A confessional box in a Catholic church, Newcastle, England.
DAVID, a well-dressed man, 45 years old
Right. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been…a very long time since my last Confession.
Specifically? Shit—sorry, Father. Right, it’s over thirty years since my last confession. Thirty-two probably. I accuse myself of…
Do you still do it like this? These words?
I’m out of touch. Obviously. Not even called confession any more is it? An act of reconciliation.
Perhaps I’m Old School but it sounds strange. Hard to believe God’s so upset that we need to be reconciled.
I used to exaggerate it when I was little. Accuse myself of extra sins to make it more interesting than just arguing, fighting, being disobedient, and telling lies—which I didn’t apart from saying I did. I stopped going about the time it became…embarrassing.
Don’t suppose I was unusual in that. Not wanting to chat about my sexual fantasies with a priest in a wardrobe.
I’m glad you’re Irish. My Mam was. Last Catholic in the family. Look, seriously, father, I’m sorry, I’ve made a mistake. If I accused myself of everything I’ve done since my last confession, we’d be here all night. Traffic offenses and financial misdemeanors alone, never mind sins of the flesh.
I don’t want to waste your time. Might be people waiting. Proper Catholics.
(DAVID opens the confessional door and looks out into the church.)
No there aren’t. But I only came in here because it was raining. You were open for business and I thought, “Why not?” Not lived in Newcastle for a long time now—nearly as long as my last confession. Don’t know anybody here anymore apart from my sister. Nowhere else to go. Libraries are depressing and I try to avoid pubs.
In like a shot. It’s all coming back to me. How you operate. However nice you are, it’s your job. Find a chink and work away at it.
What really did it for me wasn’t the impurity stuff. No. I just took it all too seriously. Do you know what I was worrying about at the age of twelve? Football, school, sex? No. Having an over-active conscience. I was worried I was committing the sin of having an over-active conscience. Tom, my brother, he was the one talked me out of that.
Do you still do that one? The sin of worrying too much that you might be sinning. Genius.
No. Your church preys on people like me and I’m going. Away from you—and all the statues and candles and rules and all the cover-ups, which I really hadn’t been going to mention and all the, with the greatest respect, shite of it.
(Part 2—the same confessional)
OK, Father. I was in here twenty minutes ago. And I accuse myself of, among other things, losing my temper and lying.
You seem like a decent guy. You don’t need me sounding off, and don’t tell me you don’t mind. I know how it works. I’d have made a good priest. Thought I had a vocation when I was nine.
And I did come in for a reason. My Mother died.
Coming home’s always weird. Home? Still call it that. But the service…I felt sorry for the priest; trying to lead a congregation who didn’t know any prayers, never mind when to stand, sit and kneel. Ended up trying to nurse us through the Our Father. Must have felt like a missionary to the Colonies two hundred years ago. So thanks for trying, Father. Katie, my sister, said you were a nice bloke.
Mam would have wanted it traditional. All she’d said was she wanted the hearse to go through Cradlewell. Past Armstrong Bridge. Did they tell you? Mam never went past it afterwards. She couldn’t. But she wanted to then, because she thought they’d be together. Heaven. That’s proper Old School.
For the first time in ages I wanted her to be right. Up to now it’s just been a relief—no eternity.
Perhaps it’s my fault. Taking it too seriously. I enjoyed confession. There was like a rush of relief I got after it. Suppose I was quite a strange little boy. I believed in Santa Claus way after everybody else because he was a Saint. Saint Nicholas.
Tom put me straight on that as well. Least he told me to keep it to myself.
Yes. Miss him a lot. Look I just wanted to say it’s nothing against you personally.
What do they say? “It’s not you, it’s me.” If we get on to God we’ll just fall out.
The Hail Mary? That takes me back. Okay. Right. If I can’t remember, I can always Google it.
(Part 3—the same confessional)
A week or thirty-five years. Depends on your point of view.
I know I said I was Old School but do you mind if we skip the formalities this time? I’m on my way back to London now. Home. But first I need to tell you something. I always enjoyed a good confession. If that’s what it is.
I never told my Mam. Or anyone. When Tom came off Armstrong Bridge—did they tell you it was Christmas Eve?
I was with him. Not just there; but up on the handrail with him. I don’t know whose idea it was. I really don’t think it was mine. He usually led the way. But we were both very drunk—been in town all day. Christmas Eve.
But the bridge was mad. I think I sobered up when I looked down. Perhaps we both did. The shock. I sorted of leaned back and fell on to the pavement. He went the other way.
Eighteen. No point in telling Mam all the details, was there? Don’t think I can go through Cradlewell now.
And Mam can. Perhaps that justifies all your statues and the rest of the—well all I said before. It comforted her.
Which is why I’m not exactly teetotal but close to it. And here they judge your sexuality by the amount you drink and the strength of your accent. And they were right. So I left. Given up on your lot by then—really weren’t a lot of help with my impure thoughts.
The Egyptians used to paint an eye on the outside of the coffin, lined up with the eye socket of the body so they could see out. But if it works. Amazing what comforts people.
I’d have been a good priest. Just have a problem with that God thing. I Googled those prayers, and I’m sorry. Nothing.
Yes but your doubts’ll be the kind of doubts that make your faith stronger. Not like the overactive conscience, brittle stuff.
No. Sorry, Father, I’m done now. I need to get my train.
(Part 4—the same confessional)
About three months, I suppose. Look, Father, I didn’t really come to make a confession.
An act of reconciliation. That’s it exactly. But with Father O’Neill.
Do you know when he’ll be back?
How do you mean?
Right. Could you tell me which parish? Is it in the diocese?
I don’t understand.
No. Why would I? I hardly knew him.
He’d been very helpful. And it’d been a bit of a one-sided conversation.
No. Look, Father, I’m going to go now. There might be a queue building up and I don’t want to waste your time.
(Gets up to leave)
No, Father. It’s not you, it’s me.
copyright © 2010 Dick Curran. All rights reserved. _________________________________________________
Dick Curran lives in Newcastle, England. Last year he had a number of pieces produced at Live Theatre, culminating in Venice on Tyne with the RSC. In 2011, Islanders tours at venues including Manchester’s Re:Play Festival, and It Works For Us will premiere in Liverpool. His novel, Almost Persuaded, was published by Red Squirrel Press in March.