Dad’s D-34

The church would eventually be remodelled and much of the ornamentation–the scrolls on the support columns, the gilded altar, and the elaborate ironwork on the lectern and communion rail–would be stripped away to reveal the original limestone and wood; but pre-vatican, the ornamentation in the church remained, including on the confessional box–its purple curtains, miniature pires atop the frame, and Latin phrases painted above the door to the priest’s entrance.

Johnny entered when the previous confessor exited the left side of the box.  He knelt in the dark curtained space and folded his hands in the steeple configuration Sister Valentine had taught him four years before.  Then, he unfolded them and laid them on the ledge that bordered the screen through which he would confess his sins.  As he was running through his head the sins he would confess, the sliding panel that separated him from the priest slid open.

“Bless me father for I have sinned,” Johnny began. “My last confession was one month ago.”

From the other side of the screen, the priest said, “May God the Father of all mercies help you make a good Confession.  You may begin.”

“I have disobeyed my parents, said things that weren’t true, and locked my sister in the attic.”

“Perhaps you could tell me how many times you have committed those sins, and pay particular attention to the sin regarding your sister.”

Johnny paused.  He always hated having to put a number on his sins.  It made him feel as if he should have been more attentive as he sinned–that he should have kept count and written the ongoing tally down.  “I probably disobeyed my parents about 300 times.”

“That seems like  high number,” the priest said.  “Given a 30-day month, that would mean you disobeyed your parents 10 times a day.  Does that seem reasonable?”

“Three hundred is a ball-park figure.  I’m just estimating.  It may have been less.”

“While the number itself, my son, isn’t what’s important, it would be useful to have some sense of the scale of your disobedience.”

“I didn’t want to estimate too low.  I thought that might be a sin all by itself.”

“Let’s move on to your failure to tell the truth.  Do you think that was a daily occurrence?”

“Absolutely.  I lie like a mad man sometimes, even when I don’t have to.”

“Is it ever necessary to lie?”

“Sometimes.  I mean,  when Sister Justus asked me once if she looked like she was born yesterday, she did kind of look that way to me.  I can’t explain why; she just looked like maybe she had been born yesterday even though I knew she hadn’t.”

“Why did she ask you if you thought she’d been born yesterday?”

“I told her that the monsters in the attic had torn up my homework.”

“There’s actually two lies in that statement, aren’t there?  Not only that you had done your homework to begin but that there are monsters in your attic?”

Johnny didn’t answer right away.  Instead he refolded his hands into a steeple.  “I’m kind of on the fence about the monsters.”

“How do you mean, ‘on the fence’?”

“That’s what my dad says when he’s not sure about something.”

“I know the meaning of the phrase:  what I’m asking is if you believe there are monsters in the attic of your house?”

“I used to be convinced that there and that they came out whenever the door was closed.  Now I realize that it’s silly to think that–at least that monsters hang out in house attics; but, sometimes, usually at night, I’m not totally sure that there isn’t something in the attic.  That’s why I decided to close the attic door while my sister was up there looking through boxes for a doll that Mom had put away.  I figured if there was anything behind that closed door, Janie would see it.”

“I see,” the priest said.  “What did your sister say when you re-opened the door?”

“That’s the interesting part,” Johnny said.





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