"Not all the demons in Satan's service," he said.
"Right, all the demons in Satan's service. Exactly. A man has the right to defend his happiness."
"To defend his faith."
"Yes, his faith in his happiness, and in his love, his lady."
I said, "That, too, sure."
"Then go, my child, and defend your happiness. Be a soldier."
"Really?" I asked.
"Really," he said.
"Precisely, then. I shall. Thank you."
We both left the confessional booth at the same time, standing there eyeball to eyeball. He had half a sandwich in one hand and an entertainment magazine in the other — at least it wasn't porn — the cover of which advertised the sexual abandon of some Beverly Hills starlet eighteen seconds to anorexia. Bits of tuna fish, I believe, were tucked into the corners of his mouth. We shrugged in confused unison, and then I left.
Or attempted to leave. On my way out I brushed coats with Father Henry, the pastor-in-chief of Christ the King, he who had pestered me with constant pleas to become an altar boy, to forsake bombast and ballyhoo, to tinkle more substantive change in the offering basket each Sunday, and other spiritual what-have-you. I had thought or tried to think that he had perished or retired decades ago, perhaps been arrested and incarcerated for what you see on the news, but there he was now, in stargazing eyeglasses, pumping my arm up and down like he was trying to get well water to spring from my throat.
"Charles," he said, "what a pleasant surprise."
"Hello, Father Henry," I said. "Nice to see you."
"What brings you here today? It's been years. But I've been reading your memoirs every week in that magazine. Not so Christian, I must say. Especially the one about how your routine rectal exam prompted you to investigate the origins of Catamites in ancient Greece."
"I know, Father. I apologize."
"But you have a certain, uhh, certain, strained way with words, Charles. It gets dizzy."
"I've been dizzy since I was a teen, Father."
"Still, I admire your . . . is it success you have?"
He had shrunk a few feet since I'd last seen him, sometime during my senior year of high school. The cancer stamp on his blanched scalp looked a little like Siberia.
"Thank you, Father. I'm sorry about the Catamites. But I came today because I was seeking some spiritual counsel. I saw that other fellow there, the tall one. I didn't know you were still here."
"Spiritual counsel, I see. What is the problem, Charles?"
He guided me a few feet backward and we sat in the last pew, precisely where I had hidden as a youth so as not to be noticed dozing or else thumbing through the pages of an X-rated periodical. You'd think a gruesome seven-foot crucifix hanging behind the altar — an aggravated Christ with his head up and back in the why-hast-thou-forsaken-me pose, plenty of blood leaking from beneath that crown of thorns and the spear wound in his rib — not to mention a fifty-foot cathedral ceiling with skylights to let in lanes of God's spy-shine — would be sufficient to dissuade me from photos of girls with such handsomely haired genitalia. But what youth is not visited by hullabaloo, cyclonic inside him? Exactly.