The Sacrament

Olaf Olafsson

December 4, 2019 
The following is an excerpt from Olaf Olafsson's novel. Olaf Olafsson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1962. He studied physics as a Wien scholar at Brandeis University. He is the author of five previous novels, The Journey Home, Absolution, Walking into the Night, Restoration, and One Station Away, and a story collection, Valentines. He is executive vice president of Time Warner and lives in New York City with his wife and three children.

He had committed a crime. While they were knitting he had allowed his mind to wander. He liked to let his thoughts drift to distant places, where there was no sadness and the nights were filled with pleasant dreams. Sometimes he would travel to the farm where he had spent the summer before last, to the barn, where he threw himself onto the hay, or to the stream, where brook trout hid beneath the banks. Sometimes he would lose himself in the comic books his father brought back from his voyages. But he never let his thoughts take him to the hospital or the cemetery.

She had snatched the knitting from him and ordered him to place his palms facedown on the table. His hands trembled slightly, but of course he obeyed. The other children pretended to be absorbed in their own work, but he could feel their eyes watching him, and her as she loomed over him.

Still you insist upon sullying yourself in the eyes of the Lord, she said, unraveling his work, the first tentative rows of a scarf. And what is this mess supposed to be?

Assuming she didn’t expect him to reply, the boy remained silent. But she repeated the question, hissing this time:

What is it?

A scarf.

She scoffed, holding the tangled wool aloft for the other children to see.

Look at this scarf! Who wants to try it on?

Too terrified not to humor her, the children gave nervous, stifled laughs. Save for her class favorites, two girls who chortled out loud.

Clasping one of the knitting needles, she pressed it into the back of his right hand.

Why did our Savior suffer on the cross? Why? He suffered for you. They drove nails into his hands, like this . . . That is how he saved you. And what do you do to repay him? You belittle him. You shame his memory.

Bracing his elbows on the sill, the boy lifted himself up to watch the dark figure swoop down from the tower, wings flapping.

With each emphasis, she dug the needle harder into his hand. Tears pricked his eyes, but he dared not make a sound. When at last she fell silent, she waited a few seconds, which seemed to him like an eternity, before pulling the needle back and ordering him to stand up. He followed her into the corridor where she unlocked the broom cupboard and pushed him inside. He heard the key turn, and then her footsteps receding.

He knew the cupboard well. It was where they kept buckets and mops, detergent and cleaning cloths, as well as salt for deicing the sidewalks. Once, he had used an upturned bucket as a seat, which had earned him further chastisement when she finally opened the door. And so, this time he decided to stand and gaze out the window high on the wall, a tiny window that looked out  on the church. He rubbed his sore hand, where the needle had left a red indentation, but no blood.

The sky was thick with clouds, and soon it started to snow. They were small flakes that took so long to find their way to the ground that he wondered if they had gotten lost. He followed their descent, moving closer to the window to see if any of them had made it all the way. Standing on tiptoes, he could see across the yard to the fence between the school and the church, and up to the gray, flat-topped tower. He soon grew tired of craning his neck and gave in to the temptation to turn over one of the buckets and climb on top of it.

That was when he noticed something moving in the open window at the top of the tower. His rubbed his eyes and saw to his amazement that Batman himself had suddenly appeared in all his glory. His hero surveyed the city then turned toward him, as though aware of his exact location, giving the boy a meaningful, reassuring look.

Batman would save him, just as he had so often in the past, and together they would set off on an adventure, down streets and alleyways, to the harbor and out over the city—ready to assist anyone who might be in distress.

The boy held his breath as his friend took to the air. Bracing his elbows on the sill, he lifted himself up to watch the dark figure swoop down from the tower, wings flapping. For a moment, he felt a surge of hope, as well as the thrill of confirmation, for he had always feared that Batman existed only in his comic books and his imagination. But then, in the blink of an eye, his hopes were dashed, as his hero’s wings appeared to falter, and he flipped over and plummeted, landing on the turf with a dull thud. For  a while, the boy stared at the body on the snowy ground, slowly realizing that his hero had inexplicably transformed into Father August Frans, or rather a dark heap who only a stone’s throw away showed no sign of life.


From The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins. Copyright © 2019 by Olaf Olafsson. 

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