This is an untitled short story I during the winter/spring of 2010. I’m proud of this one in many ways, though I will be the first to admit that it is far from perfect. (Example: the “he thoughts” etc…)
Read it and let me know what you think.
He walked up the steps that would lead him to the front door of the
sanctuary. “Now this is a door that I haven’t darkened in a long time”, he
thought. “I wonder if God still remembers my name?”
He half expected the doors to be locked at this hour – they usually were –
what with it being three in the morning on some idle Tuesday. Of course the
doors wouldn’t be open.
Surprised, he grasped the faded brass handle and discovered that the door
swung easily open to reveal a small by cozy chapel: a few pews [tattered
cloth protecting the wood], stain-glass windows depicting various points of
religious importance, none of which he could remember from his days going to
Sunday school although they did spark some emotion in him that he hadn’t
felt in years.
Walking down the long aisle to the front of the church, he tried to remember
what got him to this point in his life. It seemed hard to believe that he
would have reached this point in his life where he would be walking in to a
church at three am in the morning looking like he did [a torn pair of blue
jeans faded beyond recognition, a tattered plaid shirt that he had worn for
years, a light jacket with holes in most of the pockets, save for the right
pocket, which he had stitched closed earlier the day before and a pair of
sneakers which were missing their shoelaces, his feet continually slipping
in and out of them as he walked].
“Goddammit” he thought, “how the hell did I get to this place in my life
anyway? What the hell happened?”
While he couldn’t point to it with any certainty, he had the distinct
feeling that he was not alone – it was a feeling that someone could not only
hear him, but also read his thoughts. It frightened him but also at the same
time gave him a tingling sense of excitement that he had not felt in quite
Approaching the front of sanctuary, he noticed a single candle burning on
what appeared to be a small altar made of stone. The candle was small, not
large, so it must have been recently lit, he thought to himself as he
examined the candle more closely. “No way in hell could this burn for more
than a few hours” he thought to himself, allowing his face to get close
enough to the candle to feel the warmth coming off of it.
He breathed in deeply, trying to clear his mind and at the same time, trying
to determine the scent that the candle gave off, if any.
“Lavender?” he thought to himself, taking another deep breath in through his
nostrils. “At least that’s what I think it smells like” he thought, raising
himself to full height, extending his gaze upwards towards the wall behind
the stone altar which was adorned with stain glassed windows with depictions
of Christ’s life: childhood, ministry, death.
“God, how I’ve forgotten all of this shit. Hell, I don’t even remember the
name of the first book of the Bible, to be sure. Genesis, was it? I don’t
know. It doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters.”
He reached in to his right jacket pocket that he had repaired earlier the
day before and pulled out a small gun which he had had in his possession for
as long as he could care to remember. It was the same gun that his dad had
used some twenty-five years earlier to kill himself, in front of his on kid.
“Yeah, I never got over that” he thought, gripping the gun tightly in his
right hand, questioning if he really wanted to do what he had set his mind
to earlier that night after the bars closed.
At least his dad didn’t die alone, he considered. “I’m going to die alone
tonight if I can go through with this”, he said out loud, convinced at this
point that it didn’t matter any more if anyone heard him or not. There was
no talking him out of this, not tonight.
He looked down at his left hand where he saw his wedding band, crooked on
his ring finger. “Fuck her” he said, turning the ring on his finger. “Like
she ever gave a damn.”
He didn’t know why, but he continued to wear the ring. It wasn’t like it was
a recent divorce or anything – she left him more than five years ago – an
affair, with his best friend, no less.
Ouch. “To lose your wife is one thing”, he thought, “but to lose your best
friend at the same time.” He gripped the gun tighter, his resolve
strengthening with each passing breath.
He slowly walked over to the closest pew at the front of the sanctuary and
sat down. “God, these are just as hard now as when I was a kid,” he
thought, remembering the long days spent sitting in pews similar to this one
at his mother’s insistence that he attend mass with her. “And here I
thought that somehow adults found them more comfortable.”
He glanced down at the pew and noticed that there were shallow marks that
had been pressed in to the wood of the pew, more than likely made my kids
who had been drawing during service. “Too bad my mother never let me do
that when I was a kid,” he thought. “Seems like I always had to be the
most-behaved kid at church, even when my friends were allowed to draw in
their coloring books. Lucky bastards.”
