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Passionaries

(Part of The Blessed)
By Tonya Hurley

Read an Excerpt

Passionaries
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13 Cecilia lay motionless in the window chair under a shelf of spray-painted Catholic kitsch, a few of her ever-present apostles gathering patiently across the street. A funeral march could be heard in the distance. The somber drone of the trumpets drew near in time with the needle about to pierce her flawless skin.

“Can you feel that?” Oyo asked, muscles flexing under the coolest tattoo sleeves she’d ever seen.

Cecilia laughed. She was practically oblivious to the sharp object in her arm.

“If you can’t feel this, then I ain’t doing my job.” Oyo scowled, holding the tattoo wand above her wrist, the music outside growing louder. “Here they come.”

Cecilia glanced out the window and felt a mix of pride and alarm. Her apostles mingled with the marchers and spectators, looking for a glimpse both of her and the statue. But the boisterous crowd could just as easily give cover to would-be vandals with murderous intentions. Followed or stalked, she was never quite sure, which was a big reason she preferred to get inked before the shop even opened, in the early morning light, both for privacy and safety.

But try as she might, Cecilia’s instinct for self-preservation was unable to overcome her rebellious streak, which demanded that she park herself right in the storefront window. On display. Part tease for the faithful and part middle finger to the wicked. Mostly, however, as advertisement for Oyo, payback for his accommodation.

Cecilia sightings were rare these days, and each of her public appearances was growing larger and more intense as a result, like a sold-out festival audience waiting impatiently for the headliner to take the stage. Followers shared her movements, her location via tweets, texts, and status updates, creating a digital trail for anyone, well meaning or not. The larger the groups got, the harder it was to tell the difference between apostle and assassin.

But for the most part, her followers never approached her, they just watched or took pictures, some prayed, others threw roses and offerings they’d made for her: a WHAT WOULD CECILIA DO? tee, bone guitar picks, but mostly edgy pieces of jewelry—spiked rosaries, vintage reliquary necklaces, studded cuffs.

Another person, Cecilia considered as she reclined there watching the scene, might turn these devotees and their merchandise into a profit center. A crowd-funded sainthood. How very modern. But then again, maybe not so novel after all. What were church collection plates for but exchanging a small donation for a piece of spiritual equity? The thought made her think of Lucy and how they hadn’t been in touch for a while. Not since the investigation wrapped up.

“Our Lady of Sorrows,” Oyo murmured. The melancholy blare of the procession was a somber soundtrack to Cecilia’s pain, and her suspicion. Appropriate for a gray, rainy Good Friday morning.

“What?” Cecilia snapped, still distracted by the events outside.

“The Our Lady of Sorrows procession.”

Cecilia smiled. “A good friend of mine calls me that. Our Lady of Sorrow.”

“Is that right? Then maybe this parade is in your honor,” Oyo said, glancing down at Cecilia’s clothes.

Cecilia looked down at her outfit—vintage black minidress, capelet encrusted in tiny gold spikes around her shoulders, fishnets, and black ankle boots with gold pyramid studs—before looking out the window again.

“Well, we do match,” she said, the statue of Mary draped in black and gold coming into sight. She’d seen the march for the first time a few years earlier when she was looking for sublets in what she called Death Valley, the industrial stretch of road between Cobble Hill and Park Slope, filled with casket factories and penetrated by the milky green waters and noxious stench of the Gowanus Canal. The only canal on record to have tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease. The reason most people called it Gowanorrhea.

At the time, she’d thought the ritual march was strange and morbid. But now, she couldn’t help but find it oddly romantic. Straight out of a Fellini movie. A glass coffin carrying Jesus was trailed by a statue of Mary dressed in medieval garb and hoisted on a pedestal by what looked to be pallbearers. Women dressed in black cloaks sang mournfully in Italian as the procession snaked through Brooklyn. They weren’t singing for attention, or for money, but out of sorrow. Wailing for the woman who lost her son. Singing for all who had lost a child. Calling everyone who had lost someone. Women came out of their homes to pay tribute, some in aprons and ratty slippers, some in their Sunday best—black veils and dresses—and others in housecoats, drinking glasses of wine. All bowing their heads and making the sign of the cross as the procession passed.

