Men’s Room Confessional

“Excuse me?” asked Henry.

“How long since your last confession?” repeated the raspy, time-worn voice from the next men’s room stall.

“I’m sorry, are you talking to me?”

“Yes, my son.”

Henry shifted uncomfortably on the toilet seat.  He suddenly felt trapped in this tiny stall that stunk of Friday night drunkenness and piss knowing that he had business to take care of with a potential loony in the next stall.  First of all, stall-talk in general was not within his comfort zone.  He valued his privacy too much.  Secondly, either this guy was joking or he was dead serious, and joking would be the lesser of two evils.

“Ha ha.  That’s pretty funny, but it you don’t mind–”

“Would you like to pretend that I’m joking?  Because we can do it that way if you like.  It’s up to you, my son.”

Dead serious it is.

“Listen, I don’t know what you’re up to over there, but I just want to take care of business and get out of here.   So, if you don’t mind–”

“Most men who come through here are hesitant at first.  I completely understand.”

“Look, I’m not even Catholic.”

“Neither am I,” he replied.

“And I haven’t been to church in years.”

“Hehe…and this certainly isn’t a church.”

“Yeah, no shit.  Pardon my French, Father–er, or whatever you are.”

Although a little incense wouldn’t hurt right now.  Jesus Christ!

“Look, you may never have this opportunity again.  I’m offering you 100% anonymous confession.  I don’t know you, you don’t know me.  It doesn’t matter to me what you’ve done or who you are.  What matters to me is that you find absolution…if that’s what you need.”

“I’m doing just fine.  I’ve managed to make it this far without confession or absolution or whatever.”

But he wasn’t fine.  He knew he was lying to the man, perhaps even to himself.  His marriage was in the crapper.  He had few friends to talk to.  He was on his way to becoming a divorced, lonely drunk .   As he sat in the restroom of his favorite pub, five whiskeys down, little to lose that he wasn’t already losing, the weight of his sins began to materialize out of the fog of the emotionless stupor he’d been living.  His heart sank.  His eyes welled with tears of pain and regret. As crazy as it seemed, he decided to play along.

“Ok, listen,”  he spoke in tones hushed and strangled by rising emotion,  “I’m not sure why, but I trust you.  So how does this work?”

“Simple, you tell me what you’ve done wrong.  And I offer you forgiveness and a penance.”


The words did not come immediately.  He began to draw them together from images and deep longings and deeper regrets.  He spoke for the first time about the affairs and the constant stream of lies he’d been living with.  His fears of his daughter becoming like the women he was using, or worse…

that his daughter would grow up to marry a man like him, a man like his father.

Dad.  Dear old dad.  It’s no wonder I turned out this way.

The music and chatter from the pub vibrated the walls around him.  There it all was, hanging in the air around him, the stench of his sin and pain and struggle, and the source of it all.

All the old painful memories of his neglectful, womanizing, drunken father who he had not seen or spoken to in twenty years came rushing make to his consciousness, and a vow formed on his silent lips.  I will NOT become my father.  It’s not too late.  I WILL NOT become my father.

“My son,  are you truly sorry for your sins?”

“Yes! Yes I’m so sorry.  I am so sorry, Father.  But what can I do?  Tell me.  What do I need to do?” he pleaded.

“Go home and beg for forgiveness from your wife, before it’s too late.  And if she is still willing, let her help you.  Do whatever she says to do.”


“And make me a promise.  When you’ve gotten your life back together again, I want you to take a turn on the other side of this wall.   Hear someone’s confession, just like I’ve done for you tonight.  And then offer them forgiveness.   Can you do that for me?”

“Yes, Father, anything.  I’ll do it.”

And then the words that had never meant anything to him before, pierced his very soul.

“My son, you are truly forgiven.  Go in peace.”

you are truly forgiven

He did not know until this moment how much he needed to hear these words.   He knew he didn’t deserve them, but somehow he was receiving them anyway.  And for that moment, he truly was at peace.  His mind was clear.   In sharing his heavy burden of pain and guilt and shame and wrongs, he could see new possibilities.  Like a tiny flame lit from the kindling of dead twigs on a cold night, hope was born in his heart.

“Thank you, Father.  Thank you.”

Quickly, he washed up, and left to pay his tab.  As he headed for the exit he glanced back to the men’s room for a moment, hoping to catch a glimpse of the unlikely priest .  And as he did, he saw an older man emerging.  Even in the dim light of the smoky pub, he could see tears glisten in his eyes.  Henry stopped and stared hard.  Through the tears, through the wrinkles, and through twenty years of absence he recognized him.

The man he had just this night called Father, was the man that he had once called Dad.

And in that moment Henry knew, that this could not have been a chance meeting, and that this was not just about the sins of one man, but two.


About davidwburns

I like to write. I have a job. This is a flash bio. View all posts by davidwburns

32 responses to “Men’s Room Confessional

  • Colin James I-10 Blog

    Utterly brilliant. I wish I had thought of this first. Now I have to burn with Jealousy for all eternity.
    Excellent Job mate – talk about kicking it up a notch.
    Well impressed I is.

