By Lauryn Mercredi
The tiny room oppresses me, like being trapped in an elevator. The scent of incense tickles my nose and I suppress a sneeze until the itch goes away. I adjust the skirt of my high-school uniform before kneeling on the padded bench.
“Father forgive me, for I have sinned.”
A man’s nasal voice comes from the grille. “God is merciful. What are your sins?”
I know who he is, the tall new priest whose thin wrists and ankles protrude from his cassock, reminding me of a stick insect. His drone of a voice lulls me to sleep during Sunday mass. Then I jerk awake and see his beady eyes on me. At the door, after mass, I’ve shaken his long, cold hand and we’ve exchanged greetings but nothing else. He never smiles or laughs like old Father Flanagan. I wish the older priest were taking confessions today.
“I skipped some classes. I vaped. I, uh…cheated a bit on a math test.”
“What else, my child?”
I am silent, wondering what he wants. No other priest has pressed me for more sins. Not Father Flanagan, who always seems to want me to finish quickly so he can tell jokes.
“I speak of impure thoughts,” he says.
My eyes widen and I’m glad he can’t see me. I remain silent.
“Not just a passing lust. Do you entertain such thoughts, dwell on them?”
Panic blossoms in me. The true answer would be, constantly.
I hear him sniffing deeply as if he is smelling me. I can feel menstrual blood oozing from my body into the pad between my legs. What if he could smell it?
“Well?” he asks.
“Sometimes,” I say. I can’t bring myself to lie to a priest.
“And do you follow through on those thoughts?
I am struck dumb. I know what he means but I can’t bring myself to speak of such things, especially to a grown man.
“Do you touch yourself?” He asks. The drone of his voice has become higher and louder, like an angry bee, and seems to come from the grille itself. I picture him with his face mashed against it, his tall body folded into the small box beside me.
The silence stretches on. I shift so I can see the light through the grille, but instead of seeing the outline of his head, I see his huge thin hand curved into a claw. I picture it piercing the grille, coming towards me, and I am paralyzed for an instant as if stung, before I scramble to my feet, throw open the door of the confessional, and run.
I hear the other door opening behind me.
“Stop,” he calls.
But I keep running. All I can see in my mind’s eye is that pincer of a hand, coming through the grille and reaching down, down, to the part of me that is impure.