WHEN WE met Enzo Amodeo in Miss Thompson’s class, he had failed grade eight twice already and didn’t even care.
“Rocky Balboa flunked school too,” he said. “I’m just like him. An Italian stallion.”
He was fifteen. We turned thirteen one at a time that year, and he remained a head taller than the tallest boy. He had muscles and he shaved. When we learned about the Voyage of Puberty in Health class, he looked like the drawing on the pamphlet’s last page.
“I know all this already,” he said. “I took that freakin’ voyage.”
He knew everything already, the entire curriculum. He had even memorized Miss Thompson’s routines and little jokes about integers and Treasure Island and Louis Riel.
He was a Riel hero, ha ha, Enzo would lip-sync along with her while he peeled the glue off his desk. He liked to dab little white glue blobs and then watch them dry into clear discs that he’d then peel off and add to the pile inside his desk. He had like a million glue blobs. I sat beside him so I appreciated the growing collection first-hand.
Miss Thompson would say his name with a soft, practiced patience. She’d stare at him until he looked up from his glue project and met her gaze. Her eyes were heavily lined with a shimmery green colour that made her look like a lizard wearing the face mask of a lady.
“If you know the answer, Enzo, then why don’t you raise your hand?”
He would just shrug. He never raised his hand.
He kept failing. He failed hard and he failed on purpose. He didn’t hand in any homework assignments. He’d leave tests blank, or just scribble on them, or draw a smiley face with a speech bubble coming out that said, I DON’T CARE! He’d play sports at recess, but in gym class he’d sit on the floor, re-safety-pinning the cuffs of his acid-washed jeans. He just wouldn’t try. He wouldn’t even try. I didn’t get what his deal was because I tried so hard. I studied every night, memorizing names and dates. I used a ruler to make straight lines. I listened to the teachers and the priests. I behaved correctly and even tried to think correctly because God could read my mind at any time. He could just drop in there whenever He wanted to and eavesdrop on me, so I tried to think nicely. On class trips to Confession, I was sombre and penitent because I truly wanted to have a pure soul. I didn’t want to end up in purgatory for all eternity, babysitting the crying unbaptized limbo babies, so I tried very hard to be good. I couldn’t understand not trying at all.
“Here!” I said.
“I changed my name, Miss. To Stu. Stu Gots.”
“Just say Here, Enzo. Or Present.”
“I have a present for you,” he whispered, “Stugots.”
I laughed at that, I couldn’t help it.
“Hey, you get that, Jocie? You know what that means, mangia-cake?”
“Yeah, duh,” I whispered. “I’m only three-quarters mangia-cake.”
“Naw, you’re a cake. You have yellow hair. Cake hair.”
“My hair is dark blonde. It is ash blonde. And anyway, guess what? Everyone eats cake. At every Italian party I’ve ever been to, there is a ton of cake. Italians eat cake all the time, they love that kind with the rum in it and the almond slices, and the black forest with the cherries. I bet you eat cake too. I bet you love it.”
He raised his eyebrows, impressed. “That’s true,” he said, “I do love cake.”
When Miss Thompson held auditions for the school play, she said everyone had to try out.
“It is mandatory,” she said. “Man-da-tor-y.”
Devon went first. He recited his favourite song like it was Shakespeare.
“Kiss her,” he said, with a dramatic Shakespearean flourish. “Miss her…. Love her. That girl is poison.”
When it was Enzo’s turn, he just stood there. “I don’t got nothing,” he said.
“Why don’t you do what Devon did?” said Miss Thompson. “Say the words to a song in a loud, clear voice.”
“Naw,” Enzo said. “I’ll just do my mom’s soap, I guess. It’s easy.” He cleared his throat. “Run away with me!” he yelled passionately. “We were meant to be together. I know you feel the same way.”
“I can’t!” he cried in a lady voice, turning to face the other direction. “I’m in love with someone else!”
“Who is it?” he yelled in the man voice again. “Tell me who it is, damn it. Tell me his damn name, damn it.”
“It’s— It’s— It’s— It’s Bradley,” Enzo sobbed like a lady.
“Then this other guy comes in,” he said. “It’s a cop, I’m the cop now. I have some terrible, shocking news. This news that I have right now is going to shock you so much. Bradley is dead.”
“Oh my god, no! Not my Bradley, oh my god… And this is my mom, crying on the couch, Oh no, that’s terrible. Bradley was my favourite, oh no. And then my dad comes in, Goddamn it Sabrina, what are you crying about now? All you do is sit on the couch and cry all day you never even leave the house anymore. That same nightgown for a week, you’re disgusting. I swear to god, as soon as the kid’s in high school I’m gonna—”
“Thank you, Enzo,” said Miss Thompson. “That’s— I’m going to stop you there, that was great. Really good job. I think someone has found their true calling. Don’t you think, class?”
And that’s how Enzo got the lead in the school play. He got to play Our Savior Jesus Christ, but I got the best part of all: Mary Magdalene. All the other girls were so jealous because there were only three female roles in the whole New Testament; Mother Mary, Cousin Martha who had only one line, and Whore Mary. You can say Whore, go ahead. It’s in the Bible.
My costume was a flouncy gypsy dress and tons of makeup. Most of the other girls had to play men and wear gross, fake, itchy beards glued on them with spirit gum.
“Will you please, please trade with me?” said Jen B who was Caiaphas the High Priest.
“Sure,” I said. “Psyche. No dice.”
I was in a lot of scenes but Enzo was in every single one. We were performing almost the entire New Testament, including a dance number at the wedding where water gets turned into wine.
