This story is by Noam Dagan and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Fall Of A Man
I ascended to the pulpit and opened my leather-bound notebook.
“We must look at Adam and Eve as a cautionary tale. They are imperfect like us,” I said. Boys and girls stared at me next to grandparents crumpled into little balls of senility. “We must forgive ourselves of our weaknesses as we forgive Adam and Eve theirs.” Husbands and wives nodded throughout the crowd.
After mass, hundreds of congregants thanked me for a great sermon. I looked into hundreds of tearing eyes. Sermons take a great deal out of me, so I left shortly after to relax in my apartment.
When I got home, Ethan was sitting cross-legged a foot in front of the TV playing video games. I adopted him from an Ethiopian refugee program. I am blessed to have him in my life considering a priest’s occupational hazard is loneliness.
“You skipped mass again?” I said.
“Yea, but I read your sermon last night dad. It was good,” he said transfixed by the spinning colors on the screen.
“Thanks son. I’d like to see you at mass more often but you know I’d never force you.”
I went to the bathroom to wash my face. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something floating in the toilet bowl. I recognized the smell. Then I remembered Ethan’s eyes red like the devil but decided to forgive him. I flushed it and thought I would bring it up to him later since I was too tired.
I was about to nestle into the couch with a magazine until my phone rang.
“Saul, it’s Kevin. I have an extra ticket for a show tonight. The German Ballet Company is performing. Meet me in front of Lincoln center at 8:00.”
I wanted to say no, but I could never pass up the few opportunities Kevin gave me to see some of the finest art and performance in New York City. It would be criminal to say no.
“You’re gonna’ want to be there. I told this ballerina that my priest friend shows up to performances sometimes and now she really wants to meet you. God I wish you were single.”
I was blown away by the show that night. I rarely treat myself nights out, but when I do it’s usually to a show at Lincoln center with free tickets from Kevin. Kevin’s Art Director of Lincoln Center. We met each other at Harvard twenty years ago and not a weekend has passed that he hasn’t tried to get me laid.
We all went to a restaurant on Broadway after. It was a deep cave of a place dark and lit with candles like stars glowing in the sky. I sat next to Ella and we mostly talked to each other the entire dinner. She practically interrogated me about being a priest, all the while with a twinkle in her eye. I enjoyed talking to her but I couldn’t tell what she was so enamored with.
I got her number at the end of the night.
Everyone stared as I typed it into my phone. They looked at us like we were an impossible equation forced upon them to solve.
The next night, while watching CNN with Ethan, I replayed the dinner over and over again in my mind. I texted her. We were on for drinks Saturday.
I sweated and trembled my whole train ride down there. A Mexican teenager across from me nodded along to his headphones. Could he people tell that I was my way to a date? Was he not fooled by the button-down and jeans? Had he seen me walk in the neighborhood wearing my gown and collar? Are we so transparent that people see our insides?
She chose a dive bar in Greenwich Village. Apparently it was her favorite spot in Manhattan. Men must paw at her there because she was the only woman in high heels and a dress.
We stayed for only an hour. We went back to her place only a ten-minute walk away.
She must have seen the Sturm und Drang on my face because she offered me a drink immediately after we entered. She petted my cheeks and danced her long fingers on my palm. Everything about her was long and dignified like a tree bowing to the wind.
The morning after we had coffee and I told her I would like to see her that week. She told me she only had a week left in the city s she would like that very much.
When I got home, Ethan was sitting in front of the TV. I said hi and went straight to my bedroom to fall on my bed. I only had sex twice before in my life. Both in high school but never again once I was got into Harvard Seminary School and knew I wanted to be a priest. How could I look Ethan in the eyes now? How could I get on the pulpit in front of my congregation and not shrink under the guilt. I was a liar. A sinner. A cheat. A fake.
The ceiling spun above me. Light flowed through my windows. The Hudson River sparkled and glittered and made the New Jersey skyline a tolerable sight in its company.
Maybe I was on the wrong path. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be a clergyman. Ella must have been a sign from God to take another path in life. One more suited to my truest desires.
I texted Ella later that day. “I had a wonderful time last night wanted to get together for dinner tomorrow,” I said.
I spent the rest of my day pretending to busy myself but I was really waiting for a response. Like an unrequited prayer, she did not answer.
She responded to me on Thursday. She apologized for not getting back to me sooner but she had to visit some old friends and was so busy she forgot about our date. She was sorry but she didn’t have time to see me before she left. She wished me luck with everything and said she’d like to see me again the next time she visited the city.
When I got home from mass on Sunday, Ethan sat heavy and dull like a stone in front of the screen.
“How was church today, pops?”
“Shut the fuck up,” I said.