The Inside-Out Woman
CHAPTER 4: RIGHTEOUS WRATH
Dear, you are in grave peril. Please, for our sake, do not allow the creature to seduce you a second time. I am here to help you, as I always have. Allow me, dear. Let me give you the fortitude to resist.
She lifted herself off the sofa and looked back into the kitchen, afraid she’d see the clock; that if she saw it, it would be the source of the warning; that the warning would be a trick; that this time the clock’s black eyes would absorb her and she would be lost for eternity.
But the clock was out of view. She flung an arm at the doorway into the kitchen, the entry to the clock’s universe; she jabbed a finger at the passage leading to a place she suspected was worse than Hell, fouler than the bowls of the devil. “Ha-Ha-Ha to you!” she declared.
Dear, you know me. Haven’t I always come to your rescue? Believe me, dear, when I tell you that you are in the gravest danger. It is within you. You are not strong enough by yourself. You must allow me to come to your aid.
Marcella, it is an old trick, a siren’s song. Do not be deceived. It is our enemy who appeals to you. Recall your preparation, how I trained all the Anointed People to defend against our enemies.
She dropped onto the sofa and burrowed into it as if it were earth. She buried her face in the crevice of the cushions, and she was transported, inhaling soil saturated with the cool dew of a Black Night morning.
It was before sunrise in the final pall of night, though she could detect daybreak pearling the horizon at the edge of the field. She was prostrate between mounds, furrows she had plowed with the others, and she laid flat in them with the others, head to toe, a seed crop of Anointed People aspirating dirt as they tried mightily to hide from the enemy. It was the typical enemy this night Pater announced; hired goons of the giant corporate farmers who saw the faithful of Universal One as rivals, who hated that the Anointed People undersold them and outsold them from their stand on the highway.
“Our labor fulfills God’s desire, and it is dangerous work, my People. Those who surround us are not farmers. Don’t ever mistake them for farmers. They exploit the real farmers. They enslave los campesinos to cultivate and harvest their fields. They are capitalists, my people, moneygrubbers, thieves. They are worse than the dove sellers—imagine trading the symbol of peace; oh, they are low creatures, these descendants of the dove sellers my brother flung from the temple. Like their antecedents who scorned my brother, these capitalists loathe me and us. They endeavor to destroy us. They can’t abide us. Our goodness, our compassion, our generosity, it sickens them. What did Mark write, my people? They feared my brother; they feared him, because ‘all the people were astonished at his teaching.’ Yes, we sicken them because they see their profit, their idol that they raise above the true God who is a god of love and salvation, they see their golden idol jeopardized. They fear our power, my People, and they will kill us, oh, they will, if we are not prepared. So we are preparing. We will shock them to their diseased, soulless core. Their faces will turn ashen at the sight of God’s army, hundreds of us rising from our fields, rising as if raptured from our graves, rising with weapons in our hands, smiting them with our justice, clearing the ground for the fruits of peace and goodness to flourish.”
She rose from the furrow, rose in unison with hundreds of others, rose and brought her wooden pole, the substitute for the rifles Pater promised to provide soon, to her shoulder, and she boomed again and again, “pow, pow, pow” in perfect harmony with her fraters and amitas, their fusillade conflating into a fanfare for the impending bloody cleansing, continuing until Pater commanded her and them to cease their warrior serenade, informing that the crisis, after three hours, was ended, and they could remove their headbands, rest and take breakfast, a special breakfast consisting of their cultivation—cantaloupes, plums and prunes, grapes and raisins, and their exquisitely rare celebration cookies—before returning to the fields.
Except, she found herself on her knees on the sofa with empty hands, pointing at nothing, hearing nothing, save her breath, loud and ragged. She flopped onto the sofa, pulled the sweater tightly around herself, squeezed her eyes shut and sweated and shivered.
Then a noise intruded on the silence. Not a noise, she realized, opening her eyes, but a voice, Dominic’s voice, soft, concerned, asking, “Are you sick, Mommy?”
Caution, dear. I urge you to be cautious. Things are not rosy in you.
Marcella, an enemy lurks among us. You know it is true, for it has happened before, many times.
Yes, many times, even from my first days on the blessed land, she remembered.
Hope and joy instantly replaced the doubt that had begun undermining her belief the day she passed beneath the makeshift gateway, the rough hewed poles, thick as tree trunks, spanned by a rusted metal rod from which hung the sign, “Feed the World,” and in a prominent eyebrow over the proclamation, “A Universal One Project Benefiting Humanity.”
