Thursday, January 14, 2021

“Bless Me, Father”

“Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It’s been four or five weeks since my last confession, I ain’t sure, exactly. Maybe six weeks.”

“Go on, my child.”

“I lost my temper with my little brother and little sister a few times. You see, our parents are dead, so I gotta work to put a roof over their heads and food in their bellies, and sometimes I lose my patience.”

“I understand.”

“I cursed a whole bunch of times. I work in a bar, and sometimes I just get so mad at them drunks, and so I tell ‘em off.”

“Well, that’s understandable too.”

“I got drunk one night.”

“How drunk?”

“Pretty drunk. And I did something I shouldna done.”

“What was that?”

“I committed the act of darkness with this guy I know.”

The priest paused for a moment. Then he said, “Did this fellow force you to commit the act?”

“No, he was even drunker than I was. I’m not even sure he knew we committed it.”

“I see.”

“He’s a poet.”

“A poet? What kind of poet?”

“They call him a doomed romantic poet.”

“I see. So it was just the one time?”

“Yeah, just the oncet.”

“Well, then God forgives you, but you must not let it happen again.”

“I’ll try not to, that’s for sure.” It hadn’t been anything to write home about anyway. Hector wasn’t bad looking, but his body had been thin, bony and pale, he wasn’t any Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas in the Greek god department, and his breath had smelled of all the whiskey he’d drunk and all the Philip Morrises he’d smoked, plus his bad thing was weird looking, not like the harmless little willie Janet’s brother Bub had. “But that ain’t all, father, on accounta I did something worse.”

“What was that?”

“You ain’t gonna get mad at me, are you?”

“My child, I’ve been a priest for almost forty years, I assure you there’s very little I haven’t heard in the confessional.”

“Okay. I got in trouble just from that one night, and I knew I couldn’t bring up no baby while I’m the sole support for my kid brother and baby sister, so I went to this lady in the neighborhood and she took care of it for me.”

“You mean, she –”


The priest was quiet.

“Anyway,” said Janet, “I just wanted to confess that.”

“It’s a very serious sin, my child.”

“You think I don’t know that? Why do you think I’m here?”

“You must never ever do such a thing again.”

“I don’t plan to, father. It’s just I couldn’t see no other solution. At the time, I mean.”

“This man, this, uh, poet –”


“I don’t need to know his name. Did he talk you into getting rid of the baby?”

“Him? He didn’t even know I was in trouble.”

“You never told him?”

“Why would I tell him?”

“It was his child, wasn’t it?”

“He wasn’t the one with it in his belly.”

Again the priest fell silent.

“So do I get absolution?” said Janet.

“Yes,” said the priest. “Do you have anything else to confess?”

“Ain’t that enough for one day?”

“Yes,” said the priest. “Yes, I suppose it is. For your penance I want you to say the rosary six times.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all. And try not to drink too much in future.”

“I hardly ever drink. It was just that one time. I just had bad luck, y’know?”

“Yes, yes it was bad luck.”

“Hey, father.”


“Do I got to say all them rosaries all at once, or can I spread them out?”

“You can spread them out.”

“Thanks. I think I want to save them for later, because right now I just want to get out of this church.”

“I understand. I understand you’re upset. But you must not let yourself be racked with guilt.”

“I’ll try not to.”

“Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat,” said the priest, reciting the words that washed away the sin; “et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”

Outside on Sixth Avenue it was cold and the sky up above the rooftops was the color of a wet gunnysack. Janet’s parish church was Nativity down on Second Avenue, but she had come over here to St. Joe’s for confession because none of the priests here knew her. She went to the corner, crossed the avenue, and headed toward the park. She didn’t want to take a bus, and she had plenty of time to walk to work. And if any bum said a single word to her on the sidewalk she swore she would smash him in the face with the brass knuckles she always kept in the pocket of her coat. Just let some bum say one little word to her, she swore she would make him rue the day he was born.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious Rhoda Penmarq…}

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