WE ARE NOW LISTENING TO
A telephone ringing. The telephone sits on a mahogany desk that sits beneath an arched window veined with lead. By the window is a painting of Jesus crucified. On the next wall of this small oak-lined room is a large bookcase, and by this, a door. The telephone is still ringing as the door swings open, and we see a black-haired, middle-aged priest come into the room. Through the open doorway we see a church, an elderly lady arranging flowers by the altar. The priest approaches the desk and looks at the ringing telephone. He wipes his forehead and neck with a white handkerchief. It is a hot and humid day and there is no escape from it, not even within the cooled air of the limestone church. The priest picks up the receiver.
FATHER DIMMI (sighing): Hello, Church of the Annunciation, Father Dimmi speaking.
BILLY (anxiously): Is that the Catholic church?
FATHER DIMMI: Er, yes, that’s correct. How can I help you?
BILLY: I need to talk to a priest.
FATHER DIMMI: Well, I’m Father Dimmi. What can I...
BILLY (cutting in): I’m lost, Father.
FATHER DIMMI: Lost?
BILLY: Yes Father. Lost. And I want to be alright again.
FATHER DIMMI: Who am I speaking to?
FATHER DIMMI (thinking aloud): Billy... Billy... Are you a member of our congregation?
BILLY (agitated): No, but I need to confess, or something. Because...
FATHER DIMMI (cutting in): Wouldn’t it be better to come into church and talk to me? I’m a little pressed for...
BILLY (cutting in): NO! I need to talk NOW! I feel bad and, and I need to...
FATHER DIMMI (cutting in): Billy. Slow down. (softly) What’s troubling you?
FATHER DIMMI (hesitantly): Okay, I see... Are you sure you can’t come into church and talk to me? I’m free between five and six tonight if that...
BILLY (cutting in): NO! I need to confess NOW! EVERYTHING IS WRONG! EVERYTHING! And if I don’t do something about it something fucking awful is going to...
FATHER DIMMI (firmly): BILLY! Now take a deep breath! And please! I don’t want to hear that kind of language!
BILLY (quietly): Sorry.
FATHER DIMMI (collecting himself): Okay. Now, I have to ask, are you actually a Catholic?
BILLY (quietly): No... but I’ll be one if it helps?
We see Father Dimmi move the receiver from his ear, then look at it with raised eyebrows. He sighs, then puts the receiver back to his ear, opening his mouth as though to say something but Billy is already speaking.
BILLY (tearfully): Father, please! I don’t know what to do! I need to confess or something! Please!
FATHER DIMMI (frowning): How old are you Billy?
Down the line, we hear the sound of a beer-can being opened. Father Dimmi narrows his eyes.
BILLY (drinks, sniffs): Er, thir-ty-two, no, thirty-three?
FATHER DIMMI (flatly): Are you drunk?
BILLY: No! It’s Tango. Honest. (starts crying) There’s no way out...
FATHER DIMMI (softening): Now Billy, c’mon. Listen to me. I’ll hear your confession. It’s not the usual way but I will listen to you. Now take a deep breath and just speak truthfully. Tell me what’s...
BILLY (cutting in): I’m drunk, and I tell lies! To EVERYONE! I’m unfaithful to my wife. Loads! People hate me. My mum and dad won’t speak to me. I fucking hate EVERYONE! Except for my kids, who have a useless spineless pisshead for a dad. And I want (tearfully) I want to be left alone, but, I get so fucking lonely (crying) and I get angry, at everything, and I’m trapped, and I should just kill my fucking self...
FATHER DIMMI (softly): Billy, Billy, you’re obviously in a great deal of pain, and very confused about life, but killing yourself is not the...
BILLY (cutting in): WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?
FATHER DIMMI (softly): Live, Billy! But you have to live in God. Look, in Psalms there’s a passage where David speaks of how guilt lays heavy upon the soul. It might help... Just a moment... (the dry sound of pages turning) Here we go. (clears his throat) And when I declared not my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me, and my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer... (clears his throat) Now Billy, clearly you show a great deal of contrition for your sins, so...
BILLY (cutting in): Con-what?
