“I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.” This was the line that was giving Simon a hard time. He had been preparing to recite the “Act of Contrition” prayer at his confirmation for about a month, and it was this line that kept him stumped. He looked helplessly into the mirror, and then around the bathroom trying to figure out how to nail this performance. It wasn’t like when he was little, and he could get advice from his father. His death right after Simon’s fourteenth birthday led to confusion on how to deal with problems without guidance from his father. It was difficult because his father was a fit man from Boston with impressive stature and a perky attitude. He seemed like the perfect role model, which might have been why he enlisted into the army and missed so much time from home. Sometimes, if Simon was missing him extra hard, he would wear his dad’s army cap. But at least that was better than not having him at all. Shaking his head, Simon came to the conclusion that he’ll figure it out later and started making his way towards the kitchen where his mom and whatever boyfriend she had at the time were probably eating dinner.
His mother Linda and his little sister Lizzie were both gathered around the round table in their small kitchen, setting down place mats and adjusting plate positions. Linda turned on the television while ignoring her daughter’s begging for Animal Planet. The channels were being changed so quickly that Simon couldn’t even tell what was being skipped. Linda finally stopped the switching colors until she arrived at the news station. She sat back down and positioned herself towards the now obnoxiously loud television set.
“Reporting from Boston, where Massachusetts just became the first state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. This comes as a result of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, where it was decided-”
“Turn that shit off.”
The three heads at the table turned towards the harsh voice and saw Bradley, Linda’s latest sweetheart, pulling out a chair and looking around the room as if it was his.
“Thank God we live far away from that shithole. Last thing we need is for that shit to spread.”
Linda looked down and wished he would have at least waited until the kids were gone to speak like that. She didn’t want to bring up the fact that her sister lived in Boston. She didn’t want to share the opinion that it was actually quite nice there. She just wanted one meal with no swearing and more normal conversations, the type that regular families had. She looked over to Simon who was rubbing his eyes with his palms especially hard. He had learned not to comment on Bradley’s comments. It was not worth the disappointed, blue look that came from his mom whenever he “raised hell.”
“Can I be excused?” Simon said to his mom while covering Bradley away from his face with his hand.
“Sure, hon.” Linda responded with frantic eye glances from Bradley to Simon and then gripped Lizzie’s hand under the table.
“Take care of those dishes. Don’t half-ass it like this morning.” Bradley’s eyebrows were raised when he said this, but lowered back down aggressively upon hearing Simon’s response.
“In here it’s ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir,’ do you understand? You’re gonna let him talk to me that way?” He turned his torso towards a pale-faced Linda whose breathing was struggling to remain calm.
“No, no. Listen, Simon, we all need to do our part around here, and if you can’t-”
“What’s this guy do around here? I’ve seen Lizzie help out more, and she’s only eight.” He didn’t have enough time to see the reaction because he suddenly found himself being dragged out of the kitchen with his mom pinching his ear.
“Why? Why? How many times do I have to tell you to try to be nice? You always ask for it, and you always get the same lesson.”
Simon was instructed to stay in his room and practice his lines. He did so, now in a worse mood. He didn’t want to be in his house so bad that he was looking forward to going to confirmation rehearsal. He dressed a little nicer and came back to the kitchen once it was time to go. Bradley barked a “goodbye” as Simon exited the hell.
The car ride to their church was relatively short, but long enough for Simon to get bored. He started pointing his fingers in the shapes of guns up to the window glass and pretended to shoot at the clouds.
He got dropped off and entered the same chamber-like hallway he’d been going to every Thursday for the past month. He greeted Father Lee with the same monotone “hello” and quick eye contact that he’s dished out several times before. Once everyone was seated in rows in a large, empty room, the meeting seemed to take no time at all. Simon found himself leaving the premises just as soon as he had arrived, it seemed. He tried to make the walk back to the parking lot a very long one since he knew whose turn it was to pick him up.
“Hurry up, already!” Bradley had one hand on his steering wheel and the other out the window with a cigarette. Simon picked up the pace and maneuvered around the slower families in hopes to impress Bradley. One thing about church was it always made Simon act different. He left feeling a twisted sensation in his stomach just thinking about what type of problem was going to take up this particular night when they returned.
Bradley was the first to enter their house and immediately demanded refreshments while Linda was on the phone. Simon shut the door and encouraged Lizzie, who was watching TV, to go to a different room instead. She obeyed and Simon tried tip-toeing towards his room when he heard a grizzly voice from the kitchen.
“Wait right there, you’re staying here. Linda, we need to talk about your little guy’s attitude.” Bradley helped himself to a Heineken and leaned against the stove.
“You know how long it took for his ass to finally come out? Too long for me to be staying and wasting my time, hon. I’m gonna enforce some rules around here if you don’t know how.”
With a carbonated burp and one, theatrical sniff, Bradley spun around and left. Linda touched Simon’s cheek, turned off the lights, and went to sleep. Simon stayed in the room until his tears dried.
The next morning Simon awoke to rare silence. He took advantage of it by reviewing his prayer. During this study session, Linda called him over to the phone, saying it’s for him. It ended up being his friend Marcus asking him if he wanted to go to the movies. Simon agreed and hung up before realizing he didn’t have enough money for the ticket. With a mischievous rub of his hands, he walked over to Bradley’s wallet. He nearly dropped it out of shock once he saw what was inside. A palm-size photograph of his mother.
