Eucharist on the Old Banff Road

New Work

By Thomas Trofimuk 

Trofimuk graphicImagine this: A man and a woman are walking along a narrow mountain road. The edges of the forest press against the road with tall stands of pine. As they walk, they pass a bottle of wine between them – the wine is thick with dark berry flavours. It is getting cooler as they walk and this change in temperature does not affect the taste of it. The woman, whose name is Cat Hendricks, almost drops the bottle because her mittens are slippery. It is Christmas Eve and they are walking to church. This is their communion. The man – everybody calls him Suknaski, even though his name is Dmitri Suknaski – has three pitas in his coat pocket. He takes one out and passes it to Cat. She hands him the bottle before taking the bread.

They have walked this road every Christmas Eve for the past twelve, except the year Suknaski’s mom passed, and every year it is a private Eucharist. Even though Cat is a lapsed Catholic and Suknaski is a philosophical Buddhist they take communion as they walk.

Suknaski chews his bread, and has a drink of wine. He is not drinking the blood of Christ, nor is he eating the body of Christ. He is being grateful. He is filled with gratefulness. At Robertson United church, there will be no communion. There will be Christmas hymns, and Reverend Shaw will read relevant bits of scripture. There will be candles, even though candles are more Catholic than United. They will hear about the long march across the barrens with Mary on a donkey and Joseph leading the way. Once again, there will be no room at the inn, but the innkeeper will let them stay in the barn. Jesus will be born, a star will appear in the sky above Bethlehem, and shepherds will bring gifts. Wise men will bring gifts. The world will hold its breath.

“Well, the light is coming back,” Suknaski says.

“Yes,” Cat says. “Jesus said he was the light of the world, whoever follows him will not walk in darkness.”

“No, I mean the Solstice. The days have begun to get longer.”

“Oh, I know. I can notice it,” she says. “There was more light today than there was yesterday. I can feel it,” she says.


“Yes. This morning, I felt hopeful. I was more hopeful than I was two days ago.”

“I’m glad,” Suknaski says, letting it go. “Hope is important. Hey, we’re about to hear the story, you know? The inn is full and the barn is offered. And Mary giving birth in the barn, with the donkey watching. I have a question for you.”

“I’m no expert on the Bible,” she says.

“I know. I know. I was just wondering what they talked about. What did Mary and Joseph talk about as she went through labour? We never get the labour story. And were they able to move past the fact it was God who made Mary pregnant? Did Joseph place it aside, even though he is unconvinced? He was away when she got pregnant. Of this there is no doubt. Did he love her so much that he could forgive her fooling around on him, and then forgive her lie about God doing it. That’s a big love.”

“Joseph is a decent human being,” Cat says. “Love can do that.”

“I can imagine them at 3 a.m. She’s sprawled on a blanket, in the hay, her knees up, panting as the labour pains come in waves. He’s holding her hand and telling her it’s all going to be fine. He looks at her face and can see she’s scared, and exhausted. As Mary moans, the animals in the barn are silent. Maybe he tells her a story about a creature his grandfather says he saw when he was a child. He tells her about the creature that had a long, long neck, and small horns, and brown patches of fur. Mary will ask where these creatures live. Not too far away, Joseph will say. My grandfather lived in Jericho. It was a long time ago.

Promise you will take me to see these creatures, Mary says through gritted teeth. Promise me.

We can go to Jericho and look for them, Joseph says. Their legs were as long as I am tall.

I can’t imagine, Mary says, and then the rush of another contraction pushes through her body. Mary squeezes Joseph’s hand as the Son of God tries for life.”


Cat stops walking and Suknaski stops with her. “You’re imagining the back-story to the Bible?” she says.

“I just wonder what they talked about. I mean, do you think Mary had to-do lists in her head?”

“Here,” Cat says, “have some more wine. It’s good.” She hands him the bottle.

They turn and look down the road and then, as if it had been waiting for the right moment for three days, it begins to snow. Large, clumsy flakes dot the air. It is always an extraordinary thing to watch it begin to snow. In no time, the snow fills the air. They hear something moving through the woods, and they look in the direction of the sound. Cat is thinking it’s a moose. Suknaski thinks it sounds big. The giraffe comes through the pines as if it’s being chased. There is nothing behind it but it is not slowing down. It lopes in long gangly strides, ducking its head to avoid the pine boughs, pushing through the forest. When the giraffe hits the asphalt it slips a little on the black ice but keeps going across the road and into the pines on the other side. It looks beautiful in the snow. If there was a physical representation of the word grace, Suknaski thinks, this would be it. The giraffe does not look at them, probably does not see them. And then it is gone. It vanishes into the forest and the thickening snow. Cat and Suknaski stand and breathe the snow for a long time. They are alone, together, in the falling snow and when they continue on their way to Church, neither of them says a thing.


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Thomas Trofimuk

Thomas Trofimuk’s last novel, Waiting For Columbus, has been published in numerous countries and was nominated for the 2011 IMPAC Dublin literary award. He lives in Edmonton.