He sits on the front pew and looks up, the Son of God hanging high above, his flesh punctured by crooked nails and a sharpened rusted crown. He examines the detail of the sculpture and sighs, the seeping wounds reminding him of those that never heal. Leaning back he averts his gaze, eyes exploring the ceiling rose overhead and tracing the undulation of each furrow until he falls asleep, church bells ringing overhead. Moments later, he wakes, confused and sore. A crow caws outside the blessed building and he closes his eyes once more, wishing the world away but wholly aware of his surroundings, the walls fractured and uneven between enormous stained glass windows, faint arcs of colour drowning in the dusty air, a heavy oak door creaking in the distance, arched and still ajar.
Looking down at his feet he tries to remember the last time he shined his shoes, lesions cavernous within the faded leather. He checks his watch and wipes away the faint traces of a fingerprint, the task distracting him from the precision of the time beneath. Soon the procession of tailored guests will pass through ancient arches, their fingertips hovering over holy fonts, ripples of emotion ruffling their bedecked exterior. They will slowly take their seats and examine their surroundings, mentally assessing, physically performing. The organ will exhale and interrupt the whispers, cuff links and cravats motionless at the altar, muscles tense beneath stiff suits. The father of the bride will walk beside his adult child, arm in arm and proud, unsettled by the evolution of his parentage, his role diminished by the shadow of another man; a stranger. The mother will sit among relations, nails painted, make up pristine, fascinator bright and beautiful, like the daughter she adores, and mourns. Friends and family will prod and gesture, opinions muttered, eyebrows raised. They will listen to the vows and wonder, hoping for the best, fearful of the worst. They will converse and feast together, attentive and composed, secret sentiments saved for home. And finally they will leave together; new love, old love, no love.
Gravel grinds beneath approaching tyres and he wipes his palms on the fabric of his trousers, anxiety permeating from within. The drone of an engine dissolves and voices filter out into the expanse of emptiness above, birds flying high and higher still, no limit to their freedom. The hymn book in front of him is brittle and yellowed and he wonders how many people found solace in the songs. He wonders if any of it makes a difference any more. Looking up at the crucifix and the man who died for the survival of humanity, he can’t help but question why. There was a time when answers were not needed, when doubt was silenced by the strength of faith alone, but now, thirty four years later, there is no end to the uncertainty. Identifying the instant he lost his faith is difficult, the circumstances blurred between a cacophony of confusion and distress. Work was ruining the integrity of his idol, murderers and rapists and thieves and cheats excusing actions and admitting on advice, occasionally punished, most often, not. One case in particular haunts him still. She was only girl. Eleven years old. Innocent and undeserving. Seventeen years ago today. Thinking about it makes him nauseous, the horror of her mangled corpse an unimaginable discovery, like the existence of a God who fails, the living left to weep as one, condemned and cast aside.
He hears the muttering of hushed voices and erratic slapping of small feet, echoes of existence scampering along the walls and fading into far off corners. The guests are gathered outside the church, politely enquiring and waiting for the bride, her carriage weaving through the streets, the cracks beneath concealed by the passing of her dreams. His headache returns and he rues the decision to abstain, the taste of wine forgotten on his tongue, sweat rolling down his skin and soaking into his shirt. Years ago there was a means by which to alter the shape of what might come, but now it is too late. There is nothing to be done. Nothing he, or anyone, can do. Too much time has passed. This is the way it is. The way it has to be. Cherish and obey. Forever and ever. Amen. He bows his head, closes his eyes, and finally confesses, the prospect of forgiveness empty like the prayers, the God above not his, or hers, or faithful.
A horn bellows from the distance and he knows the time has come. Behind him hurried footsteps approach, louder and louder, each explosion sending tremors through his spine, nerves wrinkling deep within. “Are you ready?”
A car door slams. People cheer. The organ whistles. A wedding waits.
He fastens his collar, affixes his cross, and stands.
The Soundtrack for ‘Confession’ is Charlotte OC’s ‘Strange’