They used a carriage instead of a real horse drawn hearse. Christ off the cross, stretched out sideways on a seat that can be hired to ride around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Margo watched the huge work horse; head raised, standing still. One of his eyes was on her as she descended St. Leo’s steep granite steps.
A woman in riding breeches with large suede patches, darker than the tan color of her pants, stood holding the horse by his bridle. His black mane and tail were braided. The woman wore a top hat and a bright red jacket. On the carriage driver’s seat, a man in another top hat sat. He wore a long black coat and held a crop in one hand.
Christ’s corpse was a statue, stretched out on his back, arms folded over his chest. He had been placed amongst two dozen potted lilies that encircled Him on the carriage. One of the parishioners, in a white shirt and black tie, held a hand drum. People were climbing down the steps, huddling in groups at the intersection of Exeter and Stiles Streets. The sun was out; it was brisk, but not cold. Margo wondered if she should keep her sweater on as she pulled her right arm out of the white cotton sleeve.
“Here, let me help you.”
The drum started, boom. A pause and then: boom, boom, boom.
“Oh, thanks,” Margo said. She tied her sweater around her waist and turned to look at him. The sun was in her eyes.
The horse stamped his hoof and the pastor, dressed in a full length red robe with a triangle of brocade covering his back, stepped into the center of the intersection. The children who served at the altar surrounded him in their white gowns and sashes.
“I’ll walk with you?” Peter asked, touching her shoulder. His hand felt large.
She didn’t reply.
“We begin the way of the cross,” the pastor said; the preparatory prayer was recited; love — love — forgive me for ever offending you — chanting all around her.
Margo turned to Peter. His lips were moving. He was following the prayer. She watched his bowed head and tried to see the eighteen-year-old she remembered.
Beyond them the horse shook its head and the woman in jodhpurs released her grip on his bridle. The procession started west on Stiles.
Margo had noticed Peter when she stood in the back of St. Leo’s, her eyes adjusting to the dark. He was in the last pew.
He turned to pick something up and he caught her eye.
Exhilaration surged inside her and Margo froze. He looked familiar but bald. She remembered thick black hair. Margo thought she had to be wrong. He couldn’t be Peter.
She walked toward the last pew, unable to feel her feet.
Peter had been the first boy she’d loved and she mourned their romance when it ended. They met selling shoes at a department store, now out of business. Peter captured her instantly when she first saw him, thirty-five years ago. She was fifteen.
At the back of the church, Sal was standing behind the pew. He was ushering the Good Friday service.
“You wanna’ sit somewhere?” Sal whispered.
Margo looked at him, smiling. Before she could speak, she heard, “Margo!”
It was the soft, almost feminine voice Margo remembered as Peter’s and she looked at the man in the last pew. He had Peter’s black-as-onyx eyes.
“I’ve got a spot,” she said, touching Sal’s shoulder, stepping around him.
Peter was out in the aisle. Grinning. “It IS you!’ he whispered. “C’mere. Sit!”
She held her breath for a moment, nodded and slipped into his pew. A wide pillar took up a section of the bench and there were no cushioned kneelers.
“I can’t believe it! How are you?” he whispered; his face half hidden by the pillar.
“Fine. Good. Peter? What are you doing here?” she reached over the empty space between the back of the pew and the pillar, touching his shoulder. “Where have you been?”
He placed his hand over hers on his shoulder. “I’ll tell you later.”
She leaned back on the wooden pew.
When it came time for Jesus to give up his spirit, in the “Passion of Christ,” everyone knelt down in silence. Margo slid to the floor and placed her head in her hands.
The two condemned men on either side of Jesus had their legs broken before they were taken off their crosses. Because Jesus was already dead, his legs were not broken.
Margo forced herself to absorb the stark words of Christ’s passion. But Peter crowded her thoughts. She could smell his cologne; faint. Spicy. Familiar.
Margo tried to concentrate on the broken legs; how the condemned men would be unable to walk. Her mind wandered instead to Peter. Margo remembered the sexual desire; how she’d grasped the meaning of sappy love songs when she met Peter. She thought of the sadness she had felt too; a deeper pain than she’d ever known before.
Margo remembered her romance with Peter had overwhelmed her. She could not think of anything else. Standing next to Peter by the cash register at the shoe counter, she was unable to speak to him. They had waited on a strange man who had bought a pair of shoes for his dead mother.
Peter asked her out when the store closed that night and she felt her world tilt. They went to dinner at Sal’s restaurant a block from where they were now.
Gina, Sal’s wife, had given them the best table, in a corner with privacy. The platters of calamari, shrimp and veal had been served by Sal with a wink and a grin. Gina had brought a bottle of wine even though Margo was too young to drink it.
“Sh-h-h-h,” Gina had whispered after she’d pulled the cork, filling the glass she’d placed by Margo’s plate.
