December 14, 2012 Fiction










Holy Communion


James Claffey



Coats buttoned to the top, collar turned up against the east wind, the seagulls revolt against the beating rain and head for the shelter of the frothing Irish Sea. We march to the front door, the letter box opening and closing in the breeze, and single file we make our way to the church at the crossing points of Leicester Avenue and Rathgar Road.

On wooden beams the body hangs, thorn-crowned—a terrifying magnificence—the bloodied side real enough to dip your fingers in if you were close enough. In the echoing body of the church rules are followed or ears get clipped. The Old Man speaks of “civility,” and nods to neighbors, known and unknown, brothers in Christ. Coughs, sniffles, the rustle of the Sunday newspapers, the altar decorated with the flowers of the season, lilies, white and stately.

In the pews there’s not much room to budge. We kneel and rise, rise and kneel, mouth the memorized prayers and wait for the magic to unfold. Three rings: the host, a white moon aloft, the water into wine, transubstantiation. The Old Man says, “I am not worthy to receive you…”

I wipe my nose on a coatsleeve, silvered snail trail, and his eye half-warns me to “buck up.” Two lines form, like the Russian bread queues, and the perfumed and powdered old ladies creep towards their savior. Bareheaded husbands, widowers, and bachelors ripe with age like soft peaches, shuffle altarwards. The Old Man rises to join the line and motions for me to do the same. I shake my head, mumble, “Not fasting,” and his glare promises a cutting of the switch and the lowering of the boom when we get home.

I pick at the brass plaque on the bench in front, In Loving Memory of Gerard McHugh.Through the gap in the seat a purse rests on the polished wood. As the congregation kneels and the host melts in wined mouths, my fingers reach out and pluck two half-crowns from the coin purse in a side-pocket. The sun breaks through the enormous stained glass window above the altar, bathing the priest in a shimmering light. He blesses us for Mass’s end and sends us forth to love and serve the Lord.

On the walk back we pass the big houses on Garville Avenue where the rich people live. Trees as big as giants fill the front gardens and the Old Man shakes his head and says, “All that matters is your health and your family.” I know he’s lying because he never stops talking about how we used to have more money than, “Any of these feckers.” In the kitchen spooning cream of mushroom soup into our mouths, I finger the ridges of the half-crown and move my fingertips over the raised head of the British lion, thinking we may not be rich anymore, but I’ll be able to buy whatever I want at the sweet shop later.

Pages: 1 2 3 4


  1. Quirina December 16, at 09:24

    Beautiful prose, James, and as always the reader sinks sensationally into the setting. And the last line, so compact with the richness of freedom.

  2. Stephen Ramey December 16, at 03:50

    "a terrifying magnificence"... one of many sharply observed moments here. There is such intensity in this, almost a sense of the fantastic, and yet it's ultimately real and true. Wonderful work. Thanks for publishing it.


Leave a Reply