It was a celebration of sadness, but it wasn’t sad. In fact, it was a collective, if not joyful, release. Couldn’t get more oppositional, more punk, than that. An annual Good Friday funeral for everyone to cry and let go. To hold one another. It was all so heart wrenching. And so beautiful. After everything that had happened, Cecilia understood it. Deep within.

A single black tear, tainted with mascara and flecks of gold liner, fell from her eye and traced her jaw line. Mourning Sebastian. Mourning her future. She knew what was coming, accepted her fate just like Sebastian had, but how and when it would come, she had no idea.

“Are you okay?” Oyo asked, handing her a black hankie.

“It doesn’t really matter, Oyo,” she said. “Whatever will be, will be.”

“It matters to me, chica,” he said.

“My life is like a game of Russian roulette. I have to wonder every morning when I wake up if this is the day I’ll die.” She paused, allowing herself a moment of vulnerability as she wiped away her tear. “Wonder if I’ll read in the paper or online somewhere that Lucy or Agnes have been killed.”

“Can I do anything?” Oyo asked. “I know a lot of people on the street who owe me favors.”

“No, this is my thing to deal with,” she confided. “I’m ready for it, whatever and whenever.”

“Just know you aren’t alone,” Oyo reminded, bringing his fingers to her chaplet and then to his lips.

“Thanks, Oyo.” Cecilia smiled. “Let’s finish this.”

“You sure?”

She nodded, preparing herself.

“Kick it up to third,” she demanded as the statue moved into position by the faithful in front of the window. She fixated on the dagger in Mary’s chest. “Bring the pain.”

Oyo revved up the wand.

Cecilia bit down on a purple towel to stifle any screams from escaping her pale lips. She peered out of the storefront, digging her heels into the deep-red vinyl-upholstered cushion until it ripped. Images of the statue intercut with flashes of Sebastian’s death, of that night, in her mind’s eye as the parade passed and her pain intensified.

Mary’s black lace veil covering her despair.

The three of them—Lucy, Cecilia, Agnes—a human shield, protecting Sebastian.

The dagger piercing Mary’s heart.

Sebastian’s body sprayed with bullets.

Mary’s black lace cloak covering her.

Their hands covering his open wounds.

Mary’s face, bursting with sorrow as she watched her only son’s lifeless body get carried away. Always behind him. Always watching him. Adoring him. The procession stopped. A few women in the march took notice of Cecilia and began to point her out in the shop window. Some, mockers she called them, spit on the ground in her direction. Others knelt right there on the street, repeatedly blessing themselves at the sight of her. She was used to it. Some believed the neighborhood gossip, the stories in the papers. That Cecilia was a saint. One of three that were chosen to prepare the way for the Second Coming. The only hope left. The last chance at redemption. Some did not. Those that did believed wholeheartedly and without doubt. The others didn’t believe at all. There was no in between. Like her music. Accepted by a few and rejected by most. The story of her life.

“Are you sure you want to fill in this heart and all the arrows? It’s right on the bone. It’s gonna hurt like hell,” Oyo said.

“Good,” she said, staring at the women. “Do it.”

Cecilia eyed the outline of the tattoo as Oyo made his way around her wrist. She reached into her gold studded bag and pulled out a glassine envelope. The kind that usually held one injectable illegal narcotic or another.

“Fill it with this,” she ordered.

Oyo shook the gray powdery contents of the bag and let them settle at the bottom.

“Ashes?” he asked. “Why do you pull this shit on me when I’m in the middle of something for you?”

“So you can’t say no.”

“Would it matter if I did?”

They both knew the answer. Oyo, holding the bag in his palm, suddenly realized that these were not just ashes, but remains.

“Have you worked with human ashes before?” she asked. “Have you done a memorial tat?”

“No, but I’m guessing that’s about to change.”

Cecilia nodded.

He took hold of her wrist and turned it from back to front, planning his work, when the bandage on her hand caught his eye. Fresh blood trickled through a clean but poorly prepared dressing on the palm side. Her warning that something was about to happen.

“Cheating on me?” He offered a sympathetic smile.

“Nah.” She smiled back. “Self-inflicted.”

“You know there are doctors in this city right?” he half-joked.

“There’s no cure for what I got.”

“So this is what it looks like?” he asked, referring to her stigmata. He’d heard about it, read about it, everyone had, but to see it in the flesh was something on a whole other level.

