Raspberry-Flavored Body of Christ
Archie stood on the altar of Sabbath Morning Catholic Church and looked down at his hands. It was a Sunday morning in July and he was gripping the long ornate handle of a candlestick. He was inspecting the color of his knuckles; they grew paler every time he brought his gaze up to the congregation. The Father had asked everyone to stand up. His hands rose towards the tinted glass section of the ceiling, not tinted enough to prevent the rays of heat from invading the room and bearing down on the altar boy.
He thought he’d try looking up again.
Archie tilted his head upwards and noticed an ocean of eyes staring in his direction. His vision darted back to his knuckles, whiter still. He noticed a loose bit of skin on the corner of his left thumb, leftovers from when he had been gnawing at his fingers in the dressing room before the service. The Father was saying something now but it sounded muffled to the boy, as though the words were being squeezed through like the last bit of toothpaste. Archie picked at the bit of skin on his thumb. It bled.
There was a lengthy period of word-static until he heard the Father say “Amen”, to which he and the entire church replied “Amen”, signaling his dismissal from the altar. The assistants reconvened in the aisle between the pews and walked towards the front doors of Sabbath Morning, the father close behind them, an obligatory smile on his face. On his way towards the exit, Archie’s eyes still locked to the floor, his arm was squeezed briefly by a familiar hand. He looked up to find his mother, father, and grandparents smiling and waving at him. They wanted to congratulate him for another successful mass. As if Archie had anything to do with the quality of the service. He smiled with the right side of his mouth, showing off his snaggletooth, and immediately ducked his eyes downward again, erasing the smile only a moment after.
The next day, Archie’s mother dropped him off at a side entrance of the church for confirmation class. His mother’s name was Mary Elizabeth, but she insisted on being called Mary for short. She was thankful for such a name; she thought it brought her closer to the Lord.
The boy entered a quiet hall in the great parish. While it was only a side room, it was quite large, with enough space to seat 200 wide-eyed teens and the gang of sickeningly enthusiastic young-adult mentors. Archie sat in the middle row, selecting an open seat at random. There were small crowds of acquaintances dotted throughout the hall, giggling in whispers about some-such or what-ever. Archie kept to himself. He wasn’t a lonely kid; he had plenty of friends at school and around the neighborhood. He just didn’t care to associate with these particular folks outside of absolutely necessary conversation. The boy always answered to “Where is the bathroom?” and “How was your day today?” and “God Bless You”, but kept his words brief and his smile ephemeral. He saw in them a certain something which he failed to find within himself. Archie almost considered this for a moment, but chose not to in favor of another hand inspection.
A tall, blonde man with incredibly wide strides and a key lime button up approached the microphone setup on stage. He cleared his throat without distancing his mouth from the device and the audience heard him swallow with difficulty.
“Good afternoon, Catholic Crew!” he shouted, showing his perfectly straight white teeth. “Welcome back to another beautiful day on this planet we call Earth. Let’s start off by saying thank you to our Lord for giving us this splendid day of life.” That was the cue for everyone to join hands with their neighbors in prayer. The girl to Archie’s left said nothing as they joined hands, but it was clear she was giddy with excitement. They prayed, and when Archie’s hand was returned to him, it was slick with sweat. Some people in this room wanted to be there much more than the altar boy did.
“Brothers and sisters,” continued the bombastic giant, “Let me take a moment to congratulate you all on your wondrous journey. Your commitment to the faith has brought you here, week after week, helping you grow closer to the love of our one and only God.” Archie found this comical; faith had not brought him to Sabbath Morning every Monday afternoon. His mother had.
“Many of you here were baptized as a baby, probably before you could even walk. Raise your hand if you were baptized as a baby.” All but a few rose their hands in response. The man in green rose his hand too. “I was there folks,” he said. “At my baptism, I didn’t make the choice of whether or not I wanted to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. But when I was your age, I was asked to choose. I decided I wanted to go through with Confirmation; to confirm my rejection of evil and my embrace of the Catholic faith. And look where I am now…” He posed statuesque and waited for applause and laughter from the crowd. It came in rations.
“In all seriousness, you folks have almost reached the end of your spiritual journey. Once you’re confirmed, you’ll be one step closer to being a member of the Catholic church. All that’s left is accepting the body and blood of our savior: the Eucharist.” At this, the girl to Archie’s left exploded with emotion, giggling aggressively and tapping her feet rapidly against the tile flooring.
“Are you alright?” asked Archie. He feared the girl had suffered a seizure. “Oh, me? I’m great,” said the girl. She had no defining features whatsoever.
“Why are you so excited all of a sudden?”