FATHER DIMMI (softly): Contrition. You’re sorry for what you’ve done, yes?
BILLY (sniffs): Yeh.
We hear the sound of drinking.
FATHER DIMMI: And because of this, because of your regret for your actions, your sins lay a heavy hand upon you, which is that feeling of guilt that you are clearly experiencing, yes? And because of this, through God, I can offer you absolution. But you Billy, you have to...
BILLY (cutting in): Abso-what?
FATHER DIMMI (sighs): Absolution, Billy. It means you’ll be forgiven. And the guilt of your sins will be lifted.
BILLY (perkier): What? As easy as that?
FATHER DIMMI (clearing his throat): Well, it still requires a great deal of work on your part to...
BILLY (cutting in): But what if The Devil comes again?
A pause. We hear the sound of drinking.
FATHER DIMMI (hesitantly): Well... The Devil tempts us all, Billy. Daily. But through God we can learn to say no to sin. And God will give you this strength if you open yourself up to him. Listen. We all have three enemies, all of us, and they are The Devil, the World, and the body. And all three will ask of you to sin. But through the Holy Trinity you can fight these enemies. With the God-given strength of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. These three are your weapons in the war against The Devil. And you must arm yourself. You do you understand that don’t you, Billy?
We hear the sound of drinking.
BILLY (quietly): I think so.
FATHER DIMMI: Now Billy, for ab... for you to receive God’s forgiveness, you will need to do some work to show him that you’re correcting your ways. And this is called penance.
BILLY: What’s that?
FATHER DIMMI (sighing): It means you make amends. By righting the wrongs that you’ve done to others. And by doing the right thing you’ll begin to walk the path of righteousness. Out of the dark woods, and away from The Devil by doing the right thing. Yes? BILLY (quietly): Yeh.
FATHER DIMMI: And can I suggest you begin with your parents?
BILLY (quietly): Yeh.
FATHER DIMMI: And if you begin to redeem yourself with those closest to you, then I promise you, with the help of God, you will begin to see life in a completely different...
BILLY (cutting in): Do I have to say three Hail Mary’s or something?
FATHER DIMMI: No Billy, not really. But I do want you to do something for me. I want you to stop drinking for today, and I also want you to read Psalm Fifty-One. Think about what the words are saying to you. Okay?
BILLY (quietly): Okay. Thanks.
FATHER DIMMI (cheerily): No problem. And if you want to talk further on this matter then please come into church and see me. Goodbye, Billy. May God go with you.
BILLY (quietly): Bye.
With a sigh, Father Dimmi places the receiver down, then looks to the painting of the crucified Jesus by the rectory window. He wipes his forehead and neck with the white handkerchief again, then wafts it in the air as if shaking the sweat from the cotton. If you were watching this act as a fly on the wall then you would see a thousand priests waving something like a thousand surrenders, as the seeming object of their defeat looks down from a thousand crosses, a thousand crowns of thorn bleeding into two-thousand pained eyes of forgiveness… And now we are listening to the sound of Billy pulling a cork from a bottle of Blue Nun, followed by the glug of the pour. We watch him drink, then turn pages of Joe’s Good News school Bible that sits on the table next to the half-empty glass.
BILLY: Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy steadfast love, according to Thy abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions, wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin, for I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me, against Thee only have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Thy sight, and Thou art justified in Thy sentence, and blameless in Thy judgement. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin... did my mother conceive me.
In the following few minutes, the front door will open and in will walk Grace, Scarlett and Joe. They will find Billy with his head resting on his arms, his arms resting on the table, and they will see the opened bottle, the empty cans, and they will understand. His children will say nothing of their father’s eyes as his head raises up, of the blank nothingness of which only nothing comes, the dull murmurings of things to be done, the sweep of empty cans to the floor, the staggering exit and slammed door of this man called Dad, the mother now closing the book, now quietly opening kitchen cupboard doors as though what has just gone was nothing but nothing, the on-button of the television set giving the girl and the boy another place to be in, where nothing is really real, where they watch in silence as the Goosebumps story unfolds… this is what happened to the haunted puppet, and then this, and then this...