The Easter Jesus
fiction by Sarah Jane Gilliam
Roger Johnston tossed a small box of old magazines out the garage door into his trash pile. Emptying out the garage was Marianne’s spring-cleaning endeavor, but Roger was happy to have the distraction from his real job. It was a nice day for the project. The lukewarm sun was shining without a cloud in the sky. The usual March breeze blew through the garage, airing out the musty, old smell. He heard a phone ring inside the house and paused. He stuck his head through the door joining the garage and kitchen.
“Ally! Is that my phone?” he asked his fifteen-year-old daughter.
“No! It’s mine.”
“If I get a call, come get me right away, okay?”
“I know, Dad,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You’ve told me a bajillion times.”
Roger resumed his cleaning duties. Since he had heard he was up for lead manager at the hardware store two weeks ago, Roger had managed to clean out the entire right side of the two-car garage. He figured at this rate, Marianne might be able to park one of their vehicles in there before Easter.
“Dad! Your phone!”
Roger ducked back into the house. He mouthed the words, “Who is it?” to Ally. She shrugged and handed him the phone.
“Here,” she said, “Brendan’s coming over later to study for geometry.”
“Hello, this is Roger,” he said, in a voice reserved only for persons of importance.
“Hello, Roger. I hope you’re enjoying this beautiful day the Lord has blessed us with.” Roger hesitated for a second, not expecting to hear Pastor Luke.
“Uh, yes, Pastor. If you were calling to see why we missed Sunday service, everything is fine. Henry had strep.
“Oh, no. I understand everyone occasionally suffers from sickness. Roger, I was calling about the Easter drama. We’re hoping you might be able to help us out this year.”
“Help?” asked Roger, “If you need another seamstress, I’m sure Marianne could lend a hand.”
“That’s not it,” said Pastor Luke. “Roger, how would you like to be Jesus?”
“How would you like to play Jesus in our Easter drama this season?” asked the pastor. “I’ve spoken with the deacons, and we feel like you would be an ideal candidate for the role.”
“Me? Play Jesus? I thought one of the kids from the youth group was playing Jesus. Haven’t they already been practicing? Easter’s only about a month from now.”
“Yes, Jerry Watson. You see, after discussing the matter with several church elders, we feel an, um, older Jesus would be more realistic. After all, Jerry is barely eighteen, and you’re much closer in age to our Lord and Savior at the time of his death.”
“That’s flattering, but I turned thirty-eight this year. I’m a bit past the age of our Lord when he died.”
“You’re a respectable member of the community, Roger. I have prayed about this for several nights, and the deacons agree, you’re the man for the job.”
Roger contemplated the offer. He and Marianne had taken the kids to church on a fairly regular basis over the last fifteen years. They hadn’t been overly active, but the kids went to Bible School every summer and participated in some of the holiday dramas. The Easter drama put on by the First Congregational Church of the Good Shepherd was well-known throughout several surrounding communities.
“Well, Pastor, if you say I’m the man to play Jesus, I’ll do it. But what about Jerry?”
“No worries, Roger. Jerry has already told us he’s happy to step down if it’ll make the play better. He’ll be one of the Roman soldiers. We always need teenagers to do that. Can you make rehearsal on Wednesday at seven?”
“I’ll be there, Pastor.”
Roger hit the off button. This wasn’t the offer he’d been hoping for, but he supposed it provided a world of other opportunities. A respectable member of the community, he thought to himself. He’d never really thought about it, but he did lead a rather respectable lifestyle.
“Dad! Are you off the phone?”
“Yeah, Ally. What?”
“Brendan’s on his way! Mom said it’s fine.”
“Who? If your mom says it’s okay, then…”
Ally was out the door before Roger could answer. He walked into the bathroom off the kitchen. He spied his image in the medicine cabinet mirror. Maybe I don’t look thirty-eight. His mother always said he had a baby face. Roger noted he was in need of a haircut but decided he should now let it grow for a few more weeks. He felt fortunate not to have inherited his father’s receding hairline. He stared at his eyes. Brown, he thought, like Christ’s. Under his eyes, Roger instantly noticed lines he’d never paid attention to before. He opened the medicine cabinet. Most of the stuff in this bathroom belonged to Marianne or Ally. The cabinet was full of tubes and creams which purportedly fought off acne and aging. He picked up a purple container that read “wrinkle reduction” and applied it to the bags under his eyes. Roger walked back to the kitchen where Ally was sitting at the table with her feet propped up and the chair leaning against the wall. Her phone was back at her ear, but Roger paid little attention to what she was saying.