He thought back to the time when things seemed simpler, to the times where
he would sit inside a sanctuary like this one and elbow his sister whom he
sat next to as the priest delivered mass. She hated it when he elbowed her
and then pretended not to notice that he had done anything at all. He was
sad to admit it, but he had no idea where his sister even was anymore. They
had lost touch shortly after he and his wife had separated. Sure, he had
heard all of the “we’re here if we need you” speeches from all of his
friends, but his sister? His sister had just left, walked out of his life.
She couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that a marriage couldn’t work
out, but held fast to the belief that there was always hope, albeit small.
“She was naïve, that’s all there was to it,” he thought, looking down at his
hand that still held the gun.
“Six rounds. This gun can hold six rounds,” he thought to himself, noticing
for the first time a tear trickle down his cheek and on to the pew in which
he sat. “I’ll only need one bullet. That’s all it takes. One.”
He pulled the single bullet out of his shirt pocket and allowed it to roll
in his hand. “Amazing something so small can make such a big mess” he
thought, watching the bullet roll from the top of his hand on the edge of
his fingertips to the palm of his hand. “If you want something done right,
you need to do it yourself.”
He watched as the single tear that had landed on the pew found its way to
the lowest point of the pew by following the deep indentations that had been
formed through years of use. He laughed thinking that this tear had more
resolve than he did. He wanted to give up; the tear wanted to keep moving
to the lowest point possible on the pew.
“I’m being outdone by an inanimate object,” he thought, grinning ever so
slightly. It was the first time he could remember finding amusement out of
something so simple in quite some time. “Funny how that happens” he
The candle on the altar flickered, but remained lit. “Damn, that candle
can’t continue burning for much longer,” he thought.
A chill came over him at the thought of someone else being in the church
with him. Surely he wasn’t alone – there was no way that a small candle
like that could remain lit for so long…
“Who the hell could be here at this hour?” he thought, realizing that
whoever it was couldn’t possibly be up to any good.
At that moment, he turned he head and saw in the corner of the sanctuary a
small confessional. Carefully slipping the gun he was holding in to his
pants pocket and the single bullet in to his jacket pocket, he picked
himself up off the pew and began to walk over to the confessional.
He doubted that anyone would be in there. What was he expecting at this
hour, anyway? Surely the place was completely empty, and yet, the candle
still haunted his mind.
Reaching for the confessional’s door, he realized that it has been forever
since he had taken part in the Sacrament of Penance. “God, would I even
remember how this is done?” he thought.
He stepped in to the compartment and did his Hail Mary, trying to remember
all of the words.
“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned,” he began, “and I will sin –
“Fuck this” he said out loud, knowing no one would hear. “No one has
listened to me in a long time”, he thought. “I gave up on myself when I gave
up on God.”
“He’s always ready to welcome you back into his arms, you know,” said a
small voice from the other side of the confessional wall.
“What the hell?” he said, startled that there was actually someone
listening. “How long have you been in there?” he asked, continuing, “Fuck,
you heard everything, huh?”
“If by ‘everything’ you mean all of those colorful words you said about your
wife, then, yes, I did hear everything.”
“God can reach out to you, even at your lowest point, my child” the
mysterious voice replied. “You aren’t alone.”
“Like hell I am” he replied, “I gave up on God years ago. God knows that.
That’s why all of this shit has happened to me.”
“Bad things happen to good people. You’re not alone.”
“Hell, I thought I was alone tonight until you proved me wrong just a few
moments ago. You gave me quite the fright, I might add.”
“Sorry. I seem to do that a lot.”
“Gee, really? You think? Fuck. Oh, sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. You should feel at peace to come as you are. You don’t
have to try to be anyone you’re not. Swear away, by all means, please, swear
“Hell, father, you’re a lot different than the other priests that I knew in
my life. Different in a good way, I mean.”
“That’s good to hear. I try to be all things to all men, you know.”
“That’s scriptural, isn’t it?”
“Why, yes, it is. Sounds like you remember more than you give yourself
“So, anyway, you said that you were going to sin, is that correct? You
don’t have to go down whatever path it is you’re contemplating going down,
“That’s what you’re supposed to say, isn’t it? That somehow I can find redemption in the face of great adversity. Save me the speech.”
“What I’m supposed to say? What gave you that idea?”
“Well, you’re a priest, right? Isn’t it your job to say those things?”
“I’m a priest? Why, what ever gave you that idea?”
“You said so! Didn’t you? He thought back to their conversation, but for the life of him couldn’t remember him ever saying that he was a priest. “Wait, so if you’re not a priest, who the fucking hell are you?!?!?” he shouted, starting to lose his temper.
