“Is that Father?” she asks herself, as she leans close to the wall to listen. She could hear a loud crack, like the sound of a whip, followed by a cry of pain and then silence. Suddenly, the wall moved in front of her and she nearly fell through. Catching herself, she stared into the secret room, her mouth open in shock.
He was kneeling as if in prayer, his shirt tossed on the ground, his hair hanging damp with sweat before his closed eyes. In his hand he held a flogger. As she watched, he raised it up and struck his back hard with it, raising welts and leaving blood. He cried out and uttered something that sounded like a prayer in German. She covered her mouth to stop from screaming. She wanted to hide, afraid she had disturbed some sort of ritual.
The Father buried his head in his hands as he her scent came to him, so vividly that it was almost as if she were there. He lashed out again, angry at his human failing.
Karissa gasped in horror; her eyes filled with tears as she watched him. “Stop! What are you doing to yourself?” she yelled.
Startled, he looked up, too weak to stand. “You… can’t…. be…. here….” he said slowly.
“Why are you doing this?” She knelt beside him, looking into his eyes.
He looked away from her, embarrassed. “I must… I must drive these thoughts away. I must. The pain is my penance and my salvation.”
“If this is what God is all about then i don’t want anything to do with him. How could he want you to hurt yourself like this?” she cried.
“It is what I need. I can’t just… I must stop – before I go too far”
“This is not for your eyes, woman,” he said sternly, trying to send her away. The priest tossed the flogger to the side. Grasping the kneeler, he pushed himself up slowly, unsteady on his feet, and reached for his shirt.
“We need to get medicine on those so they don’t get infected,” she told him.
“I’m fine,” he argued.
“No, you’re not.”
“You shouldn’t be here. This is not for your eyes.” He turned, stumbling, towards the stairs.
Karissa clenched her fist, “From what i can see, it shouldn’t have been for anyones eyes.”
“Scripture says, when you pray, close and lock the door, and the God who hears in secret will answer you.”
“Well, I am not a nun, but from what I could see, that was not praying.”
“There are many ways to pray, Karissa.”
“Beating yourself with a whip? That is praying?”
“Tell me, has anyone ever beat you for your indiscretions?” the priest asked her.
She lowered her eyes, her jaw tense, and shrugged.
He frowned. “How is it better for someone else to beat you for what you do wrong, than for me to beat the sin out of myself?”
Karissa looked up at him. “What could you have possibly done wrong to deserve that? Your back is a bloody mess.”
His jaw tightened. “I know my sins,” he said curtly, then turned towards the stairs again, leaning heavily on the railing to pull himself up.
“Fine,” she screamed. “If that is the way you feel! We should be beat to get the sins out of us?” She turns around and picked up the whip and lashed at her own body, half screaming as it crossed her back.
“No!” he yelled at her, turning and rushing to her side. He seized the whip, yanking it out of her hand and throwing it angrily at the wall. “You have done nothing wrong!” he yelled.
Karissa screamed out and fell to her knees, “I haven’t? I make my living screwing drunk sailors, Is that not a sin, Father?”
“Karissa.” He said her name in a whisper as he grasped her arms and raised her back to standing. “Karissa.” He closed his eyes and touched his head to hers. “I’m sorry.”
“You have done nothing to deserve what you did to yourself,” she whispered softly.
“Yes, I have,” he said. “I have wanted you. I can’t do that. I have a vow.”
Karissa swallowed hard as she realized. “You were doing all of this because of me?”: Her body shook, her knees threatening to buckle.
He gripped her tightly. “I can’t have you. You know i can’t.”
She cried against his chest. “I don’t want to cause you pain.”
“The pain doesn’t come from you, but from inside me,” he told her. “You are always a source of pleasure.”
She looked up with tears falling down her cheeks. “You did that because you kissed me last night?” She tried to make sense of it all.
“It’s not that i kissed you, but that I wanted to do so much more than kiss.” He lowered his eyes, guilty.
Karissa hesitated, thinking, then said, ” We need to get medicine on your back, her voice suddenly cold, her heart beating fast and hard inside her chest.
He nodded, the hardness in her voice hitting him in the chest. He turned back to the stairs, feeling his heart sinking, trying to keep his head clear, his eyes focused.