“Seriously? Who caught him? Good God. How embarrassing. My parents would have killed him.”
“Ally! Don’t take the name of God in vain!”
Ally stared blankly at her father as he walked back to the garage. Roger spent the remainder of the afternoon cleaning out the rest of that side of the garage. He hauled off most of the junk collected there since he and his family moved in ten years ago. Seventeen years of marriage and kids had been stored away for safekeeping, or perhaps from an unwillingness to part with trifles and keepsakes. Roger was glad Marianne could finally park her car and decided he would leave the garage door open as a surprise when she returned from work. He looked over at the other half of the garage. Tools, the lawnmower, and a few odd car parts were stored on his side. Roger didn’t plan on cleaning out the rest of the garage, but in an effort to kill time before Marianne got back, he decided to straighten the place up. He started pillaging through unmarked containers, most of which contained rarely used tools. Roger dusted off an old, gray, plastic tub. He started to lift it, but quickly dropped the tub, realizing its weight. Popping the lid open, Roger found the set of weights he had bought a year or so before marrying Marianne. Divine intervention, he thought. His body was nowhere near perfection, but Roger figured if he was going to represent the Lord and Savior, he should at least start working on it.
Marianne Johnston was ready to shower her husband with adoration when she pulled her Volkswagen into what looked like a new garage. As she parked and got out of the car, she heard a strange grunting noise and looked over to see her husband, struggling to lift a heavy-looking object.
“Roger, what in the world are you doing?”
“Trying to get my strength back.” said Roger, “Some..of….my…..youth,” he managed to spit out, lifting the weight again.
“You’re going to hurt yourself. I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but seeing as I can park my car in the garage, I’m not sure I care. Come inside; I brought take out for dinner.”
Dutifully, Roger followed his wife. Ally and Henry greeted them at the doorway.
“What’s for supper? I’m starved!” exclaimed the eight-year-old boy.
“When did you get home?” his father asked.
“Aidan’s mom dropped me off after soccer practice. What’s in the bag? Chinese?”
The bag did contain Chinese take-out. The family situated themselves around the kitchen table where the living room TV was in full view.
“Gimme the remote, Ally!” said Henry, his brown hair sweaty from practice. The sun had left reddish tint to his fair-skinned face. His freckles were starting to come back in.
“You’ve got to watch TV all day!”
“Give it to me!”
“Turn it off,” suggested Roger, “I have good news.”
“You got promoted!” exclaimed Marianne, “I knew you’d get it. When I heard Penny say something about someone transferring from another store, I knew she didn’t know what she was talking about!”
“What? Not the promotion. Where did you hear that?”
“What? Nowhere. Just gossip. What’s your news?”
“Pastor Luke called today. He asked me to play Jesus in the Easter drama.”
Ally, who had taken a giant gulp of Coke as her father started speaking, spit it across the table and began laughing uncontrollably. Marianne shot her a look and pretended to ignore her.
“I thought Jerry Watson was going to play him. Don’t they usually use one of the teenage boys?” she asked her husband.
“The church wants an older actor, someone more representative of Christ and his age at the time of the crucifixion.”
“HA!” bellowed Ally, “They want someone who doesn’t screw around with fifteen-year-olds in his parents’ bedroom while they’re at work!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Aimee told me that Jerry’s mom caught him with a ninth grader in her bedroom this past week…”
“Enough, Allison,” said her mother, “We get the point. I’m sure your father will do a great job.”
“You’re not actually going to do it?” asked Ally.
“Seeing as the elders think I’m a respectable member of the church, I am,” responded her father.
“What’s ‘screw around’ mean?” asked Henry.