In it, the only thing she had on was her deceased husband’s army cap. She was in front of a fireplace and there was smoke in the air. Within the darkness around her nude body, Simon saw people’s outstretched legs resting on clothes that must’ve been thrown off. Seeing his mother like this disturbed Simon to a point that he leaned against the wall with his eyes shut. He slid down and wondered how, in God’s name, could his mother be in that position with that specific army cap. Confusion soon turned to anger as he pictured a hungry Bradley ogling the picture. That was the root of the problem. That was the root of the problem. Bradley really flipped everything upside down. Simon just needed to find a way to deal with the problem his own way. After all, his father was not there to help.
“I know, sorry. Next time.”
Simon had just explained to Marcus that he couldn’t meet that day. Instead, he used the stolen money to buy a bus ticket. He snuck out without acknowledging either Linda or Lizzie and picked up the pace to the bus stop. He examined all of the people that would get off at each stop and wondered if they were terrible people. He got off at the stop next to the church and looked around before entering the huge building.
Simon strolled past the mass that was in session and made his way towards the hall with all of the priests’ offices. He triple-checked the name tag on the door that said FATHER LEE before knocking on the door three times. The priest quickly opened the door and turned his body so that Simon could enter. They exchanged smiles, or, at least Father Lee did, and Simon just wanted to get started.
He explained to the old, robed man that there was someone in his life ruining everything. He needed a way to get rid of him somehow. Father Lee looked concerned at first, then began thinking of his own desires. The priest stood up and sat closer to Simon, who had his hands folded on his lap. Father Lee went on to explain the latest low key phenomenon that he was familiar with. Simon started learning about something called the deep web, and how it’s been very helpful for priests in the past. Apparently, it was this extension of the internet where you could go on all types of illegal websites. Upon hearing that the user’s history on there is untraceable, a light bulb started flickering for him. He learned you could purchase anything off of the internet this way.
“What about a weapon?” Simon asked.
Father Lee let the silence sit for a second before answering, “Well, for something like that, I’ll need you to do something for the church. How about you get your sister to tell her classmates to come down and volunteer for the church? Everyone here would love that. This way, we’re filled up and we don’t have to recruit kids, like your sister, outside of our area, understand?”
Simon despised Father Lee’s joyous eye contact so he quickly said he’d go through with the deal. It seemed simple enough. If he could get this priest to obtain a gun, then he could also put in anywhere he wants. Simon had seen countless movies where the villain gets framed, so he felt confident with his scheme. He must’ve asked the priest a million times whether or not this would actually work. Simon was nervous, but regained control after an image of Bradley flashed in his mind.
“When it comes, where do you want it found?”
Simon thought hard about how he was going to go about the plan. He alternated between several options before deciding on Bradley’s car. After all, it had been the scene of many uncomfortable car rides. Father Lee asked if there was anything else he could do for Simon, anything at all, but was declined. With a soft handshake and a tight grin, Father Lee told Simon. “Be careful. And give Bradley my best.”
The morning of Simon’s confirmation consisted of the usual violent bickering. Lizzie seemed a little louder than usual. Breakfast was long but the car ride to church was longer. After having to endure Bradley driving and talking about Miss America on the phone with a friend for twenty minutes, Simon was happy to get out and stretch his legs. The families separated from the teenagers who were getting confirmed and sat in the ocean of pews. Simon followed other kids his age until the organization’s director called for the kids who were supposed to recite prayers. He joined the handful of others.
It took about thirty-five minutes before Simon found himself in the position at the podium facing the masses. As he cleared his throat into the microphone, he looked first at Linda, who was behind the back row, then to Lizzie, then sharply to Bradley. That ugly smug look had been haunting. Pulling the microphone closer, Simon did something he’d been thinking of for a long time.
“My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.” Simon heard some commotion coming from the back rows but kept his eyes glued on his flashcards, not minding the lack of professionalism.
“In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.” The sounds from the back of the church proved too much for Simon’s concentration and he looked up while singing out the last couple of words. He took a second long pause where he looked at his family just to see Bradley throwing up arms next to two too-groomed police officers with handcuffs out. Within this moment, Simon saw that they were struggling among each other.
“I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.” The arguing from the back turned into shouting that caught more of Simon’s attention. He quickly glanced at his family just to see Bradley getting his head slammed into the wooden pew next to a distraught Linda.
“Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.” The officers must have not minded Lizzie’s presence because they didn’t hold back. The blood was visible from the podium and it gave Simon more confidence in his voice. He wanted this moment to last until the end of time. With a sly smile, he continued the prayer proudly.
“Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.” The arrest must have been over now because the only sound ringing in the hollow room was Simon’s voice. He looked over to Linda, who had her red hands on her face, and then to Lizzie clutching her legs tightly. This was such a euphoric scene for Simon, he straightened his back and belt out the last line in hopes that Bradley could still hear it wherever he went.
“In his name, my God, have mercy.” Simon gave the crowd one last nod before coming off stage. While everyone was getting confirmed, he kept replaying the previous scene in his head. Over and over, he saw this. If only he were there closer, maybe he would’ve heard if Bradley’s cranium breaking sounded like frozen lakes cracking. His conclusion was strong and he could feel pride swell in his heart.
The doors to the church busted open to a stampede of Catholics headed for the parking lot. After all of the formalities and handshakes, Simon reunited with Lizzie and asked where their mom went. Lizzie said that she took the car and followed Bradley and the cops.
“Will he come back?” she asked.
“No, he’s not. Don’t worry.”
“Sweet, well, mom gave us some money for a bus ticket. Can we go to the movies instead?”