“This is a very ambitious production,” said Miss Thompson. “We’re going to begin with Jesus meeting John the Baptist – that’s you, Christine – and we’ll end with the resurrection.”
“I have a question,” said Enzo. “Who is Rez? And why does he have an erection?”
“Enough,” said Miss Thompson, “Enough laughing. That is highly inappropriate. Enzo, come on. You were doing so well. No more jokes. Let’s focus on what’s important.”
“Jokes are important, Miss.”
“Enzo. We’re all counting on you. The whole play depends on your performance. Playing Jesus Christ is a great responsibility and it’s going to take a lot of maturity. But I know you can handle it. I have faith in you. You are going to be a wonderful Jesus.”
And he was. He was an incredible Jesus. He grew out his own beard and he memorized all of his lines. He even adopted a soft, Jesus-y voice that he’d use during recess to break up fights.
He was very nice to me dressed as Jesus. He told me he’d make sure that his feet were clean so that when I had to anoint them with oil I wouldn’t be grossed out. And when everyone gathered around to stone me for being a prostitute, Enzo picked me up from the floor so kindly and gently that I honestly felt like I loved him, the way that I loved the real Jesus.
“You are such a good actor,” I told him.
“I know,” he said. “I’m acting like such a good actor.”
“Just watch,” said Devon. We sometimes walked home from school together and always argued the whole way.
“Enzo’s going to be bad.”
“He is not.” I felt like I had to defend him. He had come to my defence so many times, even though it was really Mary Magdalene’s defence.
“I bet you anything he’s going to go balls-out crazy in the temple scene. Instead of just knocking over a few merchants’ pillars, he is going to trash the place.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. We’d reached my house and were standing at the end of my driveway. Without looking at Devon, I casually smelled him as hard as I could, hoping he wouldn’t notice. He wore Coolwater cologne, so he always smelled like a fun dance party.
“Trust me,” he said. “Enzo’s going to mess it up.”
“No,” I insisted. “He’s going to be perfect. Being Jesus has totally changed him. He’s even handing in homework and doing gym. I bet after this, he’s going to go to Hollywood and everyone will ask him for his autograph.”
“Not. See you later, Whore Mary.”
“Bye, Pharisee Number Five.”
When I got inside, I went straight to my room and practiced looking holy and pitiful in front of the mirror for two hours.
Devon was wrong in his prediction. Enzo blew our minds in the final dress rehearsal. Afterwards, Christine told us that when she baptized him in the blue cardboard river, he had actual tears in his actual eyes.
“He said that when he wants to get tears, he just thinks of the Fresh Prince episode where Will gave Carlton drugs by accident.”
We were all very moved by this. Carlton had almost died.
The night of the big performance, Miss Thompson told Enzo and I that she had reserved seats in the front row for our parents.
“Because you two have the biggest parts.”
“But my mom can’t come,” said Enzo. “She’s sick.”
“Well, she must be feeling better because I called her and she’s on her way. She’s very proud of you, Enzo. We all are. I told her there’s no doubt in my mind that you’re on your way to an A plus in drama. And with the work you’ve been doing in your other subjects, you’re guaranteed to graduate this year. And I’d love to write you a letter of recommendation to Unionville High School. I think you’d be perfect for their theatre program.
“Enzo,” I said, “that’s awesome. You’ll totally get in.”
“She’s on her way?”
“I called and invited her myself,” said Miss Thompson. “I wanted to make sure she knew how important tonight was.”
That night, we performed better than we ever had. The audience was entranced by us, like the magic of The Holy Bible had cast a spell on them. The stage was lined with fake prop candles and our costumes glowed in the light. No one forgot a line or made a single mistake. No one smirked at each other or rubbed off their beards. Saying my lines, I felt the Holy Spirit glowing within me for real and I think everyone did. Something in the atmosphere, something still and graceful came over us, and we weren’t thirteen-year-old kids anymore. We were the astounded witnesses of a profound and tragic story. We believed in it and it became real.
As I washed Enzo’s feet, he whispered to me.
“What?” I looked up at him. He smiled.
“You’re doing great,” he said.
He turned water into wine and raised Lazarus from the dead. He healed the sick and he smashed up the temple. He was betrayed by Judas and condemned to death by Pontius Pilate.
And then he was up on the cross. Stephen and Erica were pretending to whip him with pieces of string attached to painted pop cans.
“We have no king but Caesar!” Stephen yelled.
I knelt at the foot of the cross and pretended to cry. As Enzo flinched and cried out in pain, I looked up and saw Miss Thompson standing at the side of the stage. She had her hands pressed over her heart. Thin rivers of green ran down her face. She was crying for real.
At the end of that scene, everything went dark. When the lights came back on, Mother Mary and John were frantic. They told me that the stone of the tomb had been rolled away and that Jesus was gone. His body wasn’t there. They were freaking out and ran away to look for help.
I was alone. Suddenly there were footsteps. I looked up and there was Jesus, standing before me.
“You’re alive!” I yelled, “But you were dead, master! I saw you die!”
“No,” said Jesus. He walked to the middle of the stage and opened his arms to the audience. “That was my identical twin brother on that cross. My brother Jesus who looks exactly like me. I planned this whole thing. I’m Jesus’ evil twin, Bradley! I’m alive and I’ve come back to you, Sabrina! Bradley’s alive!”
Miss Thompson did nothing. She just stood there with her eyes closed, as if she had fallen asleep standing up. The apostles in the wings gaped at Enzo like vacant-eyed children. The auditorium went silent. Then out of the darkness came a loud and beautiful laugh from the woman sitting front row centre.