Sunday, November 13, 2005

Strength Through Joy

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned." She whispered my favourite words and I put my cheek against the grille. It felt like months, years, since I'd heard her voice and felt her warm breath wafting through the mesh into my ear. "It's been two days since my last confession. I acknowledge my sins unto thee and mine iniquity have I not hid. I am guilty of harbouring impure thoughts and I kneel before you now, O Father, to beg your forgiveness and absolution and the blessed mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ."

"Tell me about the impure thoughts." I settled comfortably, adjusting my cassock in readiness.

"Forgive me, Father, but they've been getting worse, much worse, far more . . . graphic. I just can't help myself, you see, but I've been thinking of you, Father." Oh, God! "Terrible, wicked thoughts, Father, involving hideously unspeakable acts of grossly bestial carnality, and sometimes, Father, I just . . . "

"The acts, my child! Tell me about the unspeakable acts!"

Child! She was probably five years my senior and quite plainly vastly more experienced than I in the wicked ways of the outside world. I sighed with exquisite happiness, savouring every moment of her presence, basking in the excruciatingly poignant proximity of her, inhaling her heady musk as she poured her depraved imaginings like a warm viscous liquid slowly through my ear and down, down into the deepest, darkest, secret reaches of my mortal being.

During the afternoon following my epiphany, still reeling somewhat from the shock of it while at the same time revelling in my new sense of liberation, going about my usual priestly business I was delivering leaflets concerning some piece of church nonsense or other, and I called in to leave one at the Clapham Lawn Tennis Club, and as I leaned my bicycle against the pavilion wall, I turned briefly to watch the only game in progress and there she was, running and jumping in the spring sunshine, smashing and volleying, laughing with the sheer joy of movement, her limbs tanned and muscular, her fair hair darkened by sweat, a vision of vitality, like an old Kraft durch Freude poster miraculously brought to life, and as I stood there, unable to take my eyes from her, she represented for me at that moment the very meaning of life, a divine distillation of the essence of human existence and I became suffused with an icy clarity of mind and purpose, the like of which I had never known, and all my senses became heightened to a fabulous and extraordinary new degree.

At that point in my life, relatives notwithstanding, I had lamentably little experience of women, but some of them, I had begun to notice with much surprise and alarm as I went about my parish duties, had the ability to cause in me a sudden, unexpected and highly embarrassing state of arousal without apparent knowledge or intention. Mrs. Tandridge for instance; I couldn't get within six feet of her without feeling my face burning red as I hurriedly pulled my coat together to conceal my shame. I reasoned it must be a purely chemical reaction because she was possessed of no obvious physical charms, built as she was in the style of an East German hammer-thrower with a dark moustache. And Mrs. Donovan who did the flowers; and Miss Drake at the school. It was such a bore at times and so tiresomely, well, adolescent.

But as I stood there watching her playing tennis, feeling the familiar tautening, there was no accompanying sense of guilt nor shame nor awkwardness. I walked towards the court and pressed myself against the fence, my fingers clutching the wire, staring quite blatantly at that synthesis of pure womanhood.

And then I realised that I was stuck. Having failed to adjust my dress correctly, I had succeeded in impaling the galvanized chain link fence and such was the delerium of my excitement that I was held quite fast and helpless, unable to withdraw to cover myself. And then she looked across and our eyes met and I knew that that day was to be my last as a priest in the Holy Roman Catholic Church.