Kenilworth’s resident Saint, now a prisoner in Kenilworth’s jail, was, and always has been, guilty.
She may have not been guilty of the crime for which she was held, the murder of the Lisping Barista and the dismemberment and attempted disposal of her body; but, she was guilty, nonetheless. Guilty for what she had done and left undone. Slow to learn and prone to forget. Oblivious to harm and unconscious of hate.
“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee…” she cried into the linoleum as she stretched prostrate on the dirty floor.
There was, of course, humankind’s original sin she inherited from her forebears, Adam and Eve, often spoken of by theologians, of which we have no need to elucidate here. Guilt was baked in her bones, branded on her skin, woven into her DNA.
“… I detest myself…”
Then there were the innumerable small, secret sins: the white lies, the black thoughts, the specious excuses, the embezzlement of paper clips, taking an extra minute on her breaks, the passing of silent farts. She coveted what she saw in ads. She told her mother she was too busy to talk. She liked to look in windows and see how people lived, disposed her gum in a neighbor’s garbage can, voted for someone who flattered her, and crossed against the light. There were the many sins of gluttony: cranking the heat before putting on a sweater, eating food she did not need, and giving the toilet an extra flush. Worse, was when she masturbated to the image of a movie star, and a married one at that. He even came to her dreams, and then she came. She was so practiced in sin, she committed them in her sleep.
“… in choosing to do wrong and failing to do good…”
More numerous were the sins of omission: the truths she never told, the empty stomachs she never fed, the empty hands she never filled. There were dogs who just wanted a pat and cats who wanted to be left alone. She walked by people and never said hi and threw out letters from charities without reading them. She only fed the Leatherman when he came to Kenilworth and a single meal, at that. She might have been able to buy strangers more than one cup of coffee a day. She bought the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat a single, daily bottle of vodka, when he might have needed two. She threw out that empty can of tomato paste, instead of washing it and putting it to recycle.
“… I have sinned against You, whom I should love above all…
But, the most exasperating were the corporate sins. The sins of her race and the iniquities of her country: despoiling the earth, enslaving Africans, robbing the Indians blind, and calling them Indians when they were not from India. There was colonial exploitation, aid to dictators, sanctions burdening innocents, tariffs disrupting trade. She profited from injustice. There was a racist immigration policy and unjust housing codes. There was a vast gulag of prisons. And there were wars, wars, and more wars. Endless wars with no good objective. Brutal wars that destroyed everything. Body counts, war crimes, collateral damage. The nightmare of Nagasaki and the horror of Abu Ghraib. She was simultaneously contrary and complicit; her involvement documented in the Constitution and renewed every election day.
“… I firmly intend…”
She couldn’t even feel guilty about her sins without taking pride in the detailed, systematic, and exhaustive guilt she felt. She was arrogant about being meek, smug in her humility. Her generosity was self-serving, her kindness, pompous and her abasement, egotistical. There was no way to make right what was wrong, no way to move forward, no way to settle the matter.
And then she felt guilty for not trusting the mercy of God.
“… to do penance…”
But, there was no way out of this. She would go on committing these sins: if not the small, secret ones, then definitely the sins of omission and the corporate ones. She didn’t know how to avoid the sins of pride; they would scab over any penance she could try to do.
“… and amend my life…”
On the second syllable of the word amend, she banged her head on the floor. She repeated, “… and a (bang) my life… and a (bang) my life… and a (bang) my life… and a (bang) my life…”
The Ponytailed Cop rushed to her cell, fumbling with his keys. He pulled her up to sit and wrapped his arms around her. Her head bled on his shoulder.
His care was superfluous. She was undeserving. Even the size of the cell was bigger than needed. It should’ve been the size of a coffin. They needn’t have lit it. Those bits of coal, gallons of hydroelectric power, or uranium atoms were wasted on her. The power grid should have kept its electrons. She did not deserve a lung full of oxygen.
“Please don’t hurt yourself,” said the Ponytailed Cop. “Look, I don’t think you did this. You’re incapable of killing someone. I’m going to find out who really did it. Please talk to me. Tell me what you found when you discovered the body.”
Why did he not know she had already murdered thousands? Even at her conception, her one triumphant spermatozoon succeeded as the expense, and even the extinction, of all the others. They had as much right to live as she.
“What time was it when you got there?”
She fed herself on the flesh of others. A pig, a chicken, a shrimp, even a carrot or a beet, or a grain of wheat had as much right to live as she. She insensibly stepped on ants, slaughtered microbes with every breath, and committed genocide on bacteria just to combat an infection. They had as much right to live as she.
“What did you see when you got there?”
Many people died in her place. She could’ve easily been where they were or done what they did. Soldiers were slaughtered for her safety. Workers killed, so she could have buildings to inhabit, roads to travel, and bridges to cross. Planes fell from the sky, missed her, and hit someone else. Cars crashed a minute after she passed an intersection. Dozens perished to show physicians how to cure diseases that they could cure for her. Simply to exist meant to survive in place of others. The Saint had survivor’s guilt the moment she was born. She stood accused.
He led her out of the cell and opened his desk drawer to get a bandage. His gun was resting in the drawer. She saw it. She was within reach of it. She pictured herself grabbing it, putting the muzzle to her head, and pulling the trigger. It would all be over then. The guilt would be propitiated. But a new guilt would arise. The shame of suicide. The disavowal of grace. Just the thought of suicide was another sin.
He knew what she was thinking and shut the drawer. “Don’t do that. I need you to solve this crime. Please, tell me everything you saw.”
The Saint knew crime has no solution; but, sin does. She would take up the cross; her own, shitty cross. She would not lie, for that would add to her offenses; but, she would accept the punishment of another and free another anonymous person of his crime.
Throughout the interrogation, Kenilworth’s Saint never said a single word, although her lips moved constantly. The Ponytailed Cop was not a lip reader. Had he been, he would have known what she was saying.
“… your will be done.”