“Well, you see, I’m a…”
He interrupted him continuing his diatribe in a loud voice, “For crying out loud – I just started to confess to someone who isn’t a goddamn priest! What the hell? Who the hell are you? What the fuck am I doing? Oh, shit, I was going to tell you everything! Everything I tell you!”
He slid open the confessional door and reached for the door to the other side of the confessional to reveal whom the mysterious voice belonged.
“You don’t have to do this, you know.” the voice said, calm as ever, despite the sudden elevation in the conversation. “You can just forget that this even happened, go on your way, and, well, commit whatever sin it was you came here hoping you could be talked out of.”
“Oh, yeah, like that’s encouraging” he said. “You have no fucking idea why the hell I even came here in the first place.”
“Oh, I can guess. You’re here for the same reason that everyone else comes in here at this hour of the morning. To try to talk themselves out of doing something very, very rash.”
“Lucky guess. Anyway, you haven’t a clue what my rash decision that I’m trying to talk myself out of is.”
“True. I don’t. And I don’t need to know.”
“Like hell you don’t.”
There was silence between the two. All he would have had to do at that moment would be to slide the door open to reveal the face of the person who he had been speaking to. Whether he admitted it or not, he was taken by this mystifying wonder of who the person could be. There was a part of him, he could admit, that did not want to find out who he had been talking to.
“I don’t want whoever it is behind this door to be the last face I remember before I kill myself”, he thought, letting his grip on the door relax.
After a moment, his hand fell to his side.
“I don’t want to know.” he said out loud. “I don’t want to know who you are.”
“That decision is yours to make either way,” said the voice. “I respect your decision no matter what you choose.”
“I’m walking away now.” he said, starting to turn for the pews to sit down again in order to contemplate his next move. “This will be the first, last, and only time we will have spoken.”
“I am here if you need me” came the voice.
“Whatever. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters. I’m just an ordinary guy with no hope of a future.”
“Everyone has a future.”
“Not me. Or rather, what future I have left ends tonight.” he said, reaching in to his jacket pocket, gripping the pistol. “It ends tonight.”
He walked down the aisle of the sanctuary, looking straight ahead towards the front of the building where the single candle flame flickered and burned out. “Figures” he thought. “I’m going to end my life tonight, just like the life of that flame ended. It’s almost ironic.”
The sight of the flame extinguishing reminded him of years past, of birthdays spent celebrated with his wife and family and friends. Everything seemed much simpler those days, he thought, remembering the first birthday he had shared with his wife as a married couple – just the two of them and an ice cream cake – his favorite.
His wife and gone out and purchased those trick candles that never go out no matter how many times you blow on them. She was amused as he continued to try to blow them out, failing every time but still having fun at trying to get them out anyway.
“I love you.” she said, as he looked over at him and smiled. “And like these candles whose light will not dim, so too is my love for you.”
“Like hell it is.” He said out loud back in the present moment, thinking to that moment. “Convenient that she could leave me for my best friend. So what if I had to work late hours just to make ends meet. I wasn’t having a goddamn affair like she was – out there screwing my best friend.”
Still, the sight of the candle’s smoke rising stirred his memories to that day when the whole world seemed perfect, just as it should be, like he always hoped it would be.
He thought of his young son and wondered if he would ever understand what his dad was going through when he killed himself. His son was only a few years old – would he even have memories of his father?
“He’ll probably remember that son-of-a-bitch friend of mine as his dad” he thought, grimacing in pain at the thought.
“Was he even my son?” he thought, thinking back to when his wife’s affair may have started. “He could very not be my son, come to think of it.”
“No, it couldn’t be – he had to be my son. There was no other way around it unless my wife and best friend where screwing each other shortly after I married her.” He thought.
“It doesn’t matter any more. Remember that. It doesn’t matter any more.” He repeated over and over to himself.
He took the single bullet out of his pocket and placed it in the cylinder of the gun. He closed the cylinder and gave it a good hard spin, not caring where the bullet would end up.
“I don’t want to decide any more” he thought, giving up trying to figure out where the bullet may be in the cylinder. It did not matter if he would be dead tonight, or go on living, so long as he no longer had to give a damn about it. “Not this time. This is something I’ll leave up to chance. Pure, unbiased chance.”
He took the gun and put it up to his temple the cold end of the barrel pressed hard up against his skull.
“I have nothing in life that matters any more. I can end it here, if fate allows.”
He took his wallet out of his back pants pocket and opened it up to a photograph of his son.
“I love you.” He said, looking at the photograph. “I love you.”
Then he pulled the trigger.