She had maneuvered for a role in the noble experiment. Pater had fended off her involvement, insisting she was vital to the operation of the Worship Temple in Los Angeles, not on the Church lands near Raisin City. She suspected he doubted her loyalty. It was crazy, she knew, unjustified, and unsupportable considering her numerous responsibilities. She sat on the Inner Council that debated and set doctrine. She ran recruitment efforts, including the print shop, and the English and Spanish editions of the newspaper Universal Call, and the bilingual website. She controlled issuance, use, and monitoring of cell phones. She was a member of the Countervailing Committee that launched covert assaults on Universal One’s opponents. And she was a privileged comfort partner, and had been since shortly after her time on Pater’s bus. Here was the taproot of her suspicion. Pater was a mercurial lover—moody, demanding, insatiable, perfunctory, tender, fierce, and occasionally brutal, though understandably so and mercifully temperate in this regard considering the weight of his responsibility and his frustration dealing with the imperfect. Recently, he requested acts that perturbed her, including partnering with multiple comforters, and more troubling, with those outside the intimate circle. She hadn’t directly refused, but she had feigned illness on the occasions when she knew, as a result of conversations with Osma and fellow comforters, several would be participating. She’d had enough of these types of activities at the hands of solo Ricky, and she thought them unseemly for a man of God, in fact, God’s Delegate on earth. Pater unquestionably, as he had demonstrated during services that he could read minds and heal from a distance too, had intuited her reluctance to please him fully.
However, she set aside all her doubts once she was in the camp and bunked in a barracks with the women from the Inner Council and several others as well. The communal spirit and the powerful sense of purpose enthralled her. Though the fieldwork was backbreaking, she did not complain. On the contrary, she thrived. The Church did mean community and salvation, and the experiment was as noble as she had hoped it would be.
All was perfect, difficult but perfect in its hardness, until her fourth day. The evening of that day a call to meet blared over the PA system. It was Pater’s voice as she’d not heard it before, angry, panicked, and strained to breaking.
The several hundred people residing in the camp, the vanguard of the Church’s humanitarian crusade, assembled in the open-air dining and meeting pavilion. Pater, in his white ceremonial robe, had ensconced himself in a lawn chair set on top of four picnic tables abutted to form a makeshift stage. He occupied the stage alone, with the Inner Council surrounding him on the tables’ benches.
Osma beckoned and Iam settled next to her.
She whispered to Osma, “Is the enemy planning an attack?”
Betrayal, she thought.
“Mater,” intoned Pater, “present the offender.”
It was obvious whom Pater was addressing. A woman and a boy stood hemmed in by four members of Pater’s personal guard, fervent young men blessed with the sacred responsibility of protecting him day and night wherever he might be, culled from the ranks of the Church’s warriors. He named the warriors Swords, and formed the corps, and his squad of personal guards, at the urging of the Inner Council early on, before Iam’s time, after the first Temple attack, christened The First Black Night. Since several Black Nights had followed, engendering Black Night drills. The daily attire of the Swords consisted of either bright red or black T-shirts with a white sword emblazoned on the back. Tonight his guard was in their hooded white dress robes that matched Pater’s, the difference being theirs had stitched in red thread over the left breast a sword and another on the peak of the cowl. Beneath the robes, as everybody knew, they wore firearms.
The woman and child huddled together, rooted to the spot as if they had sprouted there like Universal One corn.
Pater raised a finger and the guard seized the pair and deposited them in front of Pater and the Council.
“Please, Mater, describe what occurred this afternoon in Raisin City. Please, Mater, do not hesitate. We are your fraters and amitas. We love you, for if we did not we would not have taken you off the streets. If we did not believe you are among God’s Anointed, we would not have invited you here to take part in this greatest of missions. You must know our love for you is indisputable. We embrace you and the child, Mater. Embrace us with the truth.”
“My son disobeyed me, Pater.”
“Disobeyed you, Mater? Can that be correct? He disobeyed you?”
“Pater, I told him he could not buy candy in the store.”
“Did he disobey you by buying candy?”
“No,” she said, her voice snapping.
“But he had candy. Others saw he had candy and ate it. He ate it without sharing, too. But I doubt if the other children would have accepted the candy from him, would they have, Mater?”
“No, Pater, they would not.”
“Of course not, if your child had been generous. He is not a generous filius, though, is he? Another fault, yes?”
“How did the candy come into his possession, Mater?”
Quietly, she said, “He stole it.”
“Speak up. Speak up that all might hear.”
“He stole it.”
“Louder, Mater. Confess to all the people. Shout your confession that God might hear it.”
“HE STOLE THE CANDY!”
“Who stole the candy?” Pater urged in his most reasonable tone.
“MY SON STOLE THE CANDY!”
“MY SON STOLE THE CANDY!”
“What does God’s seventh commandment forbid, Mater?”
“Thou shall not steal.”
“What did your filius do?
“He broke God’s law, Pater.”
