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  • Ancient Paths

Early Christmas Morning


by Maggie Nerz Iribarne


The ice crept down his glove. He cursed the wet trickle moving from wrist to hand. He took a swig of bourbon, the familiar warmth moving down his throat. He swallowed, grimaced. Sometimes the answers to life’s problems can be found in the bottom of a flask, his late brother’s words crossed his mind. As he turned toward the rectory, the Christmas tree twinkled in the living room window. He felt empty and cold, like the dark church lurking beside him, so recently ablaze in lit candles for midnight Mass.


Building snowmen was something he did with his father every winter. Even now, at age 70, he loved the packing, molding, and placing involved in the process. He loved reaching in his pocket for the small pieces of coal, or, tonight, navy blue buttons, vestiges of some dead priest’s pea coat found in the rectory’s button box. His other pocket held the bag of fuzzy carrots he’d discovered in the fridge’s veggie drawer, soon to become craggy noses.


A darkness crept across his mind. He remembered the recent snub of a parishioner in the grocery store. A familiar woman looked away when his eyes met hers across the tomato display. He didn’t know any of their names yet and didn’t really care. He felt they were lucky to have him. If he’d chosen another career he’d be retired by now, not the new pastor of this big suburban parish. He knew he was considered an unfriendly replacement for their beloved Monsignor Davies. He shivered.


The sun would soon be up. He finished his work, sweeping footprints away with his scarf as he made his way, step by step, back to the rectory. He smiled at his presence disappearing like that, so easily, without much effort.


He was not an egotistical priest, he thought. He did not need to see their reactions, when families would be greeted by four snow people whose twig arms splayed out wildly, whose unmoving eyes offered a quiet, but sincere, “Merry Christmas!” He would be inside the church, behind the altar, preparing to say mass, as everyone expected, as he had done hundreds of times before.


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