Two passions, p.4
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       Two Passions, p.4

           Ted Reynolds
 
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thin new features. Good little body, he thought. You’ll even sign Cassidy’s checks for me.

  He stood in the center of the small cell, under the unshaded light fixture. Nothing to see from the barred window but gray bricks; nowhere to walk but from door to window; nowhere to sit but the hard cot; nothing to think about but . . .

  . If I tell the guards that I need to see the priest at once, if I can face that other man again, then maybe something else will happen. Maybe I can get my old life back!

  You mean maybe I should renege on what I told God I was willing to do. Maybe I should chicken out and try to unload death back on Masserman again?

  But dying as a criminal. . .

  All the martyrs did.

  But Masserman deserved this death! I don’t.

  All of us deserve it. Jesus died the great death that we all deserved.

  And that settled it, of course. He had to accept that he was in the hands of God. He knew that, but it was hard to feel it. He missed the constant external signs of it, his rosary and his breviary and the mild pressure of the scapular against his chest. He was left with his faith and that felt shaky.

  A metallic rattling raised his gaze to the barred door. A guard was standing there; raising his nightstick, he ran it across the bars again.

  “Yes,” the priest asked. “Was there something you wanted to tell me?” He meant to be friendly, but his voice emerged harsh and suspicious, Masserman’s voice.

  The guard didn’t answer. He was fairly young. His face showed no feeling -- it wasn’t cruel or mean, but indifferent and matter-of-fact.

  This is my only human contact, thought the priest. Maybe the last person I’ll ever talk to. What can I say to him?

  He suddenly felt that he did know what he should do. This guard was also his human brother, perhaps in need of guidance which he himself could offer.

  “Friend,” he said, “Are you at peace with God? Have you known Jesus?”

  The guard looked surprised. “Are you a Christian?”

  He was silent. Of course Cassidy was a Christian. But the guard was asking Masserman. This confused the prisoner into silence.

  The guard continued, “I’m a Presbyterian, and I know that Jesus says He’ll keep all Christians out of hell. But you know what?” His face hardened. “After what you did to those girls, I hope He makes an exception in your case.”

  He turned stiffly and strode off down the corridor.

  The condemned man sat on his cot a long time in silence. Now he didn’t even feel the urge to pray.

  A couple of hidden hand grenades would help you better than prayer, come morning, someone inside of him said.

  His hand froze on the way to the doorknob. The feeling of chill went to his heart. Once again, as so often this evening, everything seemed to take on a new frame, a new meaning. Fear crystallized around a new insight, one he really should have had before.

  This can’t be the first time something like this has happened. If it happened now, it’s happened before. Which means, even if they keep it quiet, the police must know this sort of thing can happen! Which means, they know if that isn’t me on Death Row, then I must be Cassidy! And they can find out where he lives. Which means, that’s the cops at the door!

  The knock came again.

  He looked around for any way out. There was none. He looked back at the door. A door chain hung from it. He raised an unfamiliarly slender hand to secure it and paused. Even in a sick body like this, he wouldn’t hide behind chains. Trying for as innocent a look as he could dredge up, he opened the door as if police were the last thing on his mind.

  Patsy!

  “Patsy!”

  The dowdy little flat-chested fake-blonde hooker was a sight for sore eyes. He felt a rush of warmth for her he’d never felt for anyone in his adult life, certainly not for a street-corner whore. Patsy was almost a friend!

  She looked surprised. “Father Cassidy? Do you know me?”

  Damn it again. When will I learn?

  “Come in.”

  She looked up at him hesitantly, then stepped through the door. She didn’t mince through or flirt through or grind her meager hips, and he realized that a Father Cassidy would never be allowed to see the same Patsy that Lloyd Masserman knew so well.

  “How did you know who I was?” Patsy asked again.

  He didn’t answer her question. “Sit down,” he said, wishing he knew how to come up with the highbrow language the priest had used on him. He should be politer. “Please, miss,” he added belatedly.

  She sat in the lone chair and looked up at him, her petite handbag clutched in her lap.

  “I talked to Cagel. You’re Father Cassidy. You just saw Lloyd … that is, Mr. Masserman. He’s my friend. Is he okay? I mean, of course he isn’t okay, but is he … scared?” He looked at her for a long silent moment, and this feeling in the heart was strange to him. Patsy had actually liked him. He had never known that, never even wondered about it. At last he said, “Yeah, I saw him at the prison. He was … real spunky, under the circumstances. He didn’t cuss about it, or anything.”

  “I knew he wouldn’t. He’s a brave man, even if he did what he did.” Her hands passed constantly back and forth over her handbag as if it were a pug dog in her lap. “What did he say?”

  Get out man! Can’t you see there’s nothing more for you here?

  “Nothing special.”

  “I thought he had to say confession or something.”

