Andrew Barnett isn’t comfortable with intimate confessions of sin.  His right eye is starting to twitch again.  He wonders if he’s developing a sort of ministerial Tourette’s syndrome.

The man sitting across from him admits to something which causes the unsuspecting pastor’s head to jerk involuntarily.  The parishioner is reluctant to proceed.

Gathering himself, “Go on,” Andrew says, in a soothing, priestly manner.

The confessor continues with a personal revelation, a tale with degenerate twists, sickening details, and a shock ending.

For the next hour or so, more motor tics begin to manifest themselves in the Anglican minister’s face and upper torso—rapid blinking, grimacing, a pinched mouth, shoulder shrugging, collar tugging—so that he’s finally forced to cup a hand underneath his chin and right jaw, one eye peeking through opened fingers, as if from behind a Greek mask of tragedy.

The image of Melpomene and a devastated human face flashes across the theater of Andrew’s weary mind.

The minister’s hand, an undernourished and veiny veil, is, at the very least, something of a hiding place: a temporary physical, mental, emotional anchor.  He feels his bounding pulse—thump, thump, thump—beneath the sensitive pads of his right index and middle fingers which are pressing harder and harder against his temporal artery.  The voice coming from the other side of the heavy cherry wood desk is muffled and distorted, as if submerged in water.

Right now, Andrew wishes he were Roman Catholic and locked in a box.  The confessional would’ve been a haven, the spasming reaction on his face shielded from the penitent; the hard, dry swallow and quiver in his voice the only clue of an emotional tsunami of sudden dread.  Confession may be good for the soul, but it’s not always healthy for the mind, ears, and life of a young priest.

Andrew is relieved to find that his vocal tics are not the more embarrassing ones of Tourette’s and, thankfully, barely interrupt the crying man beyond the frequent clearing of the throat, sniffing, grunting, repeating what is said, whistling like a caged birdie, but no barking, yelping, shouting, or swearing—not yet—in fact, in the end, Andrew is rendered speechless, mouth agape, unable to move like he’s suffered a stroke.  He’s reminded of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who was visited by the angel Gabriel and exited the holy place of the Jewish temple as mute as a stone because of his unbelief.

The coal-eyed man stops crying and starts laughing so hard his shoulders shake, shake, shake, as if he’s just told a very funny joke.

A prickly chill, a hive of agitated bees, stings the back of Andrew’s neck.  He removes his frozen hand from his face, stares at it, finds that he’s already forming the Old Believers Sign of the Cross: the first three fingers expressing faith in the holy trinity of God and the remaining two representing the dual nature of Christ Jesus, the God-Man.

The priest’s movements are cautious and fluid as he places the invisible cross of Christ between himself and the developing monster.

Forehead.  “In nomine Patris…” 

Stomach. “et Filii…” 

Right shoulder to left.  “et Spiritus Sancti…”

“Amen.”

This time, the head of the man facing Andrew jerks suddenly, as if slapped by an angry hand.  He wheezes violently, the tantrum of a squealing pig.  Startled, the minister stands to his feet.  All at once, the prayer candles are extinguished by an unseen breath.

Dimmer now and darker the night.
_____________
Andrew Dabar (for Mike: a fresh excerpt from an untitled work in progress—enjoy!)