The Holy in the Commonplace

IT HAPPENED ONE day when we was coming on to some holy feast or other. I was in the kitchen yard helping cut up a pig they'd slaughtered for it the day before. I'd been there for the slaughtering as well, catching the blood in a pail for black pudding when they shoved a knife in its throat and helping drag it over to the pile of straw where they got twists for singeing off the bristle. We poured water on the carcase and scraped it and singed it again and finally with a gambrel between the hind legs hoisted it up to a crossbeam. Then a monk with yellow braids sliced open its belly and groping around up to his elbows delivered it of a steaming tubful of pink slippery insides I carted off to the kitchen in my two arms. They left it hanging overnight to cool with a sack wrapped round its long snout to keep the cats from it and the next day after matins the yellow-braid monk and I set to cutting it up, Ita being at her quern across the yard from us. Hams, trotters, eyepieces, ears for making brawn with, brains, chops-we was laying it all out in the straw when Ita come over and drew me aside to where we kept a black stone on the wall for whetting. She told me with Jarlath's leave she wanted me to go with Brendan though she didn't so much as know my name then.

"It's a smirchy sort of business you're at with that pig, some would say," she said. "There's many a monkish boy either he'd beg out of it or turn green as a toad doing it. But it's neitherof those with you, I see. You could be laying the holy table for mass the way you set those cuttings out. That's the deep truth of things too no matter or not if you know it."

Ita's eyes disappeared entirely when she smiled.

"Smirchy and holy is all one, my dear," she said. "I doubt Jarlath has taught you that. Monks think holiness is monkishness only. But somewheres you've learned the truth anyhow. You can squeeze into Heaven reeking of pig blood as well as clad in the whitest fair linen in the land."

-Originally published in Brendan