“Yes he did. He broke one of God’s ten bedrock laws. You can’t, I don’t believe, do much worse than that. Why, Mater, your filius may as well have spit directly into God’s face. Oh, can you picture it, Mater, God’s face worthy of only adoration, my Father’s beautiful face, that face … DRIPPING WITH THE SPITTLE OF YOUR FILIUS. But you’re shaking, Mater. Don’t you believe God is merciful? Don’t you believe in His infinite mercy, though your filius hurled a great insult at Him?”
Iam watched intently as the woman forced her son to his knees and knelt beside him, never relinquishing her grip on him.
“Yes, Pater, I believe in His mercy, and I believe in your mercy, too.”
Pater, who had progressively leaned forward during the exchange, slumped back in his lawn chair.
“Sometimes,” he said, “mercy is difficult to grant. Sometimes hardness is the best teacher. Isn’t that true, Mater?”
Iam watched tears stream down the woman’s cheeks as she said, “Yes.”
“Your filius disobeyed you and he stole because you have not been hard with him.”
“You have been soft and weak.”
“We, none of us, can tolerate weakness if we are to serve God in the manner He deserves and is His due. No weakness.”
“No, Pater,” chanted the assembled, Iam as enthusiastically as the others, “No weakness. No weakness.”
“What do we need here, Mater?”
She stammered, “Hard love, Pater.”
“Hard love. Exactly.”
At this pronouncement, one of the Swords produced “Righteous Wrath,” which had been secreted under his robe the entire time. He handed the long wood paddle punctured with two rows of four holes to the woman. She accepted it and gripped it with two hands.
“Seven hard acts of love, Mater. If they are not sufficiently forceful, I will ask a Sword to administer seven proper strikes after you have finished.”
The woman shouldered “Righteous Wrath” but hesitated swinging.
A murmur rippled the assembled as Pater perched forward on his lawn chair. They quieted when he smiled benevolently.
“Ah, Mater, I understand. ‘Wrath’ is new to you. You are afraid your first few swings will be ineffective. You will inadvertently increase your filius’s penalty. Am I not correct?”
A nearly inaudible, nervous titter swept the People. Iam pulled back slightly. She was silent. Inside, she cringed.
The woman nodded.
“Of course. God has granted your Pater the gift of seeing into the minds of his People. Mater, I am my Father’s son, and like Him I am merciful.” He paused, indicating he wished her to acknowledge him.
“Thank you, Pater,” she said, with hopefulness.
“You hold ‘Wrath’ like a baseball bat. Well, we all enjoy baseball. I’ll wager your filius enjoys baseball, don’t you, thief?”
Nudged by his mother, he nodded.
Iam closed her eyes to the scene.
“Mater, you may take three warm up swings. Please, proceed. Show us what you have. Go on.”
The woman swung “Righteous Wrath” three times, each harder than the last.
“Excellent. Let’s begin. Sinner, on her hands and knees.”
The punishment transpired quickly and fiercely, beginning with the boy whimpering and ending with him howling.
Iam did not open her eyes until Pater commanded a Sword to bring the wailing boy up to him on the picnic table stage. She watched him hug and comfort the boy and assure the boy and the assembled that now everything again was right in the eyes of God.
Along with everybody, the mother and son included, Iam smiled, cried with joy, and shouted praise to Pater and the Father. Iam could not witness God’s punishment with her own eyes, could not bear to see the infliction of pain on another, particularly a child. She had problems with the concept of hard love the moment she saw the tenet applied in the Los Angeles Temple. But, she understood the necessity of it; that, as Pater explained in Council meetings, we cannot run a movement without discipline; that God was a kind god and a wrathful god when required; that the Anointed People had to emulate Him if they wished to win the world for Him; and that was their mission, to win the world for their Pater and their God.
Something seared her forehead, drew across it like a flaming sword of revelation.
She cried out, “What?” swatting it away and burning her forearm as she did.
“Mommy, you hurt me.”
“Mommy, I only wanted to see if you were sick.”
She pushed up off the cushions and leapt from the sofa at him. She caught him before he could flee her and gripped his arms to hold him fast.
“Dominic, why did you do it? Why Dominic?”
“Mommy, I didn’t do anything. I wanted to see if you were sick.”
She squeezed and shook. “You’re a liar. A liar. Why did you steal from me? Why did you hide what you stole under your bed? Why, Dominic, why?”
Dominic twisted free of her and ran into the kitchen, to where the clock and the eyes were, to where Iam feared to go.
Marcella, you must. You must banish your fear. Nothing can harm you when I am with you. Our enemy is insidious. Do you not see how the enemy is turning the foundation of the resurrected salvation against us, how it tries to deprive the world of its prophesied jubilee? Already, the little hothouse of renewal is a thief and a betrayer. You must capture the product of your blessed womb. You must visit upon him the full fury of the Father. You must smite from him the heresy of the enemy and prepare him for his divine destiny. You must purify him for his mystical role. He must be like Isaac, willing and pleased to submit. Go, Marcella. Your Pater commands you to speed to him.