Cosenza, Calabria 1938
Luigi didn’t tell me what happened during confession. He just said that he had felt a lot happier afterwards. I said that that was the whole idea, and smiled.
He looked round… there was no-one for at least a mile in any direction… except the goats. We talked to our goats all the time, but nothing we ever said to them got repeated… Calabrian goats understand omerta… the bandits’ code of silence…
So, I said. “Well if we can’t talk about what happened at confession, we shall just have to show each other that we’ve learned something… about God’s love for us!” I smiled to show that I was joking… and that I was serious.
We were sitting side by side, and Luigi pulled me into a kiss. As our cheeks got warm, he whispered… “I just want you to be happy… I love you!”
“I love you too… I shall be happy if you are!” That’s when I placed my hand on him. I could feel that he was ready for me to pleasure him.
He soon had my trousers down… almost as fast as the Don had… I mean in the sacristy, not the confessional! I can’t talk about the confessional… whether he did or didn’t…
As my cheeks got hot, and the feelings rose in my body I tried hard to ignore them and concentrate on discovering what made Luigi happy. Like me he enjoyed it when I rolled his skin around on the end of… well you understand. You were a boy once I guess!
I knew it felt wonderful and I concentrated on making it even better for him. Then he exploded and I knew instantly that… now it was allowed… now I could wallow in the moment and…
Then I exploded too!
“Thank you!” … “Thank you!”
We said it together… We would say many things together in the next few years, but this was special. We now understood what the old priest had been trying to explain… Why the photographs he took of us were beautiful, and the dark sepia photos in the album, why they were beautiful too. It was love that made the difference.
Suddenly, it was clear… I loved Luigi. Luigi loved me… and our Dom? He loved both of us.
The Dom never touched us again. I think that he had achieved what he had set out to achieve. He had taught us the beauty of physical love… He knew we now had one another, and he could watch… as our love and bodies blossomed. I think that he had recognised two boys who would have nothing unless he gave them one another.
He didn’t touch us again… well nothing serious. He still washed our faces and feet… He still took our photographs, both the artistic ones and the… romantic ones. He paid us generously and we adored him.
Luigi and I went regularly to the sacristy for photography. We took the art ones so very seriously, striving to achieve the perfection that the Don wanted. Then he would say…
“Now let’s make something playful, for my other friends!”
The first time Luigi and I did it… it was a joke that we played on our Dom.
When he asked for something playful, instead of just holding hands or looking puppy-eyes at each other, Luigi and I went into a close embrace and a very loving kiss. Instead of telling us to not be silly, our Dom was ecstatic… It was just what he wanted.
“I didn’t ask you in case you thought it was too… but you have it… it’s perfect. My friends will all want one!”
He was right, he sent out at least five times the usual number of copies… so we got paid at least five times as much as usual. The Dom was pleased, we were pleased, and our mamas… we had extra eggs for a fortnight. I started a second jar in the garden wall… just in case.
I never believed in luck lasting and things were looking blacker in Europe.
Germany looked aggressive. England and France looked impatient and unlikely to accept much more of Hitler’s demands… and Benito Mussolini, our Duce? Well… he was now… indecisive. Germany’s ambitions in the Balkans rivalled Italy’s. On the other hand, General Franco was distancing himself from Hitler now that his position in Spain was secure, so the only other fascist leader in Europe, to keep the Duce company, was… Hitler.
I continued to store up my money in the wall, against the day that I had to run.
Cosenza, Calabria 1939
By now I was twelve, and I was growing rapidly.
Hitler added Czechoslovakia to his growing empire in March, with the agreement of France and England. We invaded Albania in April… If we were going to be Axis allies of Germany it was important for us to have a bit more of an empire too.
I was still confused and still ready to run!
I wasn’t confused about sex or Luigi… Perhaps I should have been, but our Dom had explained it all to my satisfaction. I was happy that all was well on the Luigi front.
Luigi and I were great friends. Now that we understood the rules that the Don and (I supposed) the Church set for what was acceptable when it came to giving another person pleasure, we could make each other happy… At the same time, we could enjoy the pleasure that the other was giving us.
