The Inside-Out Woman
CHAPTER 15: HELL
It was late Saturday afternoon. Lust in its heathen rawness consumed her, as, from the corner of her eye, Iam watched Fabian converse with the Sword.
She bent low; her hands plucked the prolific and virulent weeds; her arms levered them up and into the sack that slapped against her right thigh as she advanced. The strap stretched from her left shoulder across her breasts, cutting through them, pinching them every few seconds, causing her to pause her work frequently to adjust it, and stare at Fabian as she fiddled.
She was repositioning the strap and observing as Fabian and the Sword concluded their conversation. Each clapped the other’s shoulder. They exchanged hearty laughs and the Sword departed in the direction of the encampment.
Two young men talking and slapping each other playfully wouldn’t be noteworthy, but it occurred at “Feed the World” with a Sword. Swords rarely fraternized with the people, not even Council members. They had a difficult role in the community and everybody understood it was best accomplished if they were apart from those they watched over, sleeping, eating, and washing in their own compound set off from the main cabins and the gathering pavilion. Iam knew many of the People harbored a deep, unspoken fear of them, though everybody understood Swords were present to protect the People and to enforce the doctrines of Universal One and the divine word of Pater, and not to harm them. She also knew many more pitied them, for Swords, burdened with their unique duties, could not fully partake of “Feed the World’s” joys, the praise sessions, sharing of treats, enjoyment of group meals, and the fulfilling work of raising food for the encampment, for sale in support of Universal One, and, eventually, for distribution to the poor of the nation and the world who desperately clamored for it. “They beg, they plead, they implore with their tears, with their distended bellies, with their starving young held up to me in my dreams, so close, so close I smell the stink of their impending deaths,” declaimed Pater, when he saw they wearied. “And I cry for them, my People. I bawl like a newborn over their suffering, and not just for them, but because it is in our power to relieve their agony by working, my People, by working longer and harder, by staving off our enemies long enough to complete our mission on earth, before He calls us home. It is there, my People, where we will rest for eternity. We work to feed the world and earn our eternal peace.”
Repositioning the strap, pulling the weeds, wiping sweat from her brow, Iam took these trials as her contribution to the fulfillment of Pater’s promise. “My Anointed People,” Pater proclaimed, after the People trudged in from their day in the fields to their meager meal, “your labor is hard, and each droplet of your sweat enriches the earth, the People’s own sweet soil; each is glorious praise of the Father, not empty Sunday words, not tired platitudes, not outright lies; yours is sincere, loving, physical glorification that flies from your fingertips to give life to His great earth; and He hears and feels you, my People; He hears you loud and clear, He thrills at your every touch as if you are caressing Him; and He tells me to thank you, to thank you, to thank you, His Anointed People; and that very soon, through your labor, through His good graces, through the guidance of His Chosen Delegate on earth; through these the earth will yield up its riches; and this bounty we, everyone of us, will deposit directly into the yearning, clamoring mouths of the neglected and starving poor of the world.”
Each time Pater exhorted them, the Anointed would sing hosannas to him, and he, the benevolent, loving leader Iam knew him to be, would raise his hands up, up to the home of his Father, and into the microphone, conducted by the loudspeakers throughout the land of the One, he would sing in his mellifluous, entrancing voice, “All praise to Him, to Him, to Him!”
Just the thought of such performances had her wishing she could straighten her back, toss up her roughened hands, and shout praise to a father who would grant the world such a son as Pater. She yearned to dance like an unbound Pentecostal, like a tent convert, like a backwoods mystic, all jumbled in her mind as a single mass of hallelujah-screaming believers with her in the middle. She ached to stomp with joy under the crystal blue sky, so like Pater’s mesmerizing eyes she could feel them upon her, so like she imagined God’s eyes gazing upon her efforts with unrestricted love; she burst to shout, “Praise to Pater. Praise to you, Lord. Praise to the work you bestow upon us.”
Instead of yielding to her desire, though, she looked to her work, and looked to Fabian, who also sacrificed to the task of producing a miracle for God.
