by Kyle Hemmings
At 15, I was sent to Father Dunne’s School for Youthful Offenders. I had hot-wired a car and crashed it into an intermediate school, same one that kept expelling me for cheating. An eighty-year-old teacher stroked out in the parking lot. Perhaps, in the seconds before she died, she recognized my face.
At Father Dunne’s, I stayed quiet as a dead engine, avoided bad-boy cliques, never paid attention to square roots or the miracles of Jesus. I wanted to get out fast and clean.
Then I became friends with an elderly priest, Father Dowd. Not that I ever liked priests or anything, but maybe, I thought, once I gained his trust, he could do me favors. Like making God give me better luck. We took long walks in the forest behind the school. At confession, he listened to me without hissing or assigning ridiculous penances. Later, he confided that when he was young on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, he crashed his bicycle into a parole officer’s car. What a coincidence.
“Is your faith one-hundred percent?” he would ask me. He’d never look me in the eye.
Eventually, Father Dowd stopped teaching. Students complained that the spaces between his words grew longer. Perhaps his logic crumbled under the weight of blind faith. He became confused graphing coordinates.
In the holy crimson glow of sunsets, I watched from my third-storey dorm window as the younger priests went searching for Father Dowd. With a priest on each side steadying him, he always returned with a dazed look, a half-smile.
Good Friday. I followed him up a forest trail that led to the top of a steep, rocky hill overlooking a highway. There he stood at the edge and outstretched his arms, as if angel wings.
“What are you doing, Father?” I asked. I had snuck behind him. My voice was low so as not to startle him.
“God keeps visiting me at night. He says that if I truly believe in Him, then I will fly. If any doubts, I will fall.”
It gave me the creeps. I never believed in anything one-hundred percent. And I had recurrent dreams of falling and never hitting the ground. What did it mean?
I kept following him for weeks. The same routine. Sensing my presence, he’d turn around and smile. No need to worry about me, he’d say, I’m alright.
Then one day, with outstretched arms, he leaned over the top of that high craggy hill. He tried to imitate the perfect angles of a deep sea diver. The whisk of cars below. No safety net.
“Jesus bleeds into my dreams,” he announced. “He died for weak disbelievers like me.”
I crept towards him, softly. This time he didn’t turn around. His body became jerky, unmanageable.
He lost his balance.
I ran, dove, and tried to wrap my arms around his ankles.
His weight pulled me half-way over the edge. I let go. I had to.
They never found the body.
Kyle Hemmings has been published in Right Hand Pointing, KYSO Flash, Burningword, and elsewhere. His latest collection of visual art and text is Amnesiacs of Summer from Yavanika Press.