I’m telling you, I’m a wretch. Do you know, Jonas? I’m a wraith and a wretch.
“What do you mean,” asked Jonas. His eyes were filled with immediate concern.
I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you that I am a wraith, and that there is nothing good in me. Ah! But I know there is some good in me, isn’t there Jonas, my good friend? My dear, good friend, and brother. There must be, mustn’t there?
“Yes, of course there is, “ smiled Jonas. “But what is this talk of being a wraith? Every man on the earth knows he’s a wretch deep inside, but that there is goodness, too. A good apple is not completely rotten if only a part of it is so.”
Ah, but I’m no blemished fruit, brother. I’m rotten through-and-through. Do you know this? Let me tell you. I’ll tell you all about it, if you will listen! But first, about being a wraith. Do you know when you sit with your eyes closed in the relaxing chair and open your eyes and look about the room? Say, your eye catches a door and its frame. And you see not just the door, but the transparent image of the door as a shadow—no, not a shadow, but it’s very real looking, but it’s ghost-like. Yes, you see the ghost of the door, just off to the side of the actual door. There’s just that split second of seeing the double image, and then? Gone.” He snapped his fingers when he said “Gone,” and his face grew stern. “And then it fades away and your eyes adjust and you are back to the solemnity of your daily morass we call life, and you are back in focus.”
“Yes, I know what you’re talking about, so what’s your point? You’re the ghost image, here and gone in a split second?”
“Ha! You are too clever. You know? You were always more clever than me. I may have gotten the better grades, but you were the dreamer. You walked in the fields and the woods and along the beaches, musing about life. This has made your education complete. Here, have a glass of wine.”
“Ummm….I don’t know,” Jonas said, contemplating the wine. He certainly enjoyed the red tannins and the relaxation to come with it, but he wanted to be in control. Too much vice and you lose control, he thought to himself. This was his usual axiom. But today, he felt like a glass of wine, and besides he had nowhere to go, except for a walk in the woods. His brother was right. “Ok.” He hoped he wouldn’t regret it. “I can never so no,” he said to himself. “Even if I only have one.” He meant this, in reference not only to wine and beer, but to other dainties in life: cakes, pies, candies and treats. He chided himself for not having a more strict way of life, like the other Fathers. “Ah, not every priest is alike,” he would say. He said this to justify himself, and to do away with the “rulebook” in his head that he feared would dominate his life and suck all the fun and enjoyment out of it. “No use being a harbinger for strict regulations,” he would say. Then a voice would come to his mind, “Bah!” but it wasn’t his own. He took a sip. It was pretty good. He set the glass down and pursed his lips.
“It’s cheap, only 5.99 a bottle. But they say the cheap stuff is good. Besides, I’ll never make enough to justify spending even $20 on a bottle. Do you like it? Is it good? Tell me!" he said with enthusiasm and a sudden burst of delight.
“Yes, it’s good. I like it," he said, smiling. He folded his legs, and his long robe swept underneath him, like dark wings.
“But you know, on second thought, you are indeed not so clever at all. The image of the door is not me in the sense of being here today and gone tomorrow, thought of course it most certainly is that. But it’s more. You see, it’s not just the temporal act of disappearance than I’m concerned about with this image, but the very nature of the image itself. You see, I’m only a fraction of what is real. I’m a wraith! Do you know that I purport to all who see me that I am so happy and gay and full of delight to see them? I’m the most gregarious man in town. Everyone knows me and loves me, and yet—ah, the wretch I am!” He paused and clenched his fingers to his forehead, his knuckles pointing out like the legs of spiders. He dug his fingernails into his skin and lacerated the epidermis. He pressed and pulled his fingers against the front of his skull and moaned in anguish. “Wretch, wretch” he whispered. He appeared to be spent now.
“Carl, hey.” Jonas said with soft alarm. “What is this? What’s this about?” He looked at his glass of wine. He wanted to grab it and look into the comforting red liquid. He jutted his right hand out for it, but hesitated, and brought it back. He then sat on both hands, but looked at the glass, then at his brother. He repeated this motion with nervous tension.
“Ach,” said Carl. He moaned some more and let out a deep sigh. “If only you knew the thoughts inside my head,” said the troubled brother. “Just the other day, Mrs. Gruthause was in the department store and said hello to me, and I gave her a warm hug and asked her how she was doing—out of genuine concern, you know? She’s an older woman you know and very sweet. She started telling me about her plans to reconcile with her husband after an argument they’d had. She confided in me, the dear woman.”
“She hasn’t confided in me,” thought Jonas to himself. He wondered if he was frowning. He thought not. Perhaps he could cover up the frown with his pursed brow and look of deep concern for his brother, yes, his brother. That’s what this is about, after all, not the fact that some woman hasn’t confided in you, you prat.
“Well, here she is speaking to me of how old man Gruthause snapped at her the other day for nagging him about—oh, some menial task around the home, I can’t remember. And do you know what came to my mind? The following thought: ‘Serves you right, you nag.’ And I was nodding and smiling the whole time, pretending to be listening with care and love!” Carl gasped and spread out his hands far apart on his desk with a slap of alarm. "Can you believe that? And I do many things like this all the time. All the time, brother! And that’s just the surface. You wouldn’t want to be my brother if I told you everything. I couldn’t begin to tell you! Ah, I’m rotten through and through, he sighed.
“Ha ha! Dear brother, you’re ok. That’s just human—perfectly human to be so. He chuckled some more.
“Oh, is it? Didn’t the Son of God come 2,000 years ago to make us new humans? Where is this “new man” that I am supposed to be? And I haven’t told you the wicked thoughts I’ve had about others. Disgusting things and perverted things in my mind—and they entice me, and I like them. I AM a wretch,” he insisted and he pounded his fist on his desk. “I’m good for nothing except death, I tell you--death!” Carl sat back in his chair and dug his fingernails into his forehead. He began to shake and weep like a child. "Wretch, wretch, wretch," he whispered, over and over and over again.
Jonas tilted his head and looked at him. His immediate thought was the Eucharist or home holy water and the power of the Host, but he wondered within himself whether these things really did, after all, have the power to heal the tortured soul.