"Help" by prose finalist Nona Caspers


Sometimes, I sat at my small table by the window and imagined a man older than me, but still young, sitting with me, his long fingers holding my best teacup. The alley below empty, the windows in the building across the alley empty, the plant on the table blooming its purple flowers in the morning light and then the afternoon light and then the evening light. He steadily returned my gaze. I had not felt that kind of love since childhood, certainly not since I lived in that apartment, but during that time, the man really did help me. I told him about the sounds of grief in the alley, the malleability of time, shifting shadows and light, isolation, dreams, the sewage system, broken things, colors, closets, phone calls, stains making shapes on carpet, my red pants, ants and squirrels, the materialization of cornbread, the gaps between people, the company of furniture. I would say, the lover becomes memory and memory becomes an artifact, a sacred tomb.

I offered him more tea.

It’s nice to have someone to listen to, he said, gazing steadily back at me, something in his expression more ample than realism. He told me the good news, our hearts cradled in sacrificial light, shepherds braying with sheep, bread and fish, buoyancy of water, two palms open to us, vast skies, pearly gates, corpses rising, birds in flight, the feeling of acceptance for all beings, this feeling sometimes so insistent he felt he would explode. The lover lives in us, he said.  In the seas, in the fur of horses and dogs and bears, in the fins of fish, in grass and seeds,lamp light and sunlight and lungs and sidewalks. 

Sometimes we didn’t even talk. Sometimes I think those times were the best.

And now, so many years later, as I sit at my computer in my office, I think how soothing that would be, to have Jesus in my imagination again. What is the harm, really? To be accompanied by his enormous good will and kindness, even for a little while. And even if it isn’t real.


Nona Caspers is the author of Heavier Than Air, which received the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction and was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. She has received a NEA Fellowship and an Iowa ReviewFiction Award, among others.  Stories from Alley Stories have appeared in Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, Cimarron Review, Epoch, and other literary reviews.  She is also the author of cross genre Little Book of Days and recently co-edited with Joell Hallowell a nonfiction book Lawfully Wedded Wives:  Rethinking Marriage in the 21st Century.  She teaches Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.  www.nonacaspers.com