  • Jenny

    Wonderfully written. Very descriptive. Very bittersweet.

  • Mandy

    I could see this being the closing scene in a film!

    Very emotional, and the fact it was set in a men’s room gave it an even more raw feeling
    Because Henry was sitting on the toilet illustrated he was exposed and could sink no lower I felt somehow.

    Excellent David 🙂

    • davidwburns

      Thank you. You know, when I started out on this, I couldn’t decide if it should be comic or not. I worked with a different character for a little while who could really pack a comic punch, but a man in true need of confession and forgiveness is too powerful a thought to me. I can feel this man and his need for redemption.

      Besides, my comedy lately has been too dark and cynical for me to enjoy.

  • FARfetched

    It started out comic, but it ended with a powerful message of hope. Very Well Done!

  • Tony Noland

    I agree with the above comments – there was a strong comic feel initially, which moved to much more serious ground. Complex piece, David.

    • davidwburns

      Thanks for the read and the comments. I so want to be writing comedy again soon, but that’s just not where I am. Funny how every time I try lately, it just takes a turn. Nothing to regret here, though.

  • Judy Burns

    How moving to think of a “stranger” sitting next to you in a bathroom creating a “confessional”. Anyone of us could do this, but we don’t. This is well-written with a strong message of forgiveness. I want to hear more. Does he go home and change his life? Does he come back to the “confessional” and hear another’s sins and pronounce forgiveness? It’s very intriguing.

    • davidwburns

      And for it to have been his estranged father…seeking his own forgiveness…I hope that came across to you as well.

      So yes. The reality of forgiveness as a lifelong process rather than a one time event, would be an interesting topic to tackle in a story.

      Thanks for the read, and the thoughtful comments.

  • sparrowsong

    Great location choice, tight dialogue and beautiful character transformation. I love it.

  • adampb

    This is fantastic. The confessional in the bathroom stall is an apt metaphor. I liked how the confession was a silent one, that moment of epiphany. Very clever; it makes me wish I’d thought of it.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  • Icy Sedgwick

    This is fabulous. At first, I thought the man in the next stall might extract something more metaphysical as penance but I think your way is simply fantastic. Top notch writing.

  • Tiffany

    Very powerful and moving ending. I went back and read the whole thing again after that doozy. I think what I am understanding is that the dad had been approached by someone before him in the bathroom and given a confession to that stranger because of this line: (Most men who come through here are hesitant at first. I completely understand)and the lines later in which he tells his son to pay it forward. I wasn’t sure of all the things he said out loud if he ever said all the things he was feeling about his dad out loud as well, or, if it was implied that his dad already knew he was the source of all his son’s choices/pain and feeling forgiven leads to giving forgiveness. Loved thinking about all of this. Will probably read it again. 🙂

    • davidwburns

      Yes. You filled in the implied blanks very well. challenge of flash for me is to tell a larger story with fewer words. The italicized bits about the dad are intended to be thoughts. Maybe not clear, maybe not important. I didn’t feel like conveying his confession in dialog. Maybe I was too lazy. I’ve been thinking about this story all day. Like, will he reconcile with his Dad? And was the Dad selfless to think only of his son’s well-being instead of his own reconciliation to him, or was he hoping that this would lead to a reconciliation. Ha. How long was the dad coming to the bar before he recognized his son…or is that how it happened.

      I appreciate you thinking about this story with me, Tiffany.

      • Tiffany

        The dad said you don’t know me so you can confess. That was an important part of his decision to confess-that anonymity (sp). In this forgiveness game, you can’t lie. You just can’t. I don’t know how to explain it. So when I thought about that more I realized the dad couldn’t have known it was his son who was confessing. His dad literally sat down to pay it forward and the person he ended up talking to was his son but he doesn’t know it. That made me think how much more powerful it may be to have the dad confessing to the son, the son then in a position to offer forgiveness which seems to be the direction the forgiveness needs to flow. So maybe the son confesses to a stranger then goes to pay it forward not knowing the person he offers the chance to is his dad. This makes the story longer but maybe it needs to be given the complicated nature of relationships and how they affect us so. I think you have such a wonderful idea here. It is original and has all the makings of a mind bending, spiritual, deeply human, important story. I am not trying to change it, just give it some attention since it got mine. Hope I haven’t rambled too much. 🙂

  • myearthgirl

    holy shit, David, you just got me all goosebumpy before bed…dammit

  • John Wiswell

    It’s a dynamite absurdist premise. The poor guy needed an unburdening, too.

  • Anneke

    Hilarious and then that touching twist. Brilliant.

  • dannigrrl

    What an amazing story, David – emotional, raw, touching. The paragraph starting with “But he wasn’t fine.” and the bit about his daughter. Incredible. And then you brought it home at the end with a brilliant closing line. Excellent work, my friend.

  • Gracie

    Fantastic and powerful. Perfect setting, even if it seems unlikely at first. And that end was amazing.

    This is some fine writing. Excellent stuff.

  • flyingscribbler

    The potentially comic setting gives the actual thrust of your story added meaning. For those of us who have never been in a confession box, your setting of the men’s room brings it closer to us all. Does he get to hear his father’s confession?

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