This fifth story in the collaborative series by Eden Baylee and myself is the first that provoked what could have seemed a relatively serious difference of opinion about the process of story-telling. We have separate, interesting takes on some aspects of writing but they only ever serve to make us both reexamine our approach and think objectively about long-held beliefs. Although the subject here is set in a religious context, our discussions were not about faith or anything related to it or any specific religion. They were about the story-telling process. In the end, I think they produced a tightly constructed tale which I hope you find works.
For any visitors who are new to this whole 800 word story idea, the background to our collaboration is spelled out here.
Prompt: I cheated on my spouse. And it wasn’t the first time.
Parts 1 and 3: Bill
Parts 2 and 4: Eden
OK, I’m a priest, but sometimes the things I hear in the confessional really make me want to reconsider. You’d think it was simple enough. I mean it covers all the basics pretty comprehensively – the easy ones, (respecting the Lord, cherishing his name, observing the Sabbath, staying away from other Gods, honouring your mum and dad), and the really bad stuff (murder, adultery, theft, lying), but the trickiest ones always seem to involve a neighbour – bearing false witness against him, or coveting his goods or his wife. Take yesterday. This guy, his last confession had been just two weeks ago, but the stuff he’d been up to since then beggared belief. He began with, “I cheated on my spouse. And it wasn’t the first time.” And it wasn’t just adultery; it was with his neighbour’s wife. In his neighbour’s house while the guy was at work. Not only that, they’d drunk two bottles of his favourite burgundy. He was particularly pleased about that because it wasn’t the sort of thing he could afford himself. But that wasn’t all. He then told me he’d done more or less the same thing with the wife of the neighbour on the other side.
“Religion is a lie, and I’m part of the machinery that keeps it alive.”
“Come on, Greg, don’t be dramatic. You’ve had a bad week, that’s all.” Jenny poured two shots of whiskey.
“No, it’s more than that,” I said.
Tall and graceful, she brought the drinks to bed and sat next to me. I already had my shirt and pants on. She wasn’t as modest.
“Drink this. You’ll feel better.”
I downed the contents of the glass and shivered, even though the room was still hot and humid from our session. “You should wear something. I don’t want you to catch a chill.”
Jenny stared at me awhile. “Now why would I do that? You know you’re only going to want me again.” A sly smile stretched across her face.
She was right, of course. To her, I was just an ordinary man, a man full of weaknesses and needs, addicted to my regular sessions with her. “Aren’t you afraid, Jenny?”
“Afraid of what?”
“Life and the unknown that comes after it.”
She grabbed my clerical collar from the nightstand and shamelessly wrapped it around her neck. “Look,” she said, “sounds like you want to confess something to me.”
It was typical of her – a beautiful, intelligent, above all realistic, practical woman. The vague, conscience-driven things that often troubled me (but never enough to make me willing to give up our weekly trysts) never bothered her. She knew there was no future for us but all she wanted was the present, the regular glorious, uninhibited indulgence in what I was supposed to call sin. Each time I brought up, in my obsession with her, the suggestion that I could renounce my ‘calling’ so that we might actually marry, her reaction was one of disbelief, even laughter.
“Mrs Greg!” she’d splutter, “No way! Stop fooling yourself. You don’t want a wife.” Then she’d lie against me, flesh to flesh, and add, “You want this.”
And she was right, of course. She was honest. On the days we were apart, when I wasn’t judging other people in the Confessional, what I felt for her was unconditional love, a desire I turned into poetry. But when it was just the two of us with a whole evening before us, everything gave way to undisguised lust. She was right. That was exactly what we wanted. The bare, honest truth of ‘Love thy neighbour’.
“The more I confess, the more confused I become, Father. Last time you asked me why I keep seeing her. Perhaps I think it’s because I can save her—but from what? She has no interest in giving up her life for me or anyone else. She’s fiercely independent. I envy her freedom from guilt, her lack of responsibility to others. It’s not that she’s selfish or uncaring, but the problems of the world don’t weigh her down. And though she has no interest in the afterlife, she sets surprisingly high standards for herself, living by her own moral code. She does a lot of good for those in her immediate circle.
And it’s her goodness that draws me to her. She refills my cup with love, hope, and compassion every week. When I leave her, I hold on to those feelings and feel ten feet tall. Without her, I wouldn’t even be able to write my weekly sermons.
I’ve fallen in love with a prostitute, a sinner in the eyes of God. Yet, she has not destroyed my spirit and soul; she has lifted me up. It is I who have sinned.
Please forgive me, Father. Please forgive me.”
As usual, we’d love to hear your opinions about this.