The Mamzer – A Short Story
He glides the car in, tight to the kerb and waits, as arranged, outside the Gresham Hotel. Ten minutes pass slowly and he is already full of double-yellow doubts, wondering from which direction she’ll come. He looks at his watch, the dashboard clock, and his watch again: 1.08 a.m. Ahead, the Spire glints, winking back at the few passing cars. Waiting for her reminded him that he had had a point to make back in 2002:
To: Editor, Irish Times.
The recent letter asking for an axiomatic appreciation of the impending impact of the Spire on the “axial vistas” of Dublin brought to mind the far greater impact that such structures, placed proud and erect in the urban landscape, have on the landscape of the heart … and the language of the heart.
The “competition winner” will be, I hope, for future generations of young – and not-so-young – Dubliners a place where all their a(spire)ations will be met, although, with such a long-shadow potential its' place in the landscape of the heart may result in a new language of brittle introspective rejection: I was spiked, I missed the point; I got shafted, a poker-choker, hypodermia; she gave me the needle, a Rod-ney, a Vlad (the impaler!), a Milligan, a half-Nelson in deference to the Spike’s previous incarnation. Inevitably gleeful communal commiserations such as, Hey, Stack where’s your wan?, Are ya on probe-ation?, Lance would be fine thing! Etc., etc., etc. will arise.
Leaning forward, his eyes track the polished metal upwards until his nose rubs against the cold glass and his neck hurts. He cannot see the top. Pole-axed, he thinks and then senses somebody is watching him. He half-turns to see a night porter standing in the hotel doorway, staring. He retreats back into the bucket of his seat, and hums Gogarty:
‘Where is Piano Mary, say,
Who dwelt where Hell’s Gates leave the street,
And all the tunes she used to play
Along your spine beneath the sheet?’
The night porter continues to glare at him, descends the steps, and taps on the window. An irritating tap with something metal like a ring or tongue stud, he thinks. He slowly lowers the passenger-side window, fully expecting tonsillar buckshot. The porter is young with a crew-cut head floating above an ill-fitting uniform, the apex of a tattoo just revealing on his pock-skinned neck.
‘… ,’ the porter mumbles.
He remains distracted; does not take in the words, just the intrusion.
‘… ,’ says the porter again.
‘… !’ He keeps looking down the street; tries to bring the posturing to a stop.
‘… ?’ demands the porter, haughtily.
‘ “…” ’ he intones sarcastically.
The porter begins to rant, ‘. . . –’
‘Excuse me,’ he says, holding up a hand between them and then pointing towards her. Unmistakeable! Long legs, beautiful neck, elegant piano-fingers; she squeezes past the porter and pulls open the car door. Sweet smelling, her skirt rides up, disappears almost, as she slides in; she nods, smiles, looks ahead. He says nothing, feels everything: a felt ultimacy beneath. Closing the window, he accelerates away from the curb – and the punctuation – and past the Spire.
He turns left on Lower Abbey Street, past the Playboy’s shed of Felster’s prayer-house; round and round the torture of Beresford; exits onto the quays: North Wall, East Wall, then Alexander; and onwards east, Bligh’s stubborn bounty where Ocean’s waters breasted beyond breakwaters to lap; to suck noisily at granite cracks. Dead of night and, as he had hoped – expected – the docks area is deserted. Discarded tabloids tumbleweed past and full-beam ahead a disturbed mog; it blinks, reflects, scatters. Left behind, the metropolis; having lived the day on its nerves is now a carcass, loving, dying on its knees. And hovering overhead, the vulture beaks of builders’ hoists and the snapped sinews of the East Link bridge, its vertical green array flashing seawards: one way and one way only.
Negotiating the last corner, around the partially demolished warehouse, he exhales with relief. They are still there, he sees, and he exhales again; this time loudly, smugly. His passenger shifts uneasily in her seat, lights up a cigarette and uses the yellow-blue flame of the lighter to look in his direction before the heat from the cheap metal forces her finger from the release. He hesitates for a moment, watches the red tip jitter in the void beyond her fingers, but then ignores her concern, and says nothing. She’ll relax in a minute, once we are there, once I explain, he reasons, slowing the car as they draw near.
