The Weight of Grace
by Isabel Anreus
Eddy’s beat-up Converses are resting against the wheel of the car and his eyes are staring at the worn interior vinyl ceiling. The time on the dashboard reads 12:15 pm. He’s late, typical. The old priest wanted Eddy to pick him up at 12:00 pm sharp. He kept repeating it the day of the hearing, “Mr. Jimenez, tardiness is not something I will tolerate.” Tardiness had never been Eddy’s problem. In fact, Eddy’s not exactly sure what his problem is, or if there had ever even been one in the first place. All he knows is that he got caught stealing from the St. Hedwig of Silesia Church’s collection plate, and now after having his license for just three short-lived weeks has to drive the old fuck of a priest, Father Maretti, to hear confession every Saturday afternoon for the remainder of the summer.
His 2003 Honda Civic is parked in front of the Church. Eddy closes his eyes and imagines the endless possibilities that could have been his Saturday afternoon. The community pool with Javì and Hector basking in the heat of the sun by the cool, chlorine blue water, eating corn dogs and nachos, trying to score brass monkeys or maybe even some weed. A knock on the passenger-side window wakes Eddy from his daydream. A small, white-haired man with square-rimmed glasses is smiling at him from behind the glass. Eddy unlocks the passenger door, and the old man climbs inside.
“Good afternoon,” begins Father Maretti. He tries to position himself comfortably, his kneecaps making their usual popping noise when bent. He rubs them in a circular motion, trying to alleviate the pain. Eddy just sits and watches the old priest. He does not greet him or start the car.
Father Maretti looks around the vehicle, surprised by its cleanliness. “Is this your car?” he asks with a cryptic smile. Eddy does not answer right away. His eyes dart back and forth between Father Maretti’s face and the dashboard of the car, trying to find what the old priest is smiling about.
“Yeah, got it when I got my license,” Eddy replies. He holds the blank expression, and shifts his attention back to the wheel of the car.
“That was a couple of weeks ago, am I right?” Father Maretti continues, ignoring Eddy’s muted behavior.
Eddy starts the ignition. He keeps his eyes focused on the road in front of him. He has no idea where they are going, but will not give Father Maretti the satisfaction of asking him a question, let alone acknowledge the situation. Luckily, Father Maretti turns to him and asks earnestly, “Do you know where we are going?”
Not shifting his eyes from the road, Eddy replies with a shake of his head. Father Maretti gives Eddy a wide smile that exposes his dentures and asks, “Mr. Jimenez, have you heard of Farley Towers?”
“For real?” is Eddy’s sole reply.
Farley Towers is a large complex of low income housing for seniors in the town. Eddy is still unsure why he has to accompany Father Maretti inside. He even suggests he stay in the car, but the priest insists on him coming with him; claiming “the Lord works in mysterious ways, Mr. Jimenez.”
Eddy has never been inside any kind of low income housing before. He knows Hector’s grandma lives here. From the outside, it looks like a penitentiary— a red brick building with minimal windows and a security guard waiting behind the plexiglass window to buzz you in. Large metallic letters spelling-out, “Farely Towers” hang above the doorframe.
Farley Towers is located on the other side of town, several miles away from the Church. Apparently, the priest just walks every Saturday afternoon, rain or shine, to listen to confession. Eddy scoffs and thinks that the priest got himself a good deal, having Eddy drive him around all summer.
After being buzzed in by the guard, Father Maretti leads them to the elevator where they stand together in silence. The clear bulb above the metallic archway lights up and the doors pull apart in a slow, frail way. As they shuffle into the elevator, Father Maretti hits the second floor button and turns to Eddy, “Get ready to meet some characters, but remember Mr. Jimenez only God can judge.” Eddy tries to conceal his laughter with a makeshift cough, and the elevator doors open for them on the second floor.
The first apartment Father Maretti and Eddy visit belongs to two Cuban sisters. The younger of the two was once a famous theatre actress. During her confession, her voice rings throughout the small apartment, allowing Eddy to hear almost every echoing sound. Her accent is thick and gummy, almost inaudible.
