Being the Beginning
“A beginning has no becoming into being.”
“Being is not a problem for common sense (or, rather,
common sense does not see it as a problem) because it
is the condition for common sense itself.”
Kant and the Platypus
Jerome Augustine Flanagan – Jaffa to those who remembered better days – suddenly stirs. He feels… hears his breathing, inhaling and exhaling in short galloping bursts and is also quite certain he sees a horse nearby. In trying to freeze the image he forces his eyelids to open and close like a camera shutter but the horse disappears into a distant fog. He rubs his eyes, massaging them into focus. Sweat from his forehead drips into his eyes and salt-stings. He lifts his head up, then his chest and leans on one elbow. At the far end of the room, a computer sleep-light blinks, and alongside the computer a package, delivered earlier in the day, sits unblinking. He feels dreadful. Not just dreadful but also very disturbed and disorientated. The air around him is heavy with humidity and he feels suffocated by its pressure. The dream that had woken him had been all too real, too immediate.
Flanagan’s eyelids close again and in the blackness he hazily recollects the dream’s beginning: him hitch-hiking at a crossroads; being picked up by a circus truck driven by a cackling clown; arriving at a fairground attraction, a tunnel of distorting mirrors, and then slowly, ever so slowly, it dawning on him that he was watching himself and was also being watched from within his reflection by a curled-up, tadpole-eyed, ochre-veined, marble-skinned being of a thing, contained within a sac that floated around his dream like a speck in his eye. As he warped backwards and forwards in the dream the ‘thing’ inside the sac changed and distorted, acquiring and losing definition as it filled and emptied from his reflection. The light surrounding the sac pulsed bright and dim and a whooshing sound blew up and down the tunnel, making noises like somebody whispering his name. He remembers at that point stretching out to press a hand against his reflection and the sac suddenly sucking him in. And then he was the being on the inside looking out; at first there are two of him, then four, then eight . . . and then feeling the spasms start up and at their most intense sensing a pain, like pain of separation. And then there was the horse with four or five tails – a nightmare.
‘Christ!’ Flanagan says aloud, opening his eyes wide and touching his face for reassuring orientation.
He feels clammy, knows he has been sweating, and wonders if he smells of this. His clothes stick to him like membranes. The slug-ash ghost of a half-smoked Syrian Alhamraa cigarette trails across the ashtray, its filter stub guillotined to the glass table. He reaches for another. The warning label on the box says they are “harmful to the Pregnant and her Embryo.” ‘Bloody embryo,’ he murmurs, realising some of the origin of his dream’s imagery. He resists the urge and unfurling from the large sofa, looks at his watch, focusing hard on the dial. Two hours he’s been asleep, he reckons. Must have needed it, he reasons, feeling an intense urge to empty his bladder, the spasms that had woke him beginning again. Standing, he picks up the ashtray, the unfinished pizza slice, now cold, and the near empty beer bottle, now warm, and carries them with him towards the kitchen.
Some time later, his grey-flecked sandy hair wet from a needed shower and a mug of dark-roasted Java in hand, Flanagan carefully descends the small set of steps that lead down into the living room of his ground-floor apartment. He is wearing his favourite silk kimono gown over a bare chest and baggy oriental-style pyjama pants. There is a chill in the room, and he feels a sense of intrusion. He hesitates for a moment, steadying his hip against the steel handrail and tightening his grip on the mug. His eyes scan along the length of the room, past the reproduction Georgian fireplace and the tall unit made from mountain ash, which houses his stereo system and CD collection, towards the double-glazed patio door at the far end where a large, polished writing table is placed across the entrance. His eyes scan the magnolia-coloured walls, checking. The framed pictures are all in place: the original page CCLVII from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle showing Constantinople; a 1714 Homann map and panorama of the same city; and the drawing of an Irish fiddler caught in the full flow of his music.
Reassured somewhat, Flanagan relaxes and crosses the room to the writing table. He stands close to its edge, tapping with an agitated finger against the peach-coloured wood before searching beneath the scattered books, catalogues and layers of paper that float on the table surface like Sargasso seaweed. Finding what he is looking for he angles the remote control back over his shoulder to aim at the stereo, selects the second track and waits for the music. Infrared music – night-vision music, he thinks.
On the table in front of him, the pale-pink flowers of the house-bound orchid, cymbidium – purple-blotched invitation, yellow-velvet vulva, cobra-like tumescent hood and sticky sweet depths of it – glimmer in the moonlight, the light of the moon, the light of Jupiter’s moons under a March Gemini, looking serene and satisfied. A cadenza light, he thinks, the moonbeams bringing their own music, filtering into the room on a cool breeze that whistles softly through a half-open patio door. Beyond the door and the small garden, he hears the sound of the ocean that the apartment block overlooks. Govi’s Magellan’s Beat starts up on the CD player, quietly. He half-turns with the remote control in hand, gun-slinging it into the quietness.
On the liquid display it is 23:45, near the end of the second watch since sunset. And what a sunset it had been, he remembers, the dying embers of the day bouncing off the red wind, a dust-laden Sirocco that had brought the humidity and his dreaming. Earlier in the day he had watched the windsurfers, attracted by unseasonable warmth, appear like mayfly on the waters beyond the patio, chasing the wind. It is music to steer by, he thinks tillering up the volume: the music of the wind. Panpipes like siren squalls drift across the room and the ocean of his imagination. Then there are faint string sounds and he senses a sea-change: a pitching ship and the strains of halyard, sail and mast beating close to the wind’s direction. Then gradually, a plectrum rudder has the ship and orchestra reaching away again, sails full of a guitar’s liberation.
Flanagan sits down in front of his laptop. A slight movement of the mouse extinguishes the sleep mode. He drafts on the coffee and then lights up a cigarette, drawing deeply on it. To the right of the screen, the neatly packaged parcel lies unopened. He had immediately recognised the scratchy writing of its sender, its fragility, its anger and he felt afraid of that anger. To the left of the screen, a yellowing newspaper cutting from the Iraqi war: the image of an old man in Basra lifting a child; a child wearing a purple cardigan and green trousers; her little arm outstretched, clutching at life; her right ankle shattered, rendered of skin and sinew to abattoir bone; stripped useless, he thinks, by another type of liberation on a dog-day for the dogs-of-war. He wants to reach out to her. As if writing something would bring her back, him back, bring them all back. Exhaled smoke swirls around the computer. In his mind’s eye there’s a vortex, a black hole sucking back on the words, an anti-matter of what matters. The old man in Basra, is looking down at the face of the little girl, furrowed disbelief etched in his own. The very effort, the futility of it, drives his head into his hands and he looks at the orchid, and the picture, and the keyboard, through the cracks between fingers.
Flanagan then notices – senses – the bottle of single malt from the Isles and reaches out across the table. And the nearby glass: unwashed, he smells the peat off it. His muscles twitch. It is an effort just to lift the bottle. He remembers how his own father’s hands shook as he reached out for a bottle – the bottles that were denied to him at the end, a miserable, sad and lonely end. He pours the whiskey slowly, stiffly, and bringing it to his lips tastes the bog off it. He exhales smoke into the half filled glass and watches it settle on the surface of the amber liquid. After a moment, he leaves the glass down again and reaching for the parcel pulls it towards him. He tears away at the paper to reveal an old, calfskin-covered book, a computer disc in its case, and a folded piece of paper. He lifts the book, inspecting it. He coughs suddenly, his eyes opening wide, and stubs out the cigarette. He recognises the frayed flaps and woven horsehair tassels.
‘Jesus!’ he says aloud.
Laying down the book again he picks up the folded piece of paper. He unfolds it and reads:
I am sorry but I was afraid, so afraid. For Rio, for you but mostly for me. I wanted to protect us all but that is no longer possible. My struggle is over and it is a poisoned “arrow” that wings its way back to you.
The disc is Rio’s, a diary of sorts, I think. She told me about it before she . . . I thought it might help and I took it. I needed to know, wanted to understand, about you and her, her and me . . .
In the end I couldn’t read it, the possibility of hurt, hurt too much. I wish I could forgive you.
I wish I could forgive myself!
Flanagan’s hands shake so much cigarette ash from the stubbed-out cigarette fans across the table. The letter flutters to the ground beneath his feet, landing face down. He leaves it there, hiding from its accusation … and the difficulty in picking it up. He replaces the calfskin-covered book in the torn packaging and pushes it to one side. He sees a vague reflection from the screen of the laptop and remembers K’s concern regarding truth: the reflection presenting two moments of thought, objective and subjective: two alternatives to existing. Whatever way you look at it, he realises, objectively or subjectively, outwardly or inwardly, being or becoming, truth is a vanishing point. And reflection, he hopes, is just an approximation.
He lifts the computer disc case and opens its lid. Lifting the lid, Pandora’s, he suddenly thinks, he extracts the disc and inserts it into the computer drive. He then waits for its azure beginning.