Miss Tedder’s arm ached. But she bore it with a mixture of stoicism and grim satisfaction; the girl had deserved a slippering, and Miss Tedder had administered a thorough punishment. With a faint nostalgia for the days when children could be struck with impunity before the local education authority poked its nose into the affairs of religious schools, Miss Tedder crossed the path that led from the schoolyard to the church next door.
It was a beautiful building, served faithfully by brothers from the Franciscan order, but Miss Tedder was blind to earthly aesthetics; she sought the comfort and justification of the confessional box, and this morning she had felt that need keenly.
The curtain to the confessional was drawn back; she had timed it right, then! She could unburden herself right away, and be back before the lunch break was over. Settling into place with a grunt, she glanced through the ornate metal grill that separated her from the brother hearing her confession. The church was dimly lit, and her eyes weren’t what they once were, but Miss Tedder had no preferred confessor. Absolution was what she sought.
She murmured the confessional words rapidly, in a perfunctory tone that betrayed no thought for their meaning; “Forgive me father, for I have sinned.” They were a formula, an incantation that was necessary to sanction her actions and bring self-justification.
She shared what she had come to say, confident that the brother would agree with her, and enable the hatred that flowed through Miss Tedder, the absence of compassion that she miscalled discipline.
“She is a difficult child. Quiet, always watching me. Most insolent!”
She continued her tirade against the twelve-year-old girl she had just beaten, for having the temerity to attend school with a button missing from her blouse. The child was slovenly, a reflection of her dissolute family. Her father wasn’t even a Catholic! Miss Tedder had dug out all tough roots remaining from the place where her heart should be and felt no hypocrisy when she lied to herself that her hatred of the child had no sectarian basis.
The child was always watching from her large dark eyes. Plain spinsterish Miss Tedder felt the sting of judgement. She had dragged the girl to the toilets once, ordering her to wash the disgusting eye makeup from her face. The child had obeyed, crying that she didn’t have any makeup. The dark ring around her lashes could not be scrubbed away. Miss Tedder thought of this but said nothing. She waited, impatient for absolution, but her confessor was silent.
From across the courtyard, Miss Tedder heard the school bell herald the end of lunch; she had tarried too long, and her need was met. Perhaps confession hadn’t been necessary; the brother had given her no penance, no act of contrition. He understood and approved her actions! Miss Tedder rose from the wooden bench, polished by generations of sinful backsides, and hurried back towards the school, where no doubt the children were making the most of her absence.
As she opened the door to leave the church, a sombre-habited figure emerged from a side door. Brother Everard returned to the confessional box, tea in hand. He called to Miss Tedder but she had already left the church. Perhaps it was a sin, but Brother Everard smiled and allowed himself a quiet sigh of relief.
Author Bio: Trinity has no social media presence but is grateful for the opportunity to share stories online.