A First Chapter That Didn't Make The Cut
I wrote something close to fifteen first chapters while drafting First Second Coming. This is one of them I liked, but in my opinion it wasn't up to snuff as a first chapter.
FSC6 Chapter 1 – Take Me To Church:
October 9, 2027, St. Therese Church, Alhambra, California: Stained glass windows color the sunlight, sandalwood incense tints the air. Mahogany pews are stuffed with thumbed over prayer books. Floral arrangements encircle the alabaster statuary. The murmured devotions of a few elderly parishioners emulate leaves rustling in a gentle breeze.
Every detail of the chapel matches my memory of the last time I attended services here a decade ago. Only the priest has changed. Padre Michael, as Máma calls him, replaced the retired Padre Gonzalo three years ago. She likes the new Padre although he can’t speak a word of Spanish to the predominantly Latin parish.
I wait near the altar until the confessional is vacated by my folks’ next door neighbor. Never have we been introduced, and since she’s crying this isn’t the right moment to greet her. I turn away, hoping she won’t recognize me as she totters toward the doors.
Upon entering the dark closet-sized chamber I kneel, clutch my rosary necklace and pinch the beads. The wooden divider’s latticework prevents only dim glints of radiance to pass through, enough to illuminate the dust motes hanging in the air and little else.
“Once you’re comfortable,” Father Michael says, “you may begin.”
I make the sign of the cross. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I last confessed two months ago.” I push air out of my lungs and force myself to continue. “I killed someone.”
The priest stays silent for far too many heartbeats, so I clarify my words. “I did it in self-defense. If I didn’t kill him, my life would’ve ended.”
“My dear, how long ago did this occur?”
“Father, I’d prefer that you call me by my name, Brendali.” I know he doesn’t mean to disrespect me, but I’m not his dear. “If you visit Veracruz and mention my name, you’ll learn that everyone knows me. They see me on the news. Anyway, my sin occurred a week after my last confession. I couldn’t confess sooner without risking my safety.”
“This incident took place in Veracruz?”
“No. I’ll explain, but first please understand I try hard never to sin. Of course, like everyone, sometimes I fail. Usually this happens after I lose control of my emotions and do stupid things.” I move a hand to my forehead, stare at the floor and sigh. I can feel my eyes becoming watery, so I try not to cry.
“Always I’ve had trouble with my anger. Never can I understand why. I drive away the men I love, friends desert me, behind my back co-workers call me ‘La Volcán’ – the volcano. This is my cross to bear in this life, no?”
“As James 1:19-20 says, ‘everyone must be quick to listen but slow to speak or become angry. Human anger does not achieve God’s righteous purpose.’ Of course, the Bible doesn’t tell us how to conquer our emotions.”
“I know. Perhaps now that I’ve returned home my life will become more stable than the craziness I’ve had to deal with in Mexico. Maybe that’ll help. So would the support and love of a good man, but . . . .” I’m here to confess, not to discuss my failed romances. “I can’t get rid of my anger alone, Father. I’ve tried. I do appreciate how fortunate I’ve been in so many other ways . . . a loving family, a wonderful career, God’s eternal love. It’s enough if nothing else good comes my way, no?
“I’m glad you count your blessings. Let’s discuss your sin. First, are there others in addition to the one you’ve mentioned?” “No, Father. This one is enough, don’t you think?”
“I’d say so.” I hear a muffled chuckle. “You may recite the Act of Contrition now.”
With all the sincerity I can muster, I do. "O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because I have offended you, my God, who is good and deserves all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen."
“You may proceed with your confession, my d . . . , um, Brendali.”
“As a media journalist in Veracruz, I’ve focused on the drug cartels and their corrupting influence on Mexican society. My work helped put many narcotrafficantes in jail. An equal number of corrupt policia and politicians lost their livelihoods. If you pay attention to the news you probably know how dangerous it is to work as a journalist in Mexico, no?”
