“It’s beautiful! Is it a real place?”
Mack took a few steps backwards, picking up a rough cloth and wiping his hands. He should have realised she was standing in the room. Her perfume was a distinct and an alien presence. He turned. There was no prison warden standing beside the door, arms folded in front of a solid torso. Maisie stood unguarded and alone.
The canvas was large and rectangular. It was the third part of a panel that formed the backdrop of for the play. Grey hills rolled into the distance, scraps of cloud trailed across a slate sky and a smudge of a dark green forest stood to the right. A beam of light caught the blurred shape of red deer.
“It isnae Israel,” Mack admitted.
The prison dramatic society was putting on a mystery play this year, the Easter story. They usually opted for something frivolous, packed with innuendo. The hall filled with raucous laughter and high pitched whistles, as the inmates laid aside their prison pecking order, sat side by side with the prison guards and snatched at the chance to be normal.
That was before Maisie had volunteered to organise the play. She was the prison chaplain’s daughter, taking a year out before going to university. She was nothing like her father. He was upright and stiff and marched as he hummed “Onward Christian Soldiers”. The dog collar about his neck strangled his attempts to be friendly. Mack could not help but feel judged and found wanting in his presence.
Maisie was cut from different material. Like her perfume, she was an alien presence among the steel gates and iron locks of the prison block. She smiled often and was at ease with everyone. Hard faces softened as Maisie spoke to the inmates. Her touch on an arm melted the bones beneath the tattooed skin. The mystery play was her idea.
“Mack…I mean Mr McAngus…”
“Nae…” Mack’s voice was firm, “I knae ye gonnae ask me ta be Jesus, but I cannae do it.”
“Lionel’s in the infirmary. There’s no way he’ll be out in time. We’ve all worked so hard. You’re the only one who knows his lines.”
“Lionel!” Mack spat derisively. “Man’s an eejit. Young Denny’s crabbit the best of times. He disnae need poked by Lionel actin’ glaekit.”
Maisie was silent.
“And there ye hae it,” Mack continued. “why ah cannae be Jesus! Heck, even ah cannae understan’ ma sen at times.”
“I wasn’t thinking about that, Mack. It’s not as if we’re selling tickets to the show. It’s just for the inmates and the prison guards. They understand you well enough. I was thinking about Lionel and Denny. This place…it’s like a bomb with a fuse wire just waiting to be lit. We need this play, Mack. We can’t do the Easter story without Jesus.”
A whisper deep inside urged Mack to say “Yes”, to save the show, to give Lionel and Denny a break from the colourless existence of prison life. He didn’t have to speak with his usual Glaswegian accent. He knew Jesus’ words and could say them slowly and carefully.
A deeper whisper mocked him. You? Jesus?
Everything Mack knew about Jesus was lodged in memories from Sunday School. He remembered pictures of Jesus carrying a lamb in his arms. Kindness shone from Jesus’ blue eyes as he held the lamb with a gentle touch.
Mack looked down at his own hands stained with paint. Just because you couldn’t see the other stains didn’t mean they weren’t there. It didn’t matter that he was drunk at the time, or the man had pulled a knife on him. Mack was alive and the man was dead. He wasn’t even sure if regretted killing him.
Jesus deserved someone better than Iain McAngus to portray his life.
Something else pushed its way to the surface. Something about Jesus, about the blue eyes and the lambs he cradled in his arms. There was more to Jesus than that.
Jesus was fully human in every way. He got mad enough to tip up tables in the Temple and wield a whip. He was cried when a friend died. He loved to drink at parties. He was so tired that even a storm at sea couldn’t wake him. He was scared enough to sweat blood. Maybe he wasn’t so very different from Mack at all.
“OK, hen, ah’ll be yer Jesus.”
“And maybe you’ll let Him be yours,” said Maisie softly.
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