We found that this new knowledge gave us ideas for “tableaux” that appealed to the Don’s friends… and gave pleasure to them too.
It was in the summer of 1939 when I was 12 and Luigi was 11 that I caused the excitement that made our Don’s output increase yet again.
Luigi and I had been enjoying each other out on the hillside and in barns for over a year and we had a pretty clear idea of what excited us… and if it excited us then it would probably interest our Don… and if he liked it... that was more eggs for supper!
So it was on a warm evening, in the light of the setting sun that our Don set up his camera, with Luigi and me posed for a romantic shot, kneeling in prayer, facing each other, almost at kissing distance, looking into each other’s eyes. It was when our priest developed the plate and started to print copies that he noticed what I had done at the last minute… I had slipped my hand into the front of Luigi’s cassock… one of the choirboys was copping a feel of the other. Even better, Luigi had been startled by feeling my hand fondle him, and his expression in the picture said so.
Don Fontinella became a bit of a celebrity in church-photographic circles from then on.
He had said that he didn’t want to waste the plate, so he printed just enough for his closest friends… then enough for their friends and… Luigi and I made a small fortune from that picture. The Don hadn’t been too pleased at first when he saw my trick, but was delighted when he saw the result.
He used the money to repair the small church organ, and it paid for a small amount of work on a window that had been broken for years.
We did a few more shots like that. They were suggestive, never obvious. You were taken by surprise… by the hand that was missing, or a bulge in their clothing where the innocence of the choir-boys suggested that there shouldn’t be one!
He was obviously thinking we were growing up, because he took to bringing out some more of his father’s albums of old prints. These showed beautiful Sicilian boys, naked boys, a little older than us, sometimes with a bare-bottomed small brother standing beside them.
That gave Luigi the idea… while the Don was photographing me on my own, Luigi stripped off all his clothes, while the Don wasn’t looking. Then when he was changing plates, Luigi stepped back into the scene with his back to the camera. Now the scene had a serious looking altar-boy in cassock and surplice, with a naked slightly younger boy standing beside him. What they were doing, that the photographer had interrupted?… the watcher would have to imagine for himself.
The Don’s friends were once again ecstatic. We were the toast of the Vatican and our priest was working late in the evening to create enough prints to satisfy everyone. The church’s west-window was repaired that time. At first he had seemed uncertain about the pose, and the nakedness, but reaction from his friends changed his mind… from just a few for close friends he moved on to bigger things.
He said he thought that we were creating so much happiness for lonely men that we had a duty to carry on.
Luigi and I agreed that we were doing it to make those poor priests happy, and to please our mothers who’d come to rely on the extra income. The Don seemed happy… everyone was happy… no sin was involved. I know because I had no penances after confession. Our Don said that we were generous and kind boys who made our mothers and elderly priests happy.
I felt good about what we did.
Luigi and I discussed the success of our “tableaux”. We agreed that it wouldn’t be fair of us to expect our Don to suggest such things. He was a priest… If we did things for him unasked, then that was a gift we could give him… but we should not make him have to ask.
The next time we posed, Luigi simply undressed. Our Don made no comment.
I sat on a chair in my robes, facing slightly away from the camera. Luigi knelt between my knees, his bare back and bottom towards the lens. He clasped his hands in prayer and… I grew a large tent in the front of my cassock, just where the white lace of the surplice started… and that made it very obvious! Then he brought his clasped hands down and rested them gently on my hardness… I nearly exploded. The Dons shutter clicked! That time he shipped over two hundred prints to Rome. We made a lot of money. The Don said that the money paid for old Maria Rossi’s eye operation and for a thick-sole boot for little Tomas Gentili, so that he could play with his friends… No, there was no sin in what we gave our Don, just a lot of happiness for a lot of people.
Later that year he brought us another of his albums. This one had the most beautiful pictures of young men and boys with their… well with everything… showing! Luigi and I became very excited. The Don saw how things were and left us… he said for an hour… he said he had to buy some wine and bread.
Luigi and I sat with the album… The boys were gorgeous and the men had such big ones.
There were two that took us by surprise. One had a young man using a boy like he would a women. We hadn’t heard of that… it didn’t look comfortable! The other was of a boy sucking his companion’s… that looked more fun.
