Guilt, Love and
By John Carling
In the distance the craggy blue hills almost merged into the sky, their hard edges softened by the summers heat haze. Nearby a hedgerow smashed colour into the eyes and the flower covered green slope behind almost invited everyone to float up it, onwards towards the infinite depths of a blue heaven.
She sat on a large piece of blue slate with her head bowed paying no attention to the occasional car that zoomed past on the nearby road. Frequently, in the past, tourists had slammed on their breaks at this corner; not because it was sharp but because she often sat on the rock watching the traffic. Everyone, without exception, marvelled at her beauty. Today no one noticed her and she was too preoccupied to look up at the passers-by.
A tear roll down her face as she looked down the picturesque road towards the church. She gave a slight shudder and heaved herself up as if she were made of lead. Turning towards the gates she plodded unwillingly onward, blowing her nose as she went.
Shaking, she forgot the joy and the passion of previous weeks and could only remember the feeling of absolute misery that came over her when Grandma had walked in and shouted in disgust.
She knew she would have to confess her sin to the old priest. There was no possible escape. If she did not mention it Grandma would be sure to speak to him. She knew the conversation would go:
"Excuse me, father, has my granddaughter been to see you recently? Maybe to confession?"
"Well, Mrs Wright, you know quite well that whatever happens in the confessional is between God and the sinner. We should not ever want to enquire about it ourselves should we?"
All the same she knew the priest would stop her before giving absolution and ask "Julia, havent you got something to tell me before you leave?"
She could not get out of this one. There was nothing for it. With tears welling up in her eyes at the injustice of it all she steeled herself and whispered a little prayer as she had been taught ceaselessly since her earliest years. "God help me. Please, please help me." but she doubted if it would do any good.
Two days before there had only been joy. Everything she knew had been beautiful. She had felt that it was impossible to be any happier. Today the world was as ugly and empty of meaning as her own life. If she could have died she would but she did not know how. Her shoulders slumped over and she begged:
"Please, God, please let me die."
As she walked up the pretty church path the old gardener straightened out and marvelled at her beauty. "If only I could kiss her shadow", he thought. He was sure that no one had ever seen anyone more beautiful. After watching her disappear through the door a bird started chirping. He wondered if he was going to die. "This must be like heaven" he decided.
Usually she loved going from the bright hot sun into the cool, dark, peace of the ageless Gothic church. Today she did not notice any of it. Her eyes fixed on her grandmother who was staring towards the altar with her face fixed in what some might have thought was a quiet, almost saintly, gaze at the cross in front of her. Others might have seen the stiffness around the mouth. Julia could not miss it as silently the tears welled up in her eyes again and she slumped down onto her knees next to the old lady. She would have hated the old woman if she had been able but Julia was too gentle even to feel anger. She was defeated. There was a hole of fear where her stomach used to be.
Seeing the girl silently cry the old woman was taken by surprise and decided not to ask her the question she had been preparing. Since entering the church she had been thinking of how to say with the appropriate amount of vitriol: "Have you examined your conscience yet?". She had decided to speak clearly, risking being overheard by the few other people nearer the front of the church, and load the question with as much venom as possible. Instead she breathed in noisily and pretended to be looking at the altar and not to see the girls shuddering shoulders and tear sodden face.
Grandma always went in to confess first. This time she had ordered Julia to examine her conscience outside "so as not to sully the church with your sin". The young girl had arrived at least 15 minutes afterwards. She collapsed next to the old lady and waited in stony silence for what seemed ages but it looked like the old hag was not about to move. Obviously, she was waiting until Julia had confessed. Then she would ask the priest what she should do if she caught a young person committing an unmentionable sin. Almost to prevent the other church goers from seeing her shame and her tears Julia stood up and practically ran for the confessional door. The old woman had to lean back against the pew to allow her to pass. She wondered almost with a pang of fear what people would think if they hard any of the conversation that was sure to take place.
Julia grasped the prayer book she had been given for her first communion in her fist and kept her eyes rigidly fixed on the picture of the virgin set in the middle of the mock mother of pearl cover. "Oh, Mary, please help me." she prayed desperately.
Through her tear obscured eyes she reached for the door. Just before she opened it she remembered the beautiful eyes of her lover almost as if they were with her or even part of her. While she was still shaking she caught her breath and suddenly feeling calmer breathed "Oh, mother Mary, please, please." then she was in the confessional and kneeling down.
"Bless me father for I have sinned. It is one week since my last confession and I accuse myself of the following sins."
She paused, stuck in her thoughts. She remembered all the times she had come with nothing to confess and how worried she had been about what to say. Now, sadly, she mused she did have something to say, something terrible. The miserable old priest might not even forgive her. He might throw her out of the church publicly. If he did not forgive her she might die and go to hell. She remembered almost like a centenarian, looking back to childhood years of lost innocence how, only a month ago, she had been joking with her friends about what they said in confession.
"I have told three lies and sworn twice."
"Were they serious lies, my child?"
"Say three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers.
One girl, Elsie, had varied from the usual formula and told the priest that she had stolen a Kit Kat from the sweet shop. The priest had told her to take it back and apologise to the shopkeeper. Of course Elsie did not but for weeks she had been worried in case the priest told the shopkeeper. The worst thing was, Elsie said, it had been a lie. She could not think of anything she had done wrong and her mother made her go to confession so she felt she had to say something.
One girl had been worried because the priest had told her that there was probably nothing as sinful as an abuse of the sacraments, for example, spitting out the bread at communion or telling lies in confession. Shortly after this another of the children had gone off to the priest and let him know all the stories she had made up to confess. He kept her in the box for half an hour and when she came out she was crying. After that she always looked sad and stopped playing with the other young girls.
