Editor's Note: This story first appeared in Wild Quarterly and was republished with permission here.
Aunt Loretta had been doing this for years. When she babysat me after school, I enjoyed eavesdropping on her confessions even more than I enjoyed playing on the playground a block away and eating her delicious homemade pasta that fit so neatly onto my favorite silver spoon.
“Bless me father, for I have sinned. My last confession was last Thursday.”
After she made a rapid Sign of the Cross, she would confess how she lied to her boss and often wished that she could pour bleach into his favorite coffee mug. The two words she seemed to use most during her cellular confessions were “a-hole,” and “jag-off.” I appreciated that she was trying to keep it clean for the priest, who was probably on the other end of the line drying his dishes and rolling his eyes.
“But I don’t think I mean it when I think it,” I remember her confessing one evening in early June. I was about a week away from advancing to the fifth grade.
“Father, I am so very sorry for these and all my sins.”
Next came her penance assignment, which she always had to write down on a scrap of notebook paper so that she wouldn’t forget.
“Okay, so you said seven Hail Marys, five Our Fathers, and two Apostle’s Creeds? Anything else?”
It was hard not to imagine Aunt Loretta kneeling by her bedside with that piece of paper in hand, making tick marks next to her prayer list before reading a few chapters of “How to Wear an I-Can-Do-This Face in Your Dreadful Workplace.”
Later that summer, I visited Aunt Loretta’s apartment with warm cookies in hand; I wanted to surprise her because she had quit her job and likely donated that “How to Wear an I-Can-Do-This Face” book to the local library. When I let myself in, I saw it right away—an open can of SpaghettiOs sitting right on her marble countertop. I picked it up and dipped my finger into the aluminum can, sampling the sauce that I had grown to love more than my fossil collection.
“I . . . I . . . I mean—I always thought that you made this pasta yourself,” I said to Aunt Loretta, who had just stood up from her favorite sunken couch cushion.
“You mean you thought that SpaghettiOs were homemade?”
Homemade! What else would they be? Aunt Loretta was the queen of making tiny O-shaped noodles—was she not?
“Oh, honey,” she said. “Oh . . . honey!”
I had learned a lot of disturbing stuff in fourth grade, but nothing compared to this. Aunt Loretta was a fake. She was a selfish meanie who hadn’t even thought to confess to her priest that for years, she had been lying to her niece about the food she was feeding her after school. I sprinted into the hallway and thought about knocking on another tenant’s door, maybe giving the cookies to Aunt Loretta’s old neighbor-lady who would nibble on them while finishing her afternoon crossword puzzles. Instead, I continued running down the hall, down the stairs, and then out of the apartment complex. I ran a few down the road, past the playground where I had crossed many a monkey bar, past the high school where I would someday have my own locker, past my mom’s favorite coffee shop where she ordered hot chai tea lattes. And then I made a sharp right and ran straight into our church.
The priest was kneeling in a pew, a rosary dangling from his hands. I must’ve startled him because he looked at me as if I were Jesus, beard and lanced side and all.
“I’m sorry to have scared you, Father,” I said. “I . . . I was just hoping to make a quick confession.”
The priest smiled and beckoned me to the confessional at the back of the cathedral. Even though he had already seen my face, I decided to go into the second confessional. I felt safer there.
“Forgive me, Father, for I’m pretty sure that I have sinned,” I said.
“And how long has it been since your last confession, dear?”
“Oh. Like, maybe just a few weeks. My mom makes sure that I come in here as much as I can.”
“What a great mother you have,” he said. “When you’re ready, why don’t you go ahead and tell me all your sins?”
As far as I was concerned, I only had one sin to confess: I had made the decision to hate Aunt Loretta.
“I hate my Aunt Loretta because she’s the biggest a-hole I have ever met.”
I could hear the priest shift in his chair, or throne, or whatever priests get to sit in when they have the privilege to act as God’s correspondent.
