“FORGIVE ME, FATHER, FOR I have sinned.”
The shadow on the other side of the metal grate moved, and the priest cleared his throat. “How long has it been since your last confession?”
I had a difficult time believing he didn’t know, but he always asked that same question.
“Three weeks, give or take.”
A moment of silence passed between us, and I wondered what he was thinking. I wasn’t well versed on the practices of the church, but from what little I knew, this circumstance we found ourselves in was out of the realm of normality for both of us. He was supposed to ask me questions, I was supposed to talk about my sins, and then I’d receive my punishment. But after my first visit here, that had never been the way it went down.
“Speak freely,” the voice on the other side of the wood instructed.
He was patient with me when I didn’t obey. As usual, I never knew where to begin.
“Why don’t you tell me what brought you here,” he suggested.
My fingers moved over the weathered wood bench beneath me. This building had always felt so vast. Too quiet and holy for the likes of me. But in this booth, I was safe. Anonymity granted me the freedom to confess to someone I couldn’t see.
“Have you ever wished that something was a dream?” I asked.
The reply was somber. “Every day of my life.”
The gravity of his statement sounded like a confession, and I didn’t know what to do with it.
“I just finished another job.” My hands wrung together in my lap. “Another con. It was a lot of money.”
The wood from his seat creaked, and I imagined him shifting, trying to process what kind of monster I really was. “How did that make you feel?”
“This isn’t about my feelings.”
“Then what it is it about?”
I closed my eyes, and the image came flooding back to me. My lungs burned. The landscape of my mouth turned to desert. I’d never said this part out loud before, but I needed to. Someone had to hear it.
“My sister suggested we get ice cream to celebrate. We always celebrate after a job.” I tried to will the nausea in my stomach away as I spoke. “I couldn’t even remember the last time we had ice cream together, though. She got bubblegum, her favorite. And it… it triggered something.”
“A memory?” the priest asked.
“The day I got home from juvie, I found her in the kitchen eating ice cream. I’d been gone for six months, and every day, I was sick with fear for her. She was so small. So helpless.”
I heard the priest swallow, and his voice was hoarse when he responded. “You thought it was your job to protect her?”
“It was,” I assured him. “She had nobody else. And when I walked into the kitchen that day, for a split second, she was so happy to see me that I thought everything was going to be okay. I thought he’d kept his word, and she was okay.”
“But she wasn’t?”
I looked at the floor, clutching my stomach as I recalled her eyes. For as long as I lived, I would never forget what I saw there.
“No,” I whispered. “I could see that something had changed.”
“What was it?”
“Her innocence,” I answered. “It was gone.”