The Hard-of-Hearing Priest
The girls of the eighth grade at St. Joe’s cleaned the parsonage every Friday. One of the nuns would line them up at the bottom of the steps. The girls held buckets and brooms and mops. They walked up the steps in single file.
_____They cleaned the parsonage while the priest presided over confessions in the church. While still a relatively young man, the priest became hard of hearing and in the confessional, he had to ask the confessor to speak up. As a result, anyone kneeling in the pews outside was likely to hear. It didn’t matter; the verdict was always guilty, the penance always light. Say the “Our Father” three times and be on your way.
_____After lunch period on Fridays, the priest would come to the classroom the seventh and eighth graders shared and would sit at the teacher’s desk and ask students questions related to the bible. The students would stand when answering. The nun, whose classroom it was when the priest wasn’t visiting, stood in a corner of the room with a peaceful expression, hands folded at her waist. The students knew to speak clearly and amplify their voices.
_____Though the priest was hard of hearing, he did not speak loudly himself. He delivered his short sermons in a soft-spoken way. Some of the older members of the parish were hard-of-hearing, yet they appreciated his brevity.
_____One night, a Friday night in fact, the parsonage was robbed; the priest happened to be at the house when the thieves arrived. He didn’t hear them wedging open a window. They tied him up. They also decided to give him a beating. The priest had a small safe in his closet and the thieves took it away with them.
_____The priest was discovered the next morning when two altar boys went to his front door because he was late to say mass. The police interviewed the priest in his hospital room, and he said he didn’t get a good look at the thieves. The theory from the police was that the priest knew the identities of the thieves, but they were also members of his parish. A further theory was that the at least one of the thieves had a sister who’d cleaned the priest’s house and knew about the safe.
_____The parishioners, when talking amongst themselves, could list any number of potential suspects. This parish being what it was.
_____Because the priest could not, would not, name his attackers, a case was never developed.
_____A few years later, following a short battle with brain cancer, the priest died. The doctors said the cancer might have been growing in the priest’s brain for quite a while and this might’ve explained his hearing condition.
_____The doctors might’ve wondered, too, why no one in the parish had ever encouraged the priest to have his hearing checked.
Andy Plattner lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He has taught fiction writing at the University of So. Mississippi, University of Tampa, Emory University and Kennesaw State University. He has published stories with The Southern Review, Paris Review and The Literary Review, as well as other places. He has a forthcoming short story collection, Tower, with Mercer University Press.