The half-grunt, half-cough I hear sounds like a yes, he knows. “Why did you persist, if you’ve experienced such constant danger?”
“Someone had to stand up to these bullies. Never do I scare easily. Other reasons exist, personal ones I don’t wish to share.”
“I see. I apologize for interrupting you. Continue, please.”
I take a couple of deep breaths to ease the tightness in my chest. “Always, those in my profession stay diligent because bad things can happen from moment to moment. They often do. I’ve lost so many friends . . . .”
Pictures flash through my mind. I pull tissues from my purse to dab my eyes. “My mentor, Jorge, died in broad daylight. The narcos assassinated him. Silvia, my best friend, the sister I wished for as a child, disappeared one night. Never has her body been found. Rique, the only boyfriend who could handle my anger spells, the culeros tortured to death. Excuse my language, Father. Always I ask God why my life’s full of violence. Never does He answer.”
“The ways of God are not for us to know, Brendali.”
It’s hard to put these sad images aside, but I do. “Yes, but lately I’ve often thought of these dear ones and thanked God for the miracle of my survival.” I cross myself again.
“Perhaps he has marked you for some special purpose, and is testing to see if you can handle it.”
“I suppose. I should tell you about my sin. It occurred in August, as I traveled in a motorcade out of Jalapa. Our driver recognized a roadblock we’d come upon as an ambush. He U-turned to get away. Two of the narcos’ cars behind us moved in our direction to prevent the escape.”
“This sounds ominous,” Father Michael says.
No kidding. How many nights did I wake up reliving this nightmare? “They shot a barrage of bullets our way, but God protected us. The driver and front seat passenger got hit, but not fatally. The three of us in the back seat ducked for cover. Our car stopped. I stepped out and shot back.”
I clear my throat, try to catch my breath. “I blew out the front tire of one car. It veered sideways, which gave me a chance to aim at the driver. I nailed the bastardo in the head. His car spun and crashed into the second car. We escaped. The occupants of the four other cars didn’t.”
“I realize this situation is not of your doing, Brendali,” Father Michael says after a short period of silence. “Will you resolve to never kill again?”
Throughout the several minutes I take to consider his question he waits patiently for my response. “Never do I expect to find myself in a situation like this again. But if I have to protect myself or someone dear to me, I’ll do whatever’s necessary. An oath never to kill can become a pledge to commit suicide, no? Absolution from such a sin is impossible. But I am sorry I committed this sin and those of my past life, Father.”
Our mutual silence lets the church’s carillon bells chime the four o’clock hour. “Is this incident why you have returned to Southern California?”
“Mexico’s too dangerous for me. I’ll continue to speak out against the cartels from here. It’s important to me to pressure them until . . . .” I can’t tell him why. The words would cause me too much pain. “I’ve returned home to my community and church. It’s a big relief.”
“We will welcome you back tomorrow with open arms if you plan to attend our service. If I may ask, do you have work here? Surely our parishioners can help, if that’s needed.”
“I have a final job interview Monday at KJCR-TV. You know of Ram Forrester, no?”
“Of course. He’s the news anchor who got shot earlier this year. The surgeon called his survival a medical miracle. Do you expect to work with him?”
“Yes, if things go well Monday. Ram’s such a nice man. He’s not full of himself like so many in media are. If I’m hired we’ll co-host a talk show, which is something new for us both. I hope the meeting with his boss goes well.”
“Ram Forrester is beloved in L.A., so this is an excellent opportunity for you. I wish you well and will certainly watch the show if you’re in it. Everyone here will, too.” The sound of his sneeze comes through the divider. “As for penance, I ask you to do a complete rosary, today or tomorrow, and undertake a year of charity work of your choice.”
“I will do as you say, Father.”
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.”
I cross myself. “His mercy endures forever.” I leave. The calmness and joy that comes over me as I walk out of the church is what’s been missing in my life. I’ll savor these rare emotions while I can.