More sacred than the confessional by

The villagers love Monsieur le Curé. He isn’t perfect, but who would dare to make their confession to a perfect priest? One would slither away from the church door, one would shrivel with shame like a salted slug.

Père Jean is so plump that not even his unbelted cassock hides his round belly. Grateful parishioners have left too much strong cider, too much thick cream, too many tasty chickens on his doorstep. The village schoolmaster, an atheist and a communist as befits his profession, eavesdrops in the café every Saturday evening. Believers arrive one by one, having cleansed their souls in preparation for Mass next day. He listens and chuckles as the naïve idiots share their tallies. For another week they are saved from the fires of purgatory. On the basis of their revelations he calculates that one chicken is worth fifteen Hail Marys.

Nobody is at all concerned when Paris Normandie carries the headline SHOCKING REVELATION: PARISH PRIEST’S MISTRESS. The lures of the flesh are many: why should Père Jean be deprived of what every man in the whole of Normandy knows is one’s due?

That is their first reaction. Then, questions begin to find their way to the consciousness of men, of husbands, fiancés, sweethearts, surfacing like the small popping bubbles which trouble their vats of cider. They know that Père Jean has not left the village since the bishop summoned him to Rouen. The prelate threatened him with unfrocking, and they can guess the offence. And his housekeeper is seventy if she’s a day and was never known for her beauty. So who is his mistress? Or rather, whose is his mistress?

The familiar formula of the confessional is turned on its head. Bless me, father, for you have sinned.  Was it my wife? Or the wife of Gros Pierre? From inside the dark booth comes a rapidly muttered Absolvo te. Go in peace. Go now!

Now many more chickens find their way to the market at Rouen. A new stall sells the cider co-operative’s surplus.

Meanwhile the schoolmaster chuckles to see Père Jean become gaunt, morose, withdrawn. He sits in his presbytery like a plump partridge with salt on its tail.

And if the women, gossiping as they pummel their laundry at the lavoir by the bridge, know something, they will never tell. Some secrets are more sacred even than those of the confessional.



After she retired Jenny Woodhouse studied creative writing with the Open University. Since then her output has shrunk from novel to short stories to flash. A new addiction to microfiction threatened her total disappearance until she discovered the novella in flash.


Photo – Jenny Woodhouse



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