Friday, 4 April 2014
Ryan hadn’t had the easiest of lives. Try as he might he always seemed to make a mess of things and typically, last night was one such occasion. He was raised as a good Catholic boy, but hadn’t been to church – hadn’t even thought of it - in over a decade. He always thought his troubles dated back to the time as an altar boy when he had been wrongly accused of stealing from the collection and had been shamed in front of the congregation. He couldn’t even go to confession because he had nothing to confess.
Suddenly, feeling like an outcast, feeling always under suspicion, he began testing the tolerance of those around him; if he was going to be treated like a criminal, he may as well behave like one. His schoolwork began to slide and as his grades fell so did his attendance. Playing hooky became an easy lie as he intercepted school letters to his parents and spent his days smoking stolen cigarettes and hanging around seedy amusement arcades. Soon his petty thievery became a habit and in a few short years he was well known to the local police.
It was only a matter of time before he was accommodated at Her Majesty’s pleasure and on his release, his parents disowning him, he was set on a life on the wrong side of the tracks. Drink, drugs, burglaries, muggings; he was hell-bent on digging himself an early pauper’s grave. But all that changed when he met Róisín. She gave him a reason to get up in the morning and sober up his act and when he lapsed and was sent down for another short stretch she waited for him and took him into her home on his release.
For a few months life was good. They talked about starting a family and he cleaned up, took a dreary job and settled back onto the road to redemption. Róisín was still in the church and every Sunday she tried to persuade Ryan to come with her to mass, but her church was the same one he’d been kicked out of all those years ago. God may forgive him, but he wasn’t yet ready to forgive his servants on earth. She never nagged him but somehow her easy faith and the comfort she took from it ate away at him.
Then, last night it had all come to a head. One drink too many; getting a bit lairy down the pub; shouting his mouth off at the staff; Róisín’s tactful handling of him as she bundled him into a cab. All of these were nails in the coffin of his self-control as he sat there, indignant that she had so casually treated him like a child and excused his behaviour to the landlord, who had wanted to call the police. He felt both helpless and angry and when they had got home he had struck her across the cheek even as she tried to coax him back down to earth.
And that was the final straw. She pushed him backwards out of the door, raining ineffectual blows against his chest and he staggered off out and into the night, drunk and sobbing and raging against the cosmos. He slept fitfully on a park bench and woke shivering and broken, a deep cramp gnawing at his stomach. Dragging himself upright and still substantially drunk he bent double with the pain. And then he realised he was outside the church, that church. He might yet be saved. It was early morning but a light shone from within and he crossed its door for the first time in years, praying he wasn’t too late.
It'll take more than six Hail Marys to absolve this!
He lurched along and entered a confessional booth, groaning in torment. And suddenly he was quiet and calm, gulping great breaths of restorative air. Then a long silence, broken eventually by the priest gently coughing from the other side of the screen. No response. Another cough, louder this time; nothing. Finally, the Priest pounded three times on the wall of the confessional booth and finally Ryan responded weakly. “There’s no use knocking so hard… there’s no paper on this side either!”