Fabian’s difference from the other single men of “Feed the World” had attracted her to him. As a Council member, she read about his background and his introspective, metaphysical self-reports. He was Canadian, Paul Mackenzie—”Mr. Smith goes to Raisin City,” she teased; he smiled, twinkled was how she saw his expression in the dusk under the tree, and replied, “Of all the Mackenzies in the Canada, you found me.” He was born and raised in Toronto, educated as an agriculturalist at the University of Saskatchewan, who had been in a graduate agriculture program, plant pathology, at the University of California, Davis, when Pater sought expert advise on growing crops for sustenance, cash, and donations. Fabian was a seeker of a cause, of meaning, of a life with purpose, and of God, and God’s plan for him. He discovered the answers and the life he sought in Pater, The Church of the Universal One, and, especially, in “Feed the World.” It wasn’t long before he joined the Church, dropped out of the graduate program, and took up residence in the encampment; he renounced his other-world name and assumed the more fitting name of Fabian, and became Pater’s chief of agriculture, though no titles existed in the Church, and the position was purely de facto. Fabian advised but also worked in the fields like everybody else in the true egalitarian ideal of the One.
Iam knew more of Fabian than what appeared in his dossier; she knew him in a manner forbidden by the laws of the Church; she knew him intimately; she knew him in the very fields they cultivated; it was passion in spite of consequences.
It began innocently during her second tour at “Feed the World” on her first day in the fields. Frustrating herself with failed assaults on weeds that refused to yield to her hoe, she didn’t hear him approach her from behind. She jumped when he spoke.
“Pater is right asking everyone to work in the soil.”
Her heart beat wildly when she turned and saw him, tall, lean, bronzed, his hair bleached blond, his face shaved smooth as the Church required, his eyes the brothers of God’s and Pater’s, smiling at her efforts.
“‘Everyone dirties their hands to cleanse their souls,'” he quoted Pater, reaching for her hoe.
It sounded liked something else to her, something powerful, something strong enough to stir her soul, something she desired.
“My hands are certainly dirty, but I don’t know about my soul. I don’t seem to be making much progress here.”
“If Pater asked me to work in the office like you do, I don’t think I’d make much progress either. But, fortunately, he understands how we can best contribute, and what we need to strengthen ourselves for the Lord’s mission. I am here to help and teach. Let me show you.”
He demonstrated the proper technique. He watched her. She made mistakes. He wrapped his arms around her and placed his hands over hers on the hoe. By the end of the day, she cleared weeds with the best of the workers. Returning to the encampment, he walked with her and complimented her.
“Pater is right about you,” he said.
“He talked to you about me?” she said, surprised. When Pater spoke privately to you about another, he always ended with the command to hold the conversation secret. If he discovered you breached his confidence, a punishment followed.
“Not in words, Marcella, in deeds. You must have special qualities. You’re on the Council.”
“Now I’m a field hand.”
“Something wrong with field hands?”
“No, I didn’t mean it that way. I just meant I’m anything but special.”
“It’ll make you a better leader. You’ll know what we all do, what the purpose of the mission is. You are special, and after a few weeks with us, you’ll be more special.”
“You don’t like working in the fields with me?”
She was tempted to say she loved it. “I guess I’m not very good at saying what I mean today.”
“You don’t have to. I can see what you mean.”
“Tell me what it is.”
“You’re in love with your work,” he said at her doorway.
Fabian walked her back to her cabin each night for a week and she did say what she meant, and, finally, was able to say the best part of the day was its end with him next to her.
“Do you have a Council meeting tonight?” he asked a few days later, as the crews returned to the encampment.
“We don’t meet on Saturday nights. Pater wants us to mingle among the people. ‘Listen, learn, report.’ Of course, we listen, learn, report all the time, but Saturday everyone is relaxed. We have the band, the singing and dancing. We hear more.”
“Come with me tonight and listen, learn.”
In the twilight, he guided her across the fields to a western windbreak.
“The Swords,” she cautioned, as he gestured for her to sit under a tree.
“You know as well as I do, Marcella, they patrol closer to the encampment on Saturdays. But maybe you’d like to go back.”
“No,” she said, lying under the tree. “No, I like it here better.”
Words were unnecessary and would have been as encumbering as the clothing they shed. They made love savagely, like pagans, she thought, like creations free of rules, of prying eyes, wordless animals that still communicated by licking, pawing, nudging, grunting, and howling. Santos hombres, she heard solo Ricky rattling deep within in her. Aye, ¡santos hombres … si tan solo me hubieras dicho, habrías ganado una fortuna para mí, mi amor!
