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Estimated reading time — 6 minutes

The flutters appeared, as they always did, when the noise of confessions ceased and gave way to silence. When the rectory’s door blocked guidance-seeking and pardon-thirsty parishioners from reaching their priest. When Father Doug was allowed a moment of his own and could shed the coat of sins and guilt his followers had spewed on him all day long. The flutters subsided at dawn, when the church’s daily bustle took over the priest’s senses.
The priest first thought they were symptoms of his heart’s longing. He had fallen in love with one of his parishioners and intended on leaving the church to marry her. But instead of subsiding, the flutters increased along with the confidence in his unorthodox plan.
He was lying in bed, right after mass, when the flutters returned. He tried to ignore them, but the drums of his heart rapped in his temples and a line of cold sweat drenched his hairline. He sat-bolt upright, his crimson bedsheet tugging around his waist, tightened to the left by the arm of his lover.
“Must be an angel’s wing,” his bedmate whispered as she placed her diamond-ringed hand on his chest, her brightly polished nails strumming his skin like bloody raindrops.
Father Doug snorted quietly. As if there were angels, he thought. He had been a priest far too long to still believe in them. “I doubt seraphims would condone our behavior.”
“God automatically forgives when it’s true love.” His inamorata’s words bounced off the sacristy’s walls in search of approval. As if their reciprocal feelings could justify their lust and the breaking of his celibacy vows. “He must have sent an angel to thank you for all the lives you selflessly saved,” she added with conviction.
The cleric bit his tongue. His work as a preacher hadn’t been a selfless endeavor. Every abortion-related confession he betrayed earned him $10,000 reward from the state, money he placed in a secret fund. One that would provide him with enough cash to start his secular life. A life of bodily autonomy and spiritual freedom where he would be able to enjoy the pleasure of the flesh in good conscience, and maybe have a family of his own. He had already purchased his lover a ring and couldn’t wait to propose.
“Many innocent lives saved indeed,” he agreed out loud, “many sinners’ lives destroyed.”

As weeks went by, the flutters intensified. Bouts of dizziness accompanied them and a dull ache settled in his abdomen. For a man who had never been sick and fought hard to never consult a doctor, it was time to surrender.
“It sounds like two hearts,” his lover giggled, her right ear flat against his bare chest. “Your fried food and meat-based diet must be catching up with you.”
Her allusion to his double standards wasn’t lost on him. Saving unborn lives by forsaking his female parishioners while slowly killing himself by eating whatever he pleased seemed illogical. He had put on a few pounds since he lost faith in his spiritual mission, topping the scale beyond what healthy should be, but he had never felt more alive. Love had given him a renewed sense of life.
“I’m scheduling you an appointment with my husband. He’s the best cardiologist in town.” The woman reached for her bright pink phone, its screen coming to life with an American flag shaped as a Christian cross. “Don’t worry. Religious enforcers, like yourself, are protected by God.”

A 3D ultrasound and CT scan revealed the presence of a growth.
“That’s what is causing your nausea and headaches,” the doctor said, pointing at the backlit wall where Father Doug’s X-ray hung. With his apple green pen, the physician traced the outline of a bean-shaped mass. “It’s the size of a fist and nestled in your epigastric regions.”
The priest recoiled at the sight of the lump which looked like a messy ball of fried dough—a funnel cake a child would have attempted to make.
“How soon can you remove it?”
The doctor pulled down on his lab coat, looking dejected, and shook his head. “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
“What do you mean you can’t? Do I need to see another specialist like an oncologist or something?”
“That’s not it. It could be removed, but no one would agree to remove it here.”
“Why do you mean here?” The priest asked as he pulled on his clerical collar to loosen the neck of his cassock.
“Here, in our state.” His voice was sharp as if the answer was obvious, but pity filled his eyes.
Tension filled the cleric’s forehead as he frowned. “Why not?”
“Because it has a heartbeat.” The doctor’s face was long and grey. “You’re presenting with a rare condition called F.I.F, short for fetus in fetu, It occurs when a fetus gets trapped inside its twin. The twin cells usually die, but your growth is alive. The church and the state forbid me from cutting it out.”
Father Doug’s heart skipped a beat. An invisible noose tightened around his throat. “This is absurd! I’m not a woman. I’m not meant to carry life.”
“Well, God disagrees with you.”

