The children of the church marched down the sloping aisles in their costumes for the finale of the Easter pageant. There was a hula dancer, a pilgrim, an Eskimo, a leprechaun, a geisha, triplets in lederhosen, and many others, all the children of the world. Waiting for them on the round central stage was a junior college student playing the Christ, a dead ringer for Sallman’s famous painting. His long white robe hung off his outstretched arms like mighty sails. Soon all the children gathered around the Christ, all kneeling reverently on cue from the worship music. Except the leprechaun wasn’t kneeling. He stood alone, too busy looking out at all of the faces of the dads in the congregation, smiling up at their kids.
“Hit the floor,” Backslid Jesus whispered over his shoulder. Little arms all around the leprechaun pulled him to the carpet.
The gossip circulating for days before the pageant was that this young man portraying the Son of God was a backslider. Someone had heard songs like “American Pie” and “Stairway to Heaven” coming out the open windows of his Nova in the church parking lot. Then the cardboard Jesus riding a cardboard donkey in front of the church disappeared, along with a few of the cardboard crowd figures. They were the pageant’s advertisement to attract those traveling on Harbor Boulevard, going to Disneyland a few miles away. Of course, many suspected him of the theft.
A few children told others that Backslid Jesus referred to the young college girl playing Mary as his Mary. But the leprechaun didn’t say a word when Backslid Jesus once told him to rub baby powder all over his chest to get a girlfriend. How it drove his Mary wild. Another time the leprechaun saw him and the men playing the disciples drinking something from a brown paper bag near the closed church bookstore. Even so, the leprechaun still found Backslid Jesus awe-inspiring. However he knew his mom too well and said nothing to her. Just before he was born, she was slain in the spirit. She led cacophonous Jericho Marches. Her tongue was ablaze. And she had no patience for backsliders.
Once down on the stage, the leprechaun moved quickly on his knees, shouldering his way through the gathering, getting close to Backslid Jesus’ feet. He grabbed hold of the hem of the thick terry cloth robe. He searched the audience encircling the stage, knowing his mother always sat in one of the short front rows. He hoped she noticed his great act of faith and would reward him with a malt from Baskin-Robbins on the way home. Unfortunately, his mom’s eyes were closed, her arms reaching for the ceiling, swaying to the worship music swelling from the speakers. The leprechaun imagined his dad sitting next to her, maybe now a wide grin spread across his face. That would be much better than ice cream. But he had never known his dad. And his mother never knew who his dad was, either.
At the pageant’s conclusion, just as the worship music reached its crescendo, the children marched behind Backslid Jesus off the stage and up the aisle that led to an enormous foyer. They were to wait until the house lights came up and an alter call began. Then they could find their parents. Backslid Jesus kept going, though, out the glass doors, followed by Mary and the disciples still dressed in their robes. The leprechaun, the flamenco dancer, the squire, and the Mountie were the only children to run after them.
Out on the sidewalk, Mary said over her shoulder, “We’re approaching his kingdom,” and pointed up at the black night sky.
Three of the children changed their minds about following and ran away in fear. The leprechaun caught up to Mary and matched her stride. He detected the faint odor of baby powder.
Backslid Jesus turned left into the parking lot of a grand hotel next to the church. He led everyone to a small courtyard by the pool and shuttered tiki bar. He climbed on a lounge chair and said, “Stay, bear witness to what is good.” Next he hopped off and hurried through the hotel’s side entrance. Everyone looked at each other and around the deserted courtyard and pool.
“He’s appeared to us again,” Mary shouted and pointed at the glass elevator waiting on the first floor.
Backslid Jesus stretched out his arms and craned his neck toward the elevator’s light shining above. Then a family of four, all wearing mouse ears, entered the lit-up glass box. The dad held a giant lollipop. The leprechaun wished his dad and mom would’ve taken him to Disneyland for Easter. That his dad would buy him a lollipop the size of a planet.
The disciples cheered and called for their savior to moon them. Mary called for the love of her life to rise up through the heavens. When the dad said something to Backslid Jesus, the young man moved to the left, and the mom and her children crowded the glass. They waved at everyone in the courtyard. And as the elevator ascended, everyone cheered again, except for the leprechaun. He pulled his green felt hat over his eyes, his fingers clutching the floppy brim.
He whispered, “Everyone has a dad.”
“Far out,” Mary said, lifting the leprechaun’s hat. She ruffled his hair. “Raise your arms to your savior, my lucky friend.”
The elevator stopped on the third floor for a moment. And when the dad appeared against the glass, the leprechaun gave a small wave. The dad smiled down upon him, lifting the colorful orb, and it was very good.
Dan Crawley is the author of the novella Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019). His writing appears or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review, and Atticus Review. Along with teaching creative writing workshops and literature courses, he is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review. Find him at https://twitter.com/danbillyc.