At his braying, she clamped a hand over Fabian’s mouth and shushed him. He licked her palm, her arm, her neck, her breasts, fell at her side, and nuzzled her ear.
“You taste delicious,” he whispered.
“I bet I do,” she giggled, embarrassed by her foulness.
“Moist, salty, and fragrant. It’s the taste and perfume of hard work. It’s what I love, Marcella.”
That was a month ago and they’d been secreting themselves in the windbreaks every Saturday since, and would again tonight. After the first time, Iam slept restlessly, worried someone, an ambitious Sword, a member taking a break from the festivities, or someone returning from the toilets, would spy them entering the encampment late. But the next day everything proceeded normally, and did so each Saturday following.
Now, in anticipation of the night, watching Fabian, passion, not detection, preoccupied her.
When the Sword had shuffled a considerable distance from them, Fabian came to her, his face distorted in an exaggerated attempt at pouting disappointment.
“What, I’m doing something wrong?”
“A message from Osma. She says you’re to go to the cabin immediately. Pater has called a special meeting of the Council.”
Fabian gilded his face in extreme shock.
“You know what I mean.”
“I do,” he said, like a mooning groom, and she wanted to crown him with her hoe.
“I’d better go, or she’ll be quizzing me about why I took so long. Osma can be as suspicious as Pater.”
Iam went directly to the cabin without a thought to her condition. She wasn’t ever the type to dwell on her appearance, but she always, at the least, showered before meeting someone or attending a function, until “Feed the World.” The showers were communal by sex. Women showered in the morning, men at night. The exception was when Pater summoned her to his cabin; there she used his private shower and the cosmetics he kept for her, Osma, and a handful of others whom he dubbed the Vestal Virgins, young women, girls younger than she, with appropriate names, Arva, Lotta, Nessa. She, nor Osma she suspected, were supposed to know about the youngest ones, but she did; even before the night of the Trinity; they left traces of themselves in the bathroom.
Iam had barely closed the door when Osma said, “You are so obvious, Marcella.”
“Obvious. About what?”
“You really believe we wouldn’t discover your Saturday night betrayal? Especially you, Marcella, a Council member, head of the Countervailing Committee, and a Resurrection Receptacle.”
“Osma,” she said, “I’m sorry.”
“No. You will be sorry. I sacrificed for you, Marcella. I gave part of him up to you. I did it for him, because he wanted you, because he said you were like insurance that would carry him on, because the end is coming, is almost here. No. You will be sorry. Pater consulted me on your punishment, Marcella, and I told him, I said, ‘Pater, I love the little warrior as you do and her pain will be my pain, but even so, you should send her to Hell.”
“It’s done, Marcella. You’re going to Hell.”
“Not Fabian, too?”
“This is why you are condemned to Hell. Fabian. Fabian is lucky Pater values him. Fabian will answer for his sin in front of the People with you, and write a self-report. He’ll torment himself writing it—yes, I’ve read every one of his reports, just like you—and that will satisfy Pater. Outside. They’re waiting.”
Iam opened the door on Fabian flanked by robed Swords. Two other Swords seized her and, with her group leading and Osma in the rear, the sinners and the righteous marched into the pavilion already overflowing with the People, murmuring, speculating, expectant like thirsting plebian spectators. Pater perched on his lawn chair draped in his robes, his expression benign, until he saw the phalanx processing to the foot the of picnic table stage.
“My People, attention,” he bellowed into the microphone in his hand, “your attention, please. First, my deepest apologies for delaying the music. I assure you, my industrious People, you will have your entertainment tonight. Tonight, my People, it is a double bill. It’s like the old days of cinema, my People, the days of the double feature. First the serious dramatic film and second the gay party movie. And what a melodrama we have for you this evening. It’s the best, my People. It is turns on disgusting carnal lust and abysmal fornication. And see, here are the players, the Fornicators. Bring them forth, Swords. I present The Fornicator, played by Fabian. Take your bow, Fornicator. Piteous. What a timid doffing to the assembled. Please, deeper, deeper, deeper.”
As Pater spurred them, the People instinctively chanted in the right places. “Fornicators” rolled through the crowd and off the lips of all, including the children. “Deeper” rocked the pavilion roof to the extent a few gazed up to ensure themselves it wasn’t coming down upon them.
