Angela watched as the priest raised the chalice of wine – oops, no, the blood of Christ – high, then lowered it and drained it. She’d always had a private twinge of doubt about the absoluteness of the transubstantiation doctrine, despite being raised as a cradle Catholic. The twinge of doubt was followed rapidly by a bigger twinge of good old-fashioned Catholic guilt. The fleeting thought drifted out of her mind as she watched the priest wipe out the last vestiges from the chalice. She preferred the way Holy Communion had been celebrated before Covid, when she had been able to receive both the thin wafer of representational bread and the wine from the chalice – oops, no, the Body and Blood of Christ. Now only the wafer of host was given because of the risk of transmission by irreverent Covid viruses that might cling to the chalice, only to leap defiantly from the lip of the chalice to the lips of reverent worshippers.

Many things had been better before Covid. Robert, for instance. During the Covid shutdown he had worked long hours at his computer. Hours in which she’d missed the company she would have had with him outside office house before the shutdown.

“Isn’t Covid meant to be associated with a scaling back of working hours?” she’d asked.

Robert had raised his eyes from his computer screen and had looked directly at her. A little superciliously, she had thought at the time, sparking a small twinge of resentment.

“I’m in the e-publishing business, Angela,” he had replied, a distinct trace of irritation in his voice. “It’s crucial that the right information gets published on all possible electronic platforms. Good hard verifiable facts. Not this dangerous rubbish that’s being bandied about everywhere. I’m busier now than ever.” He’d paused, as though he was allowing time for the weight of his words to sink in. “If you insist on offering well-intentioned interference to that, could you please make me a cup of coffee? Proper coffee. Not that disgusting instant stuff.”

She’d offered him the cup of steaming liquid a bit like the offering of a chalice, a silent bid for absolution of the sin of disturbing him at his work. As she’d put down the cup on the plain cork coaster on his work desk, she’d peeked surreptitiously at his computer screen, hoping to catch a glimpse of this all-consuming war on Covid disinformation. But all she’d seen was the luridly coloured, swirling lines of the screensaver. He’d shot her a brief look of what she’d supposed to be thanks, then had waited until she was well away from the computer before he’d touched the keyboard again. Absolute, almost obsessive, privacy about everything he did. That was Robert, just part of who he was. Just part of the man she’d thought she had known. Just part of the first and last man she had loved, would ever love.

Hard verifiable facts. He had uttered the words with the unassailable finality of Gospel truth. As it turned out, the only hard verifiable fact was that his long hours at the computer had been spent on e-wooing his assistant editor, with whom he had initiated an affair immediately before the Covid shutdown.

The moment the shutdown was lifted, he had been off, rather like the flow of worshippers out of the church, eager to get back to their other lives outside Mass. He’d taken with him their two sons, aged fifteen and seventeen. Apparently he had been wooing them to his side all through the shutdown, in the same secret and avid way that he had been e-wooing his bit on the side.

So there she was now, left as scrupulously empty as the chalice at the end of Holy Communion.

What a strange string of analogies, she mused. Guiltily, she yanked her attention back to the Mass, just in time to hear the priest intone the words of the closing blessing.

“The Mass has ended. Go in the peace of God.”

The peace of God, indeed. Where was she to find peace in that other life to which she now had to return? That strange new life without Robert. Without her family.


(Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay)