IN THE BOOTH By Jim Reed

Priest [slides open latticed window, makes the Sign of the Cross]: Who’s next?

Me: [Embarrassed pause] Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was several months ago, I think. But I haven’t kept track. Sorry.

Priest: Then, my son, tell your mortal sins and the number of times committed.

Me: [Resigned sigh] It’s just one giant sin, Father: I’m secretly in love with and often envision stalking the shoe sales-clerk in the mall store where we work.

Priest: The penance of two Hail Marys ought to clear this up, my son.

Me: [Inhales deeply] But there is more. I’m deformed. Once she realizes this, knows my body under this cheap JCPenny Stafford suit is crooked off-center warped, that the left side is woefully and intentionally obscured by this suit because that side is different and nearly a part of another being when compared to the right, I am afraid she may know in the future if things go right and as planned (but they never will, not once she discovers my weird lopsided physical atrophic strangeness)—[Lets out breath, sucks in another]—she will know that not only is my right arm an inch longer that the left, but that one ear is noticeably lower than the other, only if studied closely under extremely amorous and erotic examination—of course not possible once the shoe sales-clerk has viewed my nude malformations hovering over her supine, willing form which again is something not astrally feasible. [Slight gasp to catch breath]

Priest: Your deformities may be God’s plan for you, my son. But, nonetheless, these lustful thoughts are to be avoided. Try five Hail Marys.

Me: [Pants rapidly] But, Father, I am paranoid about our honeymoon which will never happen in a million or, perhaps, even a greater amount of years. She will see close at hand the oddness of my private parts, portions of which are nonsymmetrical and are not entirely operational for such erotic adventures as consigned to a twenty-three year old Big &Tall department sales-clerk who is neither excessively big or tall.

Priest: Now we’ve got something. Continue, my son.

Me: [Swallows large gulp] Yes, and she’ll not help but see my right eye droops as if palsied, although this is deftly camouflaged by dark-transition-type glasses I pay a premium for. And on close inspection in a situation where the shoe sales-clerk is near enough to kiss me—which, again, impossible once I am exposed as a mutant—it will be revealed that both my eyes hold different hues, focus, and bulbaceousness. Which will just freak her out.

Priest: Bulbaceousness? Huh. Please continue, my son.

Me: [Faint bumping sound] Well, Father, according to the little badge pinned over the adorable breast of her recently on-sale Liz Claiborne pants-suit (forgive me, Father, for looking longingly at this portion of her anatomy. . . I just can’t help myself), her name is Paula DuMonte. Although admittedly it just reads ‘Paula’. I’ve deduced the DuMonte part quite adroitly by hearing the store walker who has I think creepy designs re: Paula, greet her by that surname prefixed by ‘Ms.’.

Priest: Go on, my son, if this is truly your confession.

Me: [With a whump, slips off kneeler] It is, Father. Forgive me for rambling. . . Ms. Paula’s a sweet girl, quiet and submissive to customers—which is one reason her department manager berates her for not being more aggressive and pumping up the virtues of high-end Propet Cicely Cutout Flats going for like $99.98/pr. Nice eyes she has, too. I got near enough one afternoon by stumbling at her feet feigning clumsiness (not hard to do) and she sort of helped me up off the showroom floor. The eyes, I see for the couple held-breath seconds afforded me, are hazel with a hint of green speckles at the outer edges. Sexy, hexy, exciting me into further fantasies of our life together which will never occur, who am I kidding?

Priest: And are there more with these fantasies, my son?

Me: [Gasps] This may have nothing to do with it. . . but a frequent customer to my department, who waddles in once a month like a bull rhino and who has by now been rewarded my strictest confidence, orders several more pairs of size XXXXL jockey shorts with the specialty sideways (as opposed to the manufactured vertical) opening for his possibly eccentric private member. Which I shudder and embarrass myself for imagining, Father. This is perhaps another sin? Anyway, these undergarments are sewn especially by a contracted seamstress who does work like this on a moment’s notice and doesn’t even look askance at this type of order. I’m thinking maybe she does odd orders for other departments here at WestGate Mall’s JCPenny anchor store. I’m thinking what about three-tiered bras and Velcro lingerie and long johns with a side-flap and maybe men’s crew socks size 32 quadruple-wide for people perhaps more distorted than me.

Priest: And this somehow relates to the shoe-clerk?

Me: [Deep, mournful sigh] Oh it does, Father. Because my fear of fears is that Ms. Paula, who seems to see me so far, I hope, as maybe endurably normal, will catch me in the act of what I profess is entirely justifiable shop-lifting. Or as I prefer to call it: shopshifting. Which is where I wait for her to administer to a shopper way across the floor while I surreptitiously prowl the men’s shoes section for a matching set of 9 ½ and also size 10 wingtips, maroon preferred. I

switch out one of the 9 ½s and stuff it back into the tissued box along with one of the 10s and then tuck the box containing the other 9 ½ and 10 back on the shelf unseen and take my booty (haha) to Ms. Paula’s register. I will ask her to ring it up with my 15 percent employee discount and hope she is none the wiser re: my switcheroo. Which she nonetheless, with my luck or lack thereof, will discover days or, maybe if I am indeed lucky, even weeks later. Then Ms. Paula puts two and two together and formulates the idea that my deformities—now made obvious by the defect of my feet—might well extend to ears, arms, eyes and other body parts she in no way would ever want to witness, even within the veil and sanctity of wedded bliss. Which once more I have to repeat will never come to pass.

Priest: These thoughts of body parts lean towards the sinful side, my son. This might require an Act of Contrition.

Me: [Submissive mumble] Well, I’m hoping, Father, that Ms. Paula DuMonte might deign merely to accompany me at breaktime to the food court for a Coke or tacos or fruit salad, or whatever. Let alone an actual date/movie/drinks at my place or hers. Would she, knowing these secrets, these horrible flaws? Without a doubt my feverish prayers say: Please dear God, yes why not?

Priest: For Our Lord to help you in your struggles and for your penance, please pray a dozen more Hail Marys, and study 1 Timothy 1:6-7. And perhaps you should look into employment elsewhere. Meanwhile, you are absolved of your sins. Go in peace, my son.

[The lattice window abruptly slams shut, followed by rapid shuffling of priest’s feet making quick getaway before opposite booth door opens]


James D Reed’s stories have been published in print by Midwestern Gothic, Big Pulp Magazine, Flights, Mystic Signals, and The Nebraska Review, among others; and in many online venues including Fast Forward Festival, Golden Key, 4th Floor, Forever Onward! Review, and Long Story Short. A freelance writer and graphic artist, Jim and his wife live on a ten acre woodlot near Collinsville, Ohio.