An elaborate carved oak confessional sat in a corner of a large and beautiful church. It was the Church of Our Lady of the World in Montreal, the center of Catholic French Canada.
There were several confessionals in this cavernous house of worship. The congregation, holding onto the older ways of the Roman Church, still frequented the booths to obtain absolution for their sins, perceived or otherwise. The old French priests sat in the center portion, and on busy sinful days, would lean first one way than another to hear two confessors, one at a time. He would slide open a small wooden grated screen and lean toward the sinner.
The interaction, perhaps in French, went something like this:
The penitent: “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been (giving a time) since my last confession”.
The Confessor: “Go ahead”.
After the litany of transgressions was spoken, the priest would offer a few words of advice or encouragement. He would then absolve the sins, in the Name of God the Father, God the Son and The Holy Ghost. Then came the penance; which was often a few prayers, or, if the sin was great, a deed or command from the priest to go out and make things right.
“Go, and sin no more”, was often the departing words from the priest.
The confessional hours were Wednesday’s from 4:00 until 5:30pm and on Saturday from 2:00 until 5:00pm. For especially troubled souls, a private appointment could be made with any of the priests available.
Hugh Ballard sat in a corner of a pew, in the apse section of the church. He was alone save for a few praying and troubled souls that shunned the nave and wished to keep to the more deserted corners of the great church. This is the place that Hugh liked the most. He was mostly alone with his thoughts. He also had a direct view of a certain elaborate carved oak confessional. From his place at the end of the pew, he would wait until 5:05pm, every Wednesday, when she would walk down the right aisle of the nave and enter the confessional.
Hugh had first seen her several months ago when he was making an attempt to translate the Latin quotes that were written high on the wall above the altar.
Winter had set into Montreal. The cold blasts of wind from the St. Lawrence River drove people indoors, to the shops along the Rue Sainte-Catherine; the bookstores, the bistros and the churches. Montreal had more than it’s share of houses of worship.
She caught his eye as she walked down the side aisle toward the confessional. Her mid-thigh coat was a bitter lime color trimmed with faux rabbit and her black woolen tights fitted nicely into mid-calf boots of fleece-lined leather. But it was her hair, an enticing blend of auburn and chestnut, moderately curled, that blended with the tassels of her wool nordic style cap that caught his eyes and kept them on her for too many minutes, too many minutes to qualify as a glance…but long enough to be called a stare. Her overly long scarf hid her chin and neck. Hugh estimated that she stood 5’3″ in her socks. Hugh was 6’2″. She would fit nicely under his arms in a passionate hug.
On more that one occasion, their eyes met. Once, when she left the confessional, he caught her glancing over at him as he sat and read in his chosen pew.
Hugh had very dark brown hair that curled behind his ears. He often skipped shaving, giving him a slight air of an artist or graduate student. His eyes were hazel and, to most women, worth the time for an endless gaze. But, at 5:04pm on Wednesdays, his eyes were scanning the front door for her appearance. At first, he would sit about half-way down the nave pews, and when he sensed her walking down the aisle, he would cross himself and get up to leave. This move would put him almost face to face with her. He would use the two or three seconds to look into her eyes, study her cheeks and hear her take a breath. Being a man of quick thinking, he would time his inhales so that he could smell her…her lack of perfume…just her. He detected a faint body heat from her walking in her warm coat. That faint body heat often carried with it her scent. The scent that separates one person from another, however subtle. And to Hugh, her scent was pleasing beyond explanation.
Once or twice their eyes caught each other.
He also had a fraction of a second during this moment when he could see her hair from only inches from his eyes. However, after several of these attempts of proximity, Hugh began to feel that he was taking a risk. He needed to see her from another location…from a corner where she would not notice him. That very last thing he wanted was to have her think that he was stalking her.
No, that could never happen.
So on each Wednesday, he would find a place to pray…that is to watch her.
As she turned the corner by the confessional was a marble column that contained Holy Water. She would dip her fingers into the clear liquid and cross herself before pulling back the heavy velvet curtain and going in to tell the Confessor her failings…her sins.