I thought Luigi was too shy to start things so I quickly knelt down and…
I heard a double gasp. One I knew was Luigi.. The other wasn’t me… I had my mouth full!
I looked at the sacristy door, the Don had shut it on his way out. I could see a shadow on the floor outside. I guessed the Don’s shopping was done. I was about to pull off Luigi when I realised the shadow wasn’t moving. Then I understood… he had given us the album and then gone to watch what happened. I smiled to myself and moved so that the keyhole had the best possible view.
The Don “returned from shopping” just after Luigi exploded. Luigi’s thing was still wet and fat when the Don came in. We tried to look innocent… the Don tried to hide his happiness. I was pleased that we had done something nice for him. I didn’t tell Luigi.
If Luigi had created a popular “tableaux”… then I managed an even better one. It was basically the same scene, you could easily hang the two pictures side by side and people might not notice that they weren’t quite the same. The first faced me slightly to the left, the new one slightly to the right, almost like an altar-piece! This time Luigi not only had his hands in prayer in my lap. This time he had his face lowered reverently, like you might when kneeling in church in a pew… his lips were almost touching his hands.
What you wouldn’t notice until you looked very carefully, was that I… was sticking out of my cassock, Luigi had me in his hands, nearly in his mouth… his lips were parted as if to do what the boy in the album had been doing. Our Dom couldn’t believe what we had achieved… He said it was more artistic and romantic than anything the German had managed. He made prints of both of them and placed them facing each other in his album. He said that he could sell them mounted as a diptych pair… whatever that was.
I thought they were beautiful, and so did our friends in the Vatican. That time poor old chap, the Dom had to create nearly four hundred copies. We heard that some of them had been sent to America, and there was a rumour that a Marquis in the court of the Japanese Emperor had asked for one!
It was nice that something good could happen that year. Not much else had!
In September things went bad in Europe. Hitler attacked Poland. England and France promised to defend Poland. But… Poland was captured by Germany and Russia who carved her up between them. As the Dom remarked sadly… “They didn’t defend Czechoslovakia and a few hundred Czechs died… They rushed to defend Poland and a hundred thousand Poles died… What it is to have friends!”
We had signed the Pact of Steel with Germany, but Mussolini didn’t immediately take Italy into the war alongside Germany. That wouldn’t happen until June 1940 when France was collapsing and Germany had clearly already won World War Two.
Cosenza, Calabria 1940.
It was summer, France was collapsing, and so I feared was our Don. I looked after him as well as I could. I remembered what he had said about the original il Moro and how he had looked after his sick German, and I tried to organise things for our Don. I recruited old-Maria, the lady whose eyes were repaired with money from our photographs. I asked her to cook meals for him, and she also did his little pieces of washing. It wasn’t charity or gratitude on her part… the Dom paid her well.
We managed a few more rather naughty photographs early in the year, one with me with my face and mouth buried in Luigi’s lap, and another with my… front, thrust towards his bottom. You couldn’t see what was happening in either, but what was suggested was enough to ensure a large production run.
It was probably a mistake. The hours the Dom spent making prints were a great strain on him.
I think that he knew then that he was in trouble.
I only knew when he named, very discreetly, a Cardinal’s secretary in Rome that he would like his albums to go to in case of need. He wrote him a letter asking him, in exchange, to make a suitable donation for charitable purposes to support the poor of our parish.
After that, I spent a few days organising things, just in case the worst happened… There wasn’t much to organise. I asked about the plates for his prints, the work we had done with him. Those too would be worth money for the parish.
When I asked him about that, the Don became thoughtful. After a day or two he called me to him and gave me a pile of sealed envelopes. One was to the priest at a village about fifty miles north. Another was to his friend, Count Assinario, the man in Rome who bought his naughtier photos. Others were to priests along the way, and one in Rome, in case I was unable to reach the Cardinal’s secretary. He had worked hard to make his death easier for me. I cried later… He was being kind and generous even at the prospect of his own death. To a Calabrian this was a priest with heart and… balls.