Her old sister paces around the linoleum floor of the kitchen with worn slippers and hunched shoulders muttering insults at her in Spanish. The apartment is Latino-kitsch with its santos, perfectly decorated shrines to commemorate the dead, and several large multi-patterned elephant figurines sprinkled throughout. Eddy is sitting in the large LazyBoy in the middle of the living room, facing the older sister. She does not look up at him.
Out of boredom, Eddy eventually gets up and makes his way to the bathroom. The apartment is made-up of white walls. It is small and narrow in places. He already knows all the other apartments will be identical. Incense burning in the hallway and when Eddy passes it forces him to sneeze. He grabs a tissue and blows his nose as soon as he reaches the bathroom. He crumples the tissue into a ball and tries to shoot it into the rose-colored garbage bin ornate with flowers and vines, but he misses.
Eddy exhales deeply. He turns to make his way back to the LazyBoy. The older sister is waiting for him, standing in the hallway next to a small table filled with old photographs in delicate frames. When Eddy reaches her, she picks up one of the photos and turns to him. It’s a photo of her sister, on stage, in a Geisha costume. He stares at it first, then he looks up at her.
“You know all her confessions are just about all the men she’s fucked,” she whispers.
The visit takes over an hour, and by the time Father Maretti is done giving penance, Eddy is dizzy from the incense. They are both ready for a new confessor. The next several apartments go by faster than the first. Eventually, Father Maretti hears the confession of a Polish drunkard whose apartment is located at the far end of a long hallway. He lives alone and speaks a melancholic blend of Polish and English. Eddy is fixated on the large metallic crucifix around the old man’s neck. It takes up all the attention in the room, even more so than his confessions.
His apartment is stripped down to the essentials: table, various chairs, an old-fashioned television with an antenna sprouting out of its top. Next to the old man, on the table, sits a mug and a bottle of Svedka. Before he makes his confession, he offers some to the priest but Father Maretti refuses. The Polish drunkard shrugs then offers some to Eddy instead. Unlike the priest, Eddy does not refuse the old man’s generosity. He slowly sips the vodka, trying to hold off from fiercely coughing, for the remainder of the visit.
Eddy and the priest ascend the floors of the building. Each floor introduces Eddy to a new series of failing carcasses accompanied by their meaty confessions that Eddy only catches in bits and pieces. They are spoken in a multitude of languages, that the old priest must understand, each of them as idiosyncratic as their confessors.
They make their way into an old Italian couple’s apartment. The couple refuses to acknowledge one another. They have been married for almost fifty years. Father Maretti listens to their confessions in their own separate rooms. The husband sits next to Eddy on the beat-up sofa covered in plastic. His constant companion is an oxygen tank that feeds him purified air through two thin, translucent tubes that run parallel to each other until they meet at his nostrils where they split.
Eventually they switch.The old man pushes himself up off of the sofa and begins rolling his tank down the hallway to make his confession. His wife takes his place next to Eddy. Her hair is white and perfectly permed. She wears giant eyeglasses, almost too big for her face. Like her husband, she does not acknowledge him. She just stares straight ahead into the apartment, mumbling the prayers Father Maretti has given her for penance.
After the confession, Father Maretti walks back into the living room, passing Eddy, stopping right in front of the record player in the left corner of the room. He turns it on, adjusts the needle. The record scratches at first, but then suddenly music fills the room. It sounds familiar to Eddy, like Big Band or something. The sound of a loud trumpet blaring as the rest of the orchestra tries to keep up. The old man sits comfortably on the other side of Eddy. He starts whispering his particular set of prayers, he holds his hands tightly together. Eddy hears the soft thudding of the old woman’s foot tapping on the linoleum along to the music.
After the old man finishes with a sign of the cross, he inhales deeply and lifts himself up off of the sofa once more. He makes it over to his wife on the other side of Eddy, with the tank rolling behind him, and holds out his free hand. The old woman thinks for a second, then takes it. They make their way towards the center of the living room. He stations the oxygen tank besides him, and lifts his hand off of the handle and onto her clumpy sweater. His other hand is intertwined with hers. Their veiny fingers stay tangled together. They begin to sway to the music. She rests her head on his shoulder. Father Maretti makes his way over and sits down next to Eddy. He seems relieved. They watch the old couple dance until the record scratches and the music stops.
