by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
I must be falling. My suit jacket is bunched up under my arms and flapping around my head. A strip of polka dots slaps around my face. My calves and white cotton socks exposed. Shoe laces whip my shins. The wind changes pitch as it passes through the circle I’ve formed with my lips.
Forgive me father for I have sinned; it is…
The air is getting colder. I look down and see flecks of shine coming and going on a canvas of blue. The ocean coming up to greet me. I make out, almost directly below me, the Golden Gate bridge.
I pray I hit it so the story ends.
The bridge whistles past and out of instinct I point my toes to the water and press my arms to my sides. The air rushes into my lungs just before water rushes in my nose and past my ears. My eyes are shut but less and less light makes it through my eyelids. I put my arms out to slow the dive.
I open my eyes. All around are people. Some swim gracefully above, others motionless and fall past me. I see a man in shorts and a polo pushing past a motionless woman in pearls and an apron. Her hair wrapped around her face, pointing her way to the surface. People were everywhere, submerged, floating and swimming, looking around confused.
I look down. A mass of behemoth black shadows swirls below me. I look up. Pants, belts, socks, skirts, blouses, bras, thongs, ties, jackets, shoes falling toward me. People kicking and thrashing toward the light. I see people at the top burst through the surface and take a breath of air. My chest starts to burn with envy. Naked bodies fall toward me.
I need oxygen.
O’ my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…
I started to push up as if there were solid objects below my feet and hands. I am heavy with wet clothes. A woman removes her shoes and fights upward. I pull at the water to fight up. I kick off my own bloating leather soles and pull off my socks. A loose tie wraps around my neck as I push upward. I tear it off and begin removing the rest of my clothing, always gyrating upwards toward the light. The burning in my lungs starts to feel like the image of a film reel being eaten up by a flame. I’m feverishly kicking like a frog while my hands tug away at the belt. I pushed off my pants. The shirt doesn’t tear quickly enough. I look down and begin to panic.
The shadows seem closer and the light farther away. Something touches my foot and instinct kicks in. I look straight up, now completely naked and cup my hands for full force. I’m beginning to exhale in short bursts that grow longer with each snort. I’ll run out of air soon and then, out of habit, inhalation will take over.
I am sorry for these sins and all the sins of my whole life…
Next to me, a man grips the legs of the person above, trying to pull himself up. He exposes the man’s ass and they both fall further down. They reach for me while their mouths fill with water and sink to the swirling black masses.
A woman below me reaches for my leg. I kick at her hand, but she grabs my ankle. A bubble of air leaps out of my throat but the muscles tighten their grip on my body, and I pull both of us forward.
I won’t make it to the top with her extra weight. The burning in my chest has been replaced by spasms. My lungs pounding in their cage. I begin to sputter. Whatever air is left in my lungs turns to bubbles in the water. The light is just a few strokes above me. I look down and see a man grabbing at the woman hanging on to me. I kick at her hand, she lets go, now fighting off her own leech. I push forward and in another two strokes, the light blinds my eyes.
Thank you, father.
The light disappears.
In an abandoned house off the 215 freeway I go to confess my sins. The minister sits behind a plaster wall from 4:00 pm to 4:52 pm. He enters through a hole in the outside wall because the front door is boarded up. Sitting in the master bathroom, he takes confessions through a glory hole.
I walked in with the dead eyes of a junkie, unsticking my eyelids from the caked cocaine and running eyeliner. Another day wasted. Given up to the night before. I had time to confess before Father Ibsen spent the rest of his night suckling at any booze he could find, nursing his own demons. I stooped to put my face by the hole. Parting my dry lips with my tongue, I recited the script.
“Father forgive me for I have sinned again. I know not what I did but I know a blue-eyed, red-haired devil in fishnet stockings made me do it.”
A lighter clinked and hissed. Tobacco hit my nose. Smoke poured through the hole and made my eyes well up. His words curled through the haze.
“Tell me son, what have you done that you say the devil made you do?”
My eyes tried to focus. I listened to my breathing and my mind clarified for a moment. Guilt has a queer way of turning me into a saint. The few moments in between coming to and my next blackout I find myself curling into a ball and begging my inner child for forgiveness. My ego quenches the thirst, but my self flushes it into oblivion. However, feelings don’t mean facts, so I answer honestly.
“I don’t know but the evidence keeps piling up behind me.” Father Ibsen passes the cigarette through the glory hole, filter ripped off. I extend two yellow fingers to accept.
“Son, in my terrifying experience the demons don’t scratch, tear, bite, claw, scream or yell, rip, shred or gnash their teeth. No, they brush your hand, touch you lightly on your thigh and whisper in your ear. They’ll give you sweet words and pour confidence down your throat, inject self-esteem into your veins and breathe life into your nose. It’s a slow seduction.”
I took a long pull from the cigarette. With no filter, the smoke punched a hacking cough out of my lungs. I choked it down to hear the rest of Father Ibsen’s sermon.
“They make you think you are doing all the work. That you make the decisions and take charge of your destruction. So that by the time you feel the scratching, tearing, biting, clawing, screaming, yelling, ripping, shredding, and gnashing of teeth you think it’s the demons but it’s really the angels giving all they have to try and pull you back. While the demons lay back, pissing and blowing snot bubbles all over themselves with laughter at the violent struggles of their boy scout doppelgängers.”
Father Ibsen stuck two fingers back through the hole. I handed him the cigarette and he continued.
“That is the devil’s greatest pride. She twists her forked whiskey-soaked tongue around yours until you can’t tell the difference and when you think you know, she has you. Her trick is making you think all the rules and regulations will save you, but the fortress is really a prison.”
The words were ironic coming from the fiery, vodka drenched breath spurting out of the hole. He chuckled and finished his impromptu sermon to the choir.
“So, it makes me laugh, son, until tears stream and sides ache, when I hear one of my children say, ‘the devil made me do it’ because son, aren’t we just the devil?”
His final words sounded like an admiring mother mildly scolding her mischievous child. I heard his chair creak as he stood up. He passed his collar through the fuck hole, spotted and stained with sweat and semen, and spoke the last words I ever heard from his mouth. “Time for this devil to change costumes. But you should sit on this side of the wall. Hearing the insanities of the other, keeps one’s own in check. Their ain’t no glory on this side of the hole, any stone age queen will tell you the same.”