The walls were listening. They seemed to etch forward, cramming their ears to hear what I had to say.
“Speak up child” snapped Father Wilderbear from behind the thin brown wood, I couldn’t see his old, raisin-like face— but I knew it was scrunched up in disgust, like when I smell tuna.
I don’t like Confession.
But Sister Paul and Sister Lucy make my class and I go every Wednesday, so we are cleansed for Mass— to receive the Holy Eucharist. I don’t like Confession because I don’t know how to profess anything, especially not my sins. To be honest, I don’t know what a sin is. I know their are Mortal and Venial, and I know my mum marrying Michael is a Venial sin.
I moved my face forward, as close as I could, so Father could hear me, so close my glasses slipped over my crooked nose bridge and collapsed into my tartan skirt. My eyes unfocused, only the flicker of the candles, a sickly trickle gold, morphing into small bulbs of yellow filled my eyes.
I whispered, “I didn’t help Mum with the washing last Saturday, Father” I shuffled on my knees, knowing they were turning purple from kneeling for so long.
Father snorted, reminding my of my favourite pig on Dad’s farm, Gwendolyn. “Has your mother been to confession?” He muttered.
I lowered my eyes in shame, even though I knew Father couldn’t see me, it was because I knew He could, “It’s the Venial sin-problem isn’t it, Father?”
He let out a similar snort then before, but it was less cheery like when Gwendolyn gets her daily slosh, it was more the snort before her piglet is taken away for her to be made into our breakfast bacon.
“A Venial sin cannot be summed up in just a ‘problem’, it is more than a ‘problem’ it is an act of evil. Of selfish defiance against our Lord, for the narcissistic tendencies of oneself. And it is not just a sin to remarry but it a sin to be self-seeking— Samuel, Verse 1, “Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth. For the Lord is a God of knowledge, and with Him actions are weighed”
I remained quiet, I didn’t really understand why God was so angry with Mum.
When He loves us all. Or maybe he just loves everyone except Mum. And the homosexuals, and the fornicators and the Protestants and Jews and the Black People and the Hindus—
“Four Hail Mary’s and One Glory Be” Father snapped, and I heard him shuffle on his seat, “Give Thanks to the Lord for he is good”
I put my glasses back on and began to stand up, motioning out of the confessional.
Father roared, “What do you say?” And I heard his Missile fall off his lap and onto the ground with a mighty BANG.
“Oh!” I gasped, “For His Mercy every endures” and I planted my feet on the ground, as if I was stuck in cement, not about to be the one to leave the Confessional first.
He sucked his breath in, I heard a soft whistle from the gap between his teeth, “Make it six Hail Mary’s” he opened the door and I heard it slam behind him. The soft pitter-patter of feet and laughter emerging as Father moved further away and out the door. Faintly I heard him remark to Sister Paul, “How do you expect her to remember her Catechism with that Mother?”
Sister Paul clicked her tongue, “I know Father.”
I told Mum this story over the steak and kidney pie she had made. She sat quietly, her eyes on her plate, folding her fork in and out of the gravy as if she was knitting one of her scarfs. Her red frizzy hair falling over her eyes, her thin-wire glasses on the very tip of her nose.
“I don’t get it Mum” I groaned my mouth full with pastry and peas, “why does God spend so much time worrying about you and Michael? He should be watching over James and George in Long Tân.” I shrugged and picked up the jug of milk, “He hasn’t got his predicaments right”
“Priorities.” Mum sighed, “you mean priorities, Laura”
I nodded, “Priorities” and chugged my milk.
Mum put her fork down and looked up, focusing just above my head, “It is not a joke Laura. I want you to try a bit harder for me. Learn your Catechism, say your prayers— you did all those Hail Marys?”
“I did three out of six, I thought I’d do the rest tomorrow”
Mum briefly looked to me then back up to straight above my forehead, “We are going to Mass tomorrow, stations of the cross. I want you to apologise to Father Wilderbear. And I don’t want to hear that silliness about God not looking out for James and George. God is powerful, he looks after the men in Vietnam, and—” she took a brief pause, and I saw her scrunch up her serviette, “—holds us accountable here in Boyanup”
She was being so annoying. Why does she pick Father Wilderbear’s side over mine? When he says such nasty things about her? I slammed my cup on the table, the ivory milk spilling onto the table cloth.
“Your being silliness!” I growled
Mum didn’t look to me, just straight ahead.
I felt my cheeks burning red, “no one likes us there! Yesterday Sister Veronica gave me another pocket bible and told me to repent on your behalf”
I saw my mums eyes flinch, and her forehead wrinkle, “That was nice of her to give you something, Laura.”
Gobsmacked, I stabbed my knife in the quarter of my pie left like I was Abraham just about to kill Isaac.
“Deborah Anderson says her mother thinks you’re a whore and now she won’t sit with me! And Father Winderbear was gossiping about you with Sister Paul! We all heard him!”
Mum shook her head, but her voice was dry, “A Priest, does not gossip.”
“Well he does! And that must mean he’s a rotten priest! They don’t like us here. I’m not going to stations of the cross.” And I folded my arms so tight I felt the cross on my neck dig into my chest bone.
Mum hadn’t looked at me the whole time. Just starring straight ahead.
After forever she said in a soft tone, “Clean your plate Laura, and go and finish your Penance, please.”
I threw my fork on the table and it hit the milk jug and the clank rung throughout the house. I jumped off my chair my glasses all foggy, “You are wasting all your time! We will all go to Hell and it doesn’t matter how many Hail Mary’s we do. It is your fault Me, James and George are going to Hell!”
I sprinted out of the dinning room, past the myriad of pictures hanging on our green walls and stopped only when I was out of the house and under the protection of the snowy-light of the Moon. I puffed, sweat and tears mixed together and dripping onto George’s old hockey shirt. I turned back to see into the house, through our front window.
Mum still sat there, unmoving, unblinking. But with tears falling from her eyes, staring at the spot above where I had been sitting. The cross. Hanging on the wall, with Jesus’ battered arms outstretched. In Mum’s eyes I saw her begging to hug Him in those out-stretched arms. But the more tears that flew from her eyes, the more I felt her sorrow that she would never be able to.
Maybe I can still hug Him. And not end up like Mum, constantly stuck in a place of longing to be back in God’s favour.
I got down on the grass, red dirt marking my skirt, and the dew-drops scrapping my skin. Under the moonlight I knelt.