Thursday 17 November 2022

Confession - Short Story by Elliot Slater



Short Story by Elliot Slater

The four boys, with their self-conscious, awkward swaggers, made their way down the street where Harry lived.  They knew eyes were upon them, that curtains were being drawn aside, that ears were cocked for profanity, that this would not be a good place to push one another over a hedge or violate anyone’s yard. They were constrained, and they knew it. Once they crossed the main drag into the park, everything changed. They erupted into themselves, were in a moment laughing, shoving, swearing, and throwing rocks at trees. Harry was holding forth within moments.

“So, Joy is talking to Isobel on the phone, what else is new, and Isobel tells Joy that Sam spent all the money she gave him for the field trip at the store.”

He turned to one of the other boys.

“Thanks, Sam.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Eat me. So Joy asks me if I was with Sam, and I say no, and Joy says Mrs. Campbell saw us at the store, and that we were all buying Hostess Sno Balls, which by the way is true, and I want to say ‘Ma, what the fuck is Mrs. Nosy fucking Campbell doing telling you what kind of food me and Sam are buying at the store?’ But I can’t, you know? So I say ‘Ma, I was hungry.’ Joy says, ‘I’m telling your father.’ Of course my father is in the basement on his shortwave talking to someone about the price of eggs in Canada or something and I say, ‘Ma, don’t tell Dad.’ And she says, ‘I’m telling your father. Five dollars!’ And I say, ‘Ma, please don’t tell Dad.’ And she says ‘Harold, I don’t mind that you spent some of your field trip money on Hostess Sno Balls. I mind that you lied to me about it.’ ”

Harry rolled his eyes.

 “‘It wasn’t a lie, Ma,’ I said. ‘I didn’t go to the store with Sam.  We were just there at the same time.  Sam was there with Charlie.’”

All four of them burst out laughing.

“Thank you,” said Sam.

They were cutting through the park, through the densest part, on the way to St. Luke’s in the next town. Timmy and Harry were going to Confession.

Harry continued. “‘I have told you a million times to stay away from Charlie Parsons,’ Joy said. ‘Mrs. Campbell told me she heard Charlie yodelling on Manning Road the other night, and it was after ten on a school night.’”

 “Charlie Parsons, Swiss Miss,” said Sam. “He was calling his St. Bernard.”

“Fuck you,” said Charlie.

“‘Ma,’ I said,” continued Harry. “‘I can’t help it if Charlie Parsons is in the store at the same time as me.’ ‘You don’t have to stand in line with him,’ she said. ‘Ma, there was only one line.’ ‘Sam is grounded,’ Joy tells me.”

“Sam is always grounded,” said Timmy.

 “And so I say ‘Well Ma, that’s good, because now Mrs. Campbell won’t be able to see me in the store with him for a while.’ So Joy laughs, and says ‘OK I won’t tell your father,’ not that he would have given a shit anyway who I was in the fucking store with, but he would have been pissed off about the money.”

Sam and Charlie smiled at each other. Mr. Harrington was notoriously tight with a dollar, even though he was a white-collar worker of some sort, at Raytheon. When he was home John Harrington was either at the shortwave or drinking beer in front of his TV. In the latter he was not unlike many of the neighbourhood fathers, few of whom, unlike the mothers, knew one another.

“So what are you confessing about today?” Sam asked Harry. “Being spotted in the store with Charlie Parsons? Eating Sno Balls?  Stealing money from your parents?”

 “None of your fucking business.”

“He’s confessing to impure thoughts,” said Charlie.

“You’re a fucking impure thought,” said Harry. “You’re the most fucking impure thought I’ve ever seen.”

They were crossing the brook, spring-swollen, running here parallel to the railroad tracks that were the boundary between their town and the next. They were, as always, casually on the lookout for Dominic and his gang, who liked to prowl the railroad tracks, and loved to ambush boys from the other town with rocks. Nobody felt like dealing with them, but they paused to fill their pockets with rocks anyway.

“I’d love to put this one right between Dominic’s eyes,” said Timmy. Once safely across the tracks and then past the last stop on the trolley line from Boston, they all relaxed. They talked about summer jobs.

“I’m working in the greenhouses,” said Charlie.

“I’m mowing Mr. Napoli’s lawn,” said Sam.

“I’m doing my brother’s paper route,” said Timmy.

“I’m supposed to help John paint our house.  I can’t wait,” said Harry.

The arrived at St. Luke’s, and Timmy and Harry went inside. Sam watched them with a kind of longing. He loved the interior of St. Luke’s. He had often attended Mass with Harry’s family, mostly on holidays. He found the services much more entertaining than the one’s at his families’ church. St. Luke’s had these beautiful stained glass windows to look at during the boring moments, and a vast, cathedral-like feel that put Sam in mind of a higher power. Sam thought his friends were brave to go to Confession. He couldn’t imagine telling any adult any of his thoughts, never mind sins. The fact that Harry and Timmy were so nonchalant about Confession seemed heroic to Sam.

“Don’t you think confession is weird?” asked Charlie. Sam shrugged.

“I don’t know. I’m glad I don’t have to do it.”

They sat, unloading rocks from their pockets. Charlie arranged his in a line, biggest to smallest, and then set about designing more intricate patterns.

“I’m glad too,’ said Charlie. “Glad I don’t have to confess my fucking sins.”

“Like swearing.”

“Fuck yeah. Or anything.  They have to confess everything. Even thoughts.”

“Yeah, but they don’t. I know Timmy doesn’t.”

“I mean, I’d have to confess about last Sunday.”

“That would be weird. You’d be confessing to the person you stole from, in a way.”

