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[Fiction] Neil Preston: Pride and Anger


Hugin

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It’s the smell of the place that always speaks to him first. A little dust, a little spice and wood. The darkness too. It kind of harkens back to when he was a kid. This was such a mysterious place, almost frightening but at the same time comforting. Here is where you were washed clean. The sound of the screen pushing back brings him from his reverie.

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen" The voice is kind and smooth. The voice of a man practiced in dealing with those in spiritual peril.

“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been one week since my last confession.” Amazing how those words strip everything away. He’s not a nova now. Not a minor celebrity pawed after by scientists, doctors and the needy. He has no power, not here. Here he is a penitent, looking for absolution.

The priest coughs slightly, Father Mike (never Father Maloney not for years now.) must have a cold again. Too many late nights, not enough sleep and a large number of years will do that to a man. “And what have you come to confess my son?”

Neil hesitates. Why even ask? It’s always the same. For so long now it’s always the same. “Pride. Anger.”

Father Mike sighs, “Again?”

“Yes,” the disappointment in Father Mike’s voice is almost too much to bear. This is the man who was always there for him. When his father and mother split. When his father didn’t have enough time because of work. When keeping the grades high enough to satisfy his family felt like a weight on his chest that would suffocate him, Neil was always able to come to Father Mike.

Neil hears Father Mike stand up and exit the confessional. “Come with me Neil. We need to talk. And not here.” Neil stands and exits as well, seeing Father Mike walk towards the stairs leading to the balcony overlooking the church, he has to move quickly to catch up. Old age may have reduced his resistance to the common cold but it had apparently not slowed Father Mike’s step.

They reach the top of the stairs and Father Mike walks to the middle of the pew in front. Down below marble, velvet, colored glass and bright shining metal create an ambience of majesty and security. It’s an effective view for making one willing to listen. Father Mike sits and gestures for Neil to do the same. “Okay Neil, talk. Talk to me, don’t just ask for absolution. What’s happened to you boy? The smartest boy in St. Anthony’s never was prideful. The boy who’s father cleaned this city up was never prideful. What has changed that now you’re so high on yourself all of a sudden.”

The tone is not warm and welcoming. It is confrontational. The voice of a man talking to a boy. Neil rocks back for a moment. It’s been….a long time since someone, well, a baseline has had the nerve to speak to him like that. “Well,” Neil looks around slightly bewildered, “It’s not like it’s all of a sudden Father Mike. And, it’s also not like I don’t have a reason. I touch people and they’re, well, better.”

A stern look comes over the priest’s features. “Really. Really now? We’ll get back to that in a minute. And where does the anger come from? What has got you so riled up?

Neil sighs, “People. Just how stupid people are. How stupid and mean.”

“And this is a surprise to you boy? What, your father never talked about his job around the dinner table? I don’t know of many a cop that doesn’t and I know your father. He’s not one to hold his tongue.”

“No, it’s just that. Well, it’s so real now. You read about some woman’s husband shattering her jaw and it’s horrible. But when you put your hands on her to take that pain away and you feel it, it’s different. When your jaw breaks in four places it really brings that kind of thing home.”

Father Mike stands up and backs up against the railing, looking down on Neil. “Okay Neil, I’m going to talk now and you’re going to listen. I ask a question and you’ll answer it, otherwise you hush up now. Are we clear?”

Neil’s eyes go a little wide, “Yes.”

“Let me tell you something young man, you are nothing special. I don’t care if you have the ‘magic touch’ that people talk about. That does not mean a thing in the grand scheme. Let’s talk about that woman you ‘healed’ for a minute okay? This happen at the hospital?”

“Yes sir. I was putting a shift in at the emergency room to help out.”

“Okay. So, this woman comes in, her husband, pig that he is, beat her up bad?”

“Yes. Broken jaw, some lacerations and bruising.” Neil’s jaw tightens in memory. The feel of bone shattering like glass comes to mind.

“And you helped her?”

“Yes. She was good as new.”

“No son, no you didn’t help her.”

“But..”

“Quiet! No, you didn’t help her. You did what time would have done. You speeded up her recovery, maybe did it better than time would have done but it would have been done even if you had never been born. Did she talk to the police?”

“Yes, they took a statement and went to arrest her husband.”

“Good, good.” The priest looked at Neil closely. Frustration painted the young man’s face. It was obvious he didn’t like being told that he hadn’t helped her. “Now, let me explain something. That woman is going to help herself. She is going to have to have the strength to speak against her brute of a husband and leave him. She is going to have to take her little girl, yes yes, I know who she was, I know exactly what happened last night, I was at the hospital visting some people in need. She’s going to have to take her little girl and go out on her own. She’s going to need strength and you’re not going to be the one who gives it to her. She’s going to get it from herself and from God. You saved her some pain. And that isn’t nothing, but it isn’t what you’ve been thinking it is. Who else you help?”

Neil looked around, trying to remember. His mind was swimming a bit. “Uh, there was, there was this boy. Yeah, he had been shot. Pretty bad. He was flat-lining when they brought him in.” Some confidence returned to his voice. He had saved a boy last night. He was too far gone for surgery and it had been Neil that brought him back.

“Yes, young Tommy Johansson. Troubled boy. He’s taken up with the wrong sort. Yes, you helped him a bit Neil. You gave him another chance at being a good son and a good husband to that girl he’s gotten in trouble. But that’s all you gave him, another chance. He’s going to have to tell those rough boys who have him dealing that he won’t have anything to do with them. He’s going to have to do right by his girl. He’s going to have to get a straight job and take care of his responsibilities. And he’s going to need courage and strength for that. Courage and strength that you’re not going to give him.”

Father Mike sits back down beside Neil and puts his arm around his shoulders. Neil’s eyes are a little glazed, stunned even. “You do good Neil, you do real good in the world. You take away pain and give people another chance. But that is just a small part of the rest of their lives. You don’t give courage and strength, you don’t give hope and compassion. The Good Lord gave you gifts my son. He gave them to you for a reason. And to sulk around like the world is this evil place that you cannot bear isn’t why he did it. Maybe that’s why your touch hurts you when it helps others. Maybe he saw that you had this in you that you had to deal with. You need strength too. And that you have to find within yourself. From your soul, from God. “

Neil looks at Father Mike, his voice breaking slightly, “And what about the anger? What about that?”

Father Mike sighs and coughs a few times more, “That I can’t help you with son. In fact, on that score I think you’re being a little hard on yourself. The world has some bad people in it, people who think that hurting and killing are okay. These folks don’t have God in their hearts and I think that it’s okay to be mad at them. It’s okay to be mad at the stupid people out there. Real rage, the rage that is a sin, that’s not in your heart Neil and you need to give yourself a bit of a break there. You’re still human Neil. Touched by God and with a body that isn’t human I’ll admit. But your soul, the thing that really matters? That comes from God, and in that way you will always be one of his children.” He stands up and places his hand upon Neil’s head. “You’re taking too much on my son. Too much for such a young man. Keep doing what you do, but stop thinking that it’s your place to make the world a better place all by your lonesome. That will break you.”

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