Masks of Morality

By T.L. Mumley All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Mystery

Chapter 21

Caryssa went to confession.

She, who had just told Tyler she didn’t believe confessing to a priest grants God’s forgiveness.

And what a relief that she got her favorite priest, the one with the clever sense of humor. The other priest—Father Thuong—had told the parents he had been given an extra sense of smell from God. He could tell when people had not repented for a long time because to him they smelled worse than leftover fish-bones.

While she was waiting for confession, Caryssa couldn’t help laughing to herself, imagining how a confession to him might begin. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been over twenty years since my last confession, and do I stink?”

During the meeting when Father Thuong had professed his keen sense of smell for all those non-repenting sinners, people in the audience had looked around, as if trying to ferret out the sinners. The woman sitting next to Caryssa gave her a funny look.

“What?” Caryssa asked. “Do I smell? I haven’t been to confession in over two decades!”

They had giggled together, and then Caryssa snapped back to attention hoping the priest didn’t call out their mocking laughter.

After he had claimed to be able to smell sinners who held their sins all to themselves, Father Thuong mentioned that missing one Mass on any Sunday was a grave sin.

“Yes,” he said, pounding the pulpit. “You throw leftover fish bones into the trash right away, right? Why would you hold on to your sins rather than throwing them away too?”

Caryssa snorted. Was this man really chosen to be the Lord’s representative, with permission to lean on all these people like a bad cop? A primary example of how the Catholic Church lays guilt on the guiltless. By now, she was hoping she used a strong antiperspirant. It made her giggle just to think about it. Father Thuong turned and glared at her.

“Oops, she whispered. “Busted.”

If it was a confession he was trying to get out of them, it worked. Off to confession she went, but not to this backward-thinking priest. Instead, she spoke with Father Bart, who was less radical.

On the way home from the meeting, Caryssa laughed some more. Father Bart had told her that her penance was one Hail Mary. She had stalled during her confession. “I… didn’t recycle a few items, let’s see…I skied at a resort that had destroyed a sacred forest, ahhh … I get angry at our politicians declaring war.”

“That’s all?” she had asked, astonished. “One Hail Mary? Are you sure you’re not undervaluing my sins?”

“Yes, that simple,” said the robed and solemn-looking priest. “You might want to say the Act of Contrition as well. But Caryssa, it is human, even humanitarian to get angry at unscrupulous politicians. The Lord had already forgiven you. And you mention you’ve spent a chunk of your life missing Sunday church services. That’s not ideal, of course. But the Lord knows what is in your heart, and that’s what matters. Church attendance is a ritual. It helps people to stay in touch with God and with the community of faith. But it’s not a requirement, at least not in my view.”

Later that night, after Tyler had fallen asleep and George was in the study catching up on some work, Caryssa took a hot bath with lavender bath salts and bubbles. She felt unclean from the inside out after having been bombarded with Father Thuong’s…what was the right word? Hatred? Scorn? She sank into the water and let the feelings of the day melt away.

After a long time, there was no more residue from the priest’s assault, and she felt better. She put on a fresh nighty, pulled her spa robe on and knotted the belt around her waist, slipped into fuzzy slippers and padded out to the kitchen to make some chamomile tea. She carried the steaming tea to her bedroom and set it on her nightstand, fluffed her pillows against the headboard, took off her robe and hung it up. Then lit a candle and slipped into bed with a big sigh of contentment. For good measure, she pressed the button on her CD player for the relaxing nature sounds to play.

Okay … What are we getting Tyler into, exposing him to this religion and having him adopt it? Dear Lord, please help me figure this out.

Was the other priest lying to make more money for the church? It is a grave sin to miss one mass. Too many missed collections? And what would our political leaders smell like to him? Surely with all the wars and back-room deals and financial fraud, they are the ones smelling like the dead fish the priests use as guilt-bait! Religion has always been motivated by politics and power. In the name of God.

Caryssa took a sip of tea. The real sins are against humanity and nature. Nature. It’s the way God communicates with us most clearly, more so than through organized religion.

