by James Claffey

     On the balcony above church door the choir practices with Ms. Fox. As I bend over the altar rail to say my penance, rather than close my eyes the way I’m meant to, I sneak a look at Emer, who’s on the end of the row, her hair pulled back with the ladybird barrette I always tease her about. She doesn’t like it when I make fun of her, and I know she got the barrette from her dead sister’s jewelry box. She sees me looking at her and tries to keep a straight face, but when I stick out my tongue she creases into a laugh and Ms. Fox, the choir teacher rattles her baton against the wooden lectern. The Old Man says Ms. Fox is well-named because she resembles the animal, with her red hair and the way her nose twitches when she looks at you.
     An examination of my conscience, the priest calls it. I sit in the wooden pew while he waits for me to grade my sins into some order or other.
     “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been six weeks since my last confession.”
     “Go on, my son,” the voice behind the grille says.
     My knees hurt kneeling on the hard leather pad, hands joined, eyes closed. I knew I was going to lie, even before I got into the confession box.
     “I stole money from my Mam’s purse. And I took the Lord’s name in vain,” I say in a croaky voice.
     “Is that all, my son?” He coughs, and I catch a glimpse of his gold Crucifix glinting in the light. “Are you sure?”
     “Yes, Father.”
     “Say your Act of Contrition, and for your penance, three Hail Mary’s and a Hail Holy Queen.” He mutters the ‘te absolvo’ as I singsong the Act of Contrition. “O, My God, I am heartily sorry...”
     I kissed Emer Murphy up the lane. I played with my mickey and it leaked on the sheets.
     Maybe I’ll wait for her on her way home from practice? But what if she makes her confession and tells him about our kiss? He’ll batter me stupid next time I see him.
     In the Plant Hire yard, we sneak into the cab of one of the bulldozers when there are no workers about. The handles of the dozer are steel and the blazing sun means you can’t hold onto them, so I have to steady Emer by grabbing her hips.
     “Anto Brogan, what would your Mam say?” she says, giving me a smirk over her shoulder. She kisses me, easy as pie, her mouth fizzy like Pop Rocks.



James Claffey slipped out of Ireland one night when the moon turned a lonely ball shade of blue. His compass points toward the future; his glass’s bottom points toward the sky; and his bluebird eyes are two wars poignant, flitting for an avocado branch. He writes at

This story originally appeared in issue 6.