Peter’s black eyes had widened, but he said nothing until they were sitting alone again, raising his glass, “Salute!”
Joy had filled Margo. She could still feel it. She has never stopped trying to capture it again with everyone she has known since.
Margo and Peter walked behind the carriage, the drum booming, the horse clopping.
“Something was tugging at me to come today,” he said.
“Why here? St. Leo’s”
“My mother grew up here. Did I ever tell you that?”
“Yes, I remember,” Margo nodded.
“She died last summer.”
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
“Are you going to tell me where you’ve been all this time?”
Peter put a finger to his lips.
“THE FIRST STATION, PILATE CONDEMNS JESUS TO DIE.”
A parishioner in a linen sports jacket stood on the steps of one of the Stiles Street houses with a megaphone, “… AFTER BEING SCOURGED AND CROWNED WITH THORNS …”
A dog yelped. Margo turned to look for it. A Yorkshire terrier. It was barking from the arms of a woman about the same age as Margo, in black sunglasses. The woman rocked from side to side in high heeled boots.
“Glory be to the Father…”
The crowd moved. Peter walked with his hands clasped behind his back, “What about you? Are you married?”
“Sorry,” Peter shook his head.
Margo thought about Richard, her former husband. The failure of her marriage felt stark, harsh. It was her fault. She’d craved that thumping blindness that she’d first felt with Peter and she never had with Richard. Her husband had been kind. Older. She thought it was better that he’d wanted her more than she wanted him. But she’d wandered after she’d promised not to, after she’d vowed to forsake all others for him.
Feeling a fresh bout of shame, Margo watched the crowd stepping closer to the next house for the second station, Jesus Accepts His Cross. Two older ladies, their fair, sparse hair in French twists, stood in identical multi-colored beaded sweaters. Margo had seen them at Mass, walking down the aisle together with the offertory.
The second station finished, the drum banged and the horse led them past the bocce court on Stiles Street. A low concrete fence separated the court from the sidewalk. Margo thought of the first time she’d seen it. She was fourteen.
She had been drawn to the bocce court by the shouting. Happy. Enthusiastic. Inside the court were men – no women — wearing wide brimmed straw hats. Some smoked cigars. They stopped talking when Margo walked through the opening in the fence, standing on the edge of the court, away from the bocce balls.
Sal had been sitting on a stone bench, a dark brown cigar between his lips.
“Signorina?” he’d said to her.
“I’m looking for Sal.”
The skin around his eyes wrinkled and he grinned, taking out his cigar, “I’m Salvatore.”
“I’m Margo,” she said. Her voice sounded like someone else’s. Sal looked at her, his thick eyebrows raised.
“I wrote Father Mateo’s letters for him.”
“Mateo?” Sal said. He added something in Italian that she did not understand, except for the word, Albuquerque.
Father Mateo was Sal’s brother. Paralyzed, Father Mateo dictated his letters to Margo. She’d memorized Sal’s address before she bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Baltimore with the money she’d made from writing the letters.
Sal and Gina gave Margo a room in the back of their long, narrow rowhouse. They lived one street over from St. Leo’s. Their restaurant, next door, shared the wall with their home.
“THE THIRD STATION: JESUS FALLS THE FIRST TIME.”
Margo stood still. Peter was so close to her, she could feel his arm pressing lightly against hers.
When the crowd finished the prayer to the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Peter wiped his mouth with his left hand. He didn’t wear a wedding ring.
The horse started up Albemarle and the procession stopped at a stucco house and then another of Formstone. There was a small rod iron gate in an arc that led to a narrow, concrete alley.
Peter threaded his arm around Margo’s waist. They did not speak.
The sixth station, Veronica Offers Her Veil to Jesus, was recited and Margo stood awkwardly. Embarrassed, she tried to listen to the words: compassion, distress. Peter’s display of affection bothered her. She could feel several of the people in the crowd watching her. Many knew she had just divorced. She was a soiled soul.
Margo stepped out of Peter’s grasp as she mumbled the concluding prayer; “World without end…”
The procession continued. The drum beat; the horse clopped.
“I joined the Jesuits, Margo.” Peter’s voice was low.
“You’re a priest?”
“I was,” his mouth twisted in a half grin.
The dog yelped again. The booming stopped. They entered Fawn Street.
“THE SEVENTH STATION OF THE CROSS. JESUS FALLS THE SECOND TIME.”
They were in front of Mr. Carpentiere’s restaurant. He was leading the prayer. Short, round, Mr. Carpentiere stood in front of his glass door. “Italian Gardens” in a circling script was written on the glass. Several people with plastic cups in their hands were standing above him on the restaurant’s second floor balcony. Their cups reflected a gold or pink liquid that they sipped while the prayers were recited.
Margo stood in the sun, unable to pray.
