The Saint of Broken Bones by Cameron Witbeck

I can’t stop looking at you. You look like you do on the cross; but there’s no cross. It’s just you. You’re floating, arms spread out, reaching for the walls. There are holes in your hands but you’re smiling.

“Matthew Sweeney,” Father Bill calls from the front of the church, where he sits beneath your statue.

Matt gets up from our pew, moving slowly. I turn my knees to make room for him to pass. Matt looks as scared as I am. His front teeth press against his bottom lip.

When I broke my arm, I lied. I said my brother did it. Everyone believed me. I didn’t tell them that I had jumped from the top of our bunk bed after my dad had said not to. I didn’t tell them about landing on my arm, or how bad it hurt. I didn’t tell them that, for a second, I thought I was flying.

I look at you again. Did you ever think you wouldn’t come down? That you’d be up there forever?

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll say it forever, I swear. Mrs. McDonald says you already know what we have done, how we hurt you. You want us to say it out loud, to accept what we did. But I’m afraid. The other kids whisper, one at a time, to Father Bill.

“Cameron Witbeck.”

I can’t breathe. I stand up and fold my hands in front of my chest. As I walk, I watch you watch me. Do you know what this is like? I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I’ve done, for being afraid.

I sit down in the wooden chair next to Father Bill.

“My son, how long has it been since your last confession?”

“Father, this is my first confession,” I say just like Mrs. McDonald told us to.

“What sins do you want to confess?” he asks. His hair is gray and perfect. His black suit is clean. He smells like medicine.

“Father,” I say. “Forgive me, for I have sinned.”

“Go ahead, my son.” Father Bill is nice. He speaks softly. I look at his brown eyes. Are you in there somewhere?

I tell him that I lied. I tell him about the arm and he remembers my red cast. I tell him about my brother. Father Bill nods. His hands are folded. His arms rest on his knees.

“Are you truly sorry, my son?” he asks.

I am. I’m so sorry.

“God has heard you and he still loves you. He forgives you, if you are willing to forgive yourself,” Father Bill says. “Are you ready for your penance?”

“Yes,” I say. “I’m sorry.”

“Say five Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys,” he says.

I stare at him. I want to ask why there isn’t more.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“I know, my son. Perform your penance and you will be forgiven.”

I return to my pew and hold my rosary as I kneel. I close my eyes and begin to whisper my prayer. Everyone in the church is whispering.

“Our Father who art in heaven…”

“ Et Fillii et Spiritus Sancti.”

“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death…”

“And lead us not into temptation…”

“Amen.”

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us…”

“Full of grace, the Lord is with thee…”

“Amen.”

“In nomine Patris…”

“Deliver us from evil…”

As I pray, I think about my trespasses. I think about the woods across the road from my house and the bright orange stickers on the trees that say “No trespassing.” I’m a trespasser. I think about heaven. It’s also surrounded by woods. All the trees have stickers. There’s no way in.

Father Bill’s eyes are closed, his lips move. Above him, you float like a ghost. Nothing is different. I feel the same. I look at your face, your blue eyes. You’re smiling.

I hurt you. I’m so sorry. You can break my other arm. You can break both of them. I’ll stand under the statue until you fall and I’ll catch you. My arms will break, but I’ll catch you. You can hurt me, it’s okay. I hurt you. You can put holes in my hands. Hit me. Make me eat dirt, I don’t care. I love you.

Please. Please say something. Forgive me. Do something to me.

But you just stay up there, silent, frozen, smiling— hanging in the air like you’ll never, ever fall, like you wouldn’t even if you could.

cameron witbeckCameron Witbeck works as an associate poetry editor for Passages North literary magazine and studies in the MFA program at Northern Michigan University. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Cream City Review, The Foundling Review, Strongverse and others.

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  • Troups123

    Loved the essay. Kept wanting to read more even though it made me cry.

  • Good work, sir. I like it. A lot. Even though I’m a heathen.

  • Kieugiangdo

    Good story Cameron, i like it. Keep going boy.

  • Thao Do

    I absolutely loved this essay.  It brought me back to how scared I was during my first confession.  Great job, Cameron! 🙂

  • Jkoglin

    I admire your essay, Cameron. Clever, yet sensitive!

  • Christian Belz

    Well done Cameron! Thoughful and thought-provoking.

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