News For The Church by Frank O’Connor, 1945
The magic trick:
Giving a know-it-all character his comeuppance
We have a scathing story for you today. The target of O’Connor’s ire is a priest who thinks he knows it all. He prides himself on his ability to cut through the red tape and empathetically connect with the people. He listens, he understands. He’s not like those other priests.
So, with that character established early in the story, the stage is perfectly set to burst his bubble.
Here comes a young woman with a confession that throws him for a loop. Not only does she not respond to his brand of empathy in the way he expects, her point of view on the situation utterly destroys his ability to empathize.
It’s both glorious and uncomfortable to witness for the reader.
And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
“I was tight, father.”
“Hm,” he grunted. This was rather more the sort of girl he had imagined her to be; plenty of devilment but no real badness. He liked her bold and candid manner. There was no hedging or false modesty about her as about most of his women penitents. “When you say you were ‘tight’ do you mean you were just merry or what?”
“Well, I mean I passed out,” she replied candidly with a shrug.
“I don’t call that ‘tight,’ you know,” he said sternly. “I call that beastly drunk. Are you often tight?”
“I’m a teacher in a convent school so I don’t get much chance,” she replied ruefully.
“In a convent school?” he echoed with new interest. Convent schools and nuns were another of his phobias; he said they were turning the women of the country into imbeciles. “Are you on holidays now?”
“Yes. I’m on my way home.”
“You don’t live here then?”
“No, down the country.”
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