BY FRANCIS CROT
Brenda stood in the softly-lit queue, sucking in her lower lip and peering up to the transept, where shadows moved behind a rather perfect Charles Eamer Kempe. There an elfin child perched easily upon His virgin ledge, but at this time of day there was little light to make them glow. Up front, the wafer had billowed, the supplicant found herself poked with a meat bun. The wine scabbed.
The faithful wavered, then slipped diversely forward to see the commotion, the queue disintegrating, but the Church assembling itself in their muttered and sung astonishment and prayer.
Though Brenda was aware that what happened was unparalleled, except perhaps in the early days of the Church, nevertheless she hung back, beckoned - or transfixed, it seemed to her - by whatever little dark triangle scratched against the stained highborn seraphs glass.
As old and young, lay and cleric, thronged in the nave, the large constellation of tapers and candles occupying the chapel all in one instant flared up, as if the building had drawn in breath, though the air was quite dead and close, and dazzlingly sent shadows scuttling into its nooks, then in another darkened so every shadow blackly wavered back over the stones it had covered and father across the walls. There were fifty-three inside the chapel, not counting the useless wizards. Forty-nine of them now thronged in the nave.
Some deep and small part of Brenda cogitated rapidly. It was as though a thought, authentically new, immediately was buried by the several contraries it unfortunately gave rise to. It seemed to her that she yearned to think of incantations, energy, honour, misery, Black Masses, creation, the caress of her eccentric sex, The Consoler, the triangle cut out of his silver tongue. But this other main part of her – this sluggish, rivetted, sick yet calm person, who saw her own hair at her vision's edge, who watched the manta in the half-lit glass, this main part, in ever-improving obedience to her holy and righteous Father, threw out every profane flutter the instant it had form.
Energy, honour, misery. It is some trick, to hesitate, to loiter near to the back, given the Body of the Church – vivified by the Holy Ghost, discrete and distinct in its different members in various times and ages and divided in its distributed receipt of gifts, yet as one certain husk, wherein His Love ever pours, united – began with Abel, the first just man, and given that it will be consummated in the last of the Elect. The triangle withdrew. The lidded mountaineer seemed to have wrenched off His mother’s breast, or else packed a spongy hip flask.
“Sanctus!” reiterated Father Jeremy, who already knew better. “Hallelujah! My brothers and sisters, from the pews all of us can –”
There was a staunch *GLOP* and the altar wine spat a missile out of, it was apparent, membranous clot, falling providentially upon Father Jeremy’s foot, a little sacramental hacky sack ready to go. “Hallelujah,” persisted Father Jeremy glumly. An aroma had arisen. In the ciborium, a sausagey and black puddeny muffin had begun to slop.
Then the widow Mrs. Williamson, who of all the inspired crept into the zone they all exalted littlest by littlest, was beside Brenda, coming past her. Brenda sought Mrs. Williamson’s expression, but could only meet it at an angle, for the woman was engrossed by the marvellous events ahead of them both. Still Brenda could make out, in those offset and darkly-lit looks, what was probably peace and zeal, the bingo-wings of Mrs. Williamson’s highest humour unfurled to their fullest, and this had an awakening effect on Brenda, so that she did not return her gaze to the transept, but fixed it forward, riveted beside Mrs. Williamson’s, and felt for the first time the kind of cloudy joy that had stolen into her own limbs, which dreamily she reined onward, to join those who ecstatically bore witnessed to congealing estuaries of coarse flesh. And Mrs. Williamson, still as agile as she had ever been upon her cemented femoral stem, matched Brenda’s pace. The air was now as though agitated by small insects. It smelled singed, or Mrs. Williamson did.
The meat pumped from the ciborium and the chalice. Mrs. Beckett, keeping an eye on the vicissitudes of thes gibs, stretched her hand into her handbag and begain anxiously to unwrap her untouched lunch of corned beef sandwiches. Meat paving progressed. Toby gazed casually upon squirts of nearly liquid muscle and then was seized by that, as the glass and light and other thing had transfixed Brenda. His heart overflowed with tenderness. A dampness in the air.
Brenda uncertainly sought among the many who sleepstood her amigos’ faces. Fruit pastilles; a wet, black bough. Elisha’s was radiant with joy, song and reproof. Toby's and Corntrough’s were . . . somewhere else, for now, to be seen. Elisha looked pale and rather frightened now. Fifty-one of them, of us, assembled in the brawn’s drainage basin; three frightened by the entrance, the notional meatshed, one of those, him the communion wafer first had touched. Ground wandered into figure. Meat by now had filmed over all the sacraments and was rolling slowly outward from a puddle some four feet long. Strange qualms and misgivings, and what, if Brenda did not take it wrong, felt like xenophobia. Yet there were only a few in the congregation. There! – now Chanique was wrong-footed, and to steady herself put her palm in a griseous creek, and her ducking showed Brenda Corntrough, whose face was darkened, as though he were struggling with a morsel lodged down his throat. The stained glass distinguished its parts somewhat, it turned out its compartments like flaps, what was the sun doing out there? Hideous sunlit numbers. Calf calf calved from a calf floe in a flow of choppy chops. Teddy stretched his hand into his bag as withdrew his mobile, which he waved over the cramming out ham. He turned it to his fellows. The face of the paladin Martin swam through its screen and was ill. Shapes could be perceived in the flesh as in clouds: dogs . . . only dogs. Cartilage’s naiad.
The pressing meat flopped and winced; a vast cephalopod unpacking itself from a I’m On Jesus’s Team lunchbox. Like waves at the sea side in the evening it came except not usurping one another: layering.
When Toby turned his head from the zigzag of mellifluously wiggling faggots his eyes fell upon Brenda. On her lips words were forming which Toby felt sure would begin to recapture the marvellousness of the brute nature afoot, the the butchery food dangled in every wave. Time elapsed without anything like that feat. When Elisha’s voice not Brenda’s did reedily begin an assay which was to have risen ponderously above the dispirited murmur of rote rite and inundation of suet gunk slap, it seemed the container of a death’s head screech, for Corim, the first of the three finally to leave his threshold linger, shrinking aghast into the light, was seized immediately by the arm and not seen again. Gelatin ligaments turned in colon marsh.
It had become clear that the life of those who made to leave was being exacted at the circumference, but that, on the other hand, the enginery of the most profound incongruity which ripened and grew in strength on the altar beside them was as revolted by them as they by It.
The worshippers’ wandering and fiendish glances roved freely about the mass of accumulating muscle subtleified by currents of gristle and embedding flecks of bone like pigment in eye, the productive yet sepulchural force compelling them back, for a norm was made when the first few would not let it flow over them. Corntrough skipped shakily across a purplish-red oxbow lake the size of a child and came beside his chums. Brenda herself moved back from a cut of brook, queerly quivering. It was oozing from its own frayed streaks, like a birch-taught buttock. Martin's foot ploughed into fat sleepless ligaments spurting regurgitated skin and was sucked fast.
But the meat was climbable on, just. Though forcemeat, surely, showing them who was boss, it was not mince: a forest of membranes occupied the slurry, a venous patchwork of ad hoc cauls forever bursting and leaking compartment into compartment and regrowing, diversified moreover according to the paths selected by sick-backboned deltas. There were harder and spongier areas, and Corntrough was treadmilling upon a sluggishly convulsing verge of melted carrion, without sinking too deeply into its gamy flutters. A red rotisserie rolled out for Elisha and she against convention floundered towards the holy articles, tongues of grisly gills sickly nourished by pungent stir cutlets sliding against her shins, still softly singing. Elisha's feet learnt the cadence of the nomadic bleed, and teetering upon the gristlier outpourings in flume she had elected of drainage plasm flop cartilage flume, neared the fountain wherefrom it flowed. But when a wave of thews, nails, spittle, rushing with viscous callous and crested by a plethora of sustaining meat gases swole to her right side and proceeded, Elisha smelling its fretful provision grew giddy and as its diarrhea gristle flushed up her legs and torso she stumbled and slipped, a raising bolus of river hemorrhoids covered her. You may recall Brenda's vegetarianism.
Brenda thought for herself that they would be buried hastily and without ceremony if at all. Elisha's face gasped upwards from the shallots watercourse, laughing up skin cud wall mixed with topple-gush and fitful stagnant continuance nerves. The illness of many lay in the pouring flesh. Chanique knelt by a turning colon marsh for another spate of ill at the meat's inconstant viscous beck.
They looked at the embarrassing bait. They who had reserved the life of the mind for situations of surpassing deadliness, so they thought, surveyed a ground of pig, disarrayed by breakers of fine cartilage flop and rills of rheumy sustenance, and knew themselves to be trapped, maybe doomed, flown with wine and insolence. Their limbs stiffened and their hairs erected, their eyes half shut, and their mouths gaped.