He told me that if anything happened I should ask Maria Rossi to place the glass plates for his “respectable” pictures in the attic of her house for safe keeping. I must tell her that one day a priest would come to collect them. He would show her a letter from the Dom. He gave me a piece of paper for her that had just his signature on it. She couldn’t read but she could check that the signature on the priest’s letter was genuine, that it matched.
He told me to gather the “romantic” plates, pack them carefully and give them to Luigi to put in an even safer place… the attic of his home, the byre or even a dry cave. It just had to be a really safe place. He too would receive a visit, by the man from Rome, the publisher of his pictures.
He worked it all out and rehearsed with me what to do when the need arose.
I cried, and said I was sure that everything would be alright and that we would not need to act… The weather would improve and he would soon be feeling better. He smiled gently, drew me to him, and fondled me… yes there! It was the first time since the one time in the confessional. I knew then that he could feel his end coming.
I prepared. We didn’t have a need for any of the plates unless the Don was once again fit enough to print them. So, I packed the ones for Maria and took them to her, explaining that the Don had used the plates of photos taken in the church to make a little money… the money that had paid for her operation. Now he felt that he did not have long, and he needed her in turn to look after his plates until a priest came for them. I explained the procedure for handing them over. I reminded her that they were glass and should be kept sealed up and safe.
I packed the doubtful plates even more carefully and helped Luigi to put them safe, again explaining the procedure for collection. To both of them I explained that eventually the plates would raise money for the church funds and for charity in the village. It was their responsibility to keep them safe until then.
Then I relaxed. The Dom had his albums to keep him… entertained is I suppose the best word. They seemed to comfort him. Perhaps the artistic acceptance by art-collectors of von Gloeden’s work gave a veneer of respectability to his own.
I went every day to check that he was safe and fed. Maria Rossi also checked on him. She visited him when she could during the day.
I was now ready to run. War was rumbling, the Don was sick, and would not last long. I had little to keep me at home. At fourteen, in Calabrian terms, I was almost a man.
So where to run? I now had the address in Rome, I only had to work out how to get there?
It was late in the summer, when the wind had a cooler edge to it that I heard sobbing as I approached the Don’s home. When I entered, I found old Maria trying to lift the Don up from where he had slumped across his table.
“Is he?” I asked. “Yes, he is quite cold and stiff… help me sit him up!” She replied.
That he was dead was bad, but it was not quite the worst of it.
When he died he had been studying some of the last photos we had taken… the diptych and the ones of Luigi and I in other active poses. They had seemed amusing and artistic when we did them, but now standing there while a seventy year old lady came to terms with what she was looking at… now I had doubts.
“The ones in my attic… are they like this?” She asked.
“No signora, I sorted them into innocent ones in one pile and the few like this in another… you have only the innocent ones… it’s a priest that will come for yours.”
“Very well!” She said. “But this… we must dispose of these before anyone sees them!”
She consigned them to the kitchen fire.
“The others… like these?” She demanded.
“The others are gone already.” I said… It was true… they were gone, Luigi had hidden them.
“I weep for that poor child with you in the picture… Who is he?”
“You must ask the Don!” I said with a shrug of my shoulders.
“As for you, I cannot bear to look at you… I think you should leave. The Don was a good man… What have you done to him?” She asked.
I felt hurt and betrayed… “I made him happy and I helped him raise the money that repaired the church… and paid for your eyes!” I said with some anger.
“Go…!” She said. “I shall bury the Dom, and make sure that there’s nothing left to soil his memory. We’ll hold a Requiem Mass… I want you gone before then!”
“The Don has asked me to deliver some books to his superiors in Rome. I will do that. I shan’t return!” Was all I could think to say.
I hurried to the Don’s cupboard in the Sacristy, gathered his collection of albums in my knapsack, and… started my journey.
I explained to my mother that the Dom was dead and that he had asked me to carry out an important errand for him if he died. I was to go to Rome, to the Vatican to deliver books for him that needed safe-keeping. He had given me some money for the trip.
I said that I would send messages and that one day I would return. Meanwhile, I said it would once more be Papa’s job to look after her. We looked at the old soak asleep in the corner by the fire and she smiled ruefully.
