by Carla Lancken
“Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It’s been ten years since my last confession.”
Father Monahan sat facing her and said, “Well it’s been quite a while for you then. What brings you back?”
Mandy examined the creases in Father’s black shirt, his silver cross, his black pants and then she looked into his eyes which were warm and hazel, like tea. She hesitated because the truth was hard, but why else would she be here?
“Ummm” was all Mandy could get out. Father smiled and said, “It’s ok, take your time, just say what’s in your heart.”
Even though she had a pang of remorse before deciding to go to confession, she didn’t know exactly why she was there, except that it was Christmas time and she was wrapping a few presents for the little kids next door and maybe she ought to go.
As Mandy tried to phrase in her mind all the things she had said and did during the last decade that would piss off God, she began to feel a queasiness in her stomach.
The confessional started closing in around her, she could feel her heart rise up in her throat, wet rimming her eyes, she grabbed the sides of the wooden chair as if on a roller coaster before she fainted.
Mandy floated across town, her essence nothing more than the odor of soft pine, over the tops of buildings and trees all the way to her old neighborhood where she lived when she was very young. She sailed through familiar backyards where socks perched on laundry lines like Alfred Hitchcock’s birds.
She floated, into living rooms with plastic sheathed sofas and bedrooms with white matching dressers, down hallways and up attics. She floated the old streets and sidewalks where she played hopscotch a thousand light years away.
It was very early morning before the pink of dawn, before cats started scratching on doors and people started trekking home from their dreams. Peaceful and approving, just before the roar of a morning engine, when hollering and rushing water and boiling kettles were trying to meet the deadlines of work or school.
Mandy visited her old house. She expected to see a new family snoring in the bedrooms. Curious to see who inhabited her room, where she played with dolls and her beloved stuffed animals and sometimes a sister.
Although she felt like herself, Mandy was like an invisible scarf swirling over a bed that looked exactly like the one she had. In fact every thing in the house looked the same. She saw herself at eight years, holding her bear. She still had that bear.
She was crying softly into her bear’s ear. Her night gown had been ripped earlier when she was asleep. She wasn’t sure who had blindfolded her and stuck something hard between her legs but she had a feeling.
This kind of thing happened often and as Mandy watched herself crying, she remembered how sad she was then.
She watched as the little girl got up from her bed, holding her bear, and tiptoed past her younger sister’s room. She looked in and saw that she was fast asleep with no worries.
Mandy watched herself fumble down the hall and peek into her parents bedroom. They too were snoring innocently in the early hours.
Little Mandy came into the kitchen and opened one of the drawers. She took out a small box and went to the back of the house. On the steps she put down her teddy, whom she seemed to be listening to intently, slid open the box, took a long match that she was never supposed to play with, and lit it with one perfect stroke.
She placed the lit match and the full box inside the door next to the curtains and waited till there was a satisfying blaze. She walked out to the back yard, around to the front, on to the sidewalk and down the street. Little Mandy walked for three blocks clutching her bear till she came to a corner and sat down almost in the street.
Mandy followed her like a cloud. She hovered over the child in disbelief because this was something she hadn’t remembered until now. She always knew a tragedy had taken her family. Aunt Laura said a fire, or a car crash, something awful. They never really talked about it. She’d always been sad and that would be a good reason why.
When Mandy was revived, a wet rag on her forehead, she was lying in a pew, her head on a strange woman’s lap. The woman said “Are you alright?”
“Yes I’m ok. I just fainted, but I’m ok.”
“Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
“Oh no, I’m ok, thanks for your help. I was just going to confession.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Carla paints and writes flash fiction in the Hudson Valley of New York.