Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: At the Pulpit (11/15/07)
TITLE: Master of Secrets and Lies
By Deborah Hale
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With a face of stone, I endure words of sympathy, nod and smile as the knife of “He was such a good family man” and “He always practiced what he preached” fillets my abraded heart. Once again, I am that invisible child whose pain no one can see.
If I were to render afresh the memories, hidden within the recesses of a stricken mind, a child would I see, alone and afraid, and her father’s face full of life and rage; his bulging eyes, red patches of skin peering through a perfectly trimmed beard, lips that curled in anger as they railed of her sins. With dry eyes she absorbs the blow of his words, daring to defy him, for it was weakness which he sought, the power to break her. But at last she can take no more, for the assault would continue until she let the tears fall. Then his wrath would relent, with one last rage: Now I must perform the work of God!
The eulogy commences, and a man of the cloth speaks of pleasant times past, of mirth and laughter, of a dedicated minister, a faithful husband, a devoted father. But of the Master of secrets and lies….this truth passes not through his lips, for truth can not be spoken at the pulpit lest the hope of the unsaved be scathed. Thus, grieving kith and kin lament the passing of the white sepulture, a man they will never know they never knew.
Once again visions of the child burn behind my eyes, memories I do not wish to bear, as she seeks help and hope from another who made his living at the pulpit. Yet without marks or bruises, her cries are rejected, for how dare she speak ill of such fine a man as her father. And so she is dismissed as a wayward soul, unable to elucidate the terror her father evoked when the eyes of the world could not see.
Long have been the days since that child lost her innocence; long have been the years spent in chosen exile from the world of the holy who gather beneath a steeple. And yet I have returned, after being pursued by One who never stood at a pulpit -- One who promised to rescue all who were driven away by those who had.
As the man of the cloth speaks of victory and the grave, I try to discern behind his mask of polite solemnity mingled with “the believer’s hope”, and wonder, when the collar is removed and the doors of his home are closed to outside eyes, if he too is a Master of secrets and lies.
The casket is closed, the procession to the graveyard aptly somber, and I stiffen as I watch my father’s mistress embrace my mother and offer condolences with a sweet smile etched upon her face. Yet to spare my mother’s heart, I speak not a word, for I too have become Master of secrets and lies: for upon his death, all evidence of their affair died in flame, turned to ash, and scattered in the wind as chaff, disappearing into the bleak nothingness of the night sky.
If there is any grief in my heart, besides that for my mother, it is for the women at the homeless shelter where my father volunteered: those whom he damaged the most. Their scrap paper cards, adorned with crayon drawings of hearts and crosses, depict pictures of the hope he offered them, hope which he shattered with carnal demands to be gratified.
Of this my mother knows, yet still she stood beside him, true to her vows till death did they part. My only condolence will be the day of judgment, when she is lavished with a crown bestowed with precious stones, whilst my father receives a trinket ill-fit for a slave.
As they lower the casket into the grave, I linger behind, watching strangers heap mounds of earth into the dim cavity, and pray my bitterness is buried with him. Smoke from my cigarette furls in a grayish-blue haze, and I wonder if the day will ever come when I am able to trust one who stands at the pulpit.
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