Hugh began to keep time of her sessions. She would stay 24 minutes each time. Hugh, who had not been to confession in many years, thought that was a long time to tell someone your sins. Then he began to wonder. What could this beautiful, pure, virginal soul have to confess? What sins could she have committed? Was she an embezzler? A diamond thief? An art thief? Surely, none of her sins could have been of the flesh, she was too pure a soul for that sort of thing.
It didn’t take many Wednesdays before Hugh fell in love with the girl. He had no idea of how to approach her. What would, or could he say to her? It was at these times that he lost faith in himself. No woman as angelic as she would ever so much as give him the time of day. Hugh was certain that his existence was nothing to her. He may as well have lived in the backwaters of the Amazon River.
But, his curiosity grew as to what she was telling the Confessor. So he devised a plan. This was a despicable plan and he was ashamed of himself for even considering it. He went ahead and considered it anyway. He would listen in on her confession. After all, it was the only way. Even if he caught the priest in a small alley behind the church in the blackest hours of the night and put his hands on his neck, the old man would never break the Seal of Confession.
Hugh went to a large Radio Shack and began to ask questions. Eventually, he found out about a small “spyware” shop several miles south of town, in a warehouse district close to the Vermont border. He purchased a small mic that would transmit voices to the tiny ear set of his smart phone. Next, he went to a cheap stationery store and bought some patches of goo that was meant to stick posters on walls. It was guaranteed to hold 15 pounds.
A few days later, he sat and read a book in the apse pews. He waited until the tourists left. The church wardens were busy moving people out in preparation for the evening Mass. A wide column blocked anyone’s view of him and the confessional. He stood close by as if he were studying a plaque on the wall. Then, after a quick check around him, he pulled back the velvet curtain and, leaning over, pressed the goo and mic to the underside of the small elbow shelf below the screen that separated the sinner from the Confessor.
“May I help you?”
Hugh quickly backed out and stood facing a young priest. He hadn’t seen this guy when he checked seconds earlier.
“I…I think I had dropped my wedding ring on the floor,” Hugh lied.
They both pulled back the curtain and looked on the carpet. No ring.
“Sorry, guess it slipped off elsewhere.”
Hugh was out of the side door just as he heard the chiming bells that told the small congregation that Mass was about to begin.
On the next Wednesday, Hugh was sitting somewhat more distant from the confessional. He quietly pushed his ear phone in and pulled his hair over it so people would not think he was listening to some punk group in this house of worship.
He turned his phone on and muted the tones. He could hear the rustling of a books pages. Earlier, he watched as the elderly Confessor entered the center booth and prepared for the parade of sinners. He was probably reading his Office, a certain number of prayers that priests were required to read every day.
Then he saw her coming down the side aisle. It was a mild day and her coat was unbuttoned, revealing a plaid shirt. Her small breasts, hidden from view all winter, were now slightly visible under her shirt. He tried to imagine them on her slight body.
She dipped her fingers into the Holy Water and crossed herself as usual, but not before glancing at him and holding the contact longer than usual. She turned and entered the booth.
Hugh became suddenly uneasy. What if she had seen too much of him each Wednesday? What if she suspected him of stalking her? He knew he wasn’t. He knew he loved her…but from afar.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” she began.
“Yes, my child?”
“You see, Father, I have certain feelings for a certain man…and I don’t even know his name. I think he follows me around the church sometimes. I know he’s here in this church tonight.”
Hugh’s panic grew.
“Do you think he’s following you to do harm to you? Shall I call 911?”
Hugh’s phone was equipped with a chip that could tell him if another cell phone was being activated. He heard the signal! The Confessor had taken his cell and turned it on.
It was all over. Hugh walk quickly to the side door and broke into a sprint. Halfway through the park that surrounded the church he yanked the ear phone out and threw his cell into a trash can. He leaned over to cover it with a discarded meal. Perhaps this would give him precious time to get many blocks away when the police searched the cans. He ran like his life depended on it. He ran until he found himself lost in the tiny side streets of Old Montreal near the river.
“Oh, no, Father. No. No. You see I have come to love him, even though we’ve never spoken. I am taken by this man. I want this man, Father. I want him to take me and make the maddest of love to me. Please, Father, help me find the right words to say to him.”
“You see, my Confessor, all my other little sins are nothing I feel the need to ask forgiveness for. I have come today to confess the deepest of and darkest of sins….Lust.”