Another great section from the prodigal son’s elder brother, Raleigh W. Hayes, in Michael Malone’s bizarre epic Handling Sin, and his vengeful remembrance of his father Rev. Earley Hayes’ Episcopal Church service, especially the curious confession of sin, and the difficulty in saying it in comparison to a far-flung father who needs it more than him.

Now, in its common usage, the word confession did not at all appeal to our hero. It had the suggestive prurient sound of priests and Catholic adolescents hidden in high shadowed concupiscent corners, titillating each other through musty curtains with graphic whisperings about forbidden sex. More personally, the word confession implied an admission of fault, and, as we know, Raleigh with good reason considered himself (comparatively) unflawed. Try as he might during church services, he honestly could not think of any manifold sins and wickednesses that he needed to repent. 5108hNVop1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_He honestly did not see why, in all fairness, he should have provoked God’s wrath and indignation when there were so many really provoking people (like his father, like [his brother] Gates) out there getting off scot-free; nor did he see why he should feel guilty and responsible and worried and all the things he had to confess he did feel, when the truly guilty appeared not to have a care in the world; nor did he see why he should keep begging God for mercy, when all he wanted, from God and everybody else, was justice, if he could ever get it, which he couldn’t, so wretchedly unfair were the blithe, if not downright cynical, ways of the Creator.

By the time Raleigh was old enough to understand the drift of the General Confession, stumbled through together by the small congregation of Thermopylae’s Episcopalians, his father had already been dismissed by the parish, left by his wife, and living across town in a little stucco house with the pregnant Roxanne Digges. While the bishop had not defrocked Earley Hayes, he had declined to give him another church, and so, a priest without a pulpit, Earley (to everyone’s astonishment) took a teaching position at a small Negro college in the nearby textile town of Hillston. He taught (of all things, thought Raleigh) the history of religion and moral philosophy. And as if this weren’t embarrassing enough, he eventually became the director of the college’s marching band, actually appearing–to the horrified disgust of many of his former parishioners–every Fourth of July on the streets of Thermopylae at the head of a processions of high-stepping young black musicians in gold and red uniforms. Raleigh resigned his position as first trumpet of the Thermopylae Junior High School band. “I don’t have time to practice, not if I’m going to play basketball,” he explained, but everyone assumed that he was simply too mortified to march past crowds gawking at his father as he paraded through town with Negroes. “At least,” said Mrs. Pee Wee Jimson, “Earley has the decency never to set foot inside our church again!”