So when we destroy large resources, when we cut off God’s creation by putting oil pipes along river banks, polluting waters so people can’t fish or enjoy nature, it’s the moral equivalent of tearing pages out of the last Bible on earth.

George came into the bedroom and snuggled up next to her on the outside of the covers. The Bible was turned upside down on her lap.

“Whatcha doing, my little crusader? Brushing up on your Bible verses? Wow. One confession and they’ve turned you into a Saint!”

Caryssa laughed and poked him. “Hush!” This is serious. And you better not mean ‘crusader’ in the Middle Ages sense!”

George laughed and threw up his arms in pretended fear. “No! I’d never! You know how I mean it…I mean you are always on a crusade of some kind or other to improve the world!”

Caryssa sniffed. “That’s better, mister!” she giggled. “No, but seriously, I’m applying my Caryssa analysis thingy to organized religion.”

“Oh no. Tell me you’re not! Organized religion? Look out! Now you’re taking on the big guns! They will never survive your analysis. Goodbye religion! Western Civilization as we know it will dissolve. Only anarchy will be left!” George mocked.

Caryssa poked him with her elbow again, hard. “Shut UP!!!” I’m serious, honey! This is serious!!!”

Chastened, George settled back against the pillows, giving her all his attention. “Sorry honey. I can be serious.” He reached over and kissed her on the cheek. “Here’s me being serious” He put on a temporary frown mask. “Tell me about it.”

Caryssa shot him a look that said: “You better be good.”

Then she began. “Well, I’m seeing the connection of the Roman Catholic Church to the murderous games of the gladiatorial contest in ancient Rome. Today, the same shady political and religious forces that enable things like privatization of medical care and schools also enable the immoral sin of slapping a price tag on human lives for unbridled profits with our perpetual aggressive foreign policy—”

“Honey. Sweetheart. You know I love you. But seriously? You can’t change the world. I wish you would stop over-analyzing everything. It will kill you one day. Or make you crazy. Or both. Besides, you need to get a little perspective here. It’s not like America is the most politically corrupt nation in the world. Look at Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Iraq, and Afghanistan—”

Caryssa cut him off. “See? That’s just it! Whenever we mention countries we consider to be more corrupt than us, we always mention third world countries. We sponsor the extremism in those places you mention. We pay for their weapons and training. And it’s all about the Almighty Dollar! Which goes mainly to the 1%.”

The soft music was playing sounds of waterfalls and the room smelled of fresh cut roses coming off the scented candle. Caryssa was amazed how zen-like they can be without being passive about politics. She lives for an attitude of appreciation and balance. Based in reality.

“Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of American kids in fatigues, obediently guarding the opium and oil fields in Afghanistan for shipments of heroin and oil. And those arms deals. Honey. Don’t you get it?”

“What are you afraid of? You know I have a history of conscientious objection—”

She cut in again “Don’t be so apathetic! It’s all about poppies, pistols and pipelines! Remember Patrice? Remember that time she told us about her friend’s nineteen-year-old daughter?”

George frowned. “Hmmmm….no. Refresh my memory?”

“We were in Boston having dinner at Legal Sea Foods? Remember, we were talking about war and family and kids?

“Oh! Sure. Yeah, yeah, I remember now. Her friend’s daughter, a six-foot model who had been attending Harvard Medical School. She was approached by the University’s ROTC on campus. She signed up and was sent to Afghanistan. She was killed her first week out. The mass media didn’t cover the story at all, even with ’if it bleeds it leads’ angles, blah blah blah.”

“Yes, honey, our youth are cannon fodder. The system is designed that way. Nobody is immune. Something has to be done! Can’t you see that?”

George was silent. He knew he was outmatched with his girl on fire like this. He threw his hands up as in surrender “So…are we to think of her as used and abused by the system more than others? Isn’t this where the populace and president ’honor’ her? What are you getting at?”

“Honey,” Caryssa rolled her eyes. “Of course not if she cheered on the ‘freedom fighters’ and believed it’s about keeping America ‘safe’. If she was not against those human attack dogs called military recruiters on campus. That’s not the point—“

George rolled over and blew out the candle. Then turned the music off.