“You can’t do this to me!” Ally suddenly screeched. “It’s humiliating! My dad can’t play Jesus! I can’t live that down!”
“Aidan’s Uncle Frank is playing the Easter Bunny at the mall,” announced Henry. “Which is way cooler than being Jesus.”
“Fantastic. Freakin’ fabulous. My dad can’t be normal! He has to go and be the Easter Jesus!” continued Ally.
“Now listen,” began Roger, “I will not tolerate this kind of language and behavior from….”
“GAAAAH!!!” Ally got up from the table and headed upstairs to her room. Roger started to stand up, but Marianne stopped him.
“She’ll be fine. She’s at that age. Everything is uncool. Let it go.”
The next morning Ally refused to come out of her room for Sunday School. Marianne managed to talk Roger out of forcing her.
“Let her cool off; she’s a teenager. She’ll be fine this afternoon.”
Roger hoped Marianne was right. He and Ally had always been on good terms, and besides, Roger had wanted his whole family to be in church with him this morning in case the pastor made an announcement about the drama. Making an excuse for Ally wouldn’t do when he was taking on such a role.
Pastor Luke didn’t make an announcement before or after the sermon. As it happened, everyone already knew. When the congregation began to file towards the exit, several members offered congratulations.
“Roger!” exclaimed a high-pitched voice. “Roger, I just wanted to tell you how excited I am, and what a blessing it was to hear you accepted the role,” said Miss Betty, the choir leader and Henry’s Sunday School teacher. Her last name was Mason, but for some reason, everyone referred to her as Miss Betty. She was around fifty, had never been married, and spent her weekends going door to door with pamphlets, looking to redeem lost souls.
“Why thank you, Miss Betty. I believe you and the choir sounded better than ever this morning.” His statement wasn’t false. Roger presumed the choir did sound better than ever, but truthfully, he wasn’t sure he’d ever actually heard them over Miss Betty. She was a tiny, petite woman with teased, curly hair that frizzed towards the ends, and she always wore bright colors on stage so she wouldn’t be missed. What she wore made no difference. No one could miss Betty. She didn’t sing so much as she screamed words of praise over everyone. When she sang, she shrieked, “JEEEEEEESUUUUUUSSS!!! I love you JEEEEE---EEEE----S—UH-UH—US,” at the top of her lungs, her head thrown back and her arms flailing with the microphone in hand while the choir attempted to get the rest of the song’s chorus out.
“How kind, Roger. We’ve only practiced the number six times. Praise God it went well. Did Pastor Luke tell you I’m organizing the drama this year? I’d love to run you through the details.” Miss Betty directed every drama, every year, each one more elaborate than the last. No one had to ask who was organizing, but Roger responded to her politely.
“Certainly. Let me tell Marianne I’ll be a minute.”
“Fantastic! I’ll be in the children’s classroom. Oh, that reminds me! Marianne still works over at the alterations shop, doesn’t she? Do you think if I had my costume manager give her a ring she could handle your wardrobe?”
After assuring Miss Betty his wife would be delighted, Roger located her and Henry speaking to Pastor Luke. They followed Roger to Henry’s Sunday School room. Roger hadn’t been in there in ages. Looking around, he saw newly painted murals on the walls, including a large one of Christ, arms outstretched, walking over the sea. A picture of perfection, he thought. Hope I can handle it. He studied it for a moment before he noticed something odd.
“Miss Betty, does Jesus have six fingers on his left hand?”
“He’s a polydactyl Jesus, Dad,” said Henry proudly.
“It’s so lovely when children know big words,” said Miss Betty, glaring at Henry. “Yes, the youth group did these, and apparently one of those silly teenagers made a boo-boo painting Jesus. The children noticed before I did. I keep meaning to tell Pastor Luke we need to have that taken care of.”
Marianne took Henry by the hand and led him over to a table to look at the Children’s Illustrated Bible pictures.
“Surely it’s an easy fix,” said Roger. “About this play…”
“Did you see the drama last year, Roger? This one is going to put it to absolute shame,” she gasped. Again, Roger wasn’t lying when he told Betty yes. He hadn’t gone to the play, but he’d seen parts of it re-played on the local access channel. It was more grandiose than any other church production for miles. Even people from other churches participated. The First Congregational Church of the Good Shepherd set a remarkable standard for dramatizations in the name of Christ.
