A Fictional Little Ditty on Wrath
by Daniel D. Maurer
*Note from Dan: This piece first ran on my good friend Paul Silva's website for his podcast "Buzzkill." That website has since been replaced with his previous blog he had shut down, but then brought back up, "Message in a Bottle." Anyway, the short story you see below was part of a series called, "Seven Spins on Seven Sins." The "sin" Paul assigned to me was wrath. He said I could do anything, so I wrote what brings me the most joy . . . FICTION! Hope you enjoy reading this one. - DDM
The confessional was a typical oaken eight-and-a-half foot high two-for with one side for the penitent and the other for the confessor. A satin red curtain hung on the right side, filling an open cutout window above a little half-door. More function than form, the curtain did its job by concealing the priest’s listening post.
The left side had a full, proper door with miniscule slats carved in its center, which only allowed the person awaiting confession to ascertain whether the penitential space was occupied or not. The woodworker had opted to convey a more staid, stoic impression with the entire piece of religious furniture, a style that in Father Perry’s opinion did not match the ornate granite sanctuary of St. Goodwin’s Catholic Church.
Father Perry did not enjoy confession. How many times would he be obliged to hear of petty lusts, of stolen candy bars from the Woolworth on the corner of Central Avenue, or of failures to pray in times of need?
A person’s soul unquestionably stained from birth took more forgiveness than a simple household polish of Hail Marys or Our Fathers could ever achieve. Father Perry remembered his time in seminary polishing the refectory’s floors with Johnson’s Glo-Coat and the inevitability that hundreds of seminarians’ dirty rubber overshoes would—once again—require a further application of polish. The chemical smell from the past crept in Father Perry’s nostrils once more; his heart lightened for a brief moment that the comparison would make a decent sermon illustration. Floor Polish and Sin: The Sisyphean Task of Forgiveness. Yes, he thought.
Still, he believed in grace upon grace. But it all seemed lacking somehow.
The fact was humanity continually engaged in sins with much deeper gravity (and depravity) than those Father Perry dealt with at St. Goodwin’s Parish in Stearns County, Minnesota. The ungodly acts of the Nazis—recently revealed in the Nuremburg Trials—were only one instance. The Communists had the bomb. Society rotted from the inside with husbands striking their wives, and never thinking twice about the act. His fellow priests—some with whom he attended seminary and saw at his quarterly retreats— buggered little boys and stuffed the act away as if no one knew. For goodness sake, even that liar from Wisconsin, McCarthy! None of these sins opened the plain confessional door at St. Goodwin’s to beg forgiveness from Christ’s infinite well of contrition.
What of justice, O Lord? he thought.
There was no justice in a world where selfish cares and motherless sons were in no short supply. Father Perry knew all too well of the latter—his mother had suddenly up and left when he was twelve. Neither his father nor his brothers knew what had happened. Only that one day . . . she was gone without a trace. It was difficult enough tending a farm in rural Minnesota during wartime—back in ’15, they called it the Great War—without a mother to tend the home, he saw firsthand what pain her absence caused his father and brothers. Him too.
No, there ain’t no justice on the Great Plains. Not with me, Father Perry thought, brooding. The title to a chapter of a book he’d just read came to mind. It was from O.E. Rølvagg’s opus magnum, Giants in the Earth, about immigrant farmers. The chapter’s title seemed fitting, not only for farmers trying to make ends meet, but also for his pointless situation in a dinky parish in the middle of nowhere: The Great Plains Drinks the Blood of Christian Men and Is Satisfied.
Father Perry dealt with the dearth of significance and lack of justice the way he always did . . .
He got lit as a Christmas tree on the 24th.
It began with excess wine destined for the Sacrament of the Table. The altar guild never seemed to take inventory anyway. Soon, however, the wine ceased to do the job. A good thing he wasn’t serving a parish in the dirty thirties, too. In the fifties, scotch whiskey was easy (and legal) enough to obtain anonymously in St. Cloud, a larger town to the north. With a simple drive with the parish car on Fridays, Father Perry could set aside enough for one week. Modern convenience, he thought.
Father Perry glanced at his wristwatch. It said 9:30pm. No one had yet come to Saturday night confession and he was bored, even in his inebriation. He glanced around the inside of the confessional and wondered what his predecessors had done to pass the time. Maybe some jerked it. Father Arnold, maybe. The dirty bastard, he thought. In any event, he thought that some probably had been more pious than he was. Perhaps prayer wasn’t a stranger to this late nineteenth-century cabinet-of-overly-personal-divulgence. He could hope so, anyway.
Father Perry didn’t have time to mull the thought any further, because he heard the side door of the sanctuary open with its instantly recognizable metallic squeak. Then, the unmistakable whunk of the door’s closing.
Alrighty then, he thought, another customer to appease. Briefly, he made a quick bet with himself: lusting husband or little daughter who won’t do her chores? He opted for the husband. The footfalls were too heavy.
He adjusted his black horned-rim glasses on his face and grabbed the bottom of the satin curtain. The curtain bit had two purposes: one was to really adjust it, since the left side always seemed to creep to the center. The other was to let the penitent know that the confessional, indeed, was occupied and ready.
The shoes striking the granite floor echoed in the sanctuary not unlike a horse’s hooves slowly processing in a giant cave. The whisky-induced haze transformed the echo for Father Perry—the clomp clomp clomping he felt as much in his skull as it was coming from the outside.