“Excellent. Now for the distaff player, the Fornicatee, shall we call her? Beautiful, isn’t she? Jezebel was beautiful, too, and Salome and Delilah, and all the whores of Sodom. And she is the great whore of Babylon, is she not? Does the Fornicatee not come to us with a history of … oh, I wish to describe her sin in all its ugliness, but I can’t, my People, I can’t offend you further. I will simply say she can’t keep her legs together. She is a Whore Against the Cause. You whore, you great, great WHORE.”
The chant went up and carried on and Pater allowed the word spoken by hundreds thousands of times to whip Iam with its five barbs, flaying her until a Sword had to support her.
Pater stood and raised his hands to quiet the spectators, who now were rabid for blood. He smiled down upon them. “My People, I appreciate your sentiments. Here are two members who have enjoyed privileges. Why? Because your Pater is a fallible incarnation. He placed his trust in them, and they betrayed him. But no more of this,” he cried, his face shiny with tears; “it hurts too much.” He clawed his face, as if ripping off a mask, and instantly presented a bright countenance. “No more delay. We have an evening of celebration ahead of us. I have asked our heavenly kitchen brigade to prepare extra treats for us tonight. From the fruit of our land they bring us cookies and sweet corn bread with raisins. I have requested our band to play louder, rousing tunes for our delight. I’ve implored our tuneful sisters to dig deep into their soprano reservoirs and get us jumping with their liveliest renditions. I’ve requested these things of them because you have earned them with your hard work and your undeviating devotion to your Pater and our mutual cause, and because this unsavory proceeding has delayed our Saturday festivities. And for one more reason involving the Fornicators. So they might hear how the good People, the Special People, the Anointed People enjoy themselves. Not wallowing in the mud like rutting animals. Not like Sodomites defying the word of God. Not like sacrilegious sinners who spit in the face of God’s Chosen Delegate on earth. No, but like good, obedient followers of the true word, in pure play. We can have fun, and our fun is Clean Fun.”
And the chant of Clean Fun went up and it served to lacerate Iam further, and Fabian too.
The Swords released him and he stepped from the group.
“You disappointed me, Fabian. However, you are a man and Jezebels and whores have led men astray for eons, since God put them on the earth to test our fortitude. Since this is your first offense, we ask you to write a detailed report of your sin. Be explicit. You will remain in your cabin at your task for one day. You will read your report to the assembled People with the chastened whore at your side, when she returns from her punishment. Swords, remove him to his cabin.”
Pater and the People, their eyes on her, remained silent until the Swords returned from their duty. For these several moments, Iam felt the minds of the People weighing upon her, judging and condemning her.
“Whore, for I cannot address you by your name, you have so offended us. Whore it will be, until you are again purified and in the good graces of the Church. Forward, Whore.”
The Sword pushed Iam in front of the makeshift stage, at the feet of Osma and the other Council members, who cast their eyes down; except for Osma, who stared at her, her lips curled almost imperceptibly in a sneer.
“I will speak no more of your sin, it wounds me to that extent. Nor will I further insult the ears of my People with your sin, for they deserve better than you. To expiate your sin, you will spend a day and a night in the Hell you created.”
At his reference to her part in creating the chamber, delivered by Pater in a mocking lilt, she winced.
“Hopefully, a taste of your eternal destiny if you remain a whore will redeem you. After your release, you will return to your cabin, where you will write a detailed report of your sin. Compose it well in your solitude. You will present it to the People at the side of the one you corrupted.”
Assuming him finished, the Swords reached for Iam.
“Swords, please, stay, for there is more. Whore, you will be stripped. You will serve your time in Hell naked as you entered the world and as you will depart it, and as you will burn in the real Hell if you fail to thoroughly repent your sin. You will not wear the simple dress of the People until you have completed your reporting and the People agree to forgive you and accept you back into the fold. Now, Whore, remove your clothing and reveal what a temptress your are to the gathered.”
In silence, with hundreds of eyes searing her, with tears flushing the grime of the day from her cheeks and evaporating on the heat of her embarrassment, she slowly removed her clothing, to stand hunched, small and naked.
“Swords, remove the whore, and we will pray God will return us our Marcella reborn in faith.”
