The slide was shot to suddenly. The penitent came out. He was next. He stood up in terror and walked blindly into the box.
At last it had come. He knelt in the silent gloom and raised his eyes to the white crucifix suspended above him. God could see that he was sorry. He would tell all his sins. His confession would be long, long. Everybody in the chapel would know then what a sinner he had been. Let them know. It was true. But God had promised to forgive him if he was sorry. He was sorry. He clasped his hands and raised them towards the white form, praying with his darkened eyes, praying with all his trembling body, swaying his head to and fro like a lost creature, praying with whimpering lips.
—Sorry! Sorry! O sorry!
The slide clicked back and his heart bounded in his breast. The face of an old priest was at the grating, averted from him, leaning upon a hand. He made the sign of the cross and prayed of the priest to bless him for he had sinned. Then, bowing his head, he repeated the Confiteor in fright. At the words my most grievous fault he ceased, breathless.
—How long is it since your last confession, my child?
—A long time, father.
—A month, my child?
—Three months, my child?
—Eight months, father.
He had begun. The priest asked:
—And what do you remember since that time?
He began to confess his sins: masses missed, prayers not said, lies.
—Anything else, my child?
Sins of anger, envy of others, gluttony, vanity, disobedience.
—Anything else, my child?
There was no help. He murmured:
—I… committed sins of impurity, father.
The priest did not turn his head.
—With yourself, my child?
—And… with others.
—With women, my child?
—Were they married women, my child?
He did not know. His sins trickled from his lips, one by one, trickled in shameful drops from his soul, festering and oozing like a sore, a squalid stream of vice. The last sins oozed forth, sluggish, filthy. There was no more to tell. He bowed his head, overcome.
The priest was silent. Then he asked:
—How old are you, my child?
The priest passed his hand several times over his face. Then, resting his forehead against his hand, he leaned towards the grating and, with eyes still averted, spoke slowly. His voice was weary and old.
—You are very young, my child, he said, and let me implore of you to give up that sin. It is a terrible sin. It kills the body and it kills the soul. It is the cause of many crimes and misfortunes. Give it up, my child, for God’s sake. It is dishonourable and unmanly. You cannot know where that wretched habit will lead you or where it will come against you. As long as you commit that sin, my poor child, you will never be worth one farthing to God. Pray to our mother Mary to help you. She will help you, my child. Pray to Our Blessed Lady when that sin comes into your mind. I am sure you will do that, will you not? You repent of all those sins. I am sure you do. And you will promise God now that by His holy grace you will never offend Him any more by that wicked sin. You will make that solemn promise to God, will you not?
The old and weary voice fell like sweet rain upon his quaking parching heart. How sweet and sad!
—Do so, my poor child. The devil has led you astray. Drive him back to hell when he tempts you to dishonour your body in that way—the foul spirit who hates Our Lord. Promise God now that you will give up that sin, that wretched wretched sin.
Blinded by his tears and by the light of God’s mercifulness he bent his head and heard the grave words of absolution spoken and saw the priest’s hand raised above him in token of forgiveness.
—God bless you, my child. Pray for me.
He knelt to say his penance, praying in a corner of the dark nave; and his prayers ascended to heaven from his purified heart like perfume streaming upwards from a heart of white rose.
The muddy streets were gay. He strode homeward, conscious of an invisible grace pervading and making light his limbs. In spite of all he had done it. He had confessed and God had pardoned him. His soul was made fair and holy once more, holy and happy.
Category Archives: Fiction
The slide was shot to suddenly. The penitent came out. He was next. He stood up in terror and walked blindly into the box.
“Number from one to five.” The Pigman started getting a little bit of the old gleam back. “This is going to tell you what kind of a person you are.” He drew a diagram on a piece of paper and laid it in front of us. I thought he had completely flipped.
“I’m going to tell you a murder story, and your job is just to listen.” When he drew the skull and wrote “ASSASSIN,” John perked up a little.
“There is a river with a bridge over it, and a WIFE and her HUSBAND live in a house on one side. The WIFE has a LOVER who lives on the other side of the river, and the only way to get from one side of the river to the other is to walk across the bridge or to ask the BOATMAN to take you.
“One day the HUSBAND tells his WIFE that he has to be gone all night to handle some business in a faraway town. The WIFE pleads with him to take her with him because she knows if he doesn’t she will be unfaithful to him. The HUSBAND absolutely refuses to take her because she will only be in the way of his important business.
