In the Confessional

“Bless me father for I have sinned”

A silhouette of the sign of the cross, her breath puffs out the thin curtain that divides us in the confessional.

“It’s been a long time since my last confession.” She draws in her breath. I lean back in my chair and close my eyes. I wait for her to begin.

“I have had impure thoughts, Father. I have lusted after a man and I have acted on these impulses.”

There is a pause. “Go on, my child.”

She had come to replace the panes on the stained glass window that got smashed in the storm. I could see her up there on the ladder, the sun’s fading light coming through the window ­ St Paul on the road to Damascus splashed on her face in coloured reflections. I saw the flesh of her taut belly as she stretched up and her T-shirt pulled up out of her jeans. I remember being surprised by the tiny gold cross that was pierced through her navel.

“I still feel the fire of his kiss on my lips. I can still feel his hands on me.”

She had tasted like the peppermint gum she offered me. Oh God, it had been so long… so long since I moved together with someone like that. How had I maintained my self-control for so long? And then she came along and taught me how to breathe again.

I was also in T-shirt and jeans and when her hand met with the bare skin on my arm as I helped her down from the ladder; every nerve within me tingled. She had looked at me then and I knew that the same sensation had travelled through her body. I smiled, tried to look professional.

It was getting dark and I offered to drive her home. She didn’t answer. She only raised herself up on her toes and kissed me. As she did so I could smell the sweat drying on her body, the peppermint from the gum.

I can smell her now. That intimate essence of a woman drifts over me and I am ashamed that my body betrays its nature. I stiffen. I can taste the sweat on her belly where I had licked her, caught that navel ring between my teeth. My hands seem to have a memory of their own on which the shape of her breasts are imprinted. Here is the place on my palms where her nipples were pressed against me. I raise a hand to my mouth and lick that spot, remembering the gentleness then the roughness of my mouth against her. Her hands on me, the way she shuddered and the look on her face when she came straddled over me…

So many questions rose up within me. I had for the first time, begun to despise my chosen vocation.

The thin membrane that separates us doesn’t hold back the flood of emotions mingled with memories I have. God, I am not a eunuch!

“Are there any other sins you wish to confess?”

“No, Father.”

“As penance say two Our Fathers and one Hail Mary. Now make an act of contrition.” I listen as she says the prayer and I give her the final blessing.

“Thank you, Father.” I hear the discreet click of the door as she leaves.

I feel like a hypocrite sitting there in the confessional. I know that Wednesdays are usually quiet. I glance at my watch. Fifteen minutes of confession hour left. No one will miss me if I leave. I say a quick prayer and remove the purple stole from around my neck and go.

I can smell the remnants of incense and wax as I emerge into the quiet church. I feel watched by the icons, the images of Christ crucified, the Blessed Virgin, St Joseph. I feel ashamed and turn my gaze from them to the pews in the church.

She is sitting two rows away from the confessional ­ the only person in the church. As I walk past her, she looks up at me.

It’s not Her. I smile and sigh, balling the stole tightly in my hands. A feeling of emptiness follows me into the sacristy where I go to prepare for mass, as it has every day for the last year since the stained glass windows had been replaced.

Copyright © 1999 by TD Fallon. All rights reserved.

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