Now that he was dead, she was free to live with Frankie. No more taking a shower immediately after coming home to dear loving husband. No more pretending to be with the girls. No more asking the guard at the school to swear that she left the campus very late. No more glancing over her shoulder to check if someone she knew would see her going into a movie theater, or a dimly-lit restaurant, or a hotel, or a motel. A motel, for God’s sake. She never dreamed that she would be doing what her classmates were doing when she was in college, or that the adolescents in her neighborhood were probably doing instead of attending their classes.
All her life, she had followed the rules. No kissing until months after the first date. No petting in the balconies of movie theaters. No sex in the back seat of a car in parking lots. No nothing, except for occasionally holding hands though never in broad daylight. Only in movie theaters.
She was a virgin when she married him. Even while married, it was always the missionary position, the word she learned from reading novels. Never any “experimentation.” Never nothing. She was bored.
Now, he was dead. Soon, he would be cremated. After all the flowers and the memories and the nice words from childhood friends and the condolences, he would be buried. She could forget about him and go about her secret – well, not really a secret anymore – life.
Too bad she couldn’t marry Frankie, though. Not because there was a conventional one-year gap between being a widow and having a wedding.
Frankie was married.
* * *
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been a while since my last confession.”
She looked vaguely familiar.
“I committed adultery. I committed murder.”
Father Romy had made the vow of confession so automatic that he actually never listened to the litany of sins that his parishioners recited. He pardoned them all, regardless of how grave or petty their sins were. He believed literally that the command to pardon sins – “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” – was absolute. He had absolute discretion on which sins should be forgiven or retained. But he wanted everyone to go to heaven, so he felt that he should not stop anybody from getting eternal happiness, even if it might not be their just reward.
But this time, Father Romy straightened up in his confessional box. Murder was not an ordinary sin.
“You killed somebody?” he asked.
“Well, not me, Father, but I helped someone else do it.”
Father Romy knew his theology. That was one thing he remembered well, even if he could not remember much of anything else. He remembered line and verse of the Bible that he quoted from every Sunday sermon, but he could not remember when he actually studied the Bible.
That was one thing he had asked the bishop. Why did he have amnesia of some sort? Why did he not remember his childhood? Or why he entered the priesthood? Or where he was, in fact, a year ago?
A psychiatrist had examined him and pronounced him perfectly healthy, at least in the sense that he could function very well. He could say Mass like he had said it presumably hundreds of times before. It wasn’t even mechanical. He really meant what he said every minute of the Mass.
He could remember whole passages from books, not only religious books but poetry books. He could do mathematical equations like even the psychiatrist could not believe. He had tested on the genius level, in fact, on the IQ tests that the psychiatrist had made him do. He did the verbal intelligence test. He did the non-verbal tests, the culture fair tests, matrices, personality tests, work values tests – so many kinds of them. He even took English language tests and proved to the examiners that he knew all the intricacies of outdated prescriptive grammar. He did all kinds of physical examinations, MRI, tumor marker tests, even HIV tests, for heaven’s sake. Anything the bishop suggested he did. All the doctors, medical or doctors of philosophy, and not only the psychiatrist, could find nothing wrong with him.
Except that he had no memory whatsoever of what he was and where he was or who he was before a few months ago, when the bishop had organized a surprise birthday party for him at the Archbishop’s Palace. They had placed forty candles on the huge cake. They all had fun making him blow forty candles all at once.
He was forty years old, but as far as his memory was concerned, he was a newborn infant. He was literally “born again.”
“It was my lover, Father. He planned and did it.”
The woman’s voice brought him back to the confessional box.
The voice was vaguely familiar, but like every other memory, it was no longer in his mind.
“I’m married, Father. I mean, I was married. Then I fell in love with this man. He made me happy. And he said he wanted to marry me. So he planned to kill his wife. And he planned to kill my husband. But he didn’t kill his wife. But he killed my husband. I am so, so sorry, Father. I didn’t realize he was really going to do it. I could have warned my husband, but I also wanted him dead. I’m a murderer, Father.”
It was a very strange confession, Father Romy said to himself. He was sorry that he had not heard the whole story because he had been distracted, thinking of why he could not remember anything before that birthday party.
“Say a perfect act of contrition, my child,” he said, mechanically. “God is good and will pardon all your sins, all our sins. Go and sin no more.”
The woman left. Father Romy suddenly remembered what he must have learned in theological school. He should have told the woman to go to the police and tell them about the murder. But he did not even ask how the murder was committed. He knew enough – somehow – about people imagining sins and he consoled himself with the thought that, perhaps, there was never any real murder and the woman may have been confessing to an imaginary sin.
He was used, anyway, to women coming to him for advice, or for confession, or to do a selfie. He did not think himself handsome, not to mention that, as a priest, he was not supposed to think of himself as a sex object, but women did come physically close to him more often than they did to the other priest in the parish.
Behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind, he could quote from Ecclesiastes. He was not about to give in to vanity. Maybe he was indeed handsome. Maybe he was indeed, as he had been teased by the bishop, every girl’s crush. But he had enough trouble trying to remember who he was to be swayed by the adulation of women – and sometimes men.
Father Romy did not even bother to look at the next penitent who was saying, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was yesterday. I remembered that, when I was a little boy, I bad thoughts.”
What I would give to remember any thoughts at all, even bad thoughts, thought Father Romy. “Say one Our Father and sin no more,” he murmured, barely making himself heard by the penitent, who was all ears.
“Thank you, Father,” the penitent shouted, jolting Father Romy. “You are heaven sent!”