Earlier that day he had been eating his lunch, from necessity rather than pleasure, in a newly flattened part of the old docklands and watched as three trucks from the Port Tunnel Authority had, one after another, dumped soft-core silver-grey gravel into three large mounds that left just enough room to park a car between them and the dockside.
He had watched, mesmerised, not quite believing. Was what he had really, truly, madly wished for about to happen? The perfect space obscura happened upon by accident when he had spent so much time turning upside down the fabric of the landscape in which he travelled looking for that same alchemy. Persephone’s grove, he had thought: a beginning and an end; or a test even, circles of doubt forming. A gift more like, he had decided. From whom though, he had wondered.
Patient, he had waited until the last of the trucks had rumbled off before stepping out from the car and walking – hurrying – across to inspect the space behind the mounds, checking the lines of sight as he approached. He had hesitated there, tasted the salt on his tongue and felt his hairs bristle. Sweat droplets had formed; fallen; seared like embalming fluid. Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure: Fourth dynasty, he had remembered; and him the fourth generation entombed.
Ahead, across the race of Wiltshire’s corrida, the obelisk of Poolbeg Power Station’s stack had suddenly spurted. Poolbeg, the “little water” and beyond it, south, Sandymount strand where a straddling desire for “the little death” had sandspewn because elsewhere Mrs Marion and Ares had a blazing ride to the sound of a harmonica. A curse on all your kin, he had mouthed, because he was cursed. He had looked down into the black waters that lapped against the dockside, and then at the ground. He had wanted to do it – the Idea, the Spark – there and then, in the shadows of the peaks: be Enki, consecrate this abzu of Eridu; or Hephaestus, Onan or even, Bloom. Tell Abu Shahrein, he’d remembered: telltale mounds, telling nothing.
Choking back he had returned to the car to get his phone and massage it into life. The service had flashed availability of the Grid and while waiting to connect thoughts of the Heinous Sin, Foucault’s punishment, multiple editions, multiple emissions and Yeats pleading with the knife to prolong the strife, engaged. The devekut had no such limitations. Distracting thoughts especially those with sinful intent he knew – he embraced – contained the divine Spark, which should, and could be released. Degas’ human beast going about its business, “the way a cat licks herself”. Could all disappear perhaps tomorrow, he had realised hanging on, into the yielding but sterile clay of the tunnel bed. This was his opportunity, he had reasoned, his one final opportunity to make it home. The Athene poster-girl! He needed her now, for the future; and from the past, his mother, and all the other women who held the legacy together.
Orphan stones crackle beneath the tires of the car as it negotiates the perimeter of the mounds and enters the shadow space. He switches off the headlights. Above them a dark, cloudless sky but as his eyes adjust bright stars appear and he whispers, ‘Kristallnacht.’ Ahead, close to Poolbeg’s lesser light, a small boat bobs; listening to but not talking on channel 12. To the left, port side, marking the fairway beyond the docks edge, nice navigation buoys flash their welcome and warning to Acheron. To his right, starboard side, the glow from the city rims the gravel mounds as if part of them: the poet O’Malley’s nimbus.
‘Why did you come here?’ she suddenly asks, sounding not so much afraid as uneasy.
‘The Light! Always the light.’
‘What are you on about?’
‘I meant why did you bring me here. The other girls said you were a sound client. You know what I mean . . . pleasant dinners together, good hotel rooms afterwards. Straight!’
The sky is shimmering above them. ‘Do you see Orion?’ he says, pointing upwards. ‘They say that within the nebula, just there below the belt of Ainitak, Ainilam and Mintaka, all the new galaxies of our universe are being generated. Orion’s knob, I call it. Isn’t that something?’
‘Why did you bring me here?’ she hisses.
‘May I have one of your cigarettes?’ he asks. ‘Please.’
‘What? Sure.’ She holds out the packet, watches his eyes as he accepts a light, waits while he draws deeply.
‘That’s obvious, surely,’ he says.
‘But why here – in a car of all places? This is not my scene. Not in this outfit. The agency would never have allowed for this. We’re an exclusive service. Why don’t you go back to the city and find a street hooker? They specialise in manual transmissions . . . if that’s what you want.’
