April 16, 2024 Short Story


Con-fession Artwork by DALLE
In seventh grade, the year President Ford pardoned Nixon, Vinny and Lou asked me for help. A request from the baddest kids in school felt like a promotion and came as a test to see if I could hang. So my nerves hummed like a high-voltage line as I stood by the door looking out into the hall while they broke into the science closet.

Saint Marys Catholic school lacked a science room. Instead, they owned a science cart, which got locked in the closet of our homeroom. Vinny and Lou wanted to steal beakers and tubing to make a potpipe. They moved fast. Smoking weed lay two years ahead for me, yet I jumped at the offer, figuring a lookout job couldnt be too hard.

We snuck out different ways during lunch and eased through the homeroom door as Lou learned to pick those locks last year. The closet proved trickier because the double doors sealed tight. Lou and Vinny rattled them, producing a loud, clanging noise that nearly set me running. But cowardice would put me on the outs with no chance of getting back in, so, growing more nervous with each rattle, I stayed at my post.

The closet popped open, and I relaxed as they wheeled the ungainly, over-stuffed cart into the room to rifle through it. Mr. Perlack, our science teacher and supposedly the lunchroom monitor, rounded into the hall, heading right toward his room.  I didnt expect to do anything as a lookout except fret. With responsibility thrust upon me, fear blanked all thoughts from my mind except one - split, so I gripped the side of the door to remain in place. Escalating fantasies of punishment cleared my head enough to shout/whisper into the classroom, Perlack is coming! Perlack is coming!”

The relief from handling my job lasted only a second because the guys couldnt put the cart back in time. Drawers hung open with long rubber tubes blooming out. Litmus paper and chemical jars littered the floor. The bunsen burner slid off a slanted desktop. They had found the desired parts but needed time to close the drawers, roll the awkward thing into a tight spot, and lock the door.

The next time I checked the hall, Perlack was three paces from the door. The responsibility to stall him fell on me, yet I had no clue or time to figure out how. So, I stepped out of the classroom, hoping my fear-frozen mind would save me. Mr. Perlack instantly demanded I explain my presence in his room.”

“I wanted to ask you a question about…” Here, I paused, waiting for a topic, any topic, to emerge, but nothing came. Perlack put his hands on his hips as I sweated. With thoughts of detention boiling my brain and the sound of the science cart bumping the wall, the word orbits” popped out of my mouth.

“Yeah, orbits. The orbit of our planet. If, if, we follow an elliptical orbit around the sun, with one end of the orbit closer to the sun than the other. How come winter happens on the closer end when we are nearer to the sun? Shouldnt it be hotter then?” I asked, with little hope of success, for hed ask how I opened the door. Plus, he knew I understood the earths tilt accounted for the seasons, not our position in the orbital path. Yet he straightened his back into know-it-all mode to explain a subject I aced on the last test.

Spending the extra time well, Lou and Vinny stepped out to join us. Bright anger flashed through Mr. Perlacks face, and his voice rose as he demanded to know why they came from his room. Perlack marched around the classroom, checking his desk, the blackboard, the cloakroom, student desks, and the floor, even glancing up at the ceiling. At the same time, Lou and Vinny shotgunned explanations about the open door, dropping a quarter, needing a pen, and a bet about orbits.

Perlack, still suspicious after checking everything except the locked science closet, ordered us back to the lunchroom. I basked in the guys congratulations until Father Mengi stopped us in the middle of the cafeteria. I figured he wanted Vinny or Lou since they caused most of the trouble in the school, yet to my horror, he directed questions at me.

Did you and two other boys blow up Mrs. Perkinss flowerpots yesterday?”

Of course, I did but refused to admit it because Fatherd want Vinny and Lous names. Yesterdays destruction earned me todays opportunity, so no way Id roll over my new crew on day two.

