Jeffrey Aldeen

Jeffrey Aldeen

Where was he? Where Was he? Where Was He? The mirror holds Jeffrey Aldeen, eyes shining softly, teeth shining like gold. Twice he had replaced dull teeth with crowns in six months. Dr. Ramos was of course a beloved parishioner—or as he put it, a willful participant in the saving passion of Christ.

He smiled. Where was he, though? He had gone all foggy. The steam from Marsha’s hair curler had obscured the mirror. And now he could only see, glistening in the wilderness, his teeth. Dr. Ramos, who had come from Mexico, had proven in his own person the saving power of the Lord. So too with Sandy, the Vietnamese woman—another willful participant in Christ’s passion—who earned her keep by manicuring his nails.

She had done so for Vanessa, too. Vanessa had been called Jane when Jeffrey met her. But he couldn’t have a plain Jane, so years before they went public he switched her to Vanessa, her middle name. Or was Jane the middle name, and Vanessa the first? Had she gone by Jane willingly her whole life? Regardless, the fog was clearing up, and there was Jeffrey Aldeen. There his teeth, like the picturesque lighthouse near the Aldeen summer home in Maine. How much they loved him there, seeing “Mr. Aldeen,” as he tipped the whole staff more than the bill itself!

55. Nothing else but handsome. The tabloids liked to point out his “shining good looks.” What good looks he had indeed. His smile was not quite natural—by design. For many years, having run the camera at Living Water, Jeffrey knew that a true smile would not play well on screen. People wanted to see themselves in your teeth; you had to let those bad boys out. Thank God for Dr. Ramos, from Mexico—or perhaps Honduras?

“On five, Jeff,” purrs a velvet voice. Five minutes ago the same voice had said, “On ten, Jeff.” He needed to say these words to feel important. Marcus—that was his name, a good Southern boy, who had walked on as tight end for the Longhorns and caught six passes for 81 yards in garbage time warm-up wins over Abilene Christian and Alabama A&M. Nonetheless, he got to call himself a Longhorn. He had graduated eight years ago and spent time in real estate, using the profits on Dr. Ramos’s experimental treatments. He had gotten those teeth cleaned real well right before going on The Bachelorette, season 12, where he didn’t do too poorly at all—he had just missed out on Hometowns, and never wanted to get on Hometowns anyway, because his father was an outspoken bigot, and would not have done well with the half-Chinese bachelorette, and so for the brand and the real estate and for the teeth, perhaps it was simply best to to be cut out, de-rosed, right before Hometowns.

Jeffrey hated Marcus, perhaps because he was boring or because their teeth looked exactly the same, which enlarged each minuscule deviation. But there was something else, too—it was the way that Marcus was, around him, while occupying his star. Marcus had no talent and no appeal but he did have those teeth, and this meant that he could lay claim to Jeffrey, and say “on five,” and when Jeffrey went to sign autographs—“God bless, ma’am”—Marcus would take over the role of bodyguard and push the willful participants in Christ’s passion aside. So he lay corporeal claim to Jeffrey. And there was something else, too. It was that Vanessa had noticed Marcus’s teeth were the same as Jeffrey’s, and if she did not recognize it at first certainly she did after Dr. Ramos after service one day said, “Marcus, good to see those teeth shining—who’s the quack who got ‘em like that?” And Marcus had sheepishly replied, “Ain’t that a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality, Hugo?” And Vanessa had then noticed something about those teeth, and seen herself much younger in them.

Now here she was, sidling through, just as Marcus spoke. Sidled by and looked more at Marcus than at Jeffrey. Oh well, he thought—the millions. He had had his own Marcus, a woman named Leanna, between “on in fifteen” and “on in five” one Sunday. Marcus had hired Leanna, maybe even for that purpose. Leanna had gone to be with the Lord—that is, had married an oil magnate in Dallas. When first Jeffrey had met Vanessa they were both 21 and she had not known how to smile for the cameras. Now she had mastered it too well, and there were no more triumphs for him to guide her through. She had 24 fat carats on her finger, shinier than his teeth. “Look how my nails look, honey,” he said with an effeminate smile.

It was half a joke. The other half was style. Style had not always been his prerogative. Back when he still operated the cameras at Living Water, style was an achievement, something he foisted onto his father. Then, Vanessa and him had had something close to love. Then, he had wanted style but it was not graspable, only magical, conjured by film. Back then too had he bought Vanessa the 24-carat ring; did she, now, only wear it for style?

“They look good, honey,” she said, “well done!” Another little joke. Nobody would see it on screen; and most, of course, would only ever see him on YouTube, far away. Most of the willful participants in God’s salvation were from Japan, from the Philippines, from Saudi Arabia, where he was pretty sure you weren’t allowed to watch him. Yet he owned them. And he had loved Vanessa, and she had given him two children, a girl now engaged to be married to a balding nobody who would never break her heart, and young Joey, now studying Worship Arts at Oral Roberts. Jeffrey liked to talk about how he had dropped out of college, to show you that God did not discriminate against those who had not earned a degree. What was more important was to be totally preoccupied with God. That is, whatever you did, water your plants or gallop on a horse, you did it under a theology of totalization. Play the cello, look at lava in Hawaii, watch the sunrise: do it for the sake of Christ only, who in owning you would let your reaping go on forever. The most important thing was to be preoccupied with it. Christ ought to be a noun you could plot into every sentence; “Christ-like” an ingredient for every meal. God was here in the lamp and the lamp-shade. God stared at you in the teddy bear that you gave to your four-year-old grandson. And he was in that Book, too, but before you read that book know first and foremost that its sole important message was the infinitude of your future. This great, holy book, which he placed before him and read for you—filtered through the teleprompter—this shiny thing would guide you through the night.

