Addiction is a terrible thing. I knew all about it when I was eight. That was when I developed my bizarre and unhealthy communion wafer dependency.
I had my first communion on the day of my First Communion. Maybe it was the connection between being dressed up in an expensive new outfit and lavished with all that attention but when I tasted, for the very first time, that wafer thin wheat flour and water I was hooked. I wanted it again and again and again.
I decided to become a daily communicant. The following evening I went to mass after school. At the appropriate time I approached the altar and knelt down for my fix. I was given just the one. Was that all? Fr. Tobin continued down the railing. Giving each parishioner just the one. Just the one! I needed more. Much more.
I did some research on Christian Doctrine. Okay, I asked my dad. He knew all about these things.
“How many communions are you allowed to have a day?”
“Is that all?”
“Two if you happen to go to a wedding and a funeral on the same day, but how often does that happen?”
I made some calculations. My auntie Brenda was very ill and my older cousin Jarleth was engaged, but yes what were the chances.
“Three, in the extreme case, when it is requested by someone who is in danger of and is almost guaranteed imminent death.”
Faking a near-death illness, though not impossible, seemed a very tricky proposition to pull off, and for all that work, just the three communion wafers?
“What happens, if more than three?”
“You get to work on your lobster-red suntan with Hitler. For eternity.”
Dad used to say things like that. He saw himself as the Humphrey Bogart of Salthill — the Pasadena of Connacht. But getting subterranean sunburn with Hitler didn’t scare me. Even though there’d be a lot of skin-peeling given the timescale involved. My craving for those tiny white circular delicacies overrode all concern, fear and guilt. I had to get to the source. The next day I signed up to become an altar boy.
While serving mass my favourite part was, obviously, the communion service. Although I never understood the purpose of the paten — communion wafer doesn’t drip. All the other chores were tedious. Ringing the bell. Shaking the thurible. Moving pew cushions. The endless bowing, genuflecting, kneeling. In hindsight, orthopedically probably not very good for a young person’s long-term posture. But I didn’t mind. I had one aim. To get at the stuff. In the golden safety box in the corner. My tabernacle of kaleidoscopic dreams.
I bided my time. For four months. Then, finally, I got my opportunity. It was an early morning mass. Smallish congregation. Sleep-deprived priest. Afterwards, having changed out of my surplices and soutanes, I noticed Fr. Tobin had left the key in the tabernacle door. Now was my chance. I looked around. Sneaked onto the altar. I was trembling. Anticipation-fuelled. I slowly turned the key. I peered in. Silver chalices. Cruets. Then, at the back. Sparkly and white. I saw them. All lined up there. My happy hosts. My wacky wafers. My jazz eucharists. I could contain myself no longer. I grabbed at them. I gobbled down a mouthful. The hit was sensational. Suddenly I heard footsteps. I stuffed as many as I could in the already bulky pockets — chewing gum, tissue, marbles, football cards — of my short pants and made my escape.
That afternoon, up a tree near the house, I gorged myself. All those communion wafers. Must have been some record. But by early evening the post-euphoric down was kicking in. As was the guilt. If over three in the one day sent you to hell where does twenty-eight land you? Pondering this, I was particularly quiet at mealtime.
“Are you not going to finish your fish fingers, love?”
“I’m not really that hungry.”
Trouble was by the next day, I’d forgotten the guilt and needed my dose again. New codes of practice had been implemented overnight concerning tabernacle security. If only I’d thought about replicating the key. Damn you fuzzy-thinking sacramental bread junkie! So where would I get my gear? And the right amount for my needs? There was only one person I could turn to. Godfrey Curley.
Fort Baxter had Ernie Bilko. We had Godfrey Curley. Anything. Anytime. Anywhere. For a price. I sought him out in the school shed at break-time. I told him what I needed. He told me no problem. He had an inside contact with the Sisters of Poor Clare who produced the stuff. He mentioned a price. A pocket money increase would never cover it. All the same I agreed.
I met him the following Monday. In a car park behind the newly opened shopping centre. Why did we meet in a car park? I guess we were watching too many American cop shows on TV. We looked quite conspicuous straddling insecurely on our slightly oversized bikes. The neighbours’ wives were all coming and going in their new Datsuns, Mirafioris and Opel Kadetts, waving at me and wondering how my Auntie Brenda was. I couldn’t take the tension. Maybe I wasn’t made for this sordid life of crime. When the coast was finally clear Godfrey handed me over a sample of the batch. I tasted it. It was pure. Really good quality. These nuns knew what they were doing.
“Do you want the rest?”
I took the small knapsack from my back, and removed a red coloured piggy-bank.
“This wasn’t part of the deal. A swift exchange is what we agreed on!”
I counted out the money in pennies, shillings and pounds. I handed him the exact amount. He pocketed the coins quickly. Suddenly I had a strange feeling. I looked up at the sky.
“God forgive me.”
But then I looked at the bag of goodies.
“And Godfrey. Give me.”
Karl MacDermott is an Irish-born comedy writer. He has written many articles for The Irish Times and online publications like Pure Slush and Literary Orphans. He has written two humor fiction novels, The Creative Lower Being (Killynon House Books Ltd, 2007) and a new novel, Ireland’s Favourite Failure, which is available on Amazon Kindle. He is currently writer-in-residence at his home in Dublin.