He smiles, likes her sharpness. Outside the navigation buoys kept flashing, less obvious now through the fog of their breaths, and elsewhere in the city, he knew, boys navigated: flashing, docking, ducking, diving. ‘We are here, you and I, to consummate our future . . . and our past,’ he says exhaling the menthol smoke.
‘Like hell we are,’ she says straightening the expensive black cocktail dress.
‘Relax will you. I’m not going to force you into anything you don’t want to do. Hear me out.’
‘It better be good! This place gives me the creeps.’ He keeps her waiting; the slick smile unchanged. She shivers but comes to a quick decision, the only option she can think of: she moves her hand to his zip. ‘Listen James, why don’t I blow you, no charge, and you bring me back.’
Her voice is now edgy, brittle. He opens the window to let the smoke out. ‘My name is not James, he says quietly, lifting her hand from his crotch.’
The truth is everything he thinks, remembering back:
The confluence of events unfolding as I write: the retraction of both the intent and specifics of the Freedom of Information Act; the promotion of a “morally just” war in the Middle East, with a deadline of 17 March 2003; and the same-day commemoration of the death in AD 493 of St Patrick, brings sharply into focus the enclosure of truth, the fear of truth, and mankind’s ever present facility, verisimilitude; a facility as natural as breathing, to mould destiny to reflect the dominant, determined and orchestrated orthodoxy of the day.
St Patrick was a Celestine apparatchik dispatched to stamp out Pelagianism, the doctrine of a real Irish monk. Pelagius arrived fully educated, multilingual and theologically proficient in Rome in AD 400, 33 years before Patrick’s appointment, and his doctrine denied – a doctrine first promulgated in his Commentary on St Paul, a tome which was to remain in use in Ireland for 100 years after Patrick’s death – in line with Stoic philosophy’s moral strength of man’s own free will, the dogma of “original sin” and further promoted the possibility of a “sinless” life dependant on free will alone. Imagine!
The physical nature of this “heretical” free will, was quickly approximated by Patrick’s successors, and their dominant orthodoxy, to “snakes” because of the continuing influence of Gnosticism and its orphitic veneration of the serpent as the visible presence of the Supreme Power.
And it is no different today! Why bother looking for “snakes in the grass” when the “fuzzy logic” or approximate reasoning of orthodoxy only requires a value placed on the notion that they “might be there”, for “being there” to be established as the truth; a Rumsfeldian notion of truth: “There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know”; a Pantagruelian propaganda driven by an approximate reasoning of the nature of truth – if only it were funny.
Fuzzy logic in our own Utopia has determined that some truth is inconvenient and that the Freedom of Information Act is a dangerous influence on the nature of knowing. In the propaganda of truth; in the nature of knowing; in the nature of the unknowing, there will always be “snakes in the grass”. There has to be! How else would verisimilar humans ever justify their actions?
L/O Albert Road,
‘What do you mean it’s not your name?’ She tries to keep any annoyance from her voice. Keep cool, she thinks. ‘The escort agency has used your credit card details to pay for tonight as with all the other nights. There have been no problems with payment.’
‘I know but my name is not James as yours is not Jennifer,’ he answers matter-of-factly.
‘What do you mean?’ Shit, she thinks, reaching up to turn on the interior light. Needs to look at him. She knows she sounds suddenly afraid.
‘Jessica Cohen! That’s your name. A third year maths and philosophy student in Trinity! From Galway, I know all about you.’
‘Jesus Christ! Why? Who are you? Wh . . . what are you?’ she stammers. Who is this guy, she wonders. A stalker? Someone from home? Both? Sent by my father? Oh God, not that, she hopes.
‘Relax, will you!’ he says.
‘I’m getting out of here. Let me out of here!’ she screams.
‘You’re free to go, Jessica but it’s a long walk and not a very friendly area.’
She looks for his body language. He has big shoulders, a clean-shaven angular face – handsome in a way –, mid-40s, black hair slicked back, eye colour hard to determine. In fact his eyes seem impassive, opaque almost. Bad sign, she thinks. ‘I’ll call a taxi if you tell me exactly where we are,’ she demands fumbling in her bag, pulling out her mobile phone. His hand grabs hers, not hard or roughly. More a caution!
‘Why don’t you listen to me for a second? After that I’ll bring you back.’
‘No sex?’ she asks, disbelieving.