And was it not infinitely malleable? Vanessa kissed him. Her lips were cold and slimy. It was one of those soft kisses, the ones Aunt Sarah had given him when he was young and did not yet know what a kiss was. Like Sarah, Vanessa was low and artificial, and when she kissed him Jeffrey looked at Marcus. Vanessa did not want to mess up his face with her lipstick—rightfully so, for cameras picked up on blemishes on your face and that mattered more than all the messages combined. Nobody listened to the whole message—they only wanted your snippet. This was the goodness of the good book—that you could snippet it well. Make that snippet lipstick-free.

So her act was an act of generosity. Jeffrey felt his brain tilt. What if, indeed, the world was to be seen as generous? What if he chose to ignore Marcus—no hard feat—and think instead of his teeth? God truly had smiled upon him with those teeth. And had he and Vanessa not loved, too, if only for a round? Some other world, some other way may have yielded other kisses, not puckered up like this one but fleshy, with full forceful cognizance of the inside of her mouth. Was that, in truth, better, if it meant forfeiting his teeth? No, he said—then yes. Yes, yes, there is God.


Now he is before the lights. “THE BIBLE!” he says, before the crowd, “is not just a great book we hold in our hands, but is a part of your heart. I see it in each of you! I see it in your face—that the Bible can be made into living flesh!”

Life was an important theme in Jeffrey’s sermons. There was life all before him. Dr. Ramos, given the front row, had brought his nephew, Manuelito—called so because, he believed, his father was Manuel. Perhaps his son Joey would know more. Joey had been on two mission trips to El Salvador, and with his rudimentary Spanish had even gotten himself a little girlfriend. Manuelito was an electrician by trade; he had done an excellent job fixing Living Water’s lights.

“There is a light in each and every one of you—and I see it here, standing before me. As great as these lights are, as much as they illuminate my handsome smile, they dim next to the lights inside each and every one of you!” They chuckle; he handsomely smiles.

“Now, the Lord Jesus wanted to see that light in each and every person he met. This doesn’t mean that everyone was always treatin’ him with respect. Jesus faced challenges in his life. The scripture tells us that one time Jesus went to go preach in a town. When he got there, he heard a terrifying story from the local inhabitants. As Mark tells us, Jesus heard there was a man who was possessed by fright, possessed by demons! The scared villagers had locked this possessed man up in a cave, but he had broken his chains, and nobody, it was said, could hold him down!

“Jesus heard all this and demanded to see the man. When the man came up to him, he was screaming, and the other villagers were so scared. But Jesus did not back away—no, Jesus faced him, and the man, to everyone’s surprise, spoke to Jesus: ‘Lord, have mercy on me! Do not torture me any longer. Tell me what it is you want from me!’

“Now Jesus saw that there were many demons inside this man. But he also saw that the demons did not define this man. Do you ever feel like the man in the story? Maybe your demon is a bill from the insurance company that you can’t pay. Maybe you have a relationship that isn’t working. Maybe your son or daughter is dealing with addiction. But at the same time, like Jesus, you can see past those demons and see something in their heart, that same light that I see in each of you.”

Manuelito really had done a good job with the lights. He was tattooed, and probably only came to Living Water to meet girls. Which was no problem to Jeffrey, and Manuelito had done the job for half what the next guy offered.

“What do you do when you see those demons? Can you be like Christ? Can you stay strong like him? Can you be courageous like him? Can you cast those demons away? Can you see that the bill doesn’t mean you’re on your way to disaster, but could be a promise instead? Could you see how God is already working in your favor, and will not be scared by the demons you face together? The bigger the demon, the bigger the miracle. God takes away our terror. All we need to do is tell him what sorts of things are haunting us. There are no limits for our God: his power is beyond what we can understand.”

And what he said was true. He was overcome even by himself. Briefly he looked over at Vanessa, who was looking at her carats. And he looked forward and saw the four thousand souls standing with him. Each and every one of them had a demon. But he saw that they had lightened. He saw that he had said the truth. He wondered about salvation, and how salvation, like Legion, came in myriad ways. Vanessa did not look at him but everything in his life had brought him there, and every single thing in his life could not help but be correct. And if everything was correct then what he did now was the truth. And he knew this to be true, and believed in his salvation, and believed in the Lord Christ, and that much more was to be done with activity than passivity. Sneering cynics who did not believe were only untrained in his particular flavor of salvation.

So that was his personal Legion: the necessity of believing in his own salvation. Let the quiet ones be as they will. He was not a quiet one. He was the trumpeter of salvation! The lamb of God was not to be brought up in decrepitude but in pride, the same pride that the Lord had proclaimed at Jericho!

All this despite Vanessa not having looked at him in many months. The salvation came regardless. He knew of an infinite possibility of forgiveness. In infinity’s face why waste any time whatsoever being not forgiven? Why exist in sin at all? So already had he forgiven Marcus; so already had tattooed Manuelito been made Chosen. All were chosen, and need only be alerted to the salvation he bestowed. It was good. He knew that it was good. Better him than the cynics—much better. For the most meager house of the Lord, whose pillars might only be his two front teeth, was as fine an edifice as had been dreamed of in Peter’s day. His teeth showed it—what he did was good.


About the Author

Lloyd Sy is a writer and assistant professor of English at Yale University, where he teach courses on American literature. His creative work appears in Hobart, Talking Writing, and Unstamatic. His critical work appears in a bevy of scholarly journals.


Photo by Umanoide on Unsplash