I had just made my confession. It was the first time had to tell the priest about a real mortal sin. You know the one I mean; the sixth cardinal sin . Adultery. The worst one. .
I cant talk about that just now ; but it was tough .I was fifteen and he didn’t give me absolution ; he wanted me to bring the girl to the confessional next week when there was no one there . So from that point I was sort of dammed any way .
The older guys had told me the priest was deaf anyway and the best time to go was while the angelus bells were ringing , and he’d just give me a few rosaries to do and pledge never to do it again ; but of course . No . He wanted to hear everything – before it happened – how it happened and what she did to mer and I did to her ; God that was mortifying I can tell you .He didn’t give me any penance at all , and I knew the other sinners who had their forgiveness were watching me as I came out of the confessional because I took so long in there.
I came out of the church into the sunlight. It was like one of those ordinary days you see somewhere in an old photo ; it could be march or September a vague sort of a day .But the light was quite fierce. and dazzling . I went over by the quay wall , where the old men wee always gathered ,looking out at the sea , under sailors caps; squinting under eyes which had wept before the wind , and it struck me that they were looking at me now in that same suspicious way they did at the sea , after a storm , as if they were betrayed. ; I passed the houses with open doors and I got the same feeling that the windows were dark like the eyes of a dead fish - staring, cold and accusing One wall of the houses had been burned, and the yellow faded rooms and the wall paper were there like open lives or their characters; like a family secret and yet I looked .
The fumes from the fertiliser factory could catch your breath from here - a yellow trail spewing out to the sky from the blackened wooden stores; they said it was cleansing, and that if you live in its path you would never get bronchitis - others said it was a poisonous gas, like Belsen ,and the bishop had no right to erect the boys school so near the factory , and the medical officer for health had condemned the site
Then the had bishop countermanded the medical officer and build his school.
The medical officer held the grouch all his life and never went to mass after .I think he must have been a wise man somehow, and the bishop not so wise
I went to the end on the pier where a boy was fishing from the quay, where beneath him the raw sewer spewed out into the tide. I had fished just there too when I was his age , and he was throwing his float just where I would have - how did we find the dirtiest places to fish.
She went down this time longer than before and came up with an eel wriggling and curling. Then two quick chops and a gulp and the eel was gone . You could see the bulge in her throat.
The angelus bell rang , and I thought as I often did befor ; while the first chime will some times give you a start the following strokes always sounded much less loud ; This was a sound of low accusations ; I mean for a low sin accusing somehow . And I never forget the sound of that bell rinning .
It was tooling in its low solemn sound like the way when the hearse approaches the church .And I thought that the dead who knew everything about my soul were too accusing in a solemn way l ; accusing and unforgiving solemn and without any of the joy of the bells at Christmas when we hurried up the stairs as the bell tolled above us in the belfry going to the cloister on xmas morning ; that was joyous in anticipation of something beautiful like girls throwing petals on the road in front of the bishop on Corpus Christie Sunday .. But there were no flowers in its ring today ..it was wooden and deathly and funery if theres such a word .
Something hit me about that bloody bell; I knew but others also knew the vileness of my sins .. That’s what it was saying to me ; but I said the angelus any way . Just be sure .. But couldn’t get it out of my mind counting ;3 3 3 3 and a nine ….that’s what you did
I I knew something about ringing the angelus . I did it in my own church - often ; Despite what they tell you ; you cant make them louder no matter how hard you pull I had made bets on it ; and lost . But even now there was a kind of grey mourning about the bell - more like a droll old man with drooling lips pointing a shaking finger.. That kind of a sound.
Down from d the river were the docks , and I remembered coming across the gates one day , we tried to jump them when they were being opened just 2 hrs before full tide ,and this day we left it pretty close but the man in the gate house didn't even bother with us. And I remember the high sound of our voices as we came across the gates and suddenly this silence like I never heard before .
The dockers were al looking down into the hull of the coal ship.
There was a man down in the hold , on blended knee , and there were two feet sticking out from under the coat .And the coal bucket on its side ;the crane idling and that was the only sound . The motor of the crane, and the low hum of the steamer. and the priest hurrying along and onto the ship and down a ladder to the hold.
Kneeling there in the coal dust he took away the rag and anointed the dead docker.; and when he came up , he too was covered in coal dust like the other dockers.why that’s what I remember I don't know how I thought in the next few minutes , but I do remember thinking later as a a dutiful priest –
And the last sacrament he delivered to the dead man the in the hold in the dust , and the upturned bucket and the dead m an under it and the sick feeling I got then and still get.
I it never goes away ; was he in the state of grace as they demanded or did it just happen; to be under it and did he have time to have a last statement to god or did he just die ; there and was now gone or somewhere else and was he smiling now ; at us and our stupid lives still to complete or did it just go all black like the coal dust that clawed at everything ; and did even the priest know ..Or would it judt be a photo on a card thanking everyone..Or was it like all that which went before;
The tide would come in again and the gates would just open and close again and other kids would be fishing just there under the ship for those listless pollack .
Or was his soul going to travel the seas again forever in the hulk of the coal ship.
On my way home , you wont believe this but I had forgotten almost completely about my own sins ; I kept thinking about the poor man dead under the bucket and the priest full of coal dust and where his soul was .