There was nothing left of the money except for seventeen dollars and the change, stacked in short hills on Susan’s night table. Despite how much there was originally—nearly $400 in various denominations—she’d decided the money hadn’t really been worth stealing. After all, William had spent the lion’s share on bills (which Susan had never intended to pay in the first place) before she got the chance to have any real fun with it. Considering how much time she had spent in the weeks beforehand diligently attending each sermon, developing a friendly rapport with Pastor Julien, and carefully mapping each crevice of the basilica, when all was done she was as empty-handed as she had begun. This time, she decided, she would keep the details to herself, sharing only as much with William as would quell his suspicion.
Perhaps because she had been so careful in committing it, Sudan never heard a whisper around town about her crime. She had, after all, left twenty dollars, a cheap pocket watch, and a bed of nickels on the collection plate, to create the illusion of a parish that was simply miserly rather than compromised. Maybe, she thought, they suspected one of the young, pregnant girls in town had taken the money, and out of some misguided pity decided best to be quiet about the whole affair, else some word of impurity cross their tongues and spoil themselves by association.
Among the pews, Susan felt like a prostitute in a room of kindergarteners, her predatory eyes penetrating the still air of the church. All around her, the parish tracked each subtle movement of the pastor’s white hands as he spoke. Certain movements of Julien’s fingers, imperceptible to Susan, seemed to conduct the congregation into a sea of smiles and nods. As naturally as she could, Susan imitated their movements, focusing on the songs of the thrushes outside, or how tacky the outfits of the women beside her were. When she grew bored, she would think of gonorrhea, or imagine cruises she’d like to take, before some gesture of Pastor Julien would snap her back to attention. Following his arms, she noticed for the first time (though, she realized she must have seen it in previous sermons) the massive altarpiece behind the pastor. On the right, Christ on the cedar, in emaciated agony. On the left, Mary, serene and lost in prayer. She stared at it for a long time as the pastor’s words moved through her, unable to steal her focus for even a moment.
The collection plate moved through the people like a rope through dirt. Without turning her head, Susan tried to count each bill that was dropped in. When the plate landed on her lap, Susan smiled—genuinely, this time—and dropped the money she’d scooped up from the night table back into its former resting place. Her smile widened as she passed the plate to the next anonymous body, all their eyes still enchanted by the paths of Julien’s fingers.
The back offices of the church were nearly barren, the various admonishments that filled the main chamber seemingly-absent from their walls. Though their hallways were labyrinthine, Susan moved through them with ease and familiarity, having been lead back to Julien’s study many times on the pretense of elaborating on the subtleties of metaphysical discourse - some bullshit. Very quickly, she found the collection plate, perched up on a stand, looking to her like a coffin at a funeral, the money still like a waiting corpse. She scooped the money into her purse like a feasting animal, totally unaware of the word around her. As she started to leave, she heard the slow, deliberate footsteps of Pastor Julien, who had just turned the corner towards the office. When he saw her, his face lit up, and he began to speak very enthusiastically, as he had every other time they’d met in the back. Susan flashed a moon across her face and stood very still, anxious. As Julien spoke, she remembered the altarpiece that had shortly ago been behind him: the blood slowly trickling down Christ’s forehead, how Mary looked absorbed in orgasmic bliss. She followed his eyes as he looked behind her to the collection plate, watched his cheeks as he blushed. She smiled at him, wished him good-bye, and left, waving.