Then I visited Luigi.
I loved him and would have asked him to go with me. There was still the risk that old Maria would wake up to who the naked boy was. However, Luigi was needed to hand over the doubtful plates. They were the valuable ones… the ones that would raise the most money, the money that the village’s new priest would need to pay for whatever small disaster overtook the village next, perhaps new boots or an operation on Tomas Gentili’s foot… There was always a need for charitable money, and the village itself had none.
I loved Luigi, and not taking him with me caused me great sadness. On the other hand travelling alone was probably easier. If he had been older and stronger then he would have been an asset, but he was younger and small for his age. So I told him what had happened, and that old Maria didn’t know that he was the other boy in the photos.
I said that he would be safer at home, and promised that when I was settled in Rome I would contact him. Then we could decide what to do.
I laughed and said… “By then you may have a girl… you may even be a father, we’ve practised hard enough… She will be lucky, you’re a great lover!”
“I shall miss you!” Was all he said.
He looked very sad and was trying not to cry. He had lost both his friends in one day. We both loved the Don… he had never been other than kind to us. Maria had burned the prints that were the only proof that said otherwise and Luigi had hidden the plates. The Don’s reputation was no worse than it was before. His nickname of Don Feminella suggested that at some time his liking for young men had spilled over into the village’s life. But… his liking for photographing young boys, that was something that Maria, Luigi and I could keep to ourselves.
Luigi wanted to accompany me as far as the town, but I said no…
“If Maria sees us together she may guess, and that would make things difficult for you!”
He kissed me, and I kissed him. Then I opened his trousers and said goodbye properly.
He had been my first and greatest love.
A few more years… if only our Don had managed a few more years.
My last task was to go to the wall at the end of the garden to collect the money that I’d saved over the three or so years. I gave half to mother for emergencies, but…
Now it was time to run.
I squared my shoulders, gave my knife a ritual sharpening on the gatepost, and set off for Spezzano Albanese… over twenty miles to the north. It was the home of the first priest in the list of contacts that the Don had given me… safety, a bed and a meal.
I was no longer a child… my childhood was over.
Now it was time to run. I now knew why… and I knew where to.
For the first time in my life… I was no longer confused.
The road out of Cosenza, Calabria. 1940
I knew that I had about three hundred miles to go, and that there were many weeks of travel ahead of me. I had some money. The money from the wall, and also the travel money that the Don had provided.
Rome and a whole new life lay ahead of me. This was not just a journey to deliver a parcel… There could be no return to Cosenza afterwards. In fact I didn’t want to return… I was looking forward to a new life. But, I had to be frugal, spend money like it was blood.
I was strong, I was young and I would walk. I could sleep in hedges and live on bread and cheese. There would be fruit to steal… it was the season.
I first had to descend from our village to the main road north out of Cosenza. There I stopped to eat some of the bread and cheese that my mother had given me. I felt sad and prayed that old Maria’s discretion would hold. I hoped that her wish to protect the Don’s name would overcome her old-woman’s desire to gossip with my mother. I had told Mama nothing… other than that I must go to Rome. I really didn’t want her to ever find out why I could never return.
It was dark when I approached Montalto Uffugo, a large town on the road north. I could not afford to buy a meal or a bed for the night… but it was a warm night, so as I would on many future nights… I slept under the stars.
I was up early the next morning and walked on down into the town.
I went to the church where a priest was just finishing early morning Mass. I stood quietly at the back until he had finished, and then went to the sacristy to speak to him.
“Good morning Father, my name is Carlo Tonelli, I was altar-boy for Don Fontinella at Cosenza.”
“You say you were his altar-boy… you are no longer?” He said in the way that priests have, where everything becomes an interrogation.
“No father, I’m sorry… the Don is dead. He died in his sleep yesterday. He asked me to return some belongings to a friend in Rome, so I am here… It’s still a long way to the Vatican, but… I’ve made a start!”
He seemed friendly. He knew the Don well. I told him that I had loved the Don… that he had been good to me, and that it was a small thing to do him this last favour.
He smiled, and said “I expect that you have done him many small favours already!”
I suddenly knew… He knew the Don better than I had suspected… In many ways that made things easier.
