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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

I’m crafting a sermon. Everything will be confidential.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 22


Father Tesque juts his head out of the Confessional.  There is a man – a man he knows – holding the coffin-shaped brass knob of the adjoining box and preparing to enter.  This man is a member of the parish, and his voice is high-pitched and educated.  This is not the man he had been speaking with moments before, the stranger asking for the Sacrament of Penance.  That man has escaped undetected.  Father Tesque scans the church for signs.  There are none.

The parishioner looks embarrassed to be seen entering the Confessional.  Oh.  Hello.  Were you leaving?

Father Tesque scoops a hand at the man and smiles, signaling that it is all right to enter.  He awkwardly returns to the privacy of the Confessional.

All afternoon, Tesque listens to men and women pour their sins through the partition.  The transgressions are, for the most part, not severe.  The mysteriously vanished man who wounded a woman appears to be the worst of the lot.  The others, though worthy of penance, have committed only common mistakes, bound by their humanity, the details a blur.  He does notice a high quotient of confessions related to children, though, and the wrongs done to them since the 81 went missing, including corporal punishment, resentment, and harsh language.  A great purge is underway, which will hopefully refine these parents in a positive way, taking the evil that is the 81’s disappearances and transmuting into God’s lessons.

So he listens.

And he nods.


Assigns penance.

And, as always, Father Tesque leaves the task drained and hungry and feeling every bit of his 51 years.

Later that afternoon, he goes to O’Malley’s, a quiet neighborhood pub five blocks north of St. Patrick’s.  At O’Malley’s, he is known and he is admired.  O’Malley often sits front row of his homily.

Tesque occupies his favorite corner booth and sips chilled wine.  He prepares notes for next Sunday’s service, to get a jump on things.  Today’s morning riot has given him much to talk about, even though the consequences to attendance were severe.  It’s difficult to read from the Bible when there are glides blowing up outside your church, he laughs.  Who wants to make their way through that?  He didn’t anticipate the church to be more full after service than during, but it was so.  This Sunday will be historic indeed.

He considers what could be said about the state of things.  There are many Bible scriptures he could connect to the current circumstances of City 32, but all seem false and patronizing to him in the face of very real grief.  And a very real danger.  Only through the good training of the police was the damage contained to the square.  St. Patrick’s may not be spared this blight if the unrest returns.

Father Tesque scratches through handwritten lines.

He’s not found the right tone.

The message is there, but it is hollow.  It is no different from what has been in the editorials.  After an hour, he dredges up the lessons of his seminary.  What makes a great homily is a great story.  And he doesn’t have a great story.  Not yet.  Only the fragments of feelings.

Tesque scans O’Malley’s for strangers.  He doesn’t want a chummy tale told by a drunken mate.  He wants the unknown scrap, the unknown voice.  The striking significance of what is new.  That’s the only thing that inspires him lately is a fresh perspective, not the narrow histories of his friends, who will either concoct inflammatory details, or trim out the good bits because Father Tesque is their spiritual leader.  Neither is what he seeks.


That will not do.

He combs his wavy gray hair with his fingers and is sure to dust any crumbs from his white, fuzzy beard before speaking.  Excuse me, he calls out to a tall man in a clean suit seated two tables from his booth.  He is busy manicuring his nails while hovering over the latest flash edition, and its account of the riot.

The man looks up.

Excuse me… My name is Father Tesque.  I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time.

The man’s expression does not change.  But nor does he look away.

Please.  What’s your name?

Ted, the man proclaims from across the pub as he rests his Emory board on the table.  Ted Appleton.

Would you spare a moment for me, Ted?  I’m writing something and, and, well, I’ll buy you a drink for 10 minutes of your time.

Coffee.  The man nods to his cup.

Let’s make it an Irish Coffee, then.

No, I just want coffee.

Oh.  Of course.

Tesque signals the bartender (not Mr. O’Malley today, it seems) and calls out his order.  Good coffee for my friend Ted, if you please!

Ted stands from his wooden chair and crosses to the booth of Father Tesque.  He stands for an awkward moment as Tesque clears his papers.

Please, the priest welcomes at last.  Sit.

Ted slides into the opposite slip of the booth and shuffles the curve of the leather until he is directly across from Tesque.

Tesque is immediately struck by the man’s posture.  He practically has rigor mortis.  And his suit is perfectly cut and perfectly worn.  Even his fingernails, unfinished, seem over-polished, over-bright.  Ted puts his palms flat on the table and, in his face, there is a look: don’t touch me.  Tesque regrets his choice of interviewee.

Tell me, Ted, he asks as the bartender delivers Ted’s coffee, why do you live in this city?

My family.

Oh, you came here for family?

No.  I came here alone.  But I have a family now.

Well…why did you come here before you had a family.

The same reason anyone comes to the city.  For work.

Have you ever thought of leaving 32?

Ted hesitates.  Only recently.

Ah, nods the priest, winking and putting a finger to his eyebrow then drawing the finger back, it’s the violence, the children.  If you’re a family man, it does make the countryside sound appealing, doesn’t it?

Is there any countryside anymore? jokes Ted.

Father Tesque appreciates the observation.

What I’d like to do, Ted, if it’s all right, is talk about your experience in the city.  How many years you’ve been a resident, where you work, about your circumstance, what led you even to be in this pub right now.  I’m crafting a sermon.  Everything will be confidential.  But, if my seminary school taught me well those 33 years ago – has it been 33?  Yes.  Oh goodness!  They taught me that it is the real stories that matter most.  Not some espousing of rhetoric, like the politicians.  The only way to reach the people in the congregation, Ted, you see…is to tell them something real.  Am I being too foggy?

No, I understand.

Tesque nods.  Good.  And, and rest assured, Ted, that anything you tell me will be held in the strictest confidence.  I’m not asking you to testify in front of my congregation.  This is simply to help me get my bearings.

So what I tell you is secret?

Absolutely, my son.  I only want to relate what you’ve encountered in City 32 and compare it to what I know of the scriptures, and then see if I can find meaning in it.

Will that be hard?

Shouldn’t.  Might.  Let’s give it a go.

Ted picks at his fingernails, looks down.  He scratches off some of the manicure.

That’s all right, isn’t it, Ted?  Tesque is sensing the man’s wall being built brick by brick on the table.

And what I say will be held in strictest confidence?  Ted is pushing for assurances.

Tesque draws two fingers across his lips, zipping them.  Then, in an ill-matched gesture, throws away an invisible key.

Slowly at first, then quickly, Ted nods.

Father Tesque rubs hands and picks up his pencil.  He is ready, a horse at the gate.  Fantastic!  Tell me, Ted, what’s the worst thing that you’ve ever experienced since moving to 32?  The number one.  No equivocation.

Father Tesque looks into Ted Appleton’s eyes, maybe for the first time, realizing that the man is not born of a mercurial nature, but this has been acquired at some time in his past.  His expensive clothes, his manners, his posture, may be, he’s suddenly decided, a kind of armor.  It is as if he is wearing a mask.

A few days ago, says Ted without emotion, I did something I always thought would be interesting.  I killed a policeman and then cut him apart with an ax.