Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Redemption by Jeff Jones

Danny stood with his hands thrust deep inside his pockets, staring at the imposing church doors.  How long has it been? Ten years? More?  Every Sunday until he ran away from home, his mum had dragged him here.  

She had been a devout Catholic unlike his drunk of a father and taking him to church had been her way of trying to protect him.  The more religious she could make Danny, the less likely he was to turn out like his father.  Or so she thought.  In fact, the opposite had happened.  Tired of his mum’s constant religious suffocation and the endless beatings inflicted on him by his dad, he eventually ran away.  Without any qualifications he’d struggled to find work and when he did, his employers soon tired of his tardiness and surly attitude.  The only path left for Danny had been a life of petty crime.  The hours had suited, and the rewards were often generous.

Life had been sweet - until recently.  For the last few weeks he’d been plagued with nightmares and they were always about the accident.

It hadn’t been his fault, or at least that’s what he told himself.  They had suddenly stepped into the road and there was nothing he could have done.  Night after night, he would relive the moment of impact, the dull thump as the car knocked them into the air and then the sickening thud as they landed on the tarmac.  But his nightmares never revealed the face of the person he had hit.  He’d seen the newspaper headlines about a callous hit and run, but by fastidiously avoiding the TV news bulletins and by never reading a newspaper, he’d managed to remain blissfully unaware of the identity of the person he had killed.  It was better that way.

It had been just over a month now since the accident, and the police were no nearer to catching the killer and Danny was starting to relax.  After initially panicking, Danny had eventually destroyed any evidence that could link him to either the accident or the crime scene he’d been fleeing when the accident happened.

Earlier that evening, Danny had scaled the church roof and set about stripping any lead he could lay his hands on.  He wasn’t particularly proud of himself for that one, but there was a recession on, and times were hard, even for petty crooks and lead was fetching a good price.

Everything had gone well, and he’d been driving away from the scene, when a police car had roared past him, heading towards the church.  Thinking he’d been seen, Danny had panicked and sped off, glancing over his shoulder to see if the police were following.  It had been in those few brief seconds that he’d collided with something.  Someone. He had felt the impact and heard the thud. He had briefly considered stopping, but when he saw the small, crumpled form lying motionless on the road, he’d panicked and sped off.  

He’d then driven to some wasteland and torched the car he’d stolen, before scarpering.

A squealing noise startled him, as an old man emerged from the church’s dim interior.  He smiled apologetically at Danny and stopped to hold the door open, and Danny instinctively reached out to take the weight.

“That’s heavier than it looks,” he said, smiling at Danny.

Danny nodded, but didn’t speak.

“If you’re going in, lad you’d better hurry.  Father Jessop will be locking up soon.”

“Thanks,” replied Danny.  So old Father Jessop is still here, thought Danny as he watched the old man crunch his way down the shingle path.  

He peered into the church suddenly caught in two minds.  He had thought that if he went inside and prayed for a while and perhaps admitted his guilt to God, he might finally find some peace.  He was prepared to do that, but he wasn’t prepared to go and admit his guilt to some burly copper.  That would lead to some serious time, sharing a cramped cell with a hardened con. No, he’d get this over with and then go for a nice drink and forget all about it.  Forever.

He stepped inside the church, closing the door as quietly as he could.  He glanced round and was pleased to see that there was no sign of Father Jessop.  It wasn’t that he didn’t like the man, he just didn’t want to run the risk of him recognising him and asking awkward questions.  Aside from Danny, there was just an old couple quietly praying.

Danny approached the altar, knelt and quickly crossed himself, before slipping into one of the aisles. Then he clasped his hands and began to silently pray.  At first, he prayed for forgiveness and after some thought, he prayed that whoever he’d killed hadn't been a child.  That, he didn’t need on his conscience.

Father Jessop emerged from his vestry, glanced at his watch and then around the pews.  It was time to lock up.  It rankled badly with him that a house of God had to be locked at all, but ever since the theft of the lead on the roof and other bits of mindless vandalism, he’d been obliged to lock up at 4.00 o’clock sharp.  Looking around he saw Mr and Mrs Richardson as he always did at this time on a Thursday, no doubt praying for their dearly departed friend Emily Cahill.  The only other person in the church was a young man he didn’t recognise though he looked vaguely familiar.

I’ll give them a few more minutes and then I must lock up.  His eyes fell on the recently installed bronze plaque in memory of Emily Cahill, a much-loved member of the church community.  She had been cruelly taken from them by some callous driver who didn’t even have the decency to stop and call an ambulance after they’d run her over.  Father Jessop shook his head in sadness and looked again at the three visitors to his church.

The Richardsons had finished praying and seemed to be watching the young man a few aisles in front of them.  They looked quite perturbed.  Some people prayed silently, others out loud, but the way the young man kept turning his head it was almost as if he was talking to someone.  He watched the young man for a few minutes and started to feel alarmed.  He caught the eye of Mr Richardson who immediately spread his arms in a gesture of confusion.

Father Jessop glanced at his watch again.  I really must be going, or I’ll be late for our guests and Rosemary will be most upset.  Sighing, he meandered towards the young man, all the time trying to put a name to the face.  He was pleased to see that the Richardsons hadn’t made any effort to leave, clearly worried about leaving the Father alone with this strange and obviously troubled young man.

Father Jessop gently touched Danny on the shoulder.  “I’m sorry, son, but I will be locking up momentarily.”

Danny appeared startled by his sudden arrival.

“Oh, right, sorry, Father, I’m just going,” Danny replied.

“Forgive me, but I can see you are troubled by something. I don’t like to turn anybody away in that state.  Perhaps you’d care to come back tomorrow and have a chat with me then?”

“That’s all right, Father, I’m fine now.”

“It’s no trouble and sometimes just talking a problem through can be a great help.”

“I know, Father.  I was troubled when I arrived, but it appears your parishioners are as caring as you.  I’ve just off-loaded my troubles on this lady, and she’s been a great comfort,” said Danny turning to his right.  He was surprised to see that the old lady he had been talking to was no longer there.  “Where did she go?”

Father Jessop glanced nervously at the Richardsons before answering.  “There was nobody there.  I’ve been watching you pray for the last few minutes, which is why I came over to see you.”  He looked back at the Richardsons and Danny followed his gaze.  They nodded their agreement.

“That’s ridiculous, she was here only a minute ago; you must have seen her?”  “I’m sorry, son, but you’ve been sitting alone ever since you got here.”

“I’m telling you she was here.  Her name was Emily… Emily Cahill.”  Danny watched as Father Jessop exchanged a shocked look with the old couple.

When Father Jessop spoke there was a catch to his voice.  “I’m afraid you must be mistaken.   Emily Cahill was killed in an accident a few weeks ago on her way home from a Scrabble evening.  There’s a plaque over there in her memory.”

Danny scurried over to where he pointed.  Smiling back at him from a photograph attached to the plaque was the lady he’d just been talking to.  Without looking anyone in the eye Danny hurried out of the church, Emily’s words about comfort and forgiveness still ringing in his ears.


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