“This year it’s going to take place over three days!” said Miss Betty, flipping open a large binder with her perfectly organized plans inside.
“Oh, yes. We’re not going to do it all in one production or location. It starts on Good Friday. We’re constructing a stage in the parking lot of Hansen’s Grocery. That’s where we’ll do the Last Supper. Saturday, we will march Christ—you—from the parking lot, down Main Street to Gate’s Way Park. The youth group is working on a papier-mâché tomb, and Pastor Luke and the deacons are supposed to have three crosses set up. It would be more realistic if you could drag them from the grocery store, but Pastor Luke thinks it might be diffi…”
“Crosses? You’re going to nail us up this year?”
“Not really nail, of course. But, you and the other two criminals will be on the crosses, and we’ll move you to the tomb after you die. Once the crowd leaves, you can come out. On Easter Sunday morning, we’ll have a sunrise service at the park. We’ll do the Resurrection and have the Easter service there. It’s going to be phenomenal! So many lost souls need to see this.” Roger stood in utter bewilderment at Betty’s ramble. He could tell by the look on Marianne’s face she was anxious to leave.
“I, uh, will give it my all, Miss Betty. We’d best get going for now, though. I think Henry’s hungry.”
“Oh, I know you will. Where’s Allison today?”
“Female problems. You know teenage girls.”
“Well, I will say a prayer for her.”
Over the next four weeks, Roger found himself adjusting nicely to the role of Savior. He looked himself over in the bathroom mirror the Saturday before Good Friday. He’d learned all his lines. Working out had become a daily routine, and Marianne assured him she could see the difference. She was less thrilled than Roger had hoped about making costumes but reluctantly agreed to a white robe and blue sash. His beard had grown in, and while his hair wasn’t long, it looked pretty shabby. He walked into the kitchen to find Ally making Henry some toast. She had gotten over her fit of anger, but not her humiliation, with the coaxing of some new clothes her father let her purchase using his credit card.
“Dad, are you getting old?” asked Henry.
“What are you talking about, son?”
“Your beard’s got white spots. Kinda like Santa’s. But his beard is all white. Yours just has spots. Tiny ones,” Henry said, jumping up to get a closer look. He followed his father to the bathroom as Ally snickered. Roger didn’t know how he’d missed what Henry found so obvious. Throughout his beard were teeny-tiny flecks of silver-white hairs. Christ couldn’t have a white beard.
“Henry, you want to go get ice cream?”
“For breakfast? Awesome!”
As his son deliberated between an orange push-pop and a nutty bar,
Roger perused the hair care aisle. The store had dye made for beards,
but they were out of the color which, according to the box, would
match Roger’s hair.
The ice cream shop wasn’t open at ten in the morning, so Roger took Henry to the drugstore, which had a freezer where they could get some. As his son deliberated between an orange push-pop and a nutty bar, Roger perused the hair care aisle. The store had dye made for beards, but they were out of the color which, according to the box, would match Roger’s hair. He looked at the regular hair dyes. Those had little hair swatches in front of their respective boxes. Roger fingered a swatch close to his natural shade.
“Dad! I picked the nutty bar!”
Roger grabbed the box and paid for it and Henry’s ice cream. Since the alterations shop was next door, Henry suggested they pop in and see his mom before they went home. Marianne was working at her sewing machine behind the counter.
“Henry! Why are you eating ice cream this early? What’s your father bribed you into now?”
“Henry wanted to say hi, Marianne.”
“That’s sweet. What’s in the bag?”
“Huh? Something Ally asked me to pick up….whatcha workin’ on?”
“Loincloth. Betty called yesterday and said you’d need it when they crucify you.”
“I thought I’d wear the robe.
“That’s what I told her, but according to every Crucifixion painting she’s ever seen, Jesus has a piece of cloth wrapped around his waist, so you will too.”
“I’m not sure about….”
“Oh, no. You decided to take this role and then volunteered me as seamstress. You’ll wear whatever Betty says.”
