Skip to main content
By Tighe Flatley

Tommy knew that he would lie to the priest, even before he opened the confessional door.

He was 10 years old to the day. Tommy’s birthday lined up his First Reconciliation, as if God Himself were ushering him through two gates at once. The fourth-grade class from Bishop Fitzpatrick Catholic was in the front of the church, their families behind them, wearing suits and dresses as stiff as the wooden pews in which they sat.

His older sister, Catherine, had gone through Reconciliation the prior spring. Since then, men had landed on the moon, the calendar switched into a new decade, and Tommy’s two front teeth had fallen out.

“Confession is easy,” Catherine had said the ressed into the floor of his own home.

In the church, when it was Tommy’s turn, he opened the left door of the large, wooden box with a creak that echoed from the back wall. He heard giggles shushed by the teachers as the door swept shut.

The floor beneath him groaned. There was no light, only a silhouette of a face on the other side of a screen. As he felt for his place to sit, Tommy smelled dust and pine; it reminded him of taking the Christmas decorations out of the basement, when his parents would let him hang the last ornament on the tree for being so good that year.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” Tommy said, just as he practiced with Catherine. “I kicked my sister.”

“And why did you kick your sister?” the familiar voice on the other side of the screen asked.

Tommy felt heat rise in his chest. He hadn’t anticipated this part—Catherine said the priest assigned prayers. He didn’t expect in-depth questioning.

“She made fun of me,” Tommy said, hoping that a general enough response would hurry the conversation along.

“How so?”

“She said that I have big teeth.”

Tommy thought of his missing front teeth, still waiting to come in. Now he was lying about the lie, his tongue whistling in that open air, surely giving him away. If it wasn’t that, Tommy was sure the father recognized his voice, perhaps even saw him coming in from behind the screen. He had to change the subject.

“Also, it’s my birthday,” Tommy said, hearing his small voice crack.

“How old are you now?” asked the voice.


“Ten is a very important age.”

Tommy heard a sigh and then a long, quiet pause. The confession booth creaked under the weight of whoever was on the other side. The man’s breathing was heavy, as if he were trying to catch his breath, like his dad did when shoveling snow in the driveway. Tommy imagined those dry hands, folded in the lap of the robes, clasped in prayer over his sins.

“That’s enough,” the father said. “Don’t talk.”

Tommy felt his heart leap, his throat close. Catherine had told him that everyone gets prayers to recite based on the weight of their sins; Tommy received no such assignment.

There could only be one reason: the priest knew he lied. Tommy wasn’t forgiven; he was banished. His time in the confessional didn’t count—it would be like crossing your fingers during the vows of Holy Matrimony.

I’ll have to ask for forgiveness for the rest of my life, Tommy thought, speechless, still sitting in the confessional booth. He listened to the wood whine, feeling it shift back and forth, his family outside,
falsely proud.

It was this moment he remembered most, years later, when the Boston Globe landed on his porch one cold winter morning. Thomas read the front-page report, still standing outside, the wet cold of snow soaking into his slippers. It burst open that confessional door, ripping the wood from its hinges, splintering with a crash. The dark, creaking box collapsed into a pile of kindling. For light, for warmth. For a blaze.