First Communion

They sit at a long table where the altar usually stands and the priest speaks and they all sing. It is a sunny day. They each go up to the microphone and say something one by one, except for the fat kid who shakes his head when the teacher talks to him, and still refuses to speak when she drags him up front. A big painting of Mary in front of my face. All the men wear suits, like Alpha said. All the kids wear white robes and the girls have wreaths of baby’s breath. One boy stares at the paintings on the ceiling, mouth wide open. So I’m not the only one.
They get bread. It tastes like bread, Gamma says afterwards. They drink wine. Alpha tells me they get real wine. They’re eight years old.
Then frankfurters in the room next to the church. And coffee. At home we eat schnitzels a caterer brought and cake and ice cream. The cake has a white and pink marzipan frosting Gamma and I peel off because neither of us likes marzipan. Underneath is chocolate frosting.
We lounge around. Some of us take naps. Alpha leaves on a business trip. Clouds start to roll in, there might be thundershowers later. The air has that feel to it.
We return to the church in the afternoon. More ceremony and singing. We give back the robe and pay some money, for laundering the robes maybe. Gamma desires a walk so we walk and not where I usually walk, she leads the way.
We hear a siren. That’s an ambulance says Gamma, whose world is drawing into sharper and sharper focus.
We see lots of people she knows. Kids from school. We walk around the village. Past farms and flower gardens and vegetable gardens. Lots of lupins blooming, while mine haven’t even grown spikes yet. Same with peonies, mine are barely buds and look at those lush blossoms.
Gamma tells me you feel just like a princess on your first communion day. She shows me the old building where the showers and locker rooms for the old soccer field used to be. Shows me the broken windows, tells me about sneaking in there with a girlfriend once, exploring. People are cleaning up a wreck out on the highway, far off. Blue lights still flashing. A truck from the fire department carries off a silver van. More are still in the ditch.
A couple is out walking their big white dog. They are the parents of the open-mouthed boy in church. They tell us they took him for a walk after everything was over and he started crying and said he just wanted to go home and watch TV, he was overwhelmed.
Gamma and I hold hands and walk along the field. We bump into a little friend of hers out in the field with her little brother, taking turns looking at the wreck with their dad’s binoculars. We talk to them and Gamma looks through the binoculars but doesn’t see anything special, just a red car.
Further away, we look back. Here in the fields the sky is huge, broad and high. The clouds are black in places and brightly lit in others by the setting sun. The fields just beginning to turn green, bordered in the distance by green hills with mountains beyond that. A few houses, the edge of the village, with a row of tall poplars between them and the fields. At the base of the poplars, two little kids in summer clothes looking at a big wreck with binoculars.
Next to a field of wheat we stop and watch swallows diving after bugs. We watch a bug hurry through the air over the field until we lose sight of it. The green wheat looks especially soft, the green hairy bits standing up from the grains of wheat make it look almost misty. A tractor drives past on the track and we get out of its way.
Take a good look, I tell Gamma. Remember all these gardens and vacant lots and fields and farm houses. They’ll all be gone when you’re my age.
Why? she asks me. I try to explain. It makes her sad and I wish I hadn’t gotten started. I don’t want to make my kid sad, I just want her to remember the lupins and peonies and kids out on bikes and standing in the dusk and swallows.

6 responses to “First Communion

  1. “lend me ten thousand eyes, and I will fill them with prophetic tears”

    also: you guys are crazy. marzipan is heaven you can chew. chocolate frosting is good too but only if it is dark chocolate.

  2. we had just started out on the long drive back from my sister’s house, not even an hour into a five hour drive, when all traffic on the highway slowslowslowed to a stop, and we were just a big road neatly packed with automobiles. People started getting out of their cars, maybe even climbing on the hoods to try to look farther ahead. More and more people getting out of their cars, stretching, talking to other people. Eventually a medivac helicopter flew overhead, and after it left again, perhaps twenty later the traffic slowly started to move.

  3. This bit is quite wonderful. You write very much like the Southern writers.

  4. [sigh]
    you actually live in a place you can still call a village . . . how cool is that :)

  5. You know one of B’s staff just reminded us we haven’t taken a vacation in a very long while… What time do apricots come into season, again?

  6. kay


    this is wonderful.