But lying to the Priest weighed heavy. Lies to my mom, teachers, scoutmaster, and coaches flowed easily, but lying to a Priest put my immortal soul at risk. I faced an impossible situation, choosing between my new friends and eternal damnation, until I realized I didnt know Mrs. Perkins or where she lived. Maybe we blew up her flowerpots; maybe we didnt. We experimented with M-80s, thick red firecrackers with long, green fuses built for the army to simulate artillery. They were so intoxicatingly loud we needed to see what they destroyed. Ceramic flowerpots flew apart, shooting soil satisfyingly high in the air; still, someone else mightve blown up her flowers yesterday.

The possible doubt afforded me the room to say No.” Father Mengi scowled, folding his hands behind his back as he leaned down. The cross around his neck swung at me. 

“Are you sure you and two other boys didnt set off fireworks that destroyed her plants after school yesterday?”

“No, Father, I did not.” Father Mengi pulled himself to his full height and glared down, switching to his confession voice. He used a very particular tone and cadence when serving the holiest of rites. Id served his evening  Saturday mass for two years, and he recently asked me to serve the Easter Vigil Mass with the Bishop. We knew each other well, and Id confessed my sins to the young Priest a dozen times.

Confession allows us to tell God our faults and seek forgiveness. God, through Priests, pardons the penitent. If we honestly perform penance, our acts remain between us and God. Priests cant pass whats shared in the confessional to parents, police, or even a judge. Yet, standing in the middle of the cafeteria, Father Mengi deployed his confessional tone to say, Mrs. Perkins recognized you from Mass. She knows who you are and says you were there. Tell me what happened.”

My hands nearly clasped in prayer his voice affected me so. The confrontation escalated from talking to Father to speaking with God. Father Menji, reading on my face the impact of his approach, added in soothing tones.

“Its all right, son. Tell me the truth.”

I nearly fessed up. Losing the cool Id enjoyed for three minutes would hurt, but what could I do? He used the voice. I had to tell, and I opened my mouth when I realized Father Menji wanted to rat me out to Mrs. Perkins, the Principal, and maybe the cops. Hed break the covenant of confession to use my words against me and knew it. If confronted, hed say, Were not in confession.” And hed be right because he didnt say the words needed to enter the sacrament. He duped me like Coach Foley, claiming to start the best athletes and then playing his son. Or Mr. Bond forcing me to fork over for hitting a homer through his window only to burn his house down for the insurance money. Or the President picking a successor to absolve his crimes. Father exploited his authority to get what he wanted, like every adult.

“No, Father, I wasnt there. Its a shame about Mrs. Perkinss flowers, but I know nothing about what happened.” Terrified of the consequences of lying, I stared in fascination as Father froze. I boxed him in. Going further into the fake confession jeopardized his soul. He played his trump card and lost. He glared in disgust before stalking off.  Relief flooded in until Lou and Vinny stepped close.

“You lied to a priest,” said Lou.

“Id never do it,” Vinny said.

“Youll burn in hell.”

Vinny wouldnt do it? Hed stood up to Sister Mary Teresa, the German Tank. Always in full habit, short, squat with warts on warts, Sister Mary Teresa was a nuns nun. She made kids kneel for an hour on the spot of their transgression. She once dragged me across the floor by my tie. Shed hit us with rulers and sat us in the corner wearing a dunce cap. She rolled over everyone except for Vinny. She chased him around the classroom, unable to quash his defiance, yet he wouldnt lie to a priest?

Lou knew things, like when the library late fee box brimmed with cash. Vinny stole the money, but Lou knew. He taught us to build lighter fluid cannons, and he settled whether you suck in or blow out during a blow job. Good-looking and the best athlete in the class, Lous knowledge went unquestioned, and he thought Id burn in hell?

The astonishment in their voices terrified me. I felt doomed and stood, stunned, as they ambled to the kitchen to snag a second cookie. Lying sealed my fate in hellfire. I saw no reason to go on, except Father Mengi bent the rules of confession to get me in trouble. I lied to him, but he manipulated Gods sacrament to suit himself. How does he get off scot-free? His crime seemed way worse than mine. He needed to burn with me, or maybe he didnt truly represent God. Maybe I was right to lie?

Running to catch up, I pushed between Lou and Vinny to say, You know what… Not just fuck the Church, fuck adults.”