On the night he climbed his ladder up the sycamore, Winfred Smith on his porch took a toothpick in hand, licked its tip, leaned down to inspect closely a reproduction of a fourteenthcentury altarpanel painting, the parakeet chirping behind him. He muttered something vile, shook his head, said aloud None of this can be how can it, this is my fortune which I am condemned to play out. Dressed in a boldstriped tie and whitecuffed shirt, he picked up his glossy sheet of paper and sat back, he rested his elbows on the padded arms of his chair and he opened his mouth, he started to speak and stopped himself and looked almost contented for a moment as he focused on three streams of blood shooting out of a slit in the right side of the dying Christ’s chest, each jetting stream terminating in elongated drops that followed the nearly vertical shaft of a spear whose entire head was hidden in the chest cavity, down to the bearded man Longinus holding it. There were streams and drops everywhere his eyes roamed, copious flows down the narrow bony feet one nailed to the other and down the long toes that curled over the footrest like spigots. Blood dripped from the right hand above the open mouth of the good thief Dysmas’s head hanging back over the patibulum of his cross and over the spearplunger’s head and the heads of the various Marys, it sprinkled more sparsely out of his left hand and it poured from the sliced and broken arms and legs of the two crucified thieves , there was blood enough to satisfy the lust of any S-Maddicted moviegoer, even the long garment around Christ’s loins and thighs hanging torn and tattered resembled tumbling blood though dirty white, but that’s not what straightened Winfred up and drew him forward to the table upon which
he set down the picture and removed the toothpick from between his flaccid lips , removed his glasses and lowered his face to within inches away from the image, no, it was an urge, a kind of mental paroxysm turned into a holy mission, he could see it perfectly now, and using the toothpick as a sort of nib he commenced to trace the outline of one of the thieves, the thief on Christ’s right, Dysmas, the one whom the Savior promised heaven. Deliberately as though he were cutting a tiny diamond with an infinitesimal sliver of glass Winfred followed the lines of Dysmas’s jaw thrust skyward, his mouth open and twisted, his right arm hooked forward over the patibulum and pretzellike contorted behind his back and tied there at the wrist to the wrist of his other arm, hooked too over the horizontal post and clearly broken at shoulder and elbow. He followed the lines of the rope and the black elongated holes halfway up the forearms denoting ulnae hacked with hatchet or axe, he traced the blood. And then he paused, gritted his teeth, winced, closed his eyes, his face a double noselength from the paper, and he rocked slowly holding his wince, his arrested perturbation, and then he sneaked open his eyes, still rocking, and he followed the s-shaped body of the broken Dysmas, his chest against the backside of the cross, his back and bound and bloodraw wrists facing Winfred’s halfopen eye, his torso winding around the stipes and his legs, hacked and broken like his arms, twisted around from the front to join his upper limbs at the back and tied to the vertical post but not together, the left leg crossed over the other with its foottop facing Winfred and the right leg, lower, seen from the side but with the footsole at an almost right angle to it and facing Winfred, who resumed his laborious delineation.
When finished with Dysmas he sank back in his chair and gazed at the whole picture again, took it all in, he started, drew himself erect and with his toothpick he exerted short quick backandforth motions over the face of one of the women below the figure of Christ, the grieving woman with the biggest brightest halo, he pantomimed scratching out the face or erasing it, but the tiny instrument barely touched the paper leaving neither mark nor impression. And then he leaned down again and started tracing Gestas.
The unrepentant thief, the one who didn’t suffer his agony lightly, the one who failed to rejoice in his wheelcrunching precrucifixion torture, who wouldn’t earn Paradise because his obstinate and adamant refusal to give in to the soulcleansing efficacy of pain and disfigurement left him in eternal disgrace, this Gestus hung as grotesquely twisted on his cross and bled as profusely as his saved counterpart though his head dangled down and away from Christ, this savior who had condemned him, no blood of the lamb would offer him succor, and Winfred arduously traced the toothpick along his corkscrewed lines, glasses off, nose close to his hand, soft breath barely brushing the thumb and index finger ever so slightly holding that pick. And he drew as though he were creating the image himself out of his own blood and bile.