‘I don’t want sex, Jessica. It is much more important than that. I’d like you to participate though. That’s something you could do for me.’
Oh shit, a wanker, she thinks. I hate making up stories. ‘Just my luck,’ she says, under her breath.
They sit in silence for a while, he turns on the CD player, plays Clapton’s Pilgrim; he looks at his watch.
‘May I use your phone?’ he asks. ‘I need to text someone and mine is broken. I’ll pay.’
‘Oh! I don’t have much credit.’ Pay as you go, the agency boss had warned, more difficult to trace than an account; less chance of itemised bills creating problems. I hope the hell he is not ringing Dad, she thinks.
‘I’ll be quick,’ he says taking it from her. He texts. She leans towards him a little, sees the number is long distance. Too many digits for Galway, or even Ireland, she thinks, relieved; and then worries about the credit. He sends the message and places the mobile on the dashboard. ‘May I leave it there? I have asked him to reply to this number. It’s important.’
‘Sure,’ she says, happy it is back within reach. There is a silence again as both of them wait. It’s 4.00 a.m. Who does he expect to answer at his time? The silence gets to her. ‘How do you know my name?’ she finally asks.
‘I made it my business. It wasn’t hard. Followed you a few times.’
‘Anonymity does nothing for me, I am tired of it, ’ he says, closing the window, the stench from a tide on the turn bothering him.
‘Oh,’ she mutters, surprised but not convinced. Clapton’s Going Down Slow begins and he quickly reaches out to turn off the CD. His hand brushes accidentally against her sheer-stockinged leg and she pulls it away, obviously. Pulls down the hem of her skirt as well. The retraction – rejection – annoys him and he stiffens with a grunt. The atmosphere between them changes and she wonders what she must do. ‘The other girls said you were some sort of marketing guru.’ Her tone is cautious, controlled; the words deliberate, conditioned, aiming to disarm. A chess game, a game she liked!
‘I’m a product placement specialist,’ he eventually answers.
‘I’m that myself!’ She laughs, thinly. Good girl, she thinks, making all the right sounds and moves: trained to deal with dodgy punters.
‘I like a sense of humour,’ he says.
‘What do you place?’ she asks, persisting.
‘What is it exactly that you do Eric?’ Cornelius Murphy, the publisher, asked, looking up from the rim of his cappuccino and then at his watch. ‘You need to be quick. I’m catching a flight to Los Angeles at 4.00 p.m. and must get moving.’
He had looked at Murphy, froth framing the publisher’s mouth, clinging like cotton flowers to the hairs of his moustache; and his baldhead, polished by the sun, reflecting the shadows of people passing by, outside the window. ‘I specialise in creating opportunities for your business by placing your company’s books in shops that have not previously ordered from you or which only deal with you occasionally. Multiply your sales to them, five-fold, ten-fold, whatever you want!’
‘And how do you do that . . . if you don’t mind me asking.’
‘Terror Con, terror,’ he had replied, waiting for the splutter that always came.
‘Jasus! What do you mean?’
‘I’m a product-terrorist, creating havoc in the machinations and machines of retailers everywhere, in your case booksellers.’
‘How?’ the publisher asked.
Cornelius Murphy was a mountain climber, he knew. He made it his business to know these things. Climbers were used to taking calculated risks. What he was showing Murphy was a mauvais pas – the foul step in mountaineering terms – which, if taken and executed well meant a climber reached the summit, but if taken and executed badly meant destruction.
‘Are you sure you want to know?’ he’d asked.
‘Yes! Get on with it.’
‘I take some of your books and target the biggest and busiest stores, especially those in airports. I walk in and randomly place these books in locations throughout the store, with appropriate pricing details – facing out of course.’
‘But how will that work?’
‘That’s the beauty of it, Con! It’s like a virus or ticking bomb. A week or so later I return, pretending to be a customer, pick up the book, and approach the counter. Low and behold the book is not in the system. No record. I act agitated, annoyed, surprised, in a hurry, all depending on the attitude of the person dealing with me. What does the seller do? Busy queue, people waiting, takes the money, records the bar code, and curses somebody for not doing stock control properly. Later that day or week stock control curses the system for losing the order docket, records the details of the publisher, and locks in the transaction into the payment system. They, very occasionally, reorder when they see that this was the only copy they had, but that is a bonus.