“Oh, I’m all riled up about the Eucharist. I’ve spent my whole life just thinking about what it must taste like. I wanted to try wine at family parties but my parents never let me. They told me I had to wait. I’m getting confirmed just so I can try it! I’m almost twice as excited about the bread, though. Those tiny little wafers. I wonder what those taste like. I want to try and figure out what kind of bread it is just by tasting it. Maybe it’ll be sweet. I wonder if it comes in any flavors. Do you think it comes in raspberry?”
“What?” said Archie.
“The body of Christ! The Eucharist! Do you think it comes in raspberry?” questioned the girl.
“What?” Archie repeated.
On the way home, Archie picked at his fingers while Mary Elizabeth told him how proud she was of him.
“I can’t believe there’s only two weeks until your confirmation! You’re going to look so handsome in the little white button-up I got you. To think; you were baptized at Sabbath Morning, you’re serving as an altar boy and now you’re going to get confirmed! All in the same parish. God, I’m so proud of you!”
He said nothing, but shifted his gaze to outside the window, watching the fiery afternoon turn to gold as he thought about his predicament. He was quiet a long time before his mother turned to ask: “Archie, dear, are you alright?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Is something bothering you?”
Archie shrugged in response.
“Was someone mean to you today at school?”
“Has one of the boys on the block been bullying you?”
His mother paused for a moment. She searched the parenting section of her brain for the proper way to go about supporting her only child. She decided on this:
“Sweetheart, you know you can tell me anything, right? No matter what it is, I’ll always be here for you.” But Archie knew this wasn’t true. He couldn’t tell her anything, so he chose to say nothing at all instead.
His despondency followed him into the house and loomed overhead as he sat down for dinner. Archie’s father Joseph had been helping his grandmother prepare a rump roast with baby red potatoes and the table had just been set. They always ate supper together; it was a way to keep the familial bond regardless of how often they acknowledged one another throughout the day. “Wash your hands first, young man,” said his grandmother. He obeyed, and she smiled at him. Archie couldn’t even force a snaggletoothed grin tonight. He simply plopped back into his chair.
The table was set and Archie, Mary Elizabeth, Joseph, and the grandparents all joined hands in prayer before their meal.
“Lord,” boomed Joseph’s voice through the silence, “We give thanks for this meal you have brought us, for this time you’ve allowed our family to come together, and for Archie’s growing relationship with you. Amen.”
“Amen,” they said in unison. The family began to eat, starting up dinnertable-talk.
Archie’s grandfather didn’t say much; he was busy stuffing his chipmunk cheeks with hunks of roast. Every so often there’d be a wheeze or a sigh out of him. This was commonplace at dinner. His grandmother took initiative tonight: “Only one more week until confirmation, Archie! Are you excited?”
Mary Elizabeth spoke up cautiously in response to the question. “I think Archie might not be feeling well, he was quiet all the way home.”
Joseph snorted at this. “Oh, he’s just nervous about his big day, that’s all! Isn’t that right, sport?” His knife dug into the roast, tearing the meat with ease.
“I don’t know, I feel a little sick, but I can still eat.”
“I tried talking to him in the car but he wouldn’t spit it out,” said Mary Elizabeth.
“What’s wrong, honey? You want to talk to your granny about it?” Archie’s grandmother placed her wrinkled hand on his wrist. It was cold.
“I just, I don’t—” He couldn’t get it out. He was looking down at his hands and noticed they were trembling. He felt like he was back on the altar, trying to bring his gaze up to meet the eyes that watched him. He decided to torture himself some more, and said:
“I don’t know if I want to get confirmed.”
There was some clanging of silverware. Some utensils had fallen out of hands in shock. Archie looked up and found every set of eyes on him. The eyes of his father particularly looked like they were about to jump out of his head.
“What do you mean, Archie?” asked Joseph. He sounded calm, but the veins in his throat began to swell. There was a storm building.
“I’m just not sure if I want to go through with this. I don’t want to be a part of the church.”
At this, Archie’s grandfather began a vicious coughing fit. His grandmother slapped his back to try and force out whatever was stuck inside the old man’s throat. Mary Elizabeth rushed to fill a glass of water for him. Amongst the chaos, Joseph rose from his seat, eyes glued to Archie, and approached the boy in his seat. “May I have a word with you in the other room, please?” He grabbed Archie around the tender part of his upper arm and dragged the boy into the guest room. He slammed the door behind them, cutting off the sounds of heaving from the choking grandfather.
“What the hell was that?” asked Joseph.
“I’m not sure if I want this for me,” said Archie. He had difficulty finding the words. He looked at his hands again, and rubbed one of the palms with his thumb. “I don’t fit in at Sabbath Morning.”
“Don’t fit in? We’ve been going there as a family your entire life. How could you not fit in? Explain yourself.”
Archie tried heaving the words out of his mouth. He wanted to tell his father the real reason he didn’t want to be confirmed, but he just couldn’t. He was in enough trouble as it was. He let his mouth take control for a moment, and what came out were the utterances of a liar in fear.