Roger didn’t argue with her. The house was quiet when he and Henry walked in. Ally had probably gone back to bed. She often did on Saturdays. Henry settled down to watch cartoons, and Roger went upstairs to his bedroom. He stuffed the drugstore bag into his underwear drawer and removed his shirt and pants. Standing in his boxers, he looked at himself in the full-length mirror. Not too bad. Not perfection. It’s not like Jesus was ripped. Roger heard Ally giggling in her room and figured she must be on the phone again. He looked back in the mirror. The bags under his eyes had cleared up. He’d been using the cream from the downstairs bathroom daily. Roger heard Ally laughing louder, and a loud thud noise came from her room.
“Cut it out!” he heard her say.
Roger stepped into the hall in his boxers and opened the door to her room. Ally was on the floor in her t-shirt and jeans. Her shirt was pulled up, revealing most of her midriff. A lanky kid, about her age, with dirty blonde hair and no shirt was tickling her ribs.
“Dad!” she shrieked. “Get out!” The boy jumped up.
“Mr. Johnston. I am so sorry. This is not what it looks like.”
“You. Out.” said Roger. The boy grabbed his shirt and stepped outside the door, closing it behind him. He and Roger stood face to face. The boy started to speak again.
“No,” said Roger. “Not a word. Put your shirt on and get out of my house. Allison! Come here. NOW!” The boy stood frozen. Ally walked out of her room.
“This is not what you think, Dad….we weren’t doing anything…”
“Who the hell is this?”
“Brendan, Dad….my boyfriend…”
“Boyfriend? Since when do you have a boyfriend? Now you’re bringing boys over when no one is home?” Tears welled up in Ally’s eyes.
“We were just goofing off…I’m sorry…...” Roger turned back to Brendan.
“I told you to get out of my house.”
Brendan started down the stairs, glancing back at Ally but too afraid to speak.
“Dad, please listen.”
“Stay in your room until your mother gets home. No phone. No television. Or computer.”
“I didn’t do anything! Okay? I shouldn’t have let him come over when you weren’t here, but I didn’t do anything! You know I wouldn’t!”
Roger didn’t know. At this moment, he had no clue what his daughter might do.
“Get back in your room.”
“OOOOHHH! I should’ve known this would happen! That you’d humiliate me in front of Brendan and run him off! You yell at him for not wearing a shirt. You don’t even have clothes on! What were you doing? Admiring yourself in the mirror again? You think you’re so perfect! You’re a hypocrite! GOD! This isn’t fair!”
“You could have let her explain herself,” said Marianne when she got home.
“Explain herself? There’s a shirtless idiot in her room with his hands all over her, and I’m supposed to let her explain herself?”
“She told me he took his shirt off because she spilled her Coke on him. Besides, from what I gather, he wasn’t the only shirtless idiot.”
“You can’t blame me. Why didn’t you tell me she had a boyfriend? I’d have made her come with us if I’d known.”
“Roger! She’s had a boyfriend for almost two months! Where have you been?”
“Two months? Well, she’s still grounded.”
“I agree. But you owe her an apology. She’s so upset with you. And she’s embarrassed.”
“She should be,” said Roger, “look at the way she acted.”
Roger took two vacation days from work the Thursday and Friday before Easter. He never got the promotion. Marianne’s gossip circle was right; the company had decided to transfer someone in from another store. The incident with Ally had deterred it from his mind. Roger decided it must be God’s will. His newfound role had deepened his spiritual connections, which was more important than some lousy promotion. Thursday morning, he took the box of dye from his drawer and went to the bathroom. The directions said to leave the color on for twenty-five minutes for regular hair and thirty-five for gray. Figuring he belonged in the latter category, Roger mixed up the concoction, using the rubber gloves to smear it on his beard and mustache. Roger could feel his face tingling after several minutes, and then he could feel heat. Probably normal, he thought. The clock showed ten more minutes. It was really starting to sting now. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to wash it out early. I don’t have too much gray. Roger went to the bathroom and rinsed his face. His beard was definitely darker, but his face around it was blood red. It’ll go away. It didn’t go away, and Marianne noticed the minute she got home.
