Passion Play by Katie Burgess

Once she finishes her scene, Claire puts on a pot of coffee to be ready once they wrap up for the day. It’s become a ritual, coffee and fellowshipping after Easter pageant rehearsals. She always enjoys that part, even if she doesn’t have much to say. “Shy but sweet” is how most people will describe her when asked. On the other side of town, Claire’s husband gets into his car.

Claire plays Mary Magdalene, a fact her husband alludes to in his note (“a whore onstage and off”). It’s not a speaking part. The closest she comes to actual acting is when she and the other women gasp and make dramatic gestures when they find the empty tomb. It’s not Broadway, but it’s a nice break from her office job and chauffeuring the kids around all week. Right now the two girls are at their grandparents’ house. After today, they will live there.

The choir gets halfway through “Up From the Grave He Arose” when the music director stops them and begs for more feeling. “That was boring as sin!” he says, wiping his face.

Everyone has the same thought: “Sin isn’t boring!” they say in unison. The music director puts a palm to his face and laughs along with them.

They start over with the angel’s line, or at least that’s how one survivor will tell it. Others will remember differently. It seems too coincidental, his saying “Be not afraid,” right as Claire’s husband bursts into the sanctuary, gun raised. But this detail will be repeated until it becomes canon.

In a few months, the church elders will commission four bronze angels, one for each victim: Claire, the music director, the angel. They debate whether or not to include Claire’s husband, but agree in the end that his soul had been precious, too. At the unveiling, people will find blessings to be thankful for, like how they hadn’t run the scenes with children in them that day. A few others will whisper, “Was she really…no, Claire wouldn’t…not that it would make it right.” But all of this is still to come. Right now is just Claire, setting out packets of sugar and creamer, for coffee that no one will drink.

Katie Burgess’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Smokelong Quarterly, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere. Her story collection, Wind on the Moon, is available from Sundress Publications.

Church steeple

Photography by Jees Antony

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