it was as docile as any grapefruit I've known, yielding to the knife as I sliced it in two. It smelled like grapefruit, yet I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I put the halves upside down in two white ceramic bowls and slid them into the refrigerator. I slammed the door, grabbed the cocoa, put the toast on a paper towel, and tracked my breakfast back to bed. I was never allowed to eat in bed as a kid. My mother said it was overly indulgent and unsanitary, so I got a kick out of dropping crumbs on the sheets while balancing the cocoa on my lap.

There are logical explanations for why people behave the way they do, logical explanations for everything.

The phone rang, and I let the answering machine pick up. It was Mr. Villery, the assistant principal, wanting to know how long I’d be out. He was arranging for substitutes. I could tell from the tone of his voice that he didn’t believe I was sick. All of a sudden breakfast in bed wasn’t so much fun. The toast was cold, and I forgot to bring a spoon. I plunged my index finger into the bottom of the cup, to stir up the clot of chocolate that stuck there. I should have gone to work, forgot about the vision.

I pulled on a pair of khaki shorts and a white turtleneck, deciding to go for a jog to clear my head. As I laced my running shoes, I realized the girls at Immaculate Conception would be on lunch break. They’re not suppose to leave campus, but they always do. If they saw me, Villery would have his proof.

I took off my shoes, felt a spiral of heat travel from my stomach to my neck. I ignored this, and jotted down some notes on the back of a torn envelope lying on the night stand -- grade quizzes, balance checkbook, eat the damn grapefruit.

I closed my eyes and tried again to replay my grocery store vision. I was going for an aerial view this time, wanted to study my eyes as they fixed on that point of time that wrapped around me like a greedy lover. But there were no images, only a familiar weight in the palm of my hand as a rivulet of warmth flowed over my wrist. I pushed up the right sleeve of my shirt, saw a thin line of blood snaking toward my elbow, and realized -- I know nothing of visions.



"Vision" Copyright ©2003 by Carole Evans.
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations for the purposes of critical reviews or articles. Educators who wish to print or photocopy in part or whole this story for classroom use, or publishers who wish to include this story in an anthology
should send inquiries by email to the author.
Inquiries by mail may be sent to: Carole Evans, c/o collectedstories.com,
Columbia U. Station, P.O. Box 250626, New York, NY 10025.
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