He raised his hand, covered his mouth and attempted to sniff the air in the tight space. But his attempt to determine whether the liquor had permeated the area inside was unsuccessful. Besides, he was too snookered already and didn’t care. At least his hands weren’t shaking, the whiskey made sure of that.
He then realized that the footfalls had ceased. Perhaps a parishioner had come by only to light a candle and say a prayer. Father Perry resisted the temptation to peek around the curtain—what if someone were looking?
But then the footfalls resumed. They got closer. Ever steady and rhythmic, Father Perry had to prepare himself. Although, in reality, he had done so many confessions he could probably recite the needed liturgy in his sleep.
The confessional door opened, and a man wearing a fedora stepped inside, closed the door, and sat on the little wooden bench attached to the back wall of the confessional. And . . .?
The man sat there. The confessional was dark to begin with. And the black metal screen separating the penitent from confessor made it nearly impossible to determine the identity (other than the gender and age) of the person sitting opposite to him.
Soon as he speaks, I’ll know anyhow. Okay, Mister. Keep your silence for now.
Father Perry knew his congregants well. Despite his tendency to nip from the silver flask he kept in his suit coat pocket, he did care about them and had a knack for names.
But the man kept sitting. And breathing. Each breath came through his nose. Bizarre, too. The air would rush in through his nose slowly, then exhale in a soft whoosh. The brief worry that the man’s breathing was maybe his attempt to discover whether his priest had been drinking Father Perry soon put aside. No, he thought, he’s in . . . contemplation. Let him be, Nathaniel.
Then the man spoke. To Father Perry’s surprise, he did not recognize the voice.
A traveller seeking forgiveness? he thought.
“Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been . . . many years,” the man spoke, then paused. Father Perry wondered if he was going to break down, but the man continued without emotion, “. . . since my last confession.”
Another pause. For Christssake get on with it, buddy. A nervous twitch entered Father Perry’s arm.
“My sins are many. Too many to recite all at once.”
Oh, Dear God . . . another crazy! Perry thought.
“So I will begin with the most dire,” the man said.
“Yes. My son, continue . . .” Father Perry replied. Although his interest was slightly piqued, his annoyance was only held back by the booze in his gut.
The man continued, “I have committed a murder. Long ago.”
Holy Jesus! Father Perry began to wish he wasn’t so drunk. The uncertainty made his skin crawl and the seriousness of the man’s confession shot adrenaline through his veins. He shifted in his seat, sat up straight, and felt the haze in his brain clear, although only slightly.
He said, “Yes. Please continue . . .”
“I wanted to come to you to give you this . . . gift. Because only you can properly forgive me, Father Perry.”
Nathaniel realized that the man knew who he was. What was he playing at?!
The man said, “In 1915,” the date sent a zap of electricity through Father Perry’s spine. Continuing, he said, “I was still young man. An . . . impressionable young man.”
Father Perry could bear it no more. “Who are you!?” he blurted.
The man ignored him and continued, “Your father hired me for the harvest. The threshing. It was fall. Do you remember?”
Struggling to dig into his memory, but only sloshing through a whiskey fog, Nathaniel Perry couldn’t recall. For God’s sake, he was only twelve back then!
“Your mother—I believe her name was Francis, like the Saint. Don’t you think that’s a strange name for a woman, Nathaniel? The Saint is a man. Your mother was a woman.” Father Perry’s hands began to shake. He was too involved to notice. He fixed on the man’s voice.
“Let me continue. Your mother Francis made an advance to me, don’t you know,” the man was clearly taunting. “She was older, yes. But her hair was the color of the spring wheat your father had me harvest. And she smiled. She and I were lovers. No, wait . . . that’s not correct. We were fuckers. We fucked, Nathaniel.”
“You goddamn son of bitch . . .”
“Oh? Really, now. That’s not a very polite response from a priest in a confessional. I’m making a confession. You’ll hear me out, Father Perry.”
Nathaniel felt a righteous rage and a thousand-nights’ motherless sorrow build like an erupting volcano from deep in his gut.
“Well. Your mother got . . . tiresome. So I killed her. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.”
Time drew out like taffy stretched at the carnival at the Stearns County Fair. Seconds seemed like minutes.
Nathaniel stood and exploded through the metal screen separating this penitent one from himself.
He thought he heard the man laugh as he landed on top of him. The metal screen fell to the floor of the confessional and Father Perry’s eyes protested with wide hatred. A wrath to burn a million false gods entered his arms as he reached to seek justice for his mother upon the man’s throat.
But it was too late. The man had planned it. He’d planned it all. Nathaniel felt the blade of a knife enter his chest. It felt weird, as if his body were warm butter set out on a counter and the man simply pushed his finger into him.
“You’re . . . killing. Me.”
The man replied, “My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you, whom I should love above all things . . .” A final insult? To recite the liturgy of penance? Father Perry thought.
Nathaniel’s wrath shot another surge of strength into his arms, but he couldn’t reach the man’s throat. He had overpowered his last-ditch attempt at avenging his mother’s death by pressing the blade further into his chest.
“There . . . ain’t . . . no justice,” Father Nathaniel Perry managed to eke out.
The man gave a soft smile. “No there ain’t. Not in this life,” he said.
About the Writer
Daniel D. Maurer is an award-winning author and freelance writer. He serves as chief wumpus and head goat herder for the fantabulous blog, Transformation is Real. Daniel openly lives in recovery from addiction and depression and lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota.