It was a cool fall evening in the city that constantly grows in size — “because it’s always Dublin.” The light streaming from the pub windows created an island of warmth and welcome. Within, the usuals were in place. Connor the tale-teller stood leaning with his back to the bar, one arm resting on the rim, while the other held his pint aloft. A thin man in his mid-fifties, he had worn many hats in his industrious life — estate agent, salesman, amateur journalist — in all of which his ready wit and smooth tongue had served him well. As he began to speak, most eyes in the pub turned towards him.
“There was once an ancient people ruled by priests. And every year they would hold a great sacrifice out on the plain that spread before their chief city. The priests would select a calf, and slaughter it by slitting its throat, and then butcher it and roast it on a great fire. The people would then be served portions of it — a mout’ful or two at most for each of the lot of them.”
He paused to take a sip of his porter, licked his thin lips, and continued.
“But after many years, the priests grew lax in their duties, and as the population grew the people complained they were not being well served. They demanded a change, and the priests were only too happy to oblige — them havin’ grown weary of the task. And so they devised a way to accomplish the sacrifice with minimal burden to themselves.”
He paused again, this time to take a last long draught from the pint. His Adam’s apple bobbed in his skinny throat at each swallow. He then set the emptied pint on the bar, and with a demure gesture declined another. The denizens of the pub leaned expectantly closer.
“Now listen what I’m tellin’ you,” he continued. “The priests would sprinkle the calf with spirits, and set it alight with a torch, and shoo it off into the crowd of worshippers. And they’d each have a knife or a blade of some sort, and as the poor beast ran wild, they would poke and hack at it until it was dead, and then they’d cut off a bit and have their mout’ful of the sacrifice.”
“The sons of bitches,” a loud voice boomed from the far end of the pub. The crowd turned their attention from Connor to the large, stooped man seated at a table by himself. Before him were a handful of dead soldiers: five empty whiskey glasses. “The sons of bitches,” he intoned again. Suddenly aware that he had drawn the attention of the crowded pub, he raised his reddened eyes to gaze on them with a mixture of accusation and appeal.
“The priests and brothers — what they did to those children in their care. Hophni and Phinheas, I tell you, Hophni and Phinheas. And the bishops are as bad if not worse. An Eli every one of ’em, turnin’ a blind eye, and coverin’ up when they oughta’d rooted out the evil from their midst. There’ll be hell to pay, I tell you.”
The crowd shifted uneasily in the silence. Connor began slowly to make his way toward the door.
“It used to be said that Ireland was the old sow that ate her farrow,” the burly man continued. He clenched the edge of the table with his outstretched arms. “But it was never Ireland. It was the church; it was always the church. Damn them to hell. Damn them all to hell.”
Connor, by this time, was at the door and soon out on the quiet street. A light rain, more a mist than rain, was falling. The street-lamp opposite, with its rain-born halo, seemed to him to be held out in benediction. “Damn them all to hell,” he said, as he turned to walk into the darkness.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
November 27, 2009
with thanks to the spirit of James Joyce, which appears to have paid a call in the wee hours of this morning