Note to self. Try not to do so much. Become a better listener. Show curiosity. Breathe from the belly. You can live your wildest dreams all you have to do is change everything. All you have to do is change everything.
I’m frozen to the pew and it feels embarrassing to move. We’ve walked far, and I bet we smell. An hour along the highway since our phones are dead and it’s the only way we knew.
It’s morning and bright and my throat is black from cigarettes when I realize that I, like, hate myself? Not because of what I did tonight. I realize that I hated myself before I left the house to party.
Stella’s kneeling next to me, white tracksuit pants against the red velvet of the prayer bench.
She’s very serious, but still funny, since it’s impossible to know what she’s thinking when she kneels and rises, clasps her hands, at the same time as the congregation. She seems to have come into contact with some kind of archaic suffering, while I’m merely ashamed about last night. My suffering is contemporary, soft and moist. Dry by the evening.
The wooden Jesus sculpture looks sicker than the happy one in Sweden. He’s bony, small and grey. I don’t know if it’s old and worn or if they’ve made it that way for him to look that sad and miserable.
God made his son a human, so he could share in the suffering of men.
Did God remember to make sure that Jesus also had to feel the unpleasant pendulum movement from fun to sad? To follow a thought with hope and faith and suddenly dive into something bottomless deep? That state where you’re laughing, screaming, heiling and suddenly in the middle of it all realizing that you want to go home.
For me, suffering means writing lists of things you’re gonna change about yourself, instead of changing everything. Stella changed everything a long time ago and that’s why her suffering is archaic. Like Jesus’, her sadness is fundamental.
Uncomfortable evenings. I toss and turn so I don’t have to feel how the darkness falls fast over things I haven’t had time to clean. Blood collects in my lymph nodes. People say “the darkness is compact”, but it is not…
“Hot priest,” Stella whispers, so I look up. It’s not that he’s hot, but he looks “like us” and is reading with a dark, sexy voice. It’s not that he’s hot, but rather tall and slim, a flat body, and his voice vibrates in a manner that might have been domineering but he draws out initial and final vowels and fills the spaces between with “eh” and “um”, as if he wants to distance himself from the words in his sermon. Like he’s a little bit embarrassed and wants to turn it into a joke.
He’s like me, I think. He’s never changed everything. Who’s he looking for when he’s preening like that before the congregation? Is it me?
I’m reminded of springtime, when discomfort disappears. When you fall in love in April … if I’d been the wife of a priest. I’d be so focused on him that all that black stuff just turns into background, wallpaper.
I tell Stella I need to speak to the peirst. We go to talk to the priest, we ask him how long he’s been a priest. Half a year, he says. I present myself and say my name is Francis. As we’re leaving the church, I tell Stella how it felt remarkable, the way the priest didn’t make me hate myself, not because he was nice or warm but because I could see the ways his thoughts drifted, so I thought I had a distance from his opinions about me.
That’s what people never give you – that airy space you long for. I fall in love with people who give me that airy space I always long for. Distance.
I’ve got to go and make confession, it’s my only chance to speak to him alone. It’s me, I whisper through the lattice. Francis.
I’m far away, but very close, he whispers through the confession booth. My mouth, dry, he’s far away, I open and close my mouth and nibble mechanically, like a turtle. I pushed myself into position, pressed to the chair, my seat swells and starts swallowing the booth. Closer, he says. My hands find a nipple, a marble. The further away he is, the closer. He fills my entire mouth, iridescent, swelling. The reformation meant the end of forgiveness. My forehead beats against the air, butts against his chest, but he’s not there. He could have tasted sugar in the marble, iridescent juice. I need to read Decreation now. My fingers keep slipping off my nipple since I can’t stop trembling. Is he laughing at me? I pressed my breasts together. What’s his real name? All fat was in my hands. I wanted them both in his mouth. Was I a reformer? I collect the sides of my breasts.
The following Sunday, during the sermon, the priest waits for me to come forwards. I’ve been sober all week, showering in the morning and wearing beautiful clothes which I’d washed as early as Thursday.
His shyness is like a flame, gasping and burning out, or a hard-on that suddenly looses track of itself and curls up. But I follow my plan regardless, still walk up to him with the slip of paper with my phone number on it and put it in his hand.
Back on the street, he writes to me. The air is cool and moist. You feel so close right now, he writes. Never am I ever going back to that church.
Text: Fredrika Flinta
Translation and image: Zola Gorgon