“Roger! What happened to your face?”
“I dyed my beard. It’ll clear up.”
“What did you use?”
“Just a box of stuff. It’ll be fine.” Marianne went into the bathroom and dug through the wastebasket.
“Oh my God, Roger. You’re not supposed to put hair dye on your face.”
“Don’t take God’s name in vain. I didn’t leave it on the whole time.”
“Don’t take His name in vain? If you’d left it on any longer, you might have burned your face off. Well, Good Great God Almighty, Roger, I’ll be thankful when this drama is over and you go back to normal!”
On the day of the Last Supper, Roger’s face was still red and burned more than the previous day. He wondered if he should cover the red spots. Looking through the bathroom cupboard again, he found Ally’s face foundation powder. Roger opened up the compact and applied some around his beard. The red went down, but it made the edges of his beard lighter. He decided to dab it all over his beard so it would match. Since the stage had no changing rooms, Roger finished getting ready at home, putting on his Jesus costume before he left.
On his way to the store, Roger drove by the park. Sure enough, a giant papier-mâché tomb, complete with a removable faux stone door, stood by three wooden crosses. The sky was cloudy and the air unusually chilly. More than half of the county filled the parking lot. Roger was worried how it would look if Marianne was too angry to come, but Henry had insisted he wanted to watch. The Last Supper performance went off without a hitch. The actors reenacted the Bible story word for word in King James’ English. When the performance was over, Roger found a sullen Marianne and a sleepy Henry waiting just offstage.
“How do you think it went? The crowd will be even bigger tomorrow night.”
“Fine,” said Marianne, “Everyone seemed to enjoy it.”
“I didn’t understand anything you said, Dad. What kind of English were you using?” Henry yawned.
Roger ignored Henry’s comment. “I hope it inspired some of the folks who showed up.”
“Henry’s tired. We’re going home.”
“I’ll be there shortly.” Miss Betty came rushing up as Marianne and Henry walked back to the car.
“Simply wonderful! I wanted to make sure Marianne had your costume ready for tomorrow, but I see she’s gone…”
“Good! Will we see Allison tomorrow? I missed her in the audience; of course, there were so many people here, how could I have picked her out? You really should have the whole family here! Looking at such a wonderful example of an upstanding Christian family will be so good for all the lost souls who come tomorrow night.”
“She’ll be here.”
“Great! Don’t forget, we’ll meet up here and march you to the park!”
Roger wasn’t sure how he was going to get Ally to come to the Crucifixion. She still wouldn’t speak to him. When he got home, he went to her room and knocked on the door.
“Mind if I come in?” Ally didn’t answer him, so he walked into the room.
“I didn’t say you could come in.”
“I want to talk. Mom seems to think I was a little harsh about the whole Brendan thing.”
“Look, maybe I overreacted. We should move past this. Why don’t you come to the drama tomorrow and afterward we can have a family dinner and talk this over.”
Ally could read her father like a book.
“What about Brendan?”
“He can come to the drama. It’d be good for both of you.”
“I mean I want to keep seeing him.”
“We’ll talk about it after the show. You think about…”
“No. I don’t want to go.”
Roger paused and said, “Why don’t you take tomorrow afternoon off from being grounded? I’ll drop you and Brendan off at the movies, pick you back up before the drama, and take you both with me. What do you say?”
“Could I really go to the movies with him?” Ally squealed and hugged her father.
“Okay. But you’re grounded afterwards.”
“Alright, Dad. I understand.”
The next morning, the town saw its first April snow in more than twenty years. A small dusting covered the ground, and by mid-afternoon, a couple of inches had accumulated. Roger called Miss Betty to see if the performance would be postponed, but she reassured him the show would go on, and God would handle the weather. That afternoon, he dropped Ally and Brendan off at the movies as promised and went home to prepare. From the kitchen window, he spied Marianne as she was getting back from the grocery store with Henry. The child immediately ran into the untouched front yard and began making a snow angel. Roger went outside to help his wife.
“Did they cancel the show tonight?” asked Marianne.