Iam bowed under the judgmental glare of the People, as the Swords seized her arms.
Pater roared a thunderous laugh. “Now my people, away with the glumness. Strike up the band and let us enjoy some of our good, Clean Fun.”
Leaving under her guard, she heard the band begin, and turned to spy Pater rise and wave to the People; see him sway to the first measure of the music; see Osma leap from the bench, raise her hands, clap, dance with joy, and stare intently at her, into her, with the vicious pleasure enjoyed at defeating a rival.
They’d built the chamber at Iam’s suggestion, and they located it near the encampment, also upon her advice. Months earlier, after the lands were purchased and Pater and the Council were laying out the “Feed the World” encampment, Pater requested suggestions on new and cunning methods of enforcing discipline on chronically under-zealous members. Iam and the other Council members understood his meaning perfectly. These were members who had sudden changes of heart and tried to flee the Church. They were members who doubted and, worse, the gravest of sins, transferred their uncertainty to others. They were members who, for whatever reason, a misspoken word, an effrontery of improper deference, or some otherwise trivial irritation but that it occurred at a bad time, offended Pater.
Council members seemed at a loss. After all, they had at their disposal Righteous Wrath, the Great Silence, Baby Talk (some called it the Idiot Treatment), extended bathroom cleaning duties, the Longest Day (know also as the 24-Hour Drill), and, of course, the surefire standbys, the public indictment, the detailed self-report, and the public reading. Then Iam, Marcella, the mighty little warrior, recalled a movie she’d seen. Or it might have been Sammy who saw it, since it was a war movie and he enjoyed them. It was about war prisoners who cooperatively built a railroad bridge for the Japanese, but not until their leader spent time in a metal box in the hot jungle sun. She described it as a small hut heated by the sun, a natural oven. Pater blurted, “Hell on earth.” And, thus, Iam birthed her own hell.
Pater rewarded Iam by allowing her to supervise the construction of the chamber. She directed it built a third in the earth of corrugated metal fastened to log poles, panels on the outside and mates on the inside, and the same doubling for the roof. The entry was a small door through which sinners scooted on their rears. The interior allowed for sitting only, with legs drawn up to the chest and head lowered. The position began as uncomfortable and progressed to excruciating as time passed and unused muscles cramped. At night, it was cold. In the day, it was stifling. In addition, the metal amplified the sounds outside of all the encampment inhabitants. It was punishment that tortured every sense. Pater declared it delightful, and it was but a day old when it accommodated its first sinner.
At the entrance, a Sword unlatched the door while the other held her, as if she was in a condition to escape, as if there was anywhere she could escape to.
Oversized Masterlock, rustproof, pickproof, bulletproof; she remembered the advertising on the blister pack when she purchased it at a True Value in Fresno; foolproof, she thought when she paid for it.
She backed in on her rear and pulled her legs up, rested her chin on her knees, and shivered in the chill, and in the stink of those before her, as a Sword locked the door. She sat. She suppressed her gagging. She heard the music. Next she heard the silence. Then she heard the scratching against the metal walls, and the clicking of small feet on the roof; and next she sensed she was not alone in the pitch blackness, and her bottom, legs, and arms tingled as things crawled on them, and they burned as those things pinched and bit her. It was then she began to scream and pound on the metal and tear at herself and cry until she was hoarse and worn, and she whimpered like a lost soul in an asylum, in a room, in a corner, the center of another existence that whirled around her. And finally it was daytime, and deep gray replaced the black, the rising heat drove away the chill, soaring until she baked in the box. At last, it was Hell and her mumbling transformed into soft pleading and prayers for forgiveness, mantras of cleanliness though she hunkered in her own waste; she pledged to sin no more, to be true to Pater, to be pure forever, to serve her purpose, to be his faithful mighty little warrior, to deliver up to him a son, to present to him the Resurrection Vessel decreed to him by God.
And when the Swords dragged her from Hell, Iam continued to moan, “Forgive me, Pater, I will be pure to create a pure vessel for God. Forgive me, Pater, I will be pure to create a pure vessel for God. Forgive me, Pater, I will be pure to create a pure vessel for God.” c/w
COMING NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, JUNE 1, 2015: CHAPTER 16: RECEPTACLES AND VESSELS