This story is by Lance Fulton and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“All crimes are sins, but most sins are not crimes.”
Try as she may, Mina couldn’t wrap her head around the concept. She had done her fair share of bad things, most of which conjured fond memories for her. Then there were the other memories. The small, demeaning Bad Things which one had to do in order to be in a position to pull off the big, fun Bad Things. She tried not to think about these. Thing was, proud or not, she owned these bad deeds, and had committed them with full acceptance of the consequences had she been been caught. But this sin thing…
“You shall not steal.”
The preacher’s voice echoed in the little church house, snapping her out of her reverie. As he sermonized on and on about the perils of taking someone else’s property, Mina couldn’t help but feel that this was a perfect case in point. Ok, so stealing a car would get you locked up for sure, but nobody would look twice if you stole a pack of gum. But according to the man behind the pulpit, stealing the pack of gum was every bit as much a sin as stealing the car. He said it didn’t really matter how big the sin, sin is still sin.
Evidently, sin, regardless of what kind of sin, started in the heart as lust. But not like sex lust. As far as she could tell, sin started in your heart as wanting something you can’t have. You may not know why you can’t have it, but you want it just the same, and you don’t care why you can’t have it. That’s the sin part. When it trickled down to your fingers, it became an action, and maybe a crime. Maybe.
As the preacher read from the Bible, Mina kept track in her head. Crime versus Sin. Hands versus Heart. Lotsa versus in these verses. She snorted a little at her impromptu witticism. The man beside her shot her a little sideways glance. She had almost forgotten he was there. Nobody else seemed to have noticed her little outburst, or if they had, they were far too mannerly to call attention to it. This was the South, after all. Folks had manners out the wazoo.
At any rate, her gentleman friend didn’t seem to mind, judging by the slight grin he was trying to hide. Mina covered her mouth with her fingers as if hiding a grin of her own, her eyelashes fluttering in mock innocence. She unscrewed the cap of a tiny purple bottle of lotion, stowing it beside her, as she massaged a little dollop between her hands. Ostensibly, the moisturizer would make it easier to turn the pages of the Bible in her lap, but in truth, she just loved the subtle lilac fragrance. It also made her hands soft, like velvet, a fact that didn’t go unappreciated by the man beside her. As she put away the bottle, he snaked his hand across his thigh, down to where Mina’s hand was waiting, under her folded shawl, on the pew seat between them.
“You shall not commit adultery.”
This one wasn’t even fair. Of course, sleeping with somebody else’s husband or wife was bad. Still not a crime, but it made sense why that would be a sin. According to the preacher, though, even looking at somebody and thinking about sleeping together, was as great a sin as actually doing the deed. Another example of the old heart/hands dichotomy, it seemed. No wonder most Christians seemed so uptight to her! Even thinking the wrong the could land you in Hell.
Was it a sin to make another person lust after her? She hoped not. It had always been so easy for her. Even back home, when bundled from head to toe against the frigid Baltic winter, Mina seldom wanted for attention. She learned, at an early age, that sex appeal depended less on sexy western clothing, than on state of mind. Don’t look desirable. Be desirable. Of course, short skirts helped, when possible.
She felt Hank’s finger brush up against her outer thigh, again, so she reached under the shawl and poked his leg with something sharp. He flinched a bit, but got the message and withdrew his hand. Hank was a stubborn boy. Of course, Hank wasn’t his name, not that she even knew what his real name was, but she had to call him something. She had known a lot of Hanks over the years. He had introduced himself at lunch after church a couple weeks ago. She was sure he had told her his name then, but she didn’t care enough to remember. He had asked her where she was from. “St. Petersburg,” she drawled in her best Southern accent.
“Florida girl,” he said, nodding. “I knew that accent wasn’t local.”
Was it a sin to let somebody believe a lie, even if you didn’t tell it? She was going to have to work on her accent, at any rate.
Now, Hank, she was pretty sure, was sinning his ass off. Springtime in the modern South, it turned out, allowed for some fairly risqué Sunday finery. She had been sashaying in front of him for weeks, wearing progressively shorter dresses, watching with amusement as he all but salivated over the sight of her slender legs. She didn’t have a handle on the finer points of sin, to be sure, but she felt that what she was doing couldn’t be sin, because it didn’t fit with what the preacher was reading out of the Book of Matthew. She wasn’t lusting after Hank. She didn’t even like him. She just wanted him to want her. And if having to push his hand off her thigh every five minutes, to keep from getting felt up in front of God and everybody, was any indication, Hank wanted her badly. As she readjusted her shawl to better conceal their mutual finger fondling, Mina wondered if Hank was having a similar encounter with his wife, who was sitting to his left side. In her experience, most people didn’t naturally possess the presence of mind to carry out some covert activity while maintaining a believably casual appearance. Not without training, anyway. Hank, to all the world, looked like any other churchgoer in the building. His wife, on the other hand, was as stone-faced as a gargoyle, her face flushed and staring straight forward at nothing in particular.
“You shall not commit murder.”
On the surface, this one was a no-brainer. In just about any society, murder is the worst crime there is. And the taking of any human life was always deemed a tragedy, although some were less tragic than others, at least to Mina’s mind. But then, true to form, the pulpit master threw the curveball. There was, he explained, sometimes a difference between murder, the crime, and murder, the sin. Mina pinched the bridge of her nose. This theme was getting a bit old. Murder, it seemed, unlike other forms of killing, was always motivated by hate, or greed. Lust. Sin. And the kicker was that nobody had to physically die for it to count as murder, the sin kind. Not necessarily. The preacher suggested the scenario of a plane falling from the sky, meaning certain death for its occupants. If you knew where the parachutes were, but didn’t tell anybody, for whatever reason, that, technically, would be murder. The preacher related the parachute to a knowledge of Jesus, which would surely save you from eternal death, if not actual physical death. Mina thought it sounded pretty thin.
As the sermon was winding down, Hank started coughing pretty badly, and started to make his way toward the bathroom. As Mina started filing out of the church with everybody else, she thought about Hank. At this moment, he was in the bathroom, coughing up copious amounts of blood, the tiny poison syringe in the purple bottle having done its work. Yet, she felt no ill will toward the man. Sure, he had tried to put his hand up her dress for the last hour, but she didn’t hate him for trying. She had led him on, certainly , but would never have let it go that far. She was an assassin, after all, not a whore.
Finally making it to the front of the church, she stopped to shake the preacher’s hand. “Wonderful sermon, pastor,” she thought her accent was better this time. “Salve for this sinner’s wounds.”
“Remember, my dear,” said the preacher, “a saint is just a sinner with an exit strategy.”
She couldn’t help but smile as she walked through the doors, into the bright sunshine, “Preach on, Brother.”