Success of retail terrorism depends on the chaos in large retailers, the opportunities for mistakes to be made. You Con, on the other hand, are patient! You wait. Eventually a payment comes for that single book. You respond giving the titles of the other books I have placed in the store, but exaggerate the numbers by a factor of five or ten. Have an invoice ready. Demand payment for these. They check. Find some of those books eventually, but only one of each. Four or nine unaccounted for, whatever you have decided upon. Must have been sold, but not recorded, a glitch in their systems at the beginning. You have undermined that system, planted the seeds of doubt, created terror. You get irate, but accept their apologies – and payment – and milk that contrition for future orders. Are you following all this?’
Cornelius Murphy’s face told him that the climber knew that he was already trapped; he had taken the step, moved into the shadows of fate.
‘What do you place?’ she asks again.
‘What? Oh! Anything really, any thing! Books are my speciality though,’ he replies before turning to her. ‘Are you still frightened of me . . . of the situation?’
‘You said earlier that your name is not James. What is it so?’
‘Eric Bloom,’ he replies looking at Orion. ‘Eric Paula Bloom to be exact.’
‘Bloom . . . like in Ulysses?’ she asks.
‘Exactly like in Ulysses! I’m the great, great-grandson of Leopold Bloom.’
Oh shit! she thinks. ‘Come off it, will you,’ she laughs. ‘He was . . . is a fictional character. How could you be his relative?’
‘I am, although more accurately, I’m Bloom’s mamzer: Milly’s mamzer.’
He’d often tried imaging how Milly might have told him:
I have been fearful of writing, fearful of what you might think of me, your silly milly. And as I think everything of you this causes great disturbance. The August Bank Holiday weekend together was swimming, and wonderful and lovely – like it was before. Mr C accepted my excuses that you had taken ill and that I thought it better to nurse you in the Greville Arms until you left on the last train, unable to call on him. But that is the rub. The reason I fetched up in Mullingar, I think, when I think kindly of you, which is often, was to avoid discovery by mummy or anyone else. But that plan, I fear, has become unstuck. We are discovered, not by anyone else, but by me, silly me. I am late, two months almost. I kept hoping but do not know what to do. Sick almost every day. Mrs is suspicious, keeps butting in when Bannon, the student I told you about, comes close. What am I to do? What are we to do?
Forever my fondest –
‘Tell me,’ she interrupts.
‘“Milly too. Young kisses: the first. Far away now past”, ’ he mutters, annoyed somewhat.
‘If you don’t tell me what you are ranting on about, James . . . Eric, I swear to god I’ll swing at you, and run. I’ll take my chances,’ she replies half-opening the door. The sea is directly below her, a long way down: lapping, sucking. He has parked right on the edge. Right over the edge almost! She closes the door again.
‘Milly Bloom got pregnant,’ he continues.
‘How do you know?’ she asks, deciding to play along.
‘I make it my business to know . . . like knowing all about you. I search, delve, turn over, burrow, tunnel, keep going until I know, or there is nothing left to know. In search of the truth.’
‘Why?’ she asks.
He seems not to hear her, is lost in thought.
‘What happened?’ she asks, exhaling smoke against the window from a newly lit cigarette, deciding to play along. ‘Was there a child?’ The smoke clings to where she has traced her initials, JC, on the thermoclined glass.
He nods, gravely. ‘Born in a nursing home in Golder’s Green, London on May 9, 1905, the night of the gathering of the ancestors, to one Millicent Virag, a photographer’s assistant from Dublin, a boy. Father unknown. Dr Silverman in attendance. Complications. Puerperal fever. Died 5.00 a.m., 16 May 1905. The child, named Rudolph, given up for adoption at behest of one Leopold Bloom, girl’s father.’
‘Oh!’ she says, in decrescendo.
He likes her stunting of the word, its restraint from any complicity, any enthusiasm, as if reminding herself he might be crazy. He smiles and continues, ‘His past, eastwards, as best I can establish, is father Leopold Bloom of Eccles Street, Dublin; grandfather Rudolf Virag of Szombathely, Vienna, Pest, Milan, London, Dublin and Ennis; great-grandfather Leopold Virag of Szesfehervar and Satu Mare, who once met Maria Theresa, the empress, in the company of one Baron Frank of Offenbach, and who was born in 1750 in Kuty in the Bukovina district of the Hapsburg Empire to an Eve Samuel, daughter of Besht disciple Israel Samuel of Polonnoye, and a Zevi Virag of Mezhirech. Are you following me?’ he asks.
‘Oh sure!’ she responds.
‘His future, westwards: as Rudolf Inkerman, adopted son of Adolph Inkerman, printer. Also a printer! Married in London, 1925, to a Miss Jane Sweeney. Two children. The first a boy, Stephen Inkerman, born in 1927, died from tuberculosis in 1942. The second, Holly Inkerman, born 1930, married a Dr Stanislaus Cuddy of Limerick 1952. They had one child, James, born in Limerick 1953. Resident of Albert Road, Cork. Changed his name by deed poll to Eric Paula Bloom, 28 August 2003 on Augustine’s day. Still a mamzer!’
‘A special kind of bastard! Jewish law: Deuteronomy 23:2: the bastard issue – alien, mongrel – of incest or adultery shall not enter the assembly of Yahweh even to the tenth generation. Can be a king but never a witness. A mamzer!’
‘What’s that got to do with me?’
‘Don’t you see?’
‘That –’ The mobile phone sitting on the dashboard vibrates with a sharp thrill. ‘ – excuse me,’ he adds, reaching for it. He waits for the message to open and reads: F off with ur pln. Don’t contact again or I report u to SPI or pol! CM. ‘Shit!’ he barks, opening the window and throwing the phone out.
There is a splintering crash.
‘What did you do that for?’ she screams, suddenly, deeply unnerved again.
‘Gobshite, no bloody spirit! I showed Murphy the way and he has rejected it. Blinkered fool!’
‘I don’t pretend to know what’s bothering you James . . . Eric, but it’s very late to be calling,’ she says appeasingly.
‘You’re dead right there,’ he replies with venom. He senses her withdraw even further; her breathing becoming faster. He regrets, relaxes, placates, ‘I’m sorry about your phone, Jessica. I over-reacted. I’ll replace it of course. It’s just a business problem . . . a publisher I’m doing some work for. He was texting from the States. Behind in time.’
A mauvais pas, he thinks. The climber has always one other option: to calculate the risk; to refuse to take the step; to leave the mountain win out but live to climb another day. But he cannot understand Murphy’s stance; and all the others; and all the unacknowledged, unpublished letters. Can they not see? Do they not know I’m zaddik and can open the way to the light? He opens the car door and steps out, needing to breathe the night air. He walks away from the car, stands at the edge of the dock, scuffles the remnants of the phone over it. There is a splash below and a small phosphorescent whirlpool forms; neiridian swirls darting this way and that.
Behind him, he suddenly hears a noise, and turns to see her jumping from the car. She starts running, slips on some of the loose stones, falls, and screams. She tries to get up, but is unable. He walks back towards her, slowly, holds his hands out. She sobs, grips her ankle, and cowers up the side of the first mound. The cock’s tail is torn along one edge. More leg shows, her lower lip jibbers.
‘Leave me alone. Please leave me alone,’ she cries.
Her hands are digging into the gravel as she tries to crawl upwards. She gets so far but then slides down again. He watches her eyes widen in despair, heavenwards. Above them the stars glitter at even greater magnitude.
‘Errauit genetrix: plector cur filia . . . My mother err’d; I suffer!’ he whispers.
‘Oh God! Stay away from me,’ she screams.
He looks back down at her, waits for a moment; waits for her to draw breath; keeps his own breathing even.
‘Lekah Dodi,’ he begins but then stops. ‘I have no intention of hurting you, Jessica. None whatsoever,’ he says keeping a distance.
‘What do you want so?’ she whimpers, not believing.
‘I have two choices,’ he says.
‘To break the mamzer’s curse!’
She is puzzled, shakes her head, rubs her ankle, sobs.
‘I could, for example, marry a gentile and that person then converts to Judaism. With her I can then re-enter the assembly and my children would no longer be mam –’
‘You want me to marry you?’ she laughs, sarcastically.
‘No. There is another way. I will return to the earth, begin again at the beginning. Wipe out the memory by creating a new one. I need you to witness that return.’
‘But I’m not Jewish,’ she says.
‘You were once! You are a Cohen, a kohein, one of the priests of Aaron. It is your legacy, your responsibility. I have carefully chosen you for this. You are the flower to my bloom, the moisture, the chaste.’
‘I’m hardly that,’ she says, pulling the edges of her skirt together.
‘Not in my mind,’ he says.
‘No “buts” Jessica, my philosopher. Remember your Kierkegaard. The merest hint of a “but” and the beginning has already gone wrong.’
He turns away from her, traces a circle on the ground with his toe, unbuckles his belt, drops down his trousers and briefs and begins to stroke. Slow at first then faster and faster, tightening and relaxing the grip of his fingers. It does not take very long to reach the moment; with the Lights of Chanukah surrounding him, 5764 years since the Era began: at 9 hours and 27 minims to be exact; and in 5/114 of a second, his first show, almost without effort. He has been preparing for it. The nimbus glows brighter around the mounds and the lights on the water pulse. His back arches trusting his pelvis forward as the spasms begin and wave upwards. The start arcs, the remainder dribbles. He buckles forward; directs it towards the earth; lands on his knees....
He stays there for some time, feels the light go out and then on again. Leans back on his ankles. Looks up at the crystal sky, to the northwest where Cepheus and Cassiopeia glimmer-smile; and he, almost central in the golden shower that crosses the night.
‘Arise Erichthonius, and honour thy mother and the light,’ he says eventually, quietly. He gets up off his knees, pulls up the trousers and begins to carefully pile stones from the mounds into a smaller heap within the circle. Satisfied with his handiwork, he paces around the homunculus clockwise reciting the learnt words. Stops after each circuit, stoops, traces a letter with his finger. Five times he does this then signs off. He turns to look at her, catches her suppressing a smirk.
‘Is that it?’ she asks, incredulous, getting to her feet.
‘Just about! I nearly forgot.’ He returns to the mound, flattens it and from the centre takes a fistful of soil and gravel. He holds out his hand to show it to her. She looks away in disgust. He shrugs and places the fistful in his pocket.
‘What happens now?’ she asks.
‘Let’s get you to casualty and have that ankle seen to.’
They arrive in the waiting area of the Accident and Emergency Department. It’s 5.30 a.m. and the mixed aroma of hormones and vomit greets them – the scent of product placement in Dublin. After booking her in he finds a seat and waits amongst the detritus of the night, enveloped deep within the despair that covers them like a cloak. A drunk beside him is playing guitar on the hairs of his bared chest, digging him with his elbow to join in.
‘Diddllyeeeee –eyyyy – oooo, diddllyeeeee –eyyyy – aaaa. . .’
It is almost an hour later when she reappears, on crutches, a nurse alongside. He stands up, approaches her, and waits for the nurse to leave them alone together.
‘What’s the news?’ he asks.
‘I’ve a hairline fracture on my right ankle, all because you wanted to jerk yourself off. Light my arse . . . it’ll go on your bloody bill. Be sure of that,’ she whispers. ‘And look at the state of my dress and shoes. Ruined!’
‘I’m sorry,’ he says.
‘Just leave me alone,’ she groans tiredly.
‘Get lost!’ she rasps and turns away.
‘Right,’ he says and heads for the exit. Its guillotine doors pull back, hover and begin to close. He hesitates beneath the canopy, hoping. Then it comes. She is shouting his name.
He turns, happy, smiles in her direction, waves. Her image is briefly distorted by glass as the bleary-eyed doors half-close. They open again and he strides towards her.
She looks directly at him; her ice-blue eyes stop him in his tracks. She screams across the room. ‘What did you call yourself? A mamzer! That’s about right. And something else, you bastard! You’ve a . . .’ she hesitates.
The eyelids of the addicts, drunks and battered women in the waiting area instantly flicker open. Dead eyes shift from her to him and back again.
‘What?’ he asks.
Their audience of misery inhale as one; a coven anticipation of an ending, an ending they perhaps wish for themselves.
‘You have a really small –’ she screams.
He misses the last word, but imagines.
‘Diddllyeeeee –eyyyy – oooo,’ the hair strumming drunk suddenly sings out at the top of his voice, drowning out hers.
First published in Absinthe – New European Writing ©R.Derham