“It’ll be fine. The weather is in God’s hands.”
“It doesn’t look like he’ll be pushing a stop button anytime soon. Henry, you’re getting wet. Go inside. Betty’s posted flyers up all over town about the drama. They say ‘Crucifixion at Gate’s Way Park’ with the date and time. If a man saw that sign and didn’t know any better, he’d run right out of town.”
“It doesn’t matter. Everybody knows about the drama.”
“I hope so. I got Ally some of those yogurt things she likes. Where is she?”
“I dropped her off at the movies. I’m picking her up before the drama.”
“With who? She’s grounded.”
“Well, given the situation, I thought she might deserve one afternoon out, so I let her and Brendan..”
“You what? You let her go to the movies with him?”
“I thought you liked him! You said I was too hard on her!”
“I don’t dislike him. I also said she should be grounded. Why on Earth did you let her go?”
“I just thought…”
Marianne quickly realized her question was rhetorical.
“Wait. You’re picking her up and taking her to the drama? You let her go with him so she’d go to your play. What happened? Betty notice her missing?”
“She suggested it might look better if the whole family was there to show support is all….”
“I can’t believe you let her go. No, took her. You actually took her. What kind of message are you sending? Unfortunately, I can’t go tonight. It’s too cold and wet to take Henry out. He doesn’t need strep again.”
“But I’m being crucified!”
“You? Or us, Roger?”
“What are you talking about, Marianne?”
“Your costume is on the sink in the downstairs bathroom,” said Marianne.
Roger knew he had to get ready. He reapplied the makeup from the previous night. The loincloth was sitting exactly where Marianne said. Now, how does this thing work? He managed to wrap it around his waist and held it together with some safety pins that were on the counter. Unfortunately, his boxers stuck out of the top and under the bottom of the garment. Moreover, anyone could see them through the white cloth. Roger didn’t own or wear briefs or even boxer briefs. He stepped into the hall between the bathroom and kitchen and peered out. Henry was watching TV. No Marianne. He didn’t want her to see his predicament. Slipping through the house and up the stairs, he could hear the shower running in the upstairs bathroom. Roger went into the bedroom and opened his wife’s underwear drawer. Her current panty collection was a far cry from the tiny lace thongs at the beginning of their marriage.
Plain white. I need plain white. All of her granny panties were colored. He pulled out the first glimpse of white he saw. The panties were one of the few silky pairs she owned. They were high-cut on the hips with what looked like string holding the sides together. She never wore them.
The satin panties were tight and pulled at his crotch a little. He couldn’t go commando, and there was no time to go to the store. Roger rearranged his loincloth again. He put his Jesus robe and then his winter coat on over it. Betty had wanted him barefoot, but that wasn’t going to happen. The sandals he’d worn the night before would have to do. God would handle the snow. Ally and Brendan were waiting outside when he got back to the theater.
“I’m freezing!” exclaimed Ally. “Is Mom meeting us there?”
“I think so.”
The stage constructed in the grocery store parking lot had already been torn down. Roger parked and got out of the truck to look for Miss Betty. He found her running around in a cape, fuzzy earmuffs, and gloves near the entrance of the store. She had a headset on, a giant bag over her shoulder and a clipboard in her hand.
“There you are! We’re going to have quite a crowd, in spite of the snow. What are you wearing?”
“I’m trying to keep warm. I’ll take it off before this thing starts.”
“How is your, um, uh,…..you know, arranged?”
“The cloth? Fine, I think.”
“Let me see.”
“No. I’m already frozen.”
“You don’t want it falling off! It has to be perfect! Step in the store.” Roger did as he was told. Because of the snow, the store had given the church permission to use its bathrooms for the evening. Miss Betty grabbed him by the arm and drug him into the women’s room.
“I shouldn’t be in here. Let me..”
“Oh, just show me!”
Roger took off his coat and robe.
“Safety pins!” she exclaimed. “Jesus didn’t have safety pins!”
“Then what am I supposed to use?”
“I’ll tie it.”
“Maybe we can fix the pins to where they won’t show; nobody will notice.”