Father Maretti’s last confessor is a trollish-looking Dominican woman, who is completely deaf in one ear. As soon as Father Maretti and Eddy enter her apartment there is the intense, mouth-watering smell of plantains frying in the kitchen. She offers Eddy a few after he plops down at her table. The apartment is clean and mostly bare, except for a bright green and orange bush located on the far end of the room next to the window. After closer examination, Eddy realizes it is a tangerine tree with large, long branches that twist inward. Its planted in an olive-colored ceramic pot, and sits on the linoleum floor of her apartment. This visit is the shortest, her confession only consisting of one sin.
Eddy notices Father Maretti is tired. Before they leave the apartment, Father Maretti rests his head back and closes his eyes in one of the worn-in living room chairs. He tells Eddy to give him five minutes, and the trollish-looking Dominican woman goes about her daily tasks. Eventually, she brings Eddy a metal watering can, and points towards the tangerine tree. He waters it for her. Eddy thanks her for the tostones as they leave the apartment. Father Maretti pushes Eddy along into the warm, stiff hallway. As she closes the door behind them, he leans over and tells Eddy her name is Carmen.
It is 4:00 pm and Father Maretti has heard all of the confessions he could handle for one Saturday afternoon. As they head back downstairs Eddy asks the old priest, “So you, like, speak all those languages?”
Startled, Father Maretti turns towards Eddy and asks him to repeat his question. After hearing it for a second time, the old priest replies, “I’ve traveled quite a bit when I was young. After the war, I was a missionary. You pick up a lot.”
As the routine of summer establishes itself, so does the routine between Eddy and Father Maretti. Eddy quickly learns the number of confessions he has to sit through each week starting always with the Cuban sisters and ending with Carmen. At the end of every Saturday afternoon, he looks forward to a new Dominican dish, that reminds him of the meals his own grandmother used to make for him back on the island when he would visit her as a small child.
Eddy has also come to realize that for the most part the confessions never change. That every week, he hears the same several phrases repeated by their various confessors. The same sins, still needing penance over and over again. At first, Eddy does not know how to react to such a revelation. He keeps this thought far in the back of his head, letting it ferment for the right moment to pop itself right back again, front-and-center. He even contemplates confronting Father Maretti about it. Ask him, straight, one day on the car ride back to the church, why do you continue to hear the same confessions every week? What’s even the point to all of this? But, he decides against it.
Eddy lets the thought materialize one Friday night, in late July, behind the neighborhood 7-Eleven. He is sucking on a large purple straw, pulling up freezing Mountain Dew flavored slushy, leaning against the building between Javì and Hector. The three boys are facing the train tracks that split their town in two. Eddy sighs, the realization of another wasted Saturday is creeping up.
“What’s wrong?” Javì asks.
“Nothing, just remembered tomorrow’s Saturday.”
Javì and Hector never bring up Eddy’s community service, unless he does first. Javì refers to it as, “the beatification of St. Eddy,” but mostly they just listen and let Eddy vent. After all, it’s the least they can do, since all three of them stole from the collection plate that day when Eddy got caught.
“Yea homes, still driving around the old fuck of a priest?” asks Javì.
Eddy nods his head.
“You still going to the old folks place, where my Abuela lives?” asks Hector.
Eddy nods again. This time though, he begins to speak, “It’s just, man, we’ve been doing this every Saturday, and every Saturday its the same fucking thing.”Both Javì and Hector laugh, not realizing how seriously Eddy is taking his situation.
“Homes, its a punishment, not a vacation,” teases Javì with a grin.
“Nah man, I’m serious. If I hear one of those same damn confessions one more time…”
“What?” ask Javì and Hector in unison.
“Like the confessions, I hear from the old people, they’re always the same fucking thing.”
“Homes, you can’t hear their confessions,” Javì say, finally serious.
“Yea man, you ain’t a priest,” chimes in Hector.
“Nah, its not like that. I mean, most of the confessions are in other languages. I just know. I hear the same phrases and shit each time. Nothing changes.”
“I don’t know man. You’re not suppose to hear their confessions, that’s like Catholicism 101.”
“Shit homes, maybe the old fuck of a priest is trying to beatify you. Fuck.” Javì says jokingly, trying to lighten the mood between them.