  “Tomorrow morning is when that’s supposed to be.” Sweet bleeding Jesus, and he’s supposed to confess to Father Cassidy… to me! “I don’t think he will, though.”

  “Oh, tell him he’s just got to! Tell him I asked him to.”

  “He’s a pretty tough badger,” said the man in the priest’s body, rather enjoying this exchange. “He won’t spill his guts for a priest.”

  “But if he doesn’t confess, after what he’s done, he’ll go straight to Hell, I just know it!” This seemed to bother her quite a bit.

  “I don’t think he’s even afraid of Hell, even,” he said. Seeing the effect of this on her, he hastened to add “I’ll try my best, though.”

  “Oh thank you, Father.” She seized his hand and sort of licked it for a kiss. “Tell him he can confess about me if he wants, I don’t mind if he does.”

  Like I’d ever confess I’d had to fuck any whore as sorry as you are. But he was surprised to feel a twinge of shame at that thought.

  “I’ll tell him.”

  “Bless you, Father Cassidy. I guess that’s all I had to say.”

  He saw that she was waiting for his permission to go. He didn’t want to give it just yet. He’d been in the pen without a woman for over a year, and although he didn’t feel the need at the moment, he surely would soon. And Patsy was always good for it, and quick at it. The fact that she saw him as Father Cassidy rather than Lloyd Masserman was a drawback, but maybe he could work around that.

  “Don’t you want to stay a while?”

  She didn’t take that invitation the way she surely would have from any unfrocked man in the city.

  “Oh, that’s kind of you, Father, but really I’ll be all right. Don’t worry about me. I just was worrying about poor Lloyd. I know you’ll help him.”

  “But I --.” If he’d really felt horny, he’d have demanded, maybe tried how far priestly authority would go, but he didn’t. “Go with God, my child.” He’d heard that in some movie.

  She smiled dimly, and was gone, leaving him with a vague uneasiness, though not particularly for Patsy. He was troubled by realizing his current lack of desire for sex. Unsatisfiable lust had been constantly with him during the months in prison, but now --

  It’s this damned priest’s body. It can’t even get it up properly!

  That was pushing the limit. Now he was really pissed. What kind of a man did this priest think he was, anyway?

  Shit, suppose he’s gay. Suppose I get a hard-on whenever I see a pretty-boy walk by!

  And tha
t thought was past all limits. He snorted, and collapsed into the chair in disgust.

  An unexpected thought crossed his mind. She said “Bless you, Father.” But I was the one who should have blessed her.

  He lay upon his cot (no, Masserman’s cot) staring up at the bare metal ceiling. The lights here were never out, though he knew he could not have slept this night anyway. This was a night for putting his soul right with God. That had never been an ordeal for him before.

  It’s what’s left over of Masserman, he decided. The sins of his soul have corrupted his flesh as well. If that’s a heresy, I can only ask forgiveness for it; I can understand it no other way.

  Why can’t I touch my God? Why is it so hard to reach out for Him? Whose are these doubts — that He has forsaken me, that He isn’t even there? They can’t be my thoughts. Surely they are Masserman’s.

  He rolled onto his (Masserman’s?) side, and stared unseeingly at the equally blank wall of the cell. He tried to call up the times when he had felt closest to his Savior, when that Presence had enclosed and warmed him like a second and dearer skin. His mind quested back for the memories.

  Abruptly he sat up on the cot, his mouth open in a silent scream as he remembered…

  crushing toads in his bare hands as a boy, till the green rind and red pulp oozed out between his knuckles…

  smashing in the face of that kike storekeeper who’d tried to fast-talk him out of ten bucks for the wrong-size spark-plugs…

  finding Dora and Crissy together in his bed, preferring each other to him, grabbing them both as they scrambled for the door, squeezing their throats until they stopped…

  exhilarant at every bit of it!

  He gasped for air, threshing those huge hands before his face as if they could exorcize the memories that assaulted him. No, no, they weren’t his, they couldn’t be.

  At length, exhausted, he fell back on the cot and stared in anguish at nothing. The horrors of Masserman’s own memories were terrifying enough, but that he himself had felt such enjoyment at them was beyond horror.

  What am I? Who am I becoming? Oh, God help me. Where are you, Lord? Where are you?

  The Presence warmed and sheltered him like a closer and dearer skin. He lay awake in the priest’s bed, the crucifix seeming to glow in the darkness on the wall before him, and tried to comprehend what was happening to him?

  He remembered this loving Presence from Cassidy’s childhood, from youthful days in the seminary.

  He remembered it as a part of life, the most vital part of life, from which Cassidy had never been wholly absent. He remembered the tremendous demands it had made on the priest, and the efforts he had made, at his own worldly expense, to live up to them. And he was terrified.

  Get out of my head! What do you want of me? And the priest seemed to answer, you know what you must do in the morning.

  No way! He fought to expel the poisonous invader, and came up gasping, from what had not been sleep. He was clutching the rosary and the scapular to his chest.