“I’ve put too much into this to take a chance,” said Betty, as she started removing the pins by his hip. “This needs to be as authentic as possible. I want all the poor lost souls to understand the extent of Christ’s suffering.”
Miss Betty already had the pins out and was tying the corners of the cloth in a knot at the corner of his right hip.
“Betty, what if this thing comes open?”
“God will see it doesn’t. Oooh, hold on. You’ve got a string.”
Betty reached inside her giant bag, pulled out a pair of scissors, and snipped the string on the right side of Marianne’s panties. He could feel them break away from the right side of his body, still hanging on the left hip. Roger tried to hold his thighs together as best he could.
“Okay, Roger! Good to go.” He started to take a step but felt the satin begin to slip off his left hip.
“I’ll just wait here a minute.”
“Nonsense. We’ve got to move.”
Betty grabbed his arm. Roger waddled behind her with his thighs together.
“Roger, what are you doing? Let’s go!” Miss Betty grabbed his arm, forcing him to take a grand step forward. As he did, the panties fell down from his left leg around his ankle.
“Oh, my! I never! OH!” Miss Betty’s jaw dropped, and she stared at the undergarment on the floor. Roger’s face burned more than the dye could have ever made it. The bathroom door swung open, and Abigail Matthews, who was playing Mary Magdalene, stepped through.
“Hey, fifteen minutes until . . .” She looked down to see what Betty and Roger were staring at. “Okay, fifteen minutes to go. See you out front.” Abigail rushed from the room. Roger grabbed up the underwear and threw them in the trash. He shoved his coat and robe into Betty’s arms.
“Give those to Ally. Tell her to put them in the truck.”
Before she could respond, he went outside and joined the Roman soldiers who were to lead him down the street. The cold was unbearable, and the wind pierced his flesh. As they started down the street, the soldiers poked and prodded him with their fake spears and swords. Onlookers lined both sides of Main Street, bundled up to their necks in coats and scarves. As the snow continued to fall, Roger couldn’t make out their faces but thought he recognized Ally’s pink coat. Though the spears poked at him, he winced more from the pain of the cold. Roger could feel the snow and ice coming through his sandals and onto his toes, and they began to numb. So did the rest of him. The walk wasn’t a block but felt like miles by the time they reached the park.
Several inches of snow lay on top of the tomb, and the crosses stood just a few feet from it. Everyone stood in silence to watch. The crosses were rigged with straps painted the same color which buckled and blended in, so Roger and the other condemned men would stay in place. Two Roman soldiers hoisted him up, while another secretly locked the straps while pretending to bind him on the cross with rope. The nailing was fake. Even Miss Betty didn’t object to not putting nails through their hands. After the soldiers tied him up, they simply drove the nails between his fingers.
Roger looked out at the crowd. Everything was a blur. He couldn’t feel his body anymore. His lips were chapped and frozen. The shaggy, wet hair hanging from his head was full of little icicles, clinging to his face, almost covering his eyes. As he stared out, Roger thought he saw the pink of Ally’s coat again, and next to it, a red one like Marianne’s. Suddenly, Roger felt the wind whipping against his body, but he could no longer feel the cold. A crown of thorns was placed upon his head, as he hung preparing to feign death and be placed inside the tomb. It shouldn’t be much longer. He could feel the wind blowing at his cloth and knew it was flying upward, leaving him exposed to the crowd. Roger could hear the gasps and cries of the audience. The wind blew the snow even harder, and a thunderous crash echoed throughout the park.
The snow was blinding, but Roger could gather from the sounds of the crowd and the noise itself that the roof of the giant paper-mâché tomb had caved to the wind and the weight of the snow. There would be no Resurrection tomorrow. Somewhere in the distance, Roger was certain he heard Miss Betty scream. As she and the crowd rushed toward the collapsed tomb, no one thought to get Roger or the other two crucified men down from their crosses.
Henry was right, Roger thought, playing the Easter Bunny probably is way cooler than being Jesus.
Sarah Jane Gilliam grew up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, where she still resides. She is Assistant Professor of English at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap where she teaches composition, literature, and humanities courses. She also teaches GED and professional readiness courses for Regional Adult Education.