It is so hot in the confessional, the collar around my throat is tight, and I find my breathing is more laboured. I detest this little tomb, full of the sins of the people who would seek to be excused.
They say forgiveness is divine and that forgiving yourself is most difficult of all. In my experience, few who seek forgiveness rarely seek it for themselves; but rather for a selfish desire to feel justified in their actions.
My evening is spent here in this stuffy, claustrophobic closet. It smells like sweat and vaguely of incense from the censer. It is far too hot. The white hot collar; I have a great urge to rip it off and throw it to the floor. Locked away from view, a screen separates me from the flock. Who would know, aside from me? I pass hours in this tomb, I scratch at my dry throat, trying to loosen the noose around my neck.
I hear her slide into the empty vessel next to mine. I recognise the scent of her; a cross between expensive perfume and alcohol. I know who this is, before she speaks a word. I can picture her clearly in my mind. She sniffles and speaks in a shaky voice.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned…it has been three days…”
I realise now she is crying; sobbing I imagine, into the greying-white handkerchief she carries with her. She must be holding it to her face, her sobs are muffled. I know her story well yet I sit in silence; I wait for her to speak. I cannot leave this stuffy coffin of a confessional until she seeks forgiveness.
“I have sinned. I betrayed my husband you see? Well you would see. You must see everything. It is an old story isn’t it?” I heard her sigh. “I imagine God hears that a lot but I have a chance to make things right.”
She pauses this time and makes no sound. I wonder if she will continue. The words are difficult…her thoughts aren’t going in one direction, they are jumping. The tight feeling in my throat continues. A glass of water, anything would help. I will her to finish so I can leave.
“I don’t know why I went to him. I don’t remember. I don’t suppose it matters now. My husband isn’t the romantic type…he is fond of the drink too you know. But it’s my fault he gets angry. I really shouldn’t push him.” Another sniffle. “Dear Lord, help me!” she moans in a low voice, the chair creaks as she leans back against it.
I know too well the love she has for the drink; this woman was a wanton creature. Young and Junoesque, she took advantage of many men, the clergy were well aware of her and her husband. Without them we would scarcely have confession.
“If I’d known my husband would find out…if I’d known what he would do…I would never, ever, have let it go that far. But it is my fault you see? I begged him to. I wanted him even though I knew I shouldn’t, so it really was my fault.”
I nodded mutely, knowing full well she cannot see. It wouldn’t matter. If she didn’t hurry, I was certain I would pass out from the heat in this place. The woman rushed on.
“My husband was furious! I’d never seen him in such a rage; my neighbours gave me looks for days. I couldn’t hide the bruises on my face at all. My eye…it shone, like in the cartoons?” She giggled and it caught in her throat turning quickly into a sob. This poor creature, she really had no control. “My fault though. He told me so. And he killed that poor man with his bare hands! My husband actually took the breath out of him”.
I sat rigidly. This was a confession to murder? I know full well I can do nothing, this is meant to be sacred; I was only the channel for them to receive God’s Grace. Whatever this woman said was between her and God. I could see her silhouette through the screen, rocking back and forth. She repeated her words like a mantra that would save her soul. “My fault! He told me it was my fault; he killed that man for touching me”. She suddenly stopped, her hands flew up to the screen that separated us, desperately hoping to cling to something, anything.
“But you see; I can undo the betrayal. He told me I can undo it all if I protect him. All I have to do is protect him. I don’t tell anyone you see? If I keep his secret, then I’m safe. You must see that?” Her hands slid down and she took a deep breath.
I sit rooted to my chair, my legs cannot move. Still so hot; she has to hurry. This collar had to come off…it’s starting to chafe my skin; I can feel it like a burning brand on my flesh. Please…please finish. Ask for your penance and I can take my leave.
“You see I called him, I asked him to meet me. He was meant to meet me here, this is such a lovely place, and it was safe. What’s safer than a church? I did it for my marriage you see.” Another pause. “Yes. My Marriage. Divorce can’t be forgiven can it? Oh I suppose murder can’t either but that blood is on my husband’s hands you see? He did the killing, my hands are clean, my only sin was the adultery and I paid my penance already. Yes, much better this way. Now my marriage is safe.”
She adjusted herself in the chair again; I heard the rubbing of fabric and the wood creaking. “Yes, that is how it is I’m afraid. I don’t need forgiveness. I know he’ll understand, I told him my husband would always come first. I committed a sin of the flesh with him and nothing more”.
It sounds like she has finished. But she doesn’t want forgiveness…I don’t understand. She needs to be forgiven or I cannot leave…
“Silly though isn’t it?” she said quietly “Confessing to an empty box?”
The door to the sinner’s freedom opened. She stepped out from the confessional. The church is empty; it’s late outside though. She must have crossed the police tape to get in there. The police line blocks my own exit in a large coloured cross – fitting for a priest I suppose. I watch through the slats in my door, I see her shape move away. I remember her curves and her flesh burning under my hands. I remember her calling me, begging to meet me here. Now I burn in my pyre.
She was not the only one who had committed sin.
Too hot…the collar is choking me like his hands were choking me, pushing my collar into my throat until my breath has gone.
But I can’t leave until she asks for forgiveness.