"Have you anything to confess?"
The quiet voice shattered the silence like a bomb. Startled Julia let out a gasp. Now she knew that miracles happened. The voice was sweet and kind. It was the new young Curate. He never did confessions on Saturday. Once again she though of the beautiful eyes of her lover and breathed deeply: "Thank you, Mary, thank you".
Afterwards she remembered starting to tell him about the usual three lies but she could not remember what else she had said. She had no idea what he had said to her except that he had invited her to the youth club on the following Wednesday. She had no idea what penance she had been given but she was aware that the clouds were falling back and her heart was lifting, it was almost flying. Soon she felt her heart and soul would take off. She wanted to raise her arms and scream with joy. She had got away with it.
As she walked to the front of the church she had to pass the old lady but to the witches consternation Julia did not give her a second glance. In a strange sort of way the hag felt deflated and, at last, turned her attention to what she was going to say to the priest. She thought of her feelings for the old man and distantly remembered the unbearable yearning she had for him when he first came to the parish. She quickly got up and walked to the box glad she was to be near him even for a few minutes.
Julia knelt down near the sanctuary but she felt like she was floating up towards the church roof. She looked towards the cross on the altar and then to the plaster statue of the virgin. She wanted to say thank you but not to the statue. Somehow it did not seem real. She closed her eyes and those other, beautiful, eyes were in front of her again. This time she remembered how she had rubbed her hand through Dale's hair. How she had first plucked up courage to lean forwards and kiss her. Julia remembered with a thrill how she had first put her hand through the slit in the front of the other girls dress. She had nearly come. She remembered Dales erect nipples as she saw them for the first time and her fat tummy as she kissed it. Reverently she remembered the first time she had kissed her lovers thighs slowly moving upwards.
After ten or fifteen minutes of ecstasy she came back to herself and realised she was in church. "There is no better way I can thank you, God, than to love Dale for you." she thought as she looked across to see her grandmother who was waiting for her to finish her penance.
The old woman was feeling unhappy, the more so because she could not understand her feelings. It was almost as if something had been taken away from her. She put this down to the slight shock she had when she found not the old priest as she expected but the loathed young curate. "If he were not a priest I could say some things about him I can tell you" she would say to anyone who would listen.
The young curate hated hearing confession. Afterwards he never had any idea of what had been said to him. He always worried that he had said the wrong thing to someone or that he had fallen asleep. This time had been different. She had come in. Until now he had only ever seen her out of reach in the congregation. He could just see her face through the grille as the sun shone through the confessional door for just those few minutes in the whole morning. He looked down through the little square hole in the partition where people sometimes passed things through to be blessed. Although they were in shadow he could see her legs.
"They were the most beautiful legs God ever created" he thought. He had a mad desire to put his hand through the hole and touch her but stopped himself just in time and spent the rest of those delicious minutes she was in there looking for ways to say "I love you". He remembered a feeling of complete elation because she was going to come to the youth club on Wednesday but he could not remember anything she had said. He wondered if he had made a fool of himself. He knew he had been nasty to the old lady who walked in after the girl and was very glad she had been the last. Afterwards he had been able to leave the confessional and sit quietly at the back of the church watching the beautiful hair of the young girl as it fell around her neck. He was aware that he had stared at her outrageously as she had walked past him out of the church. He was certain she was the most beautiful girl he had ever loved.
After she had gone he remembered again, with shame, how curt he had been with the old lady and thought he should confess his own sins. He decided not to speak to the old priest, instead he would see his friend who was a curate in the nearby town when he went in next week to get the shopping.
Upstairs the old priest lay on his bed day dreaming of the young curate. Last night he had left his room door open and had been lucky enough to see the young man walk to the bathroom naked. The moon had lit up his slender body beautifully. The priest knew he would have to be tactful and decided to gently stroke the curates hand as he passed him the salt during the forthcoming breakfast. He remembered as he came how his hand had accidentally brushed past the others hair this morning. He wondered how he had resisted the urge to kiss him on the back of his neck and run his hand over the others chest.
Two miles away Dale was crying. She did not know if she was hurt more by the sick injustice of it all or by the pain. As she lay on the sofa blood trickled down her back from the great weals caused by her mothers wild lashing and stained her bra on its way to spoil the sofa. Round her the minister and the others from the chapel stood chanting and praying. As usual, she thought in a detached way, the minister was shouting loudest of all. She had long ago given up listening to his hysterical stories of hell and eternal damnation. Insensible to the pain she remembered how, one day, she had come back from school early and found the minister having sex with her mother although both were so eager they were still fully clothed. Feeling dirty, she had crept out of the house unseen and gone for a walk until it was the usual time to arrive back. When she returned the minister and her mother were praying and they asked her to join them for a last prayer before he left. She remembered how, when her mother had found out that the school had been given a half day she had been quizzed and eventually punished for "the telling of heinous and evil lies" because she would not say where she had been during the missing hours.
She willed the tears to keep coming as she thought of the irony. After Julias grandmother had caught them together Dale had thought it best to tell her mother the truth in case the old hag said anything. Never able to listen her mother and half the rest of their church did not realise who she loved and were now punishing her for sleeping with some man she did not think she had even seen. He had come in with the visiting fair which had left the previous week. She distantly heard her mother saying that she now knew what had happened during the lost half-holiday. She remembered hearing that it had been right and Godly to punish her for her lies. Then she closed her eyes and thought of Julia. The pain disappeared and in front of her Dale could see the others huge pupils becoming even bigger and then she almost felt her hands run over Julias smooth cheeks as she looked at her gorgeous lips before kissing them.
Thank you for reading this and
Please tell me what you think of this story
ŠJohn Carling 1998
By popular demand part two is here
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