Kyle is still reeling from his actions, getting drunk and betraying Emily by taking Vera to bed. He’s hungover, surly and finds himself confronting Fr. Mike. In the presence of Adam, Kyle speaks to his father, the priest. It doesn’t go very well. Fr. Mike is determined to explain his own actions years ago.
Fr. Mike laid out a series of photographs. Each was labeled either before or after. Kyle saw more injuries and abnormalities than he ever thought to see in a lifetime. Some were grotesque, threatening to turn his stomach. Adam looked away. Kyle wouldn’t let himself. The last was one he recognized. It was a copy of his First Communion photograph. He knew that smiling face with the scattering of freckles and shock of bright red hair. Next to it, Father Michael laid a picture of the same child on a gurney being loaded into an ambulance.
“Do you remember that day?”
Kyle shook his head, trying to take in details of the photograph. A mangled bike lay to one side. His mother, much younger, hovered over the child while his little brother clung to her legs. His father stood on the other side, hand on his son’s brow as the ambulance driver tried to make him move aside for the gurney to get loaded. The picture had a date stamp from a local newspaper.
“This is why we argued. I knew I could heal you, but your mother was just as sure I
couldn’t. You were dying, Kyle. Your heart stopped before the ambulance came. I started it again, I healed your internal bleeding. I could have done it all, but your mother insisted that you needed a doctor. The doctors called it a miracle that you didn’t die. I knew it was because of what I did. I’m not bragging,” he interjected before his son could accuse him. “I’m stating fact.”
He continued in a more tender tone. “I went to the hospital to see you, but your mother wouldn’t let me in the room. So I headed to the nearest bar and got trashed. Worst binge I’ve ever been on, and passed out at my table. The bartender was a pal of mine and he let me sleep it off in the backroom. When I got home, instead of thanking me for what I’d done, she threw me out. She knew, son, but told me to leave anyway. It was at that moment I became aware that my life path lay elsewhere. I filed the annulment papers the next day.”
“So now this is where I’m supposed to thank you and forgive you? The thanks I give you. You saved me and I’m grateful. The forgiveness you’ll have to earn, old man. You ruined my life twice now. Why the hell couldn’t you wait to tell me this another time? Why did you have to pick that moment?”
“I’m dying.” Fr. Mike gathered the pictures slowly, deliberately. “Too many years of taking other people’s pain, their diseases. I thought I was processing and purging the filth, but I wasn’t. If I’m to believe the doctors, I’ve got six months. A year if I’m careful.” His eyes met Kyle’s. “I’m not careful. Too many people need me. Each person I heal takes time away from me, but gives them so much more. I need your forgiveness so my soul can rest in peace.”
Adam sniffled, rubbing his face. Kyle forced himself to breathe. He had to do it consciously because the automatic mechanism refused to work. Something in his brain snapped and he had no control over his body. Sitting in stunned silence, he made himself breathe, blink, swallow. He was numb, unable to think. What his father asked of him was impossible. His father’s confession to him the night before had driven him to do something horrible. How could he forgive the priest when he couldn’t forgive himself?
“Don’t you think you should have told me some of this last night?”
“Would it have made a difference?” His father raised a dubious eyebrow.
“Yes. Telling me this now, after I’ve totally fucked up my life, doesn’t help a lot.”
“Meaning you can’t blame me for your sins anymore.”
“I never blamed you for Margo and me.”
“No, but you blamed me for you and the woman last night.”
Kyle nodded, conceding that point. “Fair to say. It’s always easier to cope when you blame someone else, don’t you think? I blame you, you blame Mom, she blames me.” He stopped a moment, stunned by that revelation. Out of nowhere, he’d struck on the truth. “My God, she does blame me! All these years, she’s blamed me for you leaving. No wonder I always felt like I had to make things right!” He laughed almost hysterically, rising to pace the room.
“You argued because of me. She blamed me. She still does. You want my forgiveness, old man, you go to the source. Take it up with her and leave me out of it. I’m no longer taking any responsibility for what happened between you. When you can say to me that you’ve talked to her and forgiven her, then we’ll talk. In the meantime, I’ve got my own life to put back together, my own demons to fight. This is your battle, Father, not mine.”
He stalked out with Adam in his wake. He didn’t know where the priest went, nor did he particularly care. He knew he had to talk to Emily, but first he had another stop to make. Halting suddenly, Adam collided with his back.
“Where’s the chaplain?”
“Chaplain? Um….” He pointed to his right, past the way they had come. “That way.”
The ship chaplain was happy to talk to him. Adam waited outside, pacing.
© Dellani Oakes