The setting is a mid-week afternoon quiet Catholic Church, somewhere in the once farmland suburbs of Central Jersey. The only discernable sound is the hum from dozens of electric votive candles, ones ignited with pocket change to answer the prayers of the fiercest parishioners, splayed before an incongruously blasé and seemingly stoned statue of the Virgin Mary.
A slim blonde woman in a raincoat enters. Her face is obscured by an oversized hat, one perhaps better fitting the heroine of a Blaxploitation flick or a Me-Decade era advert for Virginia Slims cigarettes.
She and her expensive designer pumps tip-tap down the center aisle, then right angle for the sidelines. Once there, she gracefully slips through the velvet curtain of the confessional, all the while white knuckling a battered Blackberry.
Within, on the other side of the privacy partition, sits Father Phil. He’s a late-career priest who’s heard his fair share of sins – a few profoundly disturbing, most inconsequential – from both the reality show housewives and Mafiosi, and their wannabes, who call this big city convenient ‘burb home.
“Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been 10 months since my last confession.”
“I’ve been wondering when you were going to turn up again, Kellyanne,” begins Father Phil. His tone is equal parts sympathetic and sarcastic. And, as he’s known her since she was a wildcat Catholic high school hellion, he’s addressing her by name, totally ignoring the privacy protocol of the sacrament.
“Seems like it’s been a hell of a year for you, huh?”
“Hell, you’ve got that right,” she answers. “Just hoping I don’t end up there for all this.”
The Priest ponders the question, comes to his own conclusion, but says nothing. “So where do you want to begin? It seems like we have an awful lot of ground to cover.”
On the other side of the screen, Kellyanne is silent. From his seat, the padre imagines another hum – that of the woman’s memory banks churning to create an orderly set list for the multitude of sins she will have to sing, to both the priest and, most importantly, his boss above.
“Well, let’s start with an easy one, shall we?” says the Father. “At least, you didn’t kill anyone, right?”
“Jesus… oh sorry Father,” she sputters. “Frankly, I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights over all the hate we’ve unleashed – me, that Bannon character and, of course, the President-Elect. Maligning Mexicans, Muslims, the poor, seniors on Medicare and Social Security, not very Christ-like, huh?”
“No, not really.”
“And Hillary wasn’t looking very good the last time we saw her, on TV, without makeup,” continues Kellyanne. “No matter how bad it got, at least I tried to pull my face together when I was going to be on TV.”
Father Phil says nothing. His mind, however, enjoys a hearty chuckle. It recalls the many times he witnessed his penitent spouting away on cable news, expertly trying to add logic and sense to her employer’s impulsive tweets and school yard insults. With bags under her eyes that could hold enough feed to satisfy a stable of Kentucky thoroughbreds. With flyaway hair worthy of a Silent Era cinema witch. With wild eyes broadcasting a seeming Meth Head rage.
“Ok, change of strategy, you know how that one goes, right?” counters the priest. “I know you love hardball, not the show mind you, so how about going straight to a really tough one?
“Do you have any idea of how many lies you have told since your last confession?”
She knew this one was coming. She had been brainstorming an appropriate answer, the right spin and talking point for months now. Using all her hard earned verbal gymnastics to land upon the magic meme that would somehow soften this, for the priest and the guy above who casts the final ballot. Something snappy and deceptively hypnotizing, something on the order of “Make America Great Again.”
As she grappled for her answer, she began to reflect.
Somewhere along the line, actually years before, her conscious mind seemed to lose the ability to decipher between the truth and lies. Why, she was one of the charter founders of the Fact Free Universe, the Lieocracy we marinate in today. It had made her rich and cable news famous. Yet she was haunted by it when she tried to re-inhabit the body of the good Catholic girl she used to be, every night as she lay herself down to sleep.
“Honestly Father, I’ve lost count – weeks, months, years ago,” she confesses. “Would 10,000 be a good placeholder?”
Kellyanne’s whopper of an answer made Father Phil’s mind go to another of his onetime, badass parishioners, the late Anthony Soprano.
Phil actually saw much more of Soprano’s wife, Carmella, than he ever did the man himself. Her good company, baked ziti and love of classic movies had once led the Priest to the doors of temptation. But that ship had sailed and he’d learned his lesson, recommitting himself to a life of service and celibacy.
Carmella confessed often, but that Tony, he never cracked. Father Frank was certain Tony had broken all the Ten Commandments, often and with vicious, self-satisfied gusto. His confession, which never came before his demise over a plate of fries at Holsten’s Diner, was his Moby-Dick, the one that got away.
“That sounds like a fair number,” concurs the priest. “As a matter of fact, I think we should just call it a day here, make another time to upload the rest of what you have on your conscience.
“As I know you’re a busy woman,” he continues, “why don’t we say 100 Hail Marys and 100 Our Fathers. That’s granted you decide to take the Communications Director gig, of course.” That last line he delivers with a laugh, to end the session on a positive note, with shared levity.
“Thank you very much, Father,” adds Kellyanne. “I don’t know when I’ll be back this way again, but I will come by when I am.”
“You know me and the Lord are here, whenever you need us.”
As her expensive pumps clack off into the distance, Father Phil wearily rubs his temples and thinks to himself…
The Priest is old enough to remember when the toxic stew of racial and class politics, the hellfire of the Modern American electorate divided, was originally served up by Atwater during the Reagan and Daddy Bush years.
Like Kellyanne, Atwater was a well-spoken, kinetic and charming political architect. His devil’s brew was a radical expansion of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.” It was the now standard tune, the original hit that repeatedly and successfully played the have nots against the haves, those with Christian values against the liberal coastal commies, the whites against everyone not. Atwater disguised his war against minorities and the brown poor by strapping on a cherry red Gibson SG to play the blues with B.B. King.
In his final days, as cancer ravaged his too young to die body, Atwater came to terms with his sins, with the loudest confession the political world had witnessed. He wrote letters to many of opposing politicians and innocent civilians he wronged, and apologized to the body politic via a multitude of mea culpa interviews with the likes of Life Magazine for creating a virus of division that burned even brighter as he was at death’s door. Father Phil guessed he was lucky not to have been around for this year’s Presidential contest, where his us vs. them fire grew to 40-alarm proportion.
Not one to doubt the God he had long served, Father Phil couldn’t help but assume the pittance of a penance he dished out to Kellyanne would not do the job.
Father Phil once liked Kellyanne, the young Kellyanne before K Street. But now, he was personally insulted by how she exploited her Catholicism, used it as a personal branding tool, a shield against criticism for the strategic atrocities she committed in the name the most un-Christ-like conman imaginable. It was also beyond him how the evangelicals, leaders and rank and file alike, had lined up to elect such a man.
She would have to do something pretty extreme. No doubt about it.
“She’s gonna have to go Atwater, Full Atwater’” the priest thought to himself.