Father, Forgive Me

Father, Forgive Me
by Liz Bennefeld

Father Greg Buridan lit another cigarette and continued pacing up and down the apartment’s tiny living room.

“You can’t be pregnant!” he appealed. “God wouldn’t do this to me!” Turning toward the room’s other occupant, he demanded, again, “How could you do this to me?”

“When I asked you if you really wanted to make love to me,” Jeanne reminded him, “you unbuttoned my shirt. If you’d wanted me to save you from yourself, you should have told me so. You just didn’t think you’d get caught!”

Father Greg stared at the woman curled up on the couch and wanted to swear. Jeanne Lescot’s appearance wouldn’t impress his fellow priests, or explain his moment of weakness to his family. Wearing faded blue jeans and one of his old flannel shirts, she looked more like one of his seminary students than his lover.

“If my bishop finds out about this, my career is finished. They won’t give me another parish. They probably won’t even let me stay at the college. They may never let me teach again. Any subject! Anywhere!” Greg dropped into the nearest chair and buried his head in his hands. “They’ll transfer me to a mission in Brazil,” he groaned. “Do you know what this is going to do to me?”

Jeanne stood up and stretched. Like a cat, Greg mused. Standing up, he put his arms around her waist and pulled her against his chest. Closing his eyes, he remembered. Yes, he’d wanted her. And Jeanne had seemed like such a safe, logical choice.

Jeanne had signed up for his course on church history, his first term teaching at the community college. She’d been in parapsychology, then, and they’d become friends during their first argument about the teachings of the Catholic Church on the nature of evil. She’d dropped out of parapsychology and even joined a church. Not the Catholic Church, but Christian. She’d never said so, but he knew he was responsible for that improvement in her life.

For five years they’d been just friends. Until three months ago, he’d only thought of her as his student and an intellectual sparing partner. She stimulated his mind, got him thinking about the Church, about the world, in a different way. If she had become a Catholic, she would have started treating him like a priest, and none of this would have happened.

Jeanne ran her lips along his neck and snuggled closer into his arms. His hands slid down over her hips, skimmed her thighs and pushed up under her shirt. He shivered at the feel of her skin.

“What did your confessor say when you told him about us?” she whispered.

He stepped back, startled. “I can’t go to Simon with something like this!”

Jeanne frowned and stepped back. “I’d better make coffee,” she said moving toward the kitchen. “We’ve got some serious talking to do, and I can’t think without coffee.”

Greg followed and seated himself at the kitchen table. He slipped a packet from the pocket of his shirt, tapped out and lit another cigarette. He drew in heavily, then released the smoke into the air.

“I went to see Simon, but I couldn’t tell him,” Greg admitted. His hand shook as he balanced his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray. “What am I going to do, Jeanne?” He sat at the table watching the cigarette burn, his mind numb, trying not to think.

Jeanne poured the coffee and slid around to the chair beside him. She didn’t answer his question, just stared at him, her eyes sad and full of hurt. He wondered at the change that had taken place in their relationship. Things shouldn’t have worked out this way. She’d told him that she’d had lovers before, right after her divorce, when she’d first started college. Over the years, though, she’d abandoned them in favour of talks with him, sitting up until dawn discussing philosophers and theologians and books they’d both enjoyed.

When had she quit taking the pill? Why hadn’t she told him? Jeanne had seemed startled when, in the midst of a heated discussion of social ethics, he’d taken her in his arms and lowered her to the floor. She’d protested that he wasn’t thinking clearly, that he’d hate her for it, but he’d told her that he loved her and soothed away her troubled thoughts.

Greg vaguely remembered having promised to marry her if anything happened. He hadn’t stopped to think any farther than the moment; her hot body, honeyed mouth, soft hands. Thankfully, Jeanne hadn’t thrown his words up at him . . . yet!

“Don’t worry. I’ll have the baby. I knew birth control and abortion would be out of the question, your beliefs being what they are.”

“No, I could not in good conscience tell you to have an abortion.” Greg reached out to take Jeanne’s hand in his own. “That would be murder.”

Jeanne pulled back from his touch. “How do you feel about child support? I’m not sure I can manage on what I earn.”

“You can’t mean you are contemplating keeping the baby. You are giving it up for adoption!” Father Greg spelled out his expectations firmly, determined to take charge. Having his lover raising his child in the same town, not five miles from his mother’s home, was not an acceptable arrangement.

“No, I’m going through with the pregnancy. I’ll raise the child alone.” Jeanne’s voice offered no hope of a compromise.

Silently, Father Greg prayed, whatever powers there be, get me out of this! I’ll do anything. Greg cringed at the thought of the scandal Jeanne would cause by having the baby. She hadn’t gone out on a date for years. There were no other men in her life. They’d all know it was his baby.

