Back Of His Hand
By G. E. Fields
The incident always felt wrong, but who was I to question the actions of my conduit to God? There was no pain; it wasn’t that kind of violation. Through the years, guilt consumed me for the reaction of my pubescent, unformed manhood.
I can’t and won’t give you the details. They are sordid, dirty, and blasphemous. The only thing clear in my head is that I couldn’t take my eyes off the winding blue rivers in the back of his hand.
I arrived at the modest home late on a Saturday morning. Father Donnehy greeted me at the door wearing the white robes of the morning mass. Adorned with the holy T, they wrapped around his slight frame like a constricting snake. He flashed his feminine smile at me, which I now know to describe as serpentine. If it seems I’m vilifying him, it’s because my views of him are tainted and the details are fuzzy. Only the hand, grasping the desk in the rectory office, those veins protruding, remains a fixture in my consciousness.
Called there to discuss the procedures required of my new position, it started mundane so I lost interest fast.
“Kevin, it is so good to see you,” he said, sitting down in a red-cushioned chair in the corner of the cramped office. He indicated I perch in its twin across from him. When I sat, our knees touched. “You are a bit older than normal for most beginning acolytes, but I am happy to see you’re ready to serve the Church.”
I felt a flush come to my cheeks. I never really wanted to become one at all. My parents, after years of prodding, finally wore me down to serve. “My parents wanted me to do it for a long time, Father. I guess I’m doing it mostly for them.”
That smile again, alluring and dangerous at the same time, spread across Father Donnehy’s young face. “It matters not how we come to serve the Lord, my son. Only that we do. Let me explain your duties to you…”
I was more concerned with spending my allowance on a pack of Topps baseball cards at the corner store than listening to him. I’d been to mass every Sunday of my life. I knew what would be required of me. My mind drifted to thoughts of the baseball players’ images I needed to complete my collection for that year.
My brain snapped back to the office the moment I felt a soft caress on my knee.
“Kevin, maybe there are better things we could talk about.” He used that singsong voice usually reserved for somber prayer during mass. “God has blessed you with great looks for a young man. Have the girls started to give you attention?”
“They always want to talk to me, but I’d rather be by myself,” I responded, unsure where the conversation was leading. Was this normal for learning rites of mass?
“So none have had you in sin, yet?”
“I’m not sure what you mean by that,” I said. “Do you mean the Commandments?”
He laughed in a gentle and unpleasant manner. That sound still haunts my sleep. He turned my face, forcing me to look into his burning eyes. It was my first experience with the look of lust, and I have been unable to react positively to it since. I have to turn away from my wife when she gets that same flush in her cheeks and intent rawness in her eyes.
“I am not talking about mortal sin, Kevin. I am talking about sins of the flesh. Let me show you.”
My dreams are plagued with the winding blue rivers in the back of his hand.
* * *
The ink on Dr. Mastara’s doctorate was still drying when I first went to her. She opened up the wound, cauterized it with emotional fire, and exposed it for healing. If not for her, I have no idea how long this would have eaten me up inside, but in the end it both consumed and cleansed me.
“What brings you to see me, Kevin?” she asked. Her soft voice embraced me like a security blanket, and I wrapped it around me.
“Something is wrong with me. I’ve been to countless therapists and shrinks and nothing they do is helping me fix it.”
She gave me a soft, crooked smile. Her eyes were like safety, filled with sympathy. “What have they tried?” she asked.
“Drugs, hypnosis, experimental treatments. You name it.”
“Have you had any breakthroughs with them?”
“They’ve done nothing but clutter my brain and fill psychiatrist notepads with failures. I’m probably wasting my time here, as well.” I threw my arms up in frustration.
She didn’t react to my display. “What makes you keep trying, then?”
“I have a wife and son who I love and adore. I feel it’s affecting my relationships with them. I can’t afford to lose them.” That’s when the first tear fell.
“Let’s try something innovative, then. How about we just talk?”
Opening up to her was difficult at first, but her patience was endless. The layers of guilt, which controlled me for so long, peeled back. What lay underneath was an angry victim.
* * *
Our Sunday afternoon mass, a regular occasion despite my past, was over. I was talking in the kitchen with my wife, Jennifer, about nothing of consequence when, like dropping an atomic bomb, she announced, “Father Donnehy wants Kellen to be an altar boy. Isn’t that exciting?”
My legs buckled. My vision spun like a top, and I had to steady myself with a hand to the counter.
