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omething is prickling her skin. Vasara shoots up. She swats at her forehead and watches in a sleepy haze as a yellow-striped beetle lands beside her on the bench. It scuttles off.

The bench is rough. The stench from a nearby dumpster makes her gag, and her mouth feels parched. In a barber shop across the street, people are waiting for haircuts. She’s in civilized territory. But apart from that, she pulls a blank.

Flashes of memory flit through her mind, like converging scraps of a mental collage. Her frantic dash to the marketplace. Tobacco smoke and the smell of spirits. The dizzying beams of the street lamps as evening fell. A hoot from an angry car, swerving sharply as she almost touched its moving fender. Endless meander. Aimless zigzagging through the streets of Teplidskai, until the town fell silent and the moon retired behind a curtain of clouds.

She has no memory of settling down on the bench; nothing at all. Daina! Guilt floods her. She rubs her temples. Her head throbs. Her heart aches even more. Twelve years and counting… all down the drain in a slurry of vodka. She stretches her limbs and crosses the street, where a peek through the barbershop window gives her the time of day. It’s still early. I must be there when she gets back from school.

Zenia enters her thoughts, unbidden. White-haired and wrinkled, she’s rubbing her beads and shaking her head softly. Vasara can almost hear her. You’ve fallen, my child. Confess and make peace! Vasara stifles a pang. Zenia was forever trying to help her battle her demons, and yet here they are, still gaining ground.

She stumbles along the sidewalk, seeing her reflection shimmer in a succession of shop windows. She runs her hand through her messy hair. I need to get a grip.

The heavy church door doesn’t give easily. A glance at the notice board tells her the priest should be waiting. Vasara leans her wispy figure against the wood and pushes hard with the palms of both hands. The door swings open. Inside, the chapel is dark, though light streaming through the tall glass windows casts shadows along the pews. Vasara blinks, her eyes adjusting to the dim light.

As she approaches the confessional, Vasara sees that the curtain is drawn. Someone is there before her. Feeling faint, she leans against the confessional booth, and tilts her neck back to give her aching head some rest. Her ears pick up strains of a darkly familiar voice.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned! I cannot eat. I cannot rest. I cannot breathe. So gravely have I sinned...”

 Vasara starts. I know that ingratiating whine.

“Tell me, my child! What is it?”

“You have no idea, Father, the torment I am suffering! Oh, the torment! I cannot wash my floors. I look down and see the dirt that stains my soul. I cannot prune my rosebushes. I touch their thorns and feel the daggers of hell…”

“Hush, child. You talk harshly. G-d is merciful. No sin is too grave if you repent.”

“Oh, but, Father! I am consumed.”

“Child, you are here now. Confess and take penance. Then you can tend to your roses in peace.”

 Vasara hears a piteous whimper. Stifling her conscience, she presses her ear against the smooth, lacquered booth.

“I have harbored this dreadful secret! Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned!”

There is a long silence.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 609)