“I don’t want to be an altar boy anymore because I always have to pee really bad when I’m up there for a really long time and I can’t go to the bathroom because I have to keep holding the candle, and I don’t like it when the people look at me and there’s so many people and all they do is just look at me, and I’m scared of the body and the blood and what if it tastes bad and I don’t want to take it, but if I don’t take it, I’ll go to hell and I don’t know if I want to go to heaven if I have to do all this stuff that I don’t want to do.”
There was a long silence. Joseph’s eyes blinked a few times. His face wasn’t as angry anymore as if he was just confused.
“Since when did you become a Satanist?” asked his father.
It was Saturday night, the day before Archie’s confirmation, and he was on his knees in front of the altar at Sabbath Morning Catholic Church. After the dinner outburst on Monday, his father gave him an extensive lecture about considering his choice. Archie explained that he wasn’t a Satanist, that he just didn’t want to be a Catholic, but his father wasn’t hearing it.
Joseph told about how he and Mary Elizabeth had been confirmed, Archie’s grandparents had been confirmed, and that he expected Archie to get confirmed too. Joseph ordered Archie to pray at the church Saturday night and listen to what God told him, whether or not he should get confirmed. After God had spoken, Archie would be allowed to decide for himself.
His knees hurt from the hard tile flooring, but he prayed and tried to listen. He’d been there for hours, and the elegant place was dark except for the few candles left on the altar and by the exit. The sun had gone down but the heat remained, sticking Archie’s clothes to his skin. Discomfort was the least of his worries in that moment. What really bothered him was the impatience he felt in waiting for God’s answer. Had he done something wrong? He had never spoken in vain about the Lord. He had gone to church every Sunday, even when he was sick. He had even been an altar boy. Archie thought there might be a God, but he had his doubts just like anyone. Now especially, sitting in the house of God, praying in tranquil darkness, he felt no other presence than his own.
He heard the click-clack of his mother’s shoes against the tile as she approached him. She had been waiting in the last row of pews for Archie to finish speaking with the Lord. It had gotten late; they’d missed dinner and would have stayed there all night had it not been for the janitors locking up the parish before midnight.
Mary Elizabeth laid her hand on Archie’s shoulder. “Are you ready to go, sweetie?”
He rose, rubbed his aching knees for a moment, and together they headed towards the car.
After buckling his seatbelt, Archie gave a last-ditch effort to close his eyes and listen.
He opened his heart to the Lord, and heard nothing.
The morning of his confirmation, Archie stood with all his classmates, donning expensive clothing and bright smiles. Even his snaggletooth made an appearance. The photographs of him would join the ones above the fireplace depicting the rest of his family at their own confirmations.
Since Archie spoke to nobody in his class, he ended up tailing his mother as she greeted all her church friends. They spoke about how much Archie had grown, how lovely it was to watch him get confirmed in their very own parish, and how lucky they were to have such a pious family. Mary Elizabeth blushed from the praise. Archie looked like a phantom, following her wherever she went, letting his eyes wander over the crowds of people, and saying nothing, smiling only when given the cue to do so. The inside of his mind was empty; he was just going through the motions. After having failed to experience a spiritual connection the night before, he knew he didn’t want to be confirmed, that he really didn’t belong there. But he thought his life might be easier if he got confirmed anyways. He put on the little white button-up his mother had bought for him, and he came to church ready to fulfill the sacraments.
For this special occasion, the Bishop had come to Sabbath Morning to aid in the confirmation of the year’s class. As mass began, Archie joined his family in the pews for the first time in a long while. There was a moderate amount of prayer and scripture reading and then a pause came in which the Bishop called the name of each child in alphabetical order to come to the altar and confirmed them. Archie returned to his seat, a wet cross on his forehead from where the Bishop had anointed him with the sacred chrism. Moments later, the congregation was asked to come forth and accept the Eucharist. Mary Elizabeth turned to face him, and beamed brightly. She assisted Archie out from the pews and, attempting to calm his nerves, held his shoulder as they approached the altar.
He walked mechanically up to the Father, who was giving the bread that particular Sunday. He bowed before the altar, and approached with the magic word on his lips.
“The body of Christ,” said the Father.
“Amen,” said Archie. With this, he laid his mouth open and the Eucharist was placed on his tongue. Archie shivered at the taste; it was bitter, just as he thought it would be. Dry, chalky body of Christ. He hated it. There was a difficulty in him swallowing, like a sour pill that refuses to go down. He thought back to that giddy, sweaty girl from class and how she’d hoped they’d come in different flavors. He wondered how she was feeling that same moment, the wafer offending the taste buds in his mouth. He thought he’d try pretending the Eucharist tasted like raspberry, hoping it would be easier to swallow. It worked, and though God had not a home in his heart, the bread had found its way into his stomach.