“What’s wrong, honey?” I heard the concern in her voice, but my mind was reeling too much to answer. “Kevin?”
I regained my composure after some difficulty. “I’m okay. Guess I didn’t sleep well last night is all.”
“Did you hear about Kellen? It’s a great honor, and Father Donnehy is such a good priest. I think it will do him a lot of good.”
I could hardly breathe. I had to dissuade her. “He’s got so many things going on, dear. I don’t think he has the time for that commitment.” It was lame, but I was desperate.
“He can fit it in, Kevin. It’s important,” she shot back. “Your mom tells me you used to be an altar boy. She says it was a great learning experience for you.”
Damn my mother and her obliviousness. If she only paid attention, things may have turned out much different. “She wants to believe that, but I don’t think it helped me at all, Jennifer.”
“Well, he’s doing it.” I was beaten. Without exposing my shame, I had no argument to counter her. The guilt was gone, but the shame weighed on me like a mountain. Years of keeping it buried inside me put a strain on our marriage that frequently brought it to the breaking point. My denial was so absolute; we still attended the church of my youth. The place where I transformed into this monster I am.
I had to stop it. I couldn’t let him show my son the winding blue rivers in the back of his hand. He could only be allowed to take one soul from this family.
I gave no reason for leaving the house. My mind locked into a tunnel vision of purpose. Jennifer may have said something to me as I walked out the door, but all I could hear were the words of Jennifer’s pronouncement pounding on the inside of my skull, demanding freedom. Father Donnehy wants Kellen to be an altar boy.
The church was less than a mile from my house, but it seemed a million to me. The tree-lined sidewalk steepened with each step. I had no idea what I could do, but I had to act.
The house of worship came into view at last. I hesitated when I saw the crucifix at the pointed peak of the roof. The Savior, nailed to the cross, a look of resignation etched in His stone face, was suffering for His children. I wiped a tear from my eye as I realized I could do no less for mine. I didn’t enter the holy place. I went, instead, to the small house next door. The rectory loomed larger in my head than the massive church.
The front door was never locked. Father Donnehy believed the Lord would always protect him. I pushed it open with effort, as if I was pushing the stone away from a crypt.
The office was down a short hallway. Pictures of holy scenes lined the walls. Mother Mary, the apostles, and the Son of God, Himself, looked down on me with pity. I hurried my pace to escape their judgment.
Father Donnehy sat at his mahogany desk. I had hoped to see a broken old man, but I was disappointed. His hair was thinner and whiter and there were a few wrinkles, but his soft face was the same. He looked up at me as I entered and smiled. How could he smile? Did he think I came to hug him and give him my son?
“Kevin, it’s so good to see you. Sit down, please. What can I do for you?” He didn’t rise to greet me and I declined to sit. That gentle voice could not deceive me.
“So you want Kellen to be an altar boy, I hear?” Something in my voice made his calm demeanor falter. I could see his hands tighten on the armrests of the chair.
The veins looked ready to burst out of those hands. Pain flashed through my head as memories flooded in like a tidal wave against a levee. I closed my eyes and turned my head.
Father Donnehy, concern in his voice, said, “Kevin? What is the matter? Shall I call someone?”
I opened my eyes to see a bookcase filled with various religious ornaments. A candelabra dazzled my eyes, setting itself above the others. I picked it up to give my eyes something to focus on.
“I’m fine, Father,” I replied. I almost choked on the word Father. It seemed so wrong to address him with the honorific.
“Very well, then. The answer is yes. I am anxious to start Kellen, immediately, on the path to becoming a willing servant to the church. He is such a good and handsome boy.”
Those words, in that room, were like an echo from the past. I seethed inside and could not look into the priest’s face. I looked lower, instead, to the chair’s armrest.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the winding blue rivers in the back of his hand.
I blacked out.
* * *
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”
“Send the police. A man is dead,” I speak in the phone with an unhesitant voice.
“Are you sure he is dead?”
“I’ll double check. If he’s not, I’ll try again.” I place the receiver on its cradle.
I feel no guilt. The candelabra is still in my hand; vengeance and justice forged into a gold-gilted weapon from the Lord. Wisps of white hair cling to it, held there by congealing blood and flesh.
This is my sacrifice for my Kellen. He will be safe from the monster that lived so long in my head. The blue rivers no longer can haunt me. I have a new image to fill my dreams and define my existence. A vision that feels strong instead of weak.
I can’t take my eyes off the endless red streams on the back of his head.