“Samantha, I don’t think you mean what you just said. And I don’t think you hate your Aunt Loretta because hate is a really bad word, just like a-hole is a really bad word that we choose not to use here in our church.”
Suddenly the priest was trying to look through the patterned lattice that did a decent job of hiding my face but an even better job of hiding my crossed arms.
“Look at me, dear,” he said.
“Why don’t you come on over to the other confessional so we can have a little chit-chat?”
I was certain that I had just gotten myself in trouble with Father Carl. I was bound to find out what would be worse: getting reprimanded by him or my fourth grade teacher, who punished students by taking away a full recess and a half.
When I transferred to the other confessional, Father Carl, to my surprise, didn’t look angry. Instead, he looked a little hungry.
“What have you got in that container, Samantha?” he asked.
“Just some chocolate chip cookies.”
“How about you and I eat these chocolate chip cookies together?”
I opened the container and offered him the biggest one, which also happened to be the one with the most chocolate chips. I would’ve kept that one for myself if God and Father Carl weren’t such close friends.
“Did you make these yourself?”
I nodded. Unlike Aunt Loretta, I wasn’t lying: they really were homemade.
“They’re very delicious,” he said. “Soft and chewy—that’s exactly what makes a good cookie. Now, dear, why don’t you tell me why you’re so upset with your Aunt Loretta?”
“She lied to me about her cooking,” I said. “I saw the can on her kitchen counter just a few minutes ago.”
“SpaghettiOs. She never made them! She just dumped them into a stupid bowl and heated them up for me. She is a fake and a liar.”
The priest reached for another cookie.
“Well, why don’t we go ahead and give your Aunt Loretta a call right now? Maybe she can explain her side of the story.”
The priest pulled a cell phone from his pocket and dialed Aunt Loretta’s number.
“Loretta? Hi. This is Father Carl. Do you have time to make a confession?”
He put her on speakerphone.
“She’s a fake,” I whispered. “She’s a phony.”
“Father Carl? Who’s there with you?”
“It’s your niece Samantha,” he said. “And she seems to be a little upset with you right now. Is there anything that you’d like to say to her?”
“Samantha, I am so sorry. I really am. I had no idea that you thought I was such a good cook . . .”
Aunt Loretta sounded so sad and sincere. I shoved another cookie in my mouth.
“Samantha? Why don’t you come on back over to my apartment and we can talk about everything?”
The priest looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
“She’ll come over,” he said. “I’ll send her over in a few minutes . . . how’s that?”
“That would be great, Father,” Aunt Loretta said. “Thanks so much for calling.”
After Father Carl put his cell phone back in his pocket, he asked me if I was sorry for sinning. I said I was. I was also sorry for all the cookie crumbs I had accidentally let fall to the floor in the confessional.
“How about two Hail Marys and two Our Fathers then?”
“Sure,” I said, noting with pleasure that my penance assignment wasn’t as long and complicated as Aunt Loretta’s. “Also, Father, I would really like it if you kept these cookies.”
“That’s very kind of you, Samantha,” he said. “I’ll be sure to enjoy them. God bless you.”
I knew that next time I saw Father Carl in maybe a Sunday or two, he would return my container all fresh and clean. Of course I couldn’t tell him that I always pictured him doing his dishes while hearing Aunt Loretta’s confessions, but who could blame him? Aunt Loretta was also multi-tasking during those phone calls—painting her nails, hanging up her clothes, watering her cactus—and I wouldn’t be surprised if she said an extra Our Father every night before bed so she could be further absolved of all her sins.
I tried to wave goodbye to Father Carl, but he already had his eyes closed and his hands clasped tight. I noticed that his rosary was loosely woven around his fingers. The beads were as big in diameter as SpaghettiOs. As I exited the confessional and made my way out of the cathedral, I saw the sun shining through the enormous stained glass windows and decided that the playground was going to be my first stop on the way back to Aunt Loretta’s. It was the perfect place to be reassured that I wouldn’t be the last sinner to cross those monkey bars.