  He sat up in a sweat. Turning himself in at Death Row in time for his execution? Was he out of his mind? That was it. He was out of his own mind, and in the skull of this crazy wimp who hadn’t had the slightest respect for self-preservation. Cassidy had been insane, some sort of epileptic with mad religious visions. Not only this body, but even this brain, wanted to act in the mad sacrificial way its previous owner had demanded of it. Well, no more of that!

  Listen, Cassidy-body, Cassidy-brain, I’m the boss now. Not him anymore, he’s left you for good. I’ll tell you what to do, where to go.

  He raised the small hand and stared at it in the gloom, making the fingers clench and unclench at his will. His will, nobody else’s. This was his body now, and had better learn that fast.

  I’m in control, body. I’m in

  control. I am!

  The condemned man wearily dropped the large hand, knuckles bloody from unrestrained beating against the bars, to the lap that was now his. Then he was softly sobbing, face down on his cot, and the tears and the fear as much for the way he was acting as for his ghastly predicament. This wasn’t like himself at all.

  The truth of that thought twisted him cruelly. This body isn’t mine, he thought. It had never been disciplined, always been subject to uncontrolled rage and passion. It’s my task to keep it in restraint for the few hours that remain. Perhaps I can help redeem the flesh, though I could do no good to the soul. But isn’t it enough for God to make me suffer the condemned body; must I think and feel for that bastard too? You can‘t do this to me, Jesus. I’m one of your own, I’m a priest, God damn it!

  And suddenly he was blindly furious once more, smashing out at the walls and screaming. Why the hell couldn’t they understand? He didn’t belong in here; they should be snuffing the other one, not him. He’d get them for not listening to him. He’d take at least a couple of them with him in the morning. That hypocrite priest, for one, with his pretty-boy face and sly voice –

  He rolled up on the floor of the cell, realizing that there would be no escape for him. This body surged with Masserman’s blood and Masserman’s hormones, the synapses of this brain sparked to Masserman’s rhythms. Whatever monster Masserman’s life had made him, he was now that monster. He would suffer Masserman’s death justly. For a moment death appeared before him as a welcome escape, and then he knew he would also face God’s wrath as Masserman.

  The prison corridor was brightly lit. His eyes watered after the dim predawn gloom on the streets outside. The escorting guard eyed him with concern as he stumbled along the long whitewashed hall.

  He knew what he must do. He feared death, he shrank from it, but he must strive to regain it, for it was his death, and should not be passed to another. Somehow he must repeat the original transfer of identities. Surely the other would be eager to regain his old body.

  He had to pause part way down the corridor to lean dizzily against the wall. He must take it easier. This body was on its own path deathward, and his haste and anxiety were speeding it on. But he thought of the other in his cell, facing an end he did not deserve. Trying to imagine what must be coursing through that other soul, he shuddered. He must feel sure that I have deserted him, that I never intend to restore him to his own life.

  He must hurry, at whatever cost.

  The last barred door to the Death Row was unlocked, and he passed hastily through to the last passage.

  Was that how it was with you too, Jesus? It all fell into place then. Of course it would not be enough for Christ merely to die for our sins. Knowing His own divinity and sinlessness, it would be easy for God to die. How could such an evasive death possibly preserve others from paying the account of their own sins? No, He also, though never having committed sin, must have felt the guilt of sinning. No wonder He agonized on the cross. He was truly bearing the sins of all of us, at a depth of identifying with us I never realized before.

  As he came within sight of the cell and the huddled man within, his breath came raggedly, and his heart hammered his side in pity. Pity the greater as he realized abruptly that there was now no need for another transfer.

  “Masserman,” he called as a guard unlocked the cell door, and the other looked up sharply at the sound of his name.

  “Masserman,” a voice cried, and he looked up at the sound of his name. It was Father Cassidy.

  “You understand?” asked the priest, and his voice was sad and patient. “I tried, but I can do nothing. I cannot take your fate upon myself.”

  Masserman looked at Cassidy’s quiet face, and manic rage rose in him for the last time. “You coward, you traitor,” he cried, rising to his feet and striking the priest’s arm away from him. “You promised to take my place! You should be here, you should be offed, not me!”

  He rushed at the other, extending heavy clutching fingers, and bore the priest heavily to the floor. The guards were on him in an instant.

  At seven a.m. on October 8, Lloyd Masserman was executed by injection at th
e federal penitentiary. A short time earlier he had fatally attacked the priest who was offering him spiritual comfort.

  ***

  I have tried not only to place these two men in each other’s souls, but also to put you in both of theirs for a little while. Something to think about, something to shudder at? I hope so.

  I myself am neither a priest nor a murderer, but I am a writer of imaginative fiction and sharing other minds and lives is part of what I try to do.

  Wish me well, as I do you.

  Ted Reynolds

 
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