Father Doug spent the next forty-eight hours ruminating in bed. Right above his head, the ceiling’s Pure White paint had started to flake. He would have to fix it before the shiny layer peeled entirely and revealed the prison-grey of the concrete wall beneath. Preserving the sacristy’s pristine look was a necessity, just like keeping his medical condition a secret.
The medical prognosis had been clear: this “gestation” wouldn’t run its course. The growth would die soon and could then be removed. He just had to be patient.
Alas, the doctor-patient confidentiality he relied on was as solid as the seal of confession he had guaranteed his flock. His inamorata was the first to find out.
“Of course, they can’t remove it, honey. It’s a living child,” she said, drumming her baby-blue nails along his swollen abdomen as if it were her own pregnancy bump. Her infertility, which had carved an irreparable breach in her marriage and sent her prowling for a miracle in her priest’s bed, had turned her into a diehard pro-lifer.
“It’s a sign… It’ll be our love-child.” She cheered as she applauded herself. “What do you think it is, a boy or a girl?”
The priest pretended to cough to hide his repulsion. No way in the world would he deliver whatever that tumor was. That thing needed to go.
After dozens of medical visits at different clinics and hospitals, the doctors were unequivocal. Against all odds, the fetus held unto its life, growing stronger as it took over its host’s venous system.
“Feeding vessels have entered into the growth directly from your aorta, see?” Specialists explained, tracing CT scan images with their multicolored pens.” Your inferior vena cava had stretched, adhering densely to your brother.”
My brother? Religious texts flashed in the priest’s head as he suddenly understood what Essau and Ismael might have felt. One brother stealing the life of the other in the public eyes and with complete impunity.
The cleric took a deep breath and called off his scheduled amorous rendezvous. Starting now, he would pray every day until the tumor died. His condition could only be a temporary crucible, he reasoned. A warning from high above for having exempted himself from religious laws.
“Repent,” he told himself, “and you’ll receive the absolution you’ve so generously granted your parishioners every Sunday.
Excluding mass and confession, Father Doug spent his days on his knees, praying. As the weeks passed, his hope faded. Lightheadedness and sharp pelvic pain had become daily occurrences. His abdomen had grown so big that his cassock was getting too tight.
How could it be a heavenly punishment when God was about love and forgiveness? It didn’t make any sense.
Anger grew slowly in his veins, as thoughts of Cain filled his mind. Wasn’t he like Abel, under the lethal threat of his brother? How long would he last before one of his organs ruptured or he plunged into a coma? Wasn’t it his prerogative to defend himself or retaliate? He needed to act.
So the priest went online for advice on how to get rid of the trespassing heartbeat that had lodged in his belly. He started down the homeopathic route, overdosing on coffee, turmeric, and garlic, hoping the growth would shrink. Then, he binged on unpasteurized cheese and gas-station-sushi to send his body into shock with no result. He even took black market mifepristone and misoprostol, hoping the abortive drugs would do the job. But everything failed.
His body didn’t cooperate and doctors refused to operate. Cardiologists, oncologists, even backroom surgeons.
“The state religious laws are clear,” they said, “stopping a beating heart would amount to an abortion. We can’t bend the rules just because you’re a man.”
“It’s not about killing a life, it’s about saving mine,” he pleaded in every ear that would listen. But his audience was more interested in their causes than his health. He had become a pawn in the endless war between pro-life and pro-choice.
Word started to spread about the pregnant priest. Unfertile couples and the incurable begged for his touch, believing it would cure their ailments. His archbishop congratulated him for increasing the size of his flock. His parish wrote a hymn about him and sang his praise, dubbing him the Virgin Doug. “Live by example,” they chanted, “carry your brother to term.”
“Brother,” he scoffed. The parasite that was leaching his blood supply and draining him was no savior. It was an angel of death that he needed to eliminate. But the priest was too weak to seek out-of-state care and no one was willing to drive him.
Father Doug was left with no choice.
His belly slathered with lidocaine, the cleric sat on the floor next to a dry cleaner hanger. With a scalpel, he sliced through his skin, pushing deeper through his flesh, carving a slit wide enough to welcome a metal hook. He had just inserted the salvationary instrument when his former lover burst through the door, followed by a horde of crazed-eyed parishioners.
Stop!” she shouted. “This is murder.”
The flutters never vanished. They grew as loud and strong as Father Doug’s heartbeat, echoing its tempo. The priest could hear them through the non-stop chatter of the visiting crowd. The rectory’s door was no longer locked, allowing the parishioners to reach their priest as they wished, inviting pilgrims to experience his sacred touch. When Father Doug was afforded a rare moment alone, he prayed for a quick death, trying to forgive the believers who had tied him to the bed and let his brother kill him.


Credit:  E. Jauffret

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