‘Before I Confess’ by Ian Kent

before i confess

Illustration by Andres Garzon


I confess it again and again. What does it look like to always come back to this same pew, this same church, staring ahead to the altar, but glancing at the confessional door, week after week, confessing the same thing, never changing? Is cyclical forgiveness still forgiveness? The woman beside me just smiled at me. Did I just sin again? At least I think she smiled at me. Her hair is tied up in a bunch at the back of her head, and her hands are resting on her knees. I know her. I’ve met her before—at that singing thing. God, I’m a shitty singer. Did I just sin again? For saying God like that? I went to the singing thing because I don’t know many Catholics, and I want to meet more of them. They were all there after Monday Mass, even the priest, which I wouldn’t have even gone to if I hadn’t had the need to confess right after paying that woman for, God, I don’t want to say it, even think it—it is too difficult to admit even to myself. It was last week, and it was sunny. Sitting on the beach felt good until I got tired. Now, I’m not tired. I’m nervous. I’m not staring at the altar anymore. I’m pretending to stare at the confessional door, but really, I’m staring at her.  I wish she’d let her hair down so that I could touch it. Did I just think that? Do I actually want to touch someone’s hair? Is that my fetish? Should I confess that? God, what does it matter? After what I’ve done, losing all that money in that place simply because she said so, that longer would be better, she’d do everything, but it wasn’t longer, it wasn’t better, it wasn’t everything. We couldn’t even finish because cops surrounded that barren house because someone was abusing some dog. With crack? Was I going to be arrested? Were my desires finally to be chained? I had to leave. I had to get to work. When I went outside that cop said make better life choices and I lied to him saying I just got them McDonalds and he wanted to know about the dog, and I didn’t know and I just left. God, I wanted to kiss her. I even paid her way more just for that, but she wouldn’t let me. She wouldn’t let me. I just want someone who will transact a kiss. Will I ever stop desiring that? Should I confess that never-ending desire? If the sin is every inch of you, do you confess your very being? The sin of inches. I can be funny sometimes. Actually, I can be funny a lot. Even cruel. Too cruel. That’s why I said what I said on the beach; I wanted to be funny. To show how funny I can be. But I ended up being cruel. Their reactions were probably the funniest thing about what happened. No one laughed, except for me and that other guy. Some of them gasped and some of them looked sad and that priest just went on and on about clichés and how they are important. Grounding truths. Cornerstones. She’s looking at me with those eyes, blue like the sky even though it’s raining today, and she laughs. Did she just laugh? It sounded like laughter, and I laugh… because that man from the beach who told that horrendous joke is right beside me staring past my eyes to the confessional door. I remove my hands from my knees and lightly brush my hair bun that I so delicately tied. I stare at the door too. That door is mesmerizing. It’s so polished that it shines. Or glints. There is a thin window at the top of it that tapers into a cone. Neither the Priest nor the confessor are in its view. It’s a soft laugh, so I’m not sure he hears it. I confess that my cheeks are red. They’re whispering. Should I confess that? It’s eavesdropping. That’s a venial sin. The confessional isn’t traditional. You sit right beside the Priest and you look him straight in the eye. Even as a Catholic woman, I’ve never been afraid to look them in the eye. I’ll just tell him the confessional needs better sound proofing. Father Samuel is in today, I think. We met when I hosted that pro-life workshop for the Catholic kids at the high school. His voice was so soft. It charmed me. He wanted me to do more talks. Perhaps even to the adult parishioners. Yes, maybe. Maybe I can do that. Am I nice? My friends say I am. They also say I’m driven. Ambitious. Can kindness and ambition go together? Or do they clash? Should I confess that? Must I always confess it? How many times? Seventy times seven? That sounds tiresome, so I lie to him, my boyfriend, my betrothed, instead. Is the secret a sin? I lie. I don’t love. I don’t. Am I the only one who sins? Have I been staring at that man beside me the whole time? He requested we sing Hallelujah at the beach, and we sang it. I think he liked that. Then that young woman said that cliché “Jesus loves us this much,” and she stretched out her arms as if she was on the cross, “and died.” And then that man who is now beside me on this pew made that joke. God, she didn’t have to say it. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, or if it’s only true on some level. I gripped the sand and groaned when she said it. I shouldn’t have done that. It probably encouraged him to say the joke. On the beach his hair seemed pristine, untouchable. Now among the beauty of the church, the iconography in the window of Jesus crumpled under the cross, his hair is so messy. I bet his house is as messy as his hair. Clothing on the floor. Dirty dishes in the sink. Dust everywhere. A house needs to be kept in order. I have to be comfortable within my living space. He’s cute and his eyes change colour. That’s fascinating, isn’t it? He’s looking at me too. I blink. I’m so tired, and I rub my forehead… like I’m thinking, but I’m not really thinking. I’m a priest and I’m just trying to listen. There’s two others waiting outside in the pews. I’m hidden from them and exposed to this man who confesses to me. I’ve heard this confession before and respond with worthless platitudes and maybe the parishioner feels better, maybe he feels forgiven. Maybe not. I should be hidden from him. It is easier to accept forgiveness from a mysterious voice. Should I renounce my priesthood? Should I confess that? How innocent is that thought? Is that the first time I’ve thought that? I’ve certainly felt it for a long time, but duty breeds you past the feeling. You hope that it’s just a cyclical occurrence of emotion, that it will go away. That you are happy, that you enjoy your work, that you find it fulfilling. Still, how innocent am I? Did someone just scream? I ignore the confessor and open the door. He’s shocked and stumbles over his words. I don’t care. Someone screamed. It’s…what’s her name? She has her hands on her lips. Anne? Anna? No, it’s not that short. But someone called her Anne, I swear. It’s something longer. Anastasia. No, that can’t be it. I’m close though. Oh, and that guy. The jokester. “Jesus only loves you this much?” he scorned after that woman said that wonderful cliché (yes wonderful!) while stretching out his arms maliciously, “That’s not that long. It’s not that far. Only that much love? He only loves you that much?” I understand it’s a tiresome cliché and everyone says it, but did he have to make a joke about the length of God’s stretched out arms? Clichés can be grounding truths that hold us up like a cornerstone. And yet, we still reject it. The image works on so many different levels, and not only plays with length as a mathematical concept, but plays with it metaphysically as well. Length going beyond itself: mathematically metaphysical. So, really, it’s not a cliché. Annalise! There we go. That’s her. She listens. She really listens. Maybe I should tell her. I’ve got to tell someone. I’m not sure I can tell another priest. I’ve told one already. He’s back in the confessional, was just confessing to me, everyone confessing to each other—who forgives? It won’t matter. Even if he hears it and jokes about it, it won’t matter.  Men are usually a bunch of contradictory ideals, and I think he knows that, so he’ll understand. After all, I’m the one who will forgive him. He has no reason not to forgive me. Do I still have that power? If I want to leave, have I already left? Has God already left me? I reach out my hand to Annalise but that malicious jokester beside her on the pew reaches for her hair as if to touch the tips that curl over her forehead. But, he does not touch. His fingers suspend in unbelief. “Oh lord I believe! Help my unbelief.” She grabs his fingers and propels them into the braided bun at the backside of her head. It’s a swirling temple. His fingers scrunch against it and he yelps. Their lips mangle into each other—I wouldn’t call it a kiss, but I’m not sure what I would call it. Should I leave the cloth? It’s a sucking and a crinkling. A nervous chewing. Their lips smother over their teeth then smash into their cheeks and slobber onto their chins. She pets his eyes. It’s grotesque. She screams again. He slides off the pew onto the floor. She makes sure her hair hasn’t fallen loose. Then, she rests her hands on her knees. I cross myself. “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” Holy Ghost? Ghost? Who said that? I turn—


IAN KENT wrote, produced and directed the play “Abattoir Morning” for or; theatre (ortheatre.com). In India, Ian taught Shakespeare to Tibetan artists in exile and edited and contributed to Contact magazine. His poems have been published in Quills Canadian Poetry Magazine, The Prairie Journal, Scrivener Creative Review, Rhubarb and Contemporary Verse 2. His fiction has appeared in The Prairie Journal. His non-fiction has appeared in Rhubarb.

Copyright © 2018 by Ian Kent. All rights reserved.

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