Mark Patrick Lynch
At first there was shuffling, scratching, a long moment of silence. And then the voice whispered in the close dark, hesitantly forming words on the other side of the grille.
“I’m sorry, Father. I don’t know how to begin this.”
The priest did his best to stifle a sigh. On top of so much else, was he now expected to guide those without the Faith as well? While he was aware that Sin knew no boundaries and moved freely among men of all creeds, might it not find absolution elsewhere?
He’d foolishly hoped a new parish might present him with some respite from the unending struggle; after all, there were fewer people here than in the grand cities and colonies he’d served during his many years wearing the collar.
Yet it seemed that some great irony was being played, because he was busier now than ever.
He brought hands heavily corded with veins together as if in prayer, and, trying to keep the tiredness and disappointment from his voice, asked his question.
“You’re not a Catholic, then?”
“Lapsed,” came the answer, eventually. “A long time ago.”
Father O’Connor closed his eyes and rested the back of his head against the rear of the confessional. He thought of the many voices that had drifted through similarly patterned grilles beside his cheek over the years. In city after city the lost had come to him, whisperers, sobbers, wailers – all petitioning him for some form of release from their troubles. There never seemed to be a change in the routine.
“But it’s not been so long that you’ve forgotten the confessional?”
“Some things stay with you. I was very young . . .”
“And not been back to the church since?”
“Weddings and funerals, Father.”
Did the priest detect a hint of guilt there? Perhaps. The world, new to him as it was, appeared filled with it. There had been so many funerals of one kind or another, and they had tired him considerably. Outside his confession box, candles burned traces of unfamiliar gases at the altar. Quivering flames hungry with stars of green and yellow and fuchsia in remembrance of those long since passed. They burned while blue autumn leaves pressed against the stained glass windows above, twisted trees attempting to gain admittance, as if in so doing they might be relieved of the ghosts beneath their dying roots. So many dead, thought Father O’Connor. So, so many dead. It was a wonder the world didn’t implode with their weight.
Collecting himself, Father O’Connor blinked in the darkness of his booth and brought his thoughts to the present and this poor man in need of . . . something.