“No,” said Charlie. “I didn’t steal from any priest or minister.” He smiled at Sam. Charlie had the angelic face of a Christian martyr. One could see his face in the tiles of Byzantine churches. His expression was perpetually one of wounded innocence, though he had a mischievous smile that was often bestowed upon his friends behind the backs of others.

The previous Sunday Sam and his sister Susan had been at services in the local Congregationalist Church, just down the street from St. Luke’s.  They had gone with neighbour's. Their mother lay in bed, her one day to sleep in after another dispiriting and exhausting week in the greenhouses. Charlie was there also, with his father and some of his many cousins. Charlie’s father, older by decades than the other fathers, was dressed in a three-piece suit, in stark contrast to the one-piece uniform he wore down at the greenhouses.

A trick Charlie was famous for, among his close friends, was that of removing money from the collection plate as he put his family’s envelope in, employing an impressively deft little slight of hand movement that would serve him well over the course of his long teenage shoplifting career. After church that day Sam and his sister met Charlie in the park, and instead of a one-dollar bill or a few quarters Charlie held a sealed envelope. Susan looked at the envelope with awe. She was the religious one of the trio, and suffered terrible internal turmoil as a result of Charlie’s bravado in stealing from her church’s collection plate (as well as the idea that the fruits of his crime awaited them at the store in the form of Hostess Sno Balls).

Charlie had opened the envelope. Inside was a twenty-dollar bill. They were staggered by the amount of this windfall. Susan began to cry.  They all ended up going home rather than breaking the twenty at the store. Sam had thought about it all night.  He had stared out of his bedroom window for hours, half expecting to see some portent of retribution. 

Thinking of this, Sam glanced at St. Luke’s. Then he considered Charlie, who was smiling at him. Sam smiled back.

“No,” Sam replied. “You stole it from a church.”

“Who cares? They have tons of money.  They steal it from us, making us feel guilty and everything if we don’t put money in the plate.”

They looked at each other.

“Sam, you know, I’m not going to spend this on candy. I’m going to spend it on something that’s worth it.”

“Like what?”

“Like the new Stones album. Like a fucking Army jacket from Harry the Greek’s in Boston where my brother and his friends go.  You know.  Something worth it.”

Sam gazed at the afternoon sky. The air was becoming colder in a pleasant way. What would he buy? Maybe a James Bond book. Maybe he would go see “From Russia With Love” for the sixth time. “What about some new arrows?” Sam suggested.

Charlie had found an old bow in his parent’s attic, but they had either lost or broken all the arrows.

“Yeah. Good idea.  I’d like to shoot one right into Dominic’s fat ass.” They laughed together at the thought of this, especially because they knew Dominic went to St. Luke’s grammar school.

Harry and Timmy came sauntering out of church.

“How’d it go?” asked Sam.

“Fine,” said Harry. “It was Father Casey, I could tell. He knew it was me, too. Twenty Hail Mary’s, ten Our Fathers.”

Timmy smiled at Sam. “He took forever,” he said. They started walking home.

“So, Harry,” Charlie began after a minute or so. “Is being a lying shoplifting fat fuck who steals his parent’s money and beats off twenty times a day a mortal sin, or a venial sin?” Harry chased him a little but was too amused to make much of an effort. Timmy, the one of them – the only one left in the neighbourhood, by this point – who actually went to Catholic school, said, “Oh, Harry is all venial. He has a same relationship with God that retards have. A type of friendship, actually. God loves the retards.” Harry and Timmy exchanged a flurry of fake punches.

Sam fell behind them, wondering at the idea of Harry having a relationship with God.  Not a relationship, exactly, but that God knew that Harry was incapable of any sin save a venial one. He watched his friends walking ahead of him, punching each other, laughing, bragging, and talking tough.  How could they be anything, these most beautiful and important people, but made in the image of their Creator?  The very sight of them filled Sam with the deepest pleasure he had ever felt. Timmy looked back to him, and motioned him to catch up.

Once in the Park they step-stoned back across the brook instead of using the recently built bridge, something they had all vowed never to use. There were some silhouettes on the horizon, and they heard yelling and long-distanced, barely audible insults. It was Dominic and his boys, all beginning to throw rocks.

“I’m going to beat the shit out of that fat fuck some day,” said Harry. A brave idea, considering the age and size difference. But Harry’s older brother was the boxing instructor at the Boy’s Club, and that meant something. Harry was staring at the boys from the next town with great intensity. They all had turned to face them, and began to throw rocks back. Both groups were out of range, but both groups were also edging closer, hoping to score a hit while simultaneously remaining safely on their side of the brook.

Timmy looked at Harry. “I hate Dominic too,” he said, and patted Harry’s back. Then Timmy edged away from the others, and suddenly, running, re-crossed the brook. He did so quickly and lightly.  Once on the other side he paused and let loose with a beautiful throw that caught Dominic somewhere on his upper torso. Dominic howled with pain, and Timmy called out to him, “We better never catch you over here you fat fucking asshole.  We’ll fucking kill you.”

Furious, Dominic made a show of coming after Timmy, but being held back. Timmy just gave him the finger and skipped back across to the others. Harry was grinning. All of them were proud of Timmy. He had the best arm in baseball too. “Now that,” he said to Harry, “Was a mortal sin.” Harry put his arm around Timmy protectively.

“Nice throw,” was all Harry said.  Then they ran a little, climbing the rise to the ridge above the hollow, and descended into the woods.

Elliot Slater grew up in Massachusetts and Maine, USA. He is working on a number of thematically connected stories based on his childhood and adolescence (of which “Confession” is one). He writes and loves poetry. He is also working on a Saki inspired, pandemic-themed, comic novel, several chapters of which were short-listed for the UK’s Saki Short Story Competition in September 2021. His short fiction has appeared in The Northern New England Review and Halfway Down The Stairs, among others.

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