“So the HUSBAND goes alone. When he is gone, the WIFE goes over the bridge and stays with her LOVER. The night passes, and dawn is almost up when the WIFE leaves because she must get back to her own house before her HUSBAND gets home. She starts to cross the bridge but sees an ASSASSIN waiting for her on the other side, and she knows if she tries to cross, he will murder her. In terror, she runs up the side of the river and asks the BOATMAN to take her across the river, but he wants fifty cents. She has no money, so he refuses to take her.
“The wife runs back to the LOVER’s house and explains to him what her predicament is and asks him for fifty cents to pay the BOATMAN. The LOVER refuses, telling her it’s her own fault for getting into the situation.
As dawn comes up the WIFE is nearly out of her mind and decides to dash across the bridge. When she comes face to face with the ASSASSIN, he takes out a large knife and stabs her until she is dead.”
“So what?” John asked.
“Now I want you to write down on the paper I gave you the names of the characters in the order in which you think they were most responsible for the WIFE’s death. Just list WIFE, HUSBAND, LOVER, ASSASSIN, and BOATMAN in the order you think they are most guilty.”
Mr. Pignati had to explain the whole story over to me again because it was too complicated to get the first time, but I ended up listing the guilty in this order:
1. BOATMAN, 2. HUSBAND, 3. WIFE, 4. LOVER, 5. ASSASSIN.
John listed them in this order:
1. BOATMAN, 2. LOVER, 3.ASSASSIN, 4. WIFE, 5. HUSBAND.
“So what?” John repeated.
Mr. Pignati started laughing when he looked at our lists. “You both picked the BOATMAN as the one who is most guilty in the death of the woman. Each of the characters is a symbol for something, and you have betrayed what is most important to you in life.”
Then he wrote down what the different characters represented.
wife = fun
husband = love
lover = sex
assassin = money
boatman = magic
“Because you picked the BOATMAN as being most guilty, that means you’re both most interested in MAGIC,” he said.
“I’m glad I picked the boatman,” I said, blushing a little.
The order in which John liked things in the world was supposed to be magic, sex, money, fun, and love. The order in which I was supposed to prefer these qualities was magic, love, fun, sex, and money. I thought that was sort of accurate, if you ask me. So John and I laughed a lot for the Pigman, making him think we thought the game was two tons of fun. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t two tons of fun. But he always had to do something to try to top us. The longer he knew us, the more of a kid he became. It was cute in a way.
I walked into the room and onto the point of a blade.
I went down as if I’d been dropped, already rolling, and caught him across the shins. The unfinished thrust took him forward. He fell, twisting. We came up facing each other. It was the man with the scarred face. He had his back to the door, harur-nilgiri still in his hand. Unarmed, I fell automatically into the ready position, as if this were a practice bout.
He cut. Incredibly fast. I swayed, let it slide past me. Balance. Too slow. The sleeve of my shirt snagged, the cloth turning red like blotting paper soaking up ink. Adrenalin pounding. Watch the eyes, the eyes and not the blade!
Grey light. Stars. No chance to turn and grab the stunner lying in the cell’s far corner. Silver light sliding on metal. The cautious sighting for a skewering thrust. He’s angry. I’m unarmed. I’ve dodged his cuts and slashes: yes, he’s angry. Good. And I move right –
Metal skids across brickwork. Panic: no! but it’s all I can do to back off safely. Out of reach. How long before I’m cornered: not long. Now: the feint, the circling, eye and eye. The ferocity of the dance.
I can’t get close and throw him. No chance, not one-handed.
(Concentrate: ignore the raw pain there.) He’s stronger than I am, can’t hold him.
And the razor-edged thrust –
Caught between two walls, cornered. And if I knock his arm aside, the return cut will take me just between the ribs, blunt and hollow-sounding as a butcher’s cleaver; and I can’t hold him.
Not fear: certainty. You fucked it up, Christie.
Coming for me quick, no place to move to, can’t move; taking me high in the chest, is it, or the throat, or –
So I came forward and saw the surprise on his face. Left-handed, not blocking the thrust but catching his wrist, pulling him forward.
The blade slid over my shoulder.
Still gripping his wrist, and the point slammed into the wall. There was a sharp sound clear in the air that – except for hurried breathing – was silent. Ugly: a snapping sound. His hand still tangled in the grip. A moment of numb stillness, neither of us believes this.