“Are you trying to tell me something? Like shut up, I want to sleep now?”

No…sorry, I just don’t like the too rosy smell, and want to listen to you more than rain right now.”

“Waterfalls…the nature sounds were birds and waterfalls. Look…I know I can’t fix everything, and I love you for wanting to protect me from the burnout that comes from wanting to change the world. But our social structure is sick… Get this! A popular end-of-year ritual game the faculty administers in some high schools in New York City is called ‘Killer’ or ‘Shoot-Out.’ The school is considered the ‘safety zone’ and the kids strategically seek each other out, ‘assassinate’ each other until there is one man or one team standing. Granted they are using water pistols…but still. They have something called ‘the pie chart of death’ and the students get ‘killing assignments.’ The kids are even judged by teachers. Teachers are ‘looking for some good massacres by the end of the year.’ They arrange things like ‘boyfriend-girlfriend kills.’ Just think about that.”

George started to reach across the bed to touch Caryssa’s arm but had a sense the gesture would be unappreciated right now. He knew his wife well enough to know that she had to complete her rationale or there would be hell to pay. He didn’t know what she was worried about.

“Well?” she went on. “Don’t you find it a little disturbing? That we, as a society, could teach such violent interactions to our next generation? Glorifying massacres! Don’t people see the direct correlation with the horrific shootings in schools or otherwise? Do you not see it?!”

George hesitated before he replied. He hadn’t seen Caryssa this worked up in some time and he didn’t want to hurt her. He stared out into the darkness of the room, searching for the right words…

“Well, of course. I don’t like it one bit. But, Caryssa, I played war as a kid and I turned out okay. I mean, right? Look at me. Am I violent? Not all kids that play violent games will end up violent.”

“I know, honey,” Caryssa rolled over closer to him. The scent of roses and a just blown out candle lingered. She loved that smell, sort of like a campfire. “I know. You’re a good man. Not violent at all. But…but this is bigger than playing war in the woods with sticks back in the fifties. I mean … it’s everywhere now. It’s everywhere we look. Everywhere Tyler looks. And when you factor in technology? Just in terms of video games targeting kids? It scares the shit out of me. It’s like our kids are being trained from day one to be infected with killer voodoo for the power elite. Those who love money more than peace and beauty.”

“Oh, I know,” George replied, reaching for her hand. “But where’s the girl I married? I loved your happy dance! Thing is, we’ll never have everyone on board the peace train, Caryssa. We’ve built a pointless protective shield around our hearts and souls. Politicians build more hate walls. As you’ve said, our fake media is a powerful weapon. Not everyone is as positive and open as you are. And you have the courage to look at all sides of it, instead of burying your head in the sand. You’re unique in that and I’m not suggesting you stop. I just…I just want to protect you when I see how upset you get sometimes.”

“Our fake news and fake terrorism are what stops people from letting go!” Caryssa leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. “You are such a prince, honey. And I am still the girl with the happy dance! That’s just it. I’m too happy to remain silent about the sickness.”

“Then let it completely go.”

“Our monetary system needs to let it go! For our kid’s sake! Oh…I need another bubble bath, this time with a glass of sparkling wine. Wanna join me, or too tired?”

As soon as she got to the words “bubble bath,” George had already read her mind and was heading out to the kitchen to pop some bubbly.

Caryssa smiled to herself, sighed, and leaned back onto the pillows. She knew her husband would take full charge of the evening’s next experience, putting the Prosecco on ice, chilling the glasses. He’d maybe even find some rose petals somewhere to strew around the bedroom. All she had to do was relax and wait for him.

George walked in with two flute glasses of perfectly chilled Prosecco, and handed her one. “For you, my lady. How about a massage?”

Caryssa accepted the glass and put it to her nose. Oh yes! The fruity crisp scent and ambiance! Beautiful. And massage always led to making love, just what the doctor ordered.

“Thank you, love,” she smiled at him.

“No thanks necessary, my lady,” he said, still in character. “You have had a rough day saving the world. It’s time for your reward.”

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