Thirty-five years ago, Peter took Margo to see The Godfather and snow was falling quietly when they stepped out of the Patterson Theatre onto Eastern Avenue. The mile and a half back to Little Italy was slippery and Gina told Peter to stay. He shouldn’t drive back to Towson, eleven miles north. Peter called his parents. Gina gave him a pillow and a blanket.
Later, when the house was quiet, Margo left her room.
She’d tried not to make the floor boards creak. The snow was silently coating the street outside, illuminating everything inside through the windows. Peter had turned toward the back of the couch in the front room, away from the light.
She knelt beside him. The floor made an “eeeek” sound. Margo touched his back, feeling his heartbeat.
Peter rolled over.
“Margo? What are you doing?” he whispered.
“I don’t know,” she answered. Fear was pulsing in her forehead, behind her eyes. She felt tears. “I’m sorry.”
Margo sat back; the floor creaked.
“No, sh-h-h-h,” he said. “It’s all right!”
“I’ve gotta go,” she said, placing both hands on the floor beside her hips, rising.
Peter reached out to her; she remembered his arm was covered in light from the windows. She wanted to take his hand, hold it to her mouth and kiss each finger.
He slid his feet to the floor on either side of her, and they rose together.
Pleasure spread through her in his embrace. His chest pressed on hers, hard.
He lifted her and placed her on the couch.
“No,” she whispered.
“I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.”
In the white snow light, she could see Peter’s beautiful face, his straight, perfect nose, the black of his eyes. He moved his hand up her side, under her night gown and her skin tingled.
When she realized it was his penis, not his fingers inside her, she gasped, “Do you love me?”
“As much as I can,” he’d whispered.
They turned onto High Street for the thirteenth station. Sal stood on the sidewalk in front of his restaurant. He nodded at Margo.
Margo smiled back.
Turning from her, Sal raised the megaphone, “… JESUS IS TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS.”
He read from a sheet of paper, a pair of rectangular glasses on his nose.
“SHE RECEIVED HIM WITH UNUTTERABLE TENDERNESS AND PRESSED HIM CLOSE TO HER…”
Unutterable tenderness. Margo thought of Peter; of loss.
“Glory be to the Father…”
Sal placed his hand inside Margo’s left arm, “Coming to dinner? Bring your friend.”
Margo asked, “Do you remember Peter?”
“Peter ?” Sal smiled, extending his hand.
“Hello, sir, I’m Sylvia Serafini’s son.”
“Sylvia? God rest her soul,” Sal mumbled. He looked at Peter. A moment passed. Margo’s heart thumped.
“Excuse us,” Sal said to Peter. Slipping his arm inside Margo’s, he pulled her aside. Sal kept a grip on her as they walked to a corner of the crowd.
“Sal?” Margo asked him, glancing down at his boney hand clutching the skin of her arm.
“Margo, do you know who he is?”
“Of course, what do you mean?” she looked back at Peter who was biting his lip. Margo could feel Sal pressing her forearm; pulling her.
“Margo, Peter was defrocked,” Sal whispered, his breath, hot in her ear.
“What?” Margo looked at Sal’s face. It was a mass of wrinkles; concern.
“You didn’t hear about it?” Sal asked her, turning to look in Peter’s direction.
Margo looked again at Peter. He stood, his arms in front of him, hands locked together. Like a salesman, pausing to close the deal. Like she’d seen priests do, when they posed for snapshots.
“I don’t believe it,” she said.
Sal crossed his arms. “It probably killed Sylvia. Poor woman.”
“It was in Boston. He was the pastor at a parish with a school up there. He was stripped of his parish, the priesthood. For misconduct. With children.”
Margo swallowed saliva. Her head down, she shut her eyes, “When did this happen?”
“A while ago. Sophia was devastated. She stopped going to church. What in the world is he doing back here?” Sal asked. “C’mon, let’s go inside,” Sal put an arm around Margo’s shoulder. They faced the open door, stucco walls with a thick natural wood door frame. “Gina’s got a crab special she’s making for tonight. Good Friday.”
Margo stood still, listening to the drum boom again. Turning around, she watched the driver on the carriage snap the crop at the horse’s back. He picked up one dusty hoof, then the other. The crowd fell in behind Christ’s statute on the carriage. Peter walked with them, away from Margo, toward the last station of the cross.
Caryn Coyle writes about arts, culture and food for the websites CBS Baltimore and Welcome to Baltimore, Hon. Her fiction has been published in a dozen literary journals including Gargoyle, JMWW, The Little Patuxent Review, Loch Raven Review, Midway Journal, The Journal (Santa Fe) and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore from City Lit Press. She won the 2009 Maryland Writers Association Short Fiction Award, third prize in the first Delmarva Review Short Story Contest, 2011 and honorable mentions for her fiction from the Missouri Writer’s Guild (2011) and the St. Louis Writer’s Guild (2012).