At his age, Greg confessed to himself, he couldn’t face leaving the priesthood to find work and support a wife and child. And he didn’t want to. His life as an instructor at the seminary and college was comfortable. He had no worries about paying bills or rent. Greg knew he didn’t want the responsibility involved in supporting a child. Jeanne had her mind set on raising it, with or without his help. If she did turn out to need help, though, it would be awkward if he just stood by. To whom could he turn? What could he do? Panicky thoughts hammered at his mind.

Greg broke the silence. “Would it really be so hard for you to have an abortion? Is it really because of my beliefs? Your church isn’t as much against abortions as mine.”

“If the idea that I might have an abortion doesn’t bother you as much as the thought I might not, you’ve got a problem, Greg. You’re a man of the cloth. You’re supposed to be persuading me to have this baby.”

Father Greg stared into his empty coffee cup and contemplated the implications of Jeanne’s words. What had he been doing, these past few months? He had broken his vows of celibacy and chastity. He’d avoided confessing his sins. In his mind, he’d already committed murder, with the thought of terminating Jeanne’s pregnancy. He wanted Jeanne to have the abortion in spite of his own convictions. Convictions that mostly served, Father Greg realized, to protect him from inconvenient, or unpleasant obligations, and allow him to live a comfortable life, studying and teaching.

Greg realised he didn’t care about the Catholic Church’s teachings on morality. He knew in his heart that what he wanted was to maintain his comfortable existence — to be taken care of and protected from having to cope with life. Jeanne’s confession had shaken him more than he wanted to admit. The real problem wasn’t her being pregnant. It was the threat it posed to everything he’d worked for all these years.

He was willing to commit murder, and to encourage the woman he’d thought he loved to murder their baby to save his pride, his position in the church. No, Father Greg confessed silently, he wanted Jeanne, but he also wanted to stay in the priesthood.

Jeanne’s voice intruded on his thoughts. “Greg, have you considered praying about it? What does God think you should do?”

Greg felt trapped, pushed in a direction he didn’t want to go. I can’t give it up, he told himself. It isn’t fair. There’s got to be another way.

Greg squeezed Jeanne’s hand and then stood up. “Bathroom break. Back in a minute.”

He closed the door quietly but firmly behind him. Leaning against the bathroom wall, he closed his eyes, allowed his mind to turn to his God, and prayed. “Get me out of this. I’ll do whatever I have to do! I swear, I’ll never break my vows, again! Just please get me out of this!”

Greg’s eyes flickered open. The air around him seemed warmer. The small room seemed to darken and close in upon him. His legs shook so violently he could hardly stand. He’d felt the power of prayer, before, but nothing like this! Tears poured down his cheeks. He scrubbed at them with his hand and groped for the doorknob. The door opened almost of its own accord, and Greg stumbled out into the living room.

Jeanne was kneeling on the floor. “Greg,” her voice came on a groan. “Help me. Something is wrong.”

Greg came to a halt and stared down at the young woman before him. Just stood there and stared at her. Was this really happening? No, he couldn’t be responsible for this! It had to be a coincidence. His God could not be so cruel. Hastily, Greg made the sign of the cross and mouthed a brief prayer.

“Please, Greg.” Jeanne’s face was pale, she held out her hand to Greg, and he helped her to stand. She was trembling.

“I’ll get the car. I’ll have you at the hospital in five minutes.”

The priest put his arm around Jeanne, and helped her to the door. “I’ll give you the money for the doctor’s bill,” Greg promised. “Whatever you need. Don’t worry about money.” He squeezed her shoulder and added, “But you won’t bring my name into it, will you? I mean, until we know for certain.”

She smiled up at him, reassuringly. “No, of course not. I’ll go in alone.”

“I do love you, you know,” Greg said. “You know I would never do anything to hurt you, don’t you?”

“I know.” Jeanne stretched up to plant a kiss on Greg’s cheek. He helped her into the car. As Greg settled into the driver’s seat, he reached over and patted her knee. “Next time, we’ll have to be more careful. I don’t ever want to go through a week like this again!”

Jeanne looked sharply at Greg and compressed her lips. There was no trace in his face of the man she’d known as a friend and confidante. In the yellow gold light of the passing street lamp, the priest’s expression seemed smug and self-satisfied, almost sinister. Jeanne shuddered. When had he changed, and who was this stranger? Certainly not anyone she would ever want to know or dare to trust!

Jeanne was so weary, she could feel the sweat forming on her brow with every cramp that racked her body. No, she thought, he wouldn’t go through a week like this again. Not with her, at least. She’d make sure of that.

As she got out of the car and started towards the hospital entrance, she felt a lightness and a freedom that made the physical pain seem almost trivial. More confident than she’d felt in a long time, Jeanne walked through the emergency room doors and into a new life. Never again, she thought, would she make a fool of herself for any man.

Copyright © 1999, by E. W. Bennefeld. This story is a work of fiction. No resemblance is intended between characters and situations in this piece and actual persons and events. First electronic publication was in the January 1999 issue of The Royal Scribe; first print publication, Between the Sheets [Anthology], March 1999, WordCraft, Australia.