“Look, I know this is a lot to handle—me here, his ashes, the blood . . . ,” she began. “But this is why I came to you.”

“Can I ask you something?” he asked. “And tell me if this is too personal?”

“Shoot,” she said.

“Don’t you have to be, you know, pure, to be a saint?”

“Well, my attitude is still a virgin because I never gave a fuck.”

“You know what I’m saying, though, right?”

“Yes, I do,” she acknowledged. “It’s complicated.”

He nodded. Oyo sprinkled a pinch of the remains onto his palate and mixed it with the inks he intended to use.

“Board of Health ain’t gonna like this, CeCe.” Oyo smirked. “It’s regulation that you got to heat human cremains to a certain temp before injecting them. I could lose my license. Or worse.”

“Then don’t tell them,” she replied.

The ink master loaded up his pen with ink and ash and began to fill the elaborate piece.

Cecilia winced.

“Hold on,” he recommended.

“Pop the clutch, Oyo,” she ordered through gritted teeth, grabbing tightly onto the armrests.

The needle pierced Cecilia’s forearm over and over. Inserting Sebastian into her as she bled. She embraced the pain. It connected her to him even more. It was what was left between them. His death had changed everything, changed her, and she was ready to keep her promises.

“Looks killer, if I do say so myself,” Oyo observed proudly. “Might be my best work yet.”

Cecilia looked at the fresh ink, a gorgeous black sacred heart pierced with seven arrows. The detail was extraordinary, and the fact that it was all black made the artistry stand out even more.

“Thank you,” CeCe said softly. “It’s a masterpiece.”

It was one of a kind, fitting. And painful. She felt it, felt him, inside her. Sebastian had definitely left his mark. Not only on her flesh, her soul, her heart, but everyone on the street seemed to be mythologizing him or demonizing him. One thing was clear: He was on the tongues of many.

Oyo bandaged her wrist, and as he did, he leaned into her chair and whispered in her ear. “Pyro and his crew got what was coming to them,” he said. “The world is a better place.”

Cecilia carefully put on her leather jacket.

“People say that they see him—Sebastian—in Brooklyn,” he continued. “Hell, they see him all over the world. He’s a legend now. Chicks buildin’ shrines to him and shit.”

“From maniac to miracle worker. I read the papers. The blogs,” CeCe acknowledged somewhat resentfully. “Used to, anyway.”

“People hold vigils. Pray to him for intercession. They wonder where he’ll appear next,” Oyo said, the superstitious believer in him coming through. “I’m surprised you’re not more curious.”

Cecilia looked Oyo directly in the eye. “I don’t need to wonder. I know where he is.”

Oyo could see that he had touched a nerve. He didn’t ask her to clarify if she meant that Sebastian was in heaven, or in her heart, or even if he had appeared to her, as others had claimed. It seemed to him as if she was jealous of his apparition appearing to so many. Spiritual cheating. Oyo nodded and covered the new tattoo with a cellophane bandage. He helped her off the chair. “Have you seen the other girls?”

“No,” Cecilia said. “Not since everything went down. I see Lucy on TV sometimes, but that’s about it.”

She wanted to reach out to Agnes and Lucy, but hadn’t. She’d missed them terribly in the weeks and months since Sebastian’s death, but she felt they all had to mourn in their own way before they could come together and face what had happened—and what was happening—to them, and to the world since he left it. It was clear to her that time to reconnect was coming.

“I’m surprised,” Oyo said.

“I’ve been pretty hard to reach,” Cecilia explained, fingering the phone in her pocket. “Just this trusty pay-as-you-go flip. No laptop. No Internet unless I creep someone else’s.”

“No location functions to worry about,” Oyo deadpanned. “Off the grid.”

“Exactly.” She smiled.

“It’s all pretty fresh I guess,” Oyo commiserated. “Just a few months since—”

Cecilia interrupted.

“We just need some time. We’ll hook up when it’s right.”

She noticed her hands bleeding even more and tried to staunch it with Oyo’s hankie.

Oyo reached toward her for a hug. “Your fans miss you, Prophetista. When you gonna get your ass back on stage?”

Cecilia held up her bandaged wrist, pumped full of his ashes, her stigmata bleeding from her palms all the way down her forearm.

“Feels like the time is now.”

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