I smiled… “You knew the Don well… Yes, it was easy to be nice to the Don.” Then I blushed and looked shy.
“Come my boy, we must find you breakfast… I wish you had called last night, you could have stayed the night!”
I suspected that I knew why that might have been a good idea, but it was too late now… or was it? I didn’t need a bed, but I did need breakfast!
The priest took me to a small cottage near the church, there was a small row of them, I suspected that the church supported a number of clergy. It was quite a large town.
“Come.” He said. “How hungry are you?”
“Very hungry Father! I would do anything for a good full belly for the day!”
If I was right… here was an opportunity.
“Perhaps if I asked very nicely you could help with food for my knapsack to get me all the way to Spezzano Albanese… I would be very grateful! Perhaps if I sinned you could hear my confession…afterwards.”
I smiled ingratiatingly.
I had heard rumours of such men, but I hadn’t counted our Don amongst them… He had only touched me the once, and that was to give a lesson in purity and love. I knew that what this man wanted was wrong, but if it helped the Don, and if he gave me absolution afterwards then not much would have been lost.
So I had breakfast, a good cooked breakfast too. Then the priest took me into his bedroom and… he was business-like…
“Show me what you have!” At first I thought he meant the Don’s books, but he caught hold of my shirt and pulled it over my head in a single move.
I knew what he wanted, and quietly stepped out of my pants. I stood there proudly, looking like one of the Don’s photographs.
The priest laughed, and pointed to a framed picture on the wall.
“I thought I recognised you!”
He was one of the Don’s customers… there was no longer any doubt what he wanted to see.
I showed him what I had… I readied myself with my hand, and then went to stand by him.
“You are as beautiful as your picture.” He sighed. “But a little older!” There seemed to be regret in his voice. He stroked my stomach and the little hair, down there.
“Not long ago, this would have been perfectly smooth… perfectly!”
He took me… and started the familiar motions that Luigi and I had practised.
I reached towards him, to give him the same pleasure. He stopped my hand…
“I’ve taken a vow.” He said. “I’m celibate, but you are not… let me make you happy!”
So he did… He made me happy!
Then he heard my confession. I confessed that I had enjoyed the sex more than simple purity permitted… He said that to do so was necessary for the success of my journey, it was more of a necessity than a sin. He gave me absolution, and meat pie, some apples and cheese. Then he filled my water bottle, blessed me and sent me on my way… adding a small contribution to my travel funds.
Oh yes, and he told me which priest I needed in Spezzano Albanese. He said he was the one that would also be happy to hear my confession, and then he smiled gently. That was good to know… it made things so much simpler if I already knew that I would receive a warm welcome. I would arrive in time for dinner… hoping for a hot meal and a warm bed.
If he shared this priest’s interest in me, then he too might add to the Don’s list of stopping places… priests who were happy to see that I should need absolution. I smiled quietly to myself. I was beginning to understand what connected the hundreds of friends that the Don had supplied with artistic poses of beautiful altar-boys.
The rest of that day was simply a long slow walk. I paused every few hours, a snack here, a drink from a stream there… breaking the day up into bearable pieces.
Spezzano Albanese, Calabria 1940
Once again the church was large… in fact there were two churches. I first tried the newer one, but the priest there looked me up and down, smiled and said, no… the reverend father that I asked for was at the other church at the top of the hill. Then he said wistfully…
“But, if you can’t find him, come back. I will try to help you… perhaps I might hear your confession tomorrow.” I noticed that he said tomorrow and not today… There was a whole night between today and tomorrow. Yes, confession would be needed in that case!
At the other church the priest was much older, but also gentler and he seemed shyer of his young visitor. I explained about Don Fontinella and he was very upset. He asked if I had known him well. I smiled sadly and said that it would hardly have been possible to know him any better. I said that I had loved him better than my own father.
That was when he looked at me closely, ruffled my hair and said…
“Ah yes, indeed I believe you did! Now I recognise you… You have become a handsome young man. Come it is time to see that you are fed!”