“I don’t know. How does he even know all those languages man, maybe he’s faking it,” Eddy picks up on Javì’s lightness, and changes the topic.
“Homes, you don’t know?”
“Yea, man that priest has seen some shit,” Hector replies. “He was a P.O.W. back in ‘Nam.”
“Shut the fuck up man. No he wasn’t,” Eddy says too quick to dismiss Hector.
“Yo, it’s true,” Javì agrees with Hector.
Eddy allows this new information to absorb. He asks his friends if they knew how long Father Maretti was a P.O.W. They reply three years.
That Saturday, Eddy and Father Maretti end up, again, on the top most floor of the apartment building. As they walk out of the elevator in the main hallway, Eddy considers asking the priest a question about the conversation he had with his friends the night before. They walk in silence until Father Maretti turns to Eddy and asks, “Is something on your mind, Mr. Jimenez?”
How did he know? Eddy does not know what to say at first, but then thinks why not ask, after all, it is his summer too, “I just wanted to know if you thought it was a good idea for me to be inside the apartments with you when you hear confession.”
“Of course I do,” Father Maretti replies without hesitation. They turn left, off of the main hallway down a smaller corridor, Eddy not satisfied with his companion’s response, continues, “But doesn’t that, like, violate your whole contract with God or whatever?”
“I don’t think God is particularly worried about it,” Father Maretti replies.
“Look, I just don’t want to intrude on these people’s confessions,” Eddy states boldly, looking over at Father Marietta.
Father Maretti turns to Eddy with raised eyebrows and replies, “I don’t think anyone thinks you are intruding, Mr. Jimenez. In fact, I think your presence is appreciated.”
“Appreciated?” Eddy blurts out.
“These people, as you call them Mr. Jimenez, have been telling me the same confessions every week, for nearly the past decade. Most of them don’t ever leave their apartments, and the only visitor they see is me, every Saturday. Seeing you probably reminds them that there is still an actual living, breathing world running outside of this place.”
“So they are the same confessions,” Eddy confirms.
“Yes, Mr. Jimenez, and I know what you are going to ask me next, “ Father Maretti stopping short in the corridor. Eddy slows down and looks past Father Maretti, at Carmen’s door, their last stop.
“Why?” asks Eddy.
“All I can say is because of guilt. I guess, and maybe the idea that if someone focuses hard enough they can reach something else, something more… transcend.”
“Yea, the notion of reaching beyond this state. That maybe if they are really sorry about life’s biggest mistakes they can get somewhere better.”
“Better than this?” Eddy asks sarcastically.
Father Maretti ignores Eddy’s sarcasm and turns to the door of his last confessor. Eddy pushes the recent conversation away from the center of his attention, to a much darker corner of his brain, and instead focuses on something far more important, his empty stomach. He is excited about the prospect of it being full soon with something delicious and comforting, like maduros or maybe even an empanada.
Father Maretti knocks on the apartment door twice, but there is no answer. Eddy thinks maybe she is in another room, her frail body pushing itself slowly towards them on the other side of these thin walls. They wait. Enough time has passed, that now, Father Maretti appears anxious, he turns towards Eddy and asks him to go back downstairs and get someone to open the door.
Eddy walks briskly down the hall towards the elevator. He hits the button twice, but after several seconds,it still hasn’t arrived. He decides to make a run for it down the steps, located at the opposite end of the hallway. He sprints. He tries not to let his mind wander away from the immediate emergency, but he can’t help but reflect back on his recent conversation with the old priest. Transcendence. The word is highlighted, stamped boldly in the center of his mind. Eddy makes his descent down the final few steps. Entering the lobby, he is short of breath when he calls the guard at the front desk telling him he needs to open up one of the apartment doors.
Carmen is lying on the floor, dead, next to her thriving tangerine tree. The front-desk guard says the she probably has been like this since yesterday. He says they are lucky to have found her so soon. Usually, it takes nearly a week for the stench to fill the halls and eventually one of the other residents has to complain. They both watch as she is hoisted onto a stretcher. Father Maretti blesses the body.
Eddy takes Father Maretti back to St. Hedwig of Silesia Church, they sit in silence. Eddy knows he has another wasted Saturday waiting for him next week. In the back seat of his car sits the tangerine tree.
Photo courtesy of Kristína Kliská