He shook his hand free of the guard, dropped the blade, and slammed through the door. Anger took over: utter, cold, and certain. Total: destroying all training and thought. So that I had the door open and was running down the passage, yelling, no, screaming with hate; the stunner in my hand and no recollection of picking it up. Running and firing left-handed, but the corridor twisted: I couldn’t get a line on him.
He kicked another door shut in my face, and I swung it open – a dead-end room, trapped him. But someone hung on my arm and shouted, then I was freed and someone caught me a tremendous clout across the head.
‘Christie, stop! Stop!’
I stood still, shaking, frightened at myself. I hadn’t expected to tap such reserves of fear and fury. Careless, I thought. Jesus Christ, use your brains, can’t you!
Fear and fury: the time I was beaten up when I was a kid, the time I was followed home by a gang of youths, hugging the street-lit centre of a dark road. The child’s fear, and the woman’s. And the same snarling reflex: you touch me and I’ll fucking kill you!
“I don’t offer those at two pounds,” he declared, holding up a cabbage in both hands. “I don’t offer ‘em for one pound, not even fifty pence.”
“No, I’ll give ‘em away for twenty pence,” whispered Becky under her breath.
“No, I’ll give ‘em away for twenty pence,” shouted Charlie at the top of his voice.
“You do realise,” said Becky as they crept back out of the market, “that Charlie’s grandfather carried on to the ripe old age of eighty-three and died only a few feet from where his Lordship is standing now.”
“He’s come a long way since then,” said Cathy, as she raised her hand to hail a taxi.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Becky replied, “Only about a couple of miles – as the crow flies.”
Everything else she told without reticence, even the disaster of her wedding night.
She recounted how her friends had instructed her to get her husband drunk in bed until he passed out, to feign more embarrassment than she really felt so he’d turn out the light, to give herself a drastic douche of alum water to fake virginity, and to stain the sheet with Mercurochrome so she could display it the following day in her bridal courtyard. Her bawds hadn’t counted on two things: Bayardo San Roman’s exceptional resistance as a drinker, and the pure decency that Angela Vicario carried hidden inside the stolidity her mother had imposed. “I didn’t do any of what they told me,” she said, “because the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was all something dirty that shouldn’t be done to anybody, much less to the poor man who had the bad luck to marry me.” So she let herself get undressed openly in the lighted bedroom, safe now from all the acquired fears that had ruined her life. “It was very easy,” she told me, “because I’d made up my mind to die.”
The little speakers of my stereo were all arranged round the room, on ceiling, walls, floor, so, lying on my bed slooshying the music, I was like netted and meshed in the orchestra. Now what I fancied first tonight was this new violin concerto by the American Geoffrey Plautus, played by
Odysseus Choerilos with the Macon (Georgia) Philharmonic, so I slid it from where it was neatly filed and switched on and waited.
Then, brothers, it came. Oh, bliss, bliss and heaven. I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds.
Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflamed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders. And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk around my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers.
Simmering down, the bovine audience turned, once more, their moons to the sun’s rays of the cinema screen. O’Flattery glanced for a second at his neighbour, the altercation with the attendant having at last broken in on his concentration. He found to his horrified amazement that he was looking into the uneasy orbs of the Office caretaker, which gazed back into his with the sloppy devotion of a pet dog. Not knowing what to do, he smiled involuntarily and was more than surprised to feel a gentle pressure against his leg from the hot thigh next to his. So disgusted was he that he instantly dismissed such a thought, telling himself as he looked fixedly at the screen that he must have been mistaken.
O’Flattery was once more lost in the complexities of the film’s action, caught up in the tension of suspense which permeated the black and white shadow drama which continued to unweave. He moved his legs, as far as he dared, towards the other side of his seat, until the man on that side in his turn gave him a suspicious look. Then he concentrated wholeheartedly on the film. Mrs Macklin oozed seduction, putting all her feminity into her glowing looks, her artful nudges and the sly squeezings of her person against her reluctant neighbour, whose attention, despite the gripping nature of the film, was soon forced to switch once more to flesh and blood human movement, rather than flat photographic images.
Emboldened by the dark, the furtive harpy laid a fat hand upon O’Flattery’s knee. Its effect could not have been more electrifying if she had placed a red hot branding iron upon her prey. He leapt from his seat and careered with flailing limbs down the row, up the aisle and out of the cinema as if a fiend was after him.