Fred Masters hurriedly signed the blue check his pen darting frantically. In anticipation his head turned toward the soon to arrive collection plate. The shiny golden plate was being passed hand to hand by the congregants. The contorting of his body caused pain in the lower back of Fred Master as the pew was hard and unforgiving. His hands ripped out the blue paper along the perforated edges. In one fluid motion the man folded the check in two concealing the writing.
The metal plate approached closer as the organ sounded out a sixteenth century dirge. Nobody sang along though the priest had directed the congregation to the proper page where the lyrics had been translated from the dead language of Latin. Eagerly the Masters’ hand was about to deposit the check when another hand darted out restraining his. Fred was familiar with the touch; it was his wife’s hand.
The Masters’ eyes met his lady’s as she gave him a quizzical look. The woman’s hand squeezed her husbands at first soft but then the grip turned painful. The Master was familiar with the dreadful ritual and relented handing the blue check to his lady. She in turn opened the paper to examine the contents of the offering. The grotesque look on her face revealed all that was on her mind, but to make no doubt in the matter she harshly spoke, “We can do better than we are!”
Fred Masters’ hand retrieved the check and tossed it into the plate and then past the plate on. He would have hell to pay later of that he was certain. Meanwhile the lady in the presence of the church restrained her true feelings. After all there were rules to be followed in this so called house of god and speaking one’s mind was forbidden.
Both Fred and his lady were aggravated. The lady was upset that her husband would put such little money in the offering plate; after all God had been good to them, the Masters were blessed abundantly. They had two houses a regular one and a vacation house at the shore. Then there was the Mercedes, the Porsche and the Ford Explorer. They needed something to pack all their stuff in when they went to the summer home. Heaven forbid they had to be cramped up in their Porsche. Then there was all her fines clothes and jewelry. ‘Why they had everything that life could offer,’ thought the lady as she sighed verbally, ‘except happiness.’ But joy was God’s work, God would bring that joy. And that more than anything else is why her husband’s twenty dollar check was just not good enough to please the Lord. Why it should at least have been forty dollars!
Fred Masters hated giving money to the priests. Why he had seen those sons of bitches several times at the liquor store. Weren’t they satisfied with the sacrificial wine? Of course on such occasions these ‘men of god’ did not wear their funk outfits and ceremonial robes. No they just looked like ordinary people. The Masters’ mind raced on, ‘those sons of bitches just work one day a week’. He bitterly recalled his parents’ deaths. Fifty years straight the elder Masters gave sacrificially to the church. They were present every Sunday and holy day. And in thanks of a life of loyal dedication Fred Master was handed a sizable bill for the funeral.
So in the house of god, Fred Masters sat next to his wife in silence with a hurting back against a hard and unforgiving pew. Fred noticed that a few people were making their way out of the church and Fred longed to be one of them. But he dare not tempt his wife with that notion of freedom considering her state of mind.
They priest got up to do his thing. He started of about talking about Jesus’ command of Loving one’s neighbor. The priest then went on to explain how the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq were doing just that, loving one’s neighbor. Fred couldn’t follow the logic behind the reasoning, how soldiers, killing people and blowing things up were loving one’s neighbor. But Fred never expected to church to make sense any way. The priest contended that the troops were defending the country’s freedom so that they could have all the nice things that they had. The conclusion of the matter was that we should be grateful to our troops making the supreme sacrifice and the priest led a moving prayer for their safety and success. Then without missing a beat the priest went on to advertise bingo night and a special collection that was going to be held for something. Fred didn’t know what that something was except that it was made clear that is was absolutely necessary and very costly, so the congregation should be prepared to ‘fork up the money’.
While the priest carried on in his antics Fred peered upwards and marveled at the beautiful architecture. In particular how the ceiling arched being supported with massive beams. Then taking his eyes down from the heavens he gaze upon the stain glass windows which glimmered in the sun’s light. Down to Earth he looked over the gold that lined the church. He viewed the statues of saints that people bowed before to make prayers. Fred had a thought, ‘Whoever created this religious business was one shrewd man!’
After saying the final amen for the closing blessing the priests walked out. A young acolyte swung a golden censer which spelled a poignant fragrance into the air. ‘Hope they ain’t molesting that boy!’ thought Fred in his first genuine prayer of the day. Then the masses fled the church, everyone trying to leave as quickly as possible. The Master noted it was the first time the people were smiling during the whole service.
Fred and his wife were doing their best to leave so they could do something useful with the rest of their day. As they shuffled toward the exit the crowd was delayed by the priest who was attempting to shake hands with the faithful. He was calling everybody ‘my son’ or ‘my daughter’. Fred noted that the priest was not related to anybody and most likely didn’t know but a few of the names of the people in the flock. Fred made haste trying to avoid the unpleasant interaction. For some reason the priest extended his hand towards the Master. Repulsed Fred could do nothing but restrain the truth and he shook the hand of the man dressed in black. ‘God bless you my son’ spoke the priest repeating his favorite mantra. Fred noted he was a good ten years older then the priest.
Fred Master gingerly strolled from the church with his wife as they were heading towards where their Mercedes Benz was parked. Fred looked fine and dashing in his handsome blue suit which its jacket had sleeves short enough to show off his Rolex. His companion in turn was looking mighty fine as well. Her hair elegantly made up and make up was applied transforming her looks to a woman ten years younger. Her gold earrings and pearl necklace made a fine combination with her fur coat. The couple turned the corner.
There beside the wall their eyes fell upon a wretch of a man. His tattered green army jacket was not a fashion statement but an authentic one. The obvious fact that the man’s right arm was missing could not be avoided nor missed. The man was slumped against the wall beside him lay a hat with a few scarce coins laying in it. The soldier stuttering in the cold called out the words “spare change, spare change” as he shook spasmodically.
The lady clung closer to the Master. The pair quickly hastened their steps to flee as quickly as possible from the wretch lying on the side walked. A comment was made, “There’s no helping some people!”