Marlene makes a sandwich spread out of bologna, mayonnaise, and sweet pickle relish using an enormous antique grinder that attaches to the side of a table. After thirty-nine years of marriage, she can never remember that Pete hates the spread. Fortunately, she doesn’t have the means to make it in their Winnebago (the grinder didn’t come with them), so instead she slathers mayonnaise onto Pete’s bologna sandwiches. Even when Pete scrapes it off with a knife, it’s still there. Mayonnaise has a way of setting into bread like mildew in grout. Once it’s there, you can never get rid of it.
The Roman soldiers, those of lesser rank but as stern and chiseled as their superiors, have herded all the Winnebagos and recreational vehicles into an expanse of muddy land. Marlene and Pete arrived later than they’d planned and it seems that miles stretch forth from the location of their Winnebago to the site of the event. Two retired fellows, Vic and Holmstead, occupy the recreational vehicle nearest theirs. The fellows wear matching yellow polo shirts, crisp khakis, and white tennis shoes. They pull canvas chairs with arms, cup holders, and attached pop-up parasols from skinny canvas bags.
“Hello,” Vic and Holmstead say in unison every time Pete emerges from his Winnebago. One time, Holmstead is carefully applying sun block to his ankles. Another time, they’re both drinking from iridescent green plastic martini glasses.
Pete suffers through his bologna sandwiches while Marlene smokes Newports and works on a crossword puzzle. “What’s a four-letter word for chicken?” she says.
“Wing,” Pete says.
She looks at him with disgust and gets up from the table. Her ass is as fat as it’s ever been, Pete thinks when she stands at the Winnebago’s little sink washing coffee cups.
Down at the site of the event, the soldiers attach the three men to their crosses. The protesters light candles and hold their signs up a little higher. They sing and weep. Groups of young people have gathered around the site; they, too, sing, and some play guitars and harmonicas. Young girls dance with one another in somber rhythms, their brown or black or golden hair abundant, dresses loose for hot weather, feet bare in the grass. Angry people shake their fists. The soldiers, smug and stoic, barely glance at one another, though a wave of solidarity passes through them, one to another. Vendors sell soda, beer, hot dogs, cotton candy, popcorn, and peanuts, and the Son of God, the God of Man, the Son of Man, hangs from long nails on the largest cross between the other two, the squirming criminals mounted like butterflies. The Son of God forgives the two their crimes, and he forgives the soldiers, the executioners, everyone. The soldiers who’ve lifted the crosses are allowed by their superiors one beer each and a bag of peanuts to share among themselves.
It’s a sweltering day. Fortunately, vendors are selling floppy white hats, and everyone buys them. But soon the sky grows dark. Vendors sell glowing necklaces and glow sticks. Everyone buys them in the curious dark of day, and above the mass of bobbing rings and waving sticks, the two criminals die. The God of Man, however, persists and the crowd wonders, “When? When?”
Pete and Marlene pass their binoculars back and forth; Vic and Holmstead each have their own pair. Holmstead is quite drunk and snaps frequently at Vic, accusing him of infidelities. Pete grows bored and hungry. “Let’s get the hell out of here, huh?” he says to Marlene. “Let’s go get something to eat. We’ll stop on the road.”
Holmstead and Vic make amends as they have a hundred times before, and Holmstead falls asleep at Vic’s feet. Pete and Marlene leave the site and find a diner. They’re finishing up their fish fries and coffee while the waitress, face lined by nicotine and compromise, reads a tabloid. Back at the site of the event, the Son of Man says, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” while at the diner, the cook lingers on the toilet under the flickering bulb in the diner’s bathroom.
About Emily: Emily Glossner Johnson lives in Baldwinsville, New York. She has a B.A. in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo and an M.A. in English from the State University of New York College at Brockport. She has had short stories published in Lynx Eye and Literary Brushstrokes, and has short stories forthcoming in Dinosaur Bees and The Linnet’s Wings, as well as by Musa Publishing in their Erato (GLBT) imprint.