The scent of incense had remained in the church. You could still smell it as it lingered in the air, a heavy mist and warm, spicy fragrance. The flickering flames of the votive candles were the only lights in the church, save the sanctuary light that glowed red in the darkness. Somewhere in the choir loft where the choir chanted, there were lamps, but their light refused to spill into the body of the church and illuminate the dark shadows that knelt in the wooden pews on aching knees, mumbling prayers with rosaries dangling from their fingers, or praying silently with eyes riveted to the Tabernacle.
Mass was over, but some of the faithful still lingered along with the scent of the incense, phantom shadows bowed low over their folded hands, listening to the haunting voices far above them in the darkness of the choir loft; chanting men and women with the voices of angels, the music they made echoic and strange, and somehow haunting.
Kade leaned against the cool marble wall of the church, casting anxious glances at the confessional box that loomed before him, leering at him from the darkness and mocking him for his sins and fears. He was afraid; like a small child fearing to confess what he had done, he lingered at the back of the line, ushering newcomers before him, stalling for time.
At long last, there were only five people left, and he was at the back of the line, waiting his turn with trepidation. The door to the box opened with the soft sound of moving air, and the line shortened as another person stepped inside, swallowed up by the darkness.
His shaking hand fumbled as he made the Sign of the Cross, faltering as he tried to remember which side to cross first. Trying and failing to make an examination of conscience, he glanced up at the statue of the Virgin Mary and the sad face that stared down at him, the stone eyes more real than they had ever seemed before. Kade shook his head, closing his eyes for a brief instant, then looked up again, reminding himself that the eyes were made of stone. They did not see; they did not cry. But they looked real. They looked like Taylor’s. They were the same color, and the pain reminded him of her and the look that her eyes had lost the last time he had seen her. He would never see her cry again. Taylor was strong; too strong to cry now. Not for him.
“Help me!” He mouthed the words, staring up imploringly at her, but the statue didn’t move. The dim lights of the votive candles danced at her feet, blurred by the tears that obscured his vision, illuminating her face with the hues of firelight.
“Why won’t you help me?” he asked, the words silent to his ears, but echoing in his head like a scream.
A woman rose from her pew, and crossed to the statue, her face bowed over the lighted candles, hands cradling the flame as she guided it to the wick. Her face was mostly obscured by shadows, but the light of the flames dancing across her face confused him.
Her name stole from his lips, soft as a whisper, but magnified in the empty church. The woman looked up and the candlelight fell away, concealing her in the darkness. He could feel her eyes watching him as she stepped out the door; as the door swung open, the light of a streetlamp fell upon her face, showing him a stranger.
Kade slumped against the wall. Sinner, a voice in his head taunted him. You couldn’t leave her alone, could you? You’ll never forget her name. Taylor...
But what about Angela…and his children? Didn’t he love them, too?
The last person stepped into the box, leaving him alone against the wall, with only himself to follow. Indecision swept over him, and he glanced at the door longingly. He was still staring at it, contemplating his escape, when the door to the box opened silently and the last person exited. He caught a glimpse of the dark interior, gaping like the maw of some monster just waiting to consume him, before the door swung shut with a whoosh of air.
Why should he? What was done was done; the past was the past. Confessing his sins wouldn’t change what he had done; it wouldn’t bring Taylor back. What was the point?
But then again, no one would know. Nothing that passed his lips would be spoken outside of that darkened box. No one else would hear it. He was just one among many, his voice one of thousands; whispering woes and their own sins. Whispering secrets...
How many troubles had been voiced inside that dark interior? That box of secrets.
He pulled open the door and stepped inside, the shadows rising up to meet him as he fell to his knees, listening to his own voice in the darkness.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned...”
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