His housekeeper smiled when she saw me. She too was sorry to hear that the Don was dead, and glanced at the picture on the office wall. Then she cooked us a fine meal of pork and beans, and departed wishing us that we slept well. I felt sure she understood, but I was not in the least embarrassed. I felt that it was the priest’s place to be shy about what might happen… For me, it was merely a stopping place on my journey.
He gave me a glass of strong red wine with my meal. I felt very relaxed in his company, and when we had finished eating… without comment I gathered the dishes and took them to the sink, to wash them and leave them to drain. He sat and watched me.
“You are very beautiful… I can understand Don Fontinella’s desire… to photograph you. Such a temptation… he was never a strong man.” He said.
Without thinking, I replied… “And you Father… are you any stronger than our Don?”
“No… no stronger I fear… I wish I was, but we are the way God made us… frail vessels of His love. Tomorrow I shall hear your confession. You will leave here spotless, despite my frailty!”
“Where shall I sleep father?”
“There is only one bed… My weakness will be at my right hand… My strength will be to your left.” He smiled at his wit.
“Now, to face the night with purity we shall have to bathe you. You have half Calabria’s roads on you!”
I expected him to intrude on the nakedness of my bathing, but he remained discreetly outside. I could hear him saying his Rosary. He was getting his penance in early… I smiled to myself.
When I was clean and dry, he was waiting and took me by the hand, leading me to his bed.
“Forgive me young man, I should be stronger but we are as we are.”
He drew my shirt over my head… I lowered my drawers to follow my trousers to the floor.
He undressed quickly and said… “Tomorrow is a long day for you… come to bed, the sooner the devil is paid, the sooner we shall sleep.”
I said… “It is me who will need absolution tomorrow. I have brought you temptation Father. Please forgive me…”
I took him by the hand and drew him down onto his feather mattress. I had complete control of him. He could not have resisted the temptation… The desire was simply too great… I had brought the opportunity to his door. The least I could do for him now was to ensure that what happened was my fault… and not his.
We cuddled and we kissed. He gently covered me with his hand. When what we were doing was no longer innocent he blew out the candle so that we could not see the sin we were committing. When he finally entered me he was larger than Luigi, but much gentler… and he was praying at the end… I recognised the rhythm… when he finally came… he was reciting… “Nunc dimittis servum tuum… Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace””
This poor man was tortured by his faith… He had such a gentle love to give... love that his faith denied him the right to share. When he had slipped into sleep… I cried for him. It was sad to see such a good man torn in two. Then I too slept.
When we woke, he kissed me softly…
“What was it that Don Fontinella called you? He always named his special ones.”
“il Moro.” I answered. “It was a good luck charm I think.”
“Yes, you were to be the one he would rely on to look after him till the end, until he died… Did he choose wisely?”
“I would say so… He became very frail in the last six months. I organised old Maria to wash and cook for him. Between us we looked after him… kept him going… So, yes I think he chose wisely.”
“It wasn’t difficult, I loved him… He was gentle and kind… I’m sad that he is gone. I hope that he is in heaven, but…” I couldn’t complete the thought. It was too painful.
“But, you fear that his taste for beautiful boys will have kept him out?” He asked.
I nodded sadly.
“Did he ever harm you? Did you ever hear of any harm that he did to anyone?”
“So, do you think that Our Father and his angels saw less than you did of the kindness that he gave so freely… and occasionally unwisely?”
“You think heaven saw his goodness?” I asked hopefully.
“That is exactly what I think!” He said fiercely.
By now he was lying on his side, resting on his elbow, looking sternly into my eyes. “If I had thought that God only saw our sins and ignored our goodness I could not have become a priest!” He said.
Then he took me into his arms and we compounded our sins with early-morning love.
When we rose he put on just enough of his robes to satisfy propriety and said… “Confession and then breakfast… I find an early-morning confession helps a boy’s appetite!”
I smiled… and said. “I cannot give you absolution Father, but I am absolutely certain that you too are a good man!” I said it seriously, not as a joke but as comfort to a man who from time to time must have had doubts about what awaited him.
“Thank you my boy… your Don did choose wisely.”
He had been right. Absolution did indeed give me a good appetite. There was a spring in my step as I set out in the early morning sunshine.