Being The Beginning Sunday January 23, 2011
1 The Exchange Sunday January 30, 2011
2 bildende Kraft Saturday February 5, 2011
3 Gossamer Wings Friday February 11, 2011
5 Odd Shoes
7 A Love Supreme
8 The Three Cornered Light
10 The Watchman
11 The Upright Way
13 The Cave of Montesinos
16 The Perfect Square
18 The Uncontainable
19 The Ear of Malchus
20 Mauvais Pas
21 Sinan Qua Non
27 The Vanishing Point
28 The Cat Walks
29 The Approximate Likeness of Being
Becalming Unscientific Postscript
continuous passion. They are made up of an infinity of succeeding
loves, of different fleeting jealousies that, because of their unbroken
numbers, give the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity.”
Un amour de Swann
While waiting for the next file to open, Flanagan lights another cigarette and blows a smoke-ring at the screen. The fog clears:
January 6 – mid-morning:
By the time I had turned the jeep into the cobbled access road that would take me past the State Solicitor’s Office and towards Dublin Castle’s western access entrance the main storm had already passed overhead, leaving just a steady drizzle of small flakes to flutter down in its wake. The flakes appeared like spectral gossamer wings, shimmering ever-so-briefly in the alkaline chrome glow of the street lamps before finally settling on the fresh white blanket that by then had covered the road surface. Snowfalls in Dublin, I was told last Friday in Mulligan’s, in an uninvited shower of particulate words by a counter-clinging, weather-beaten, weather-watching, weather-vane citizen-poet, were temporary in their impact and despite the promise, would quickly coalesce into melting pools of brown-gritted clumps. A bit like relationships, I’d thought then, yet excited all the same at the prospects – my hopes – for the meeting with Séamus in the mountains.
No bloody forecast could predict those, I think now.
Distracted by Joe Cocker’s Unchain My Heart on the jeep’s CD player, I braked late to stop at the Ship’s Gate security post of the Castle. The Gate was misnamed, Mac had informed me shortly after my arrival in Dublin, by a long-ago error of transcription and distance from ‘fecking water’. Apparently the original name was ‘Sheep Gate’ and it was where food for the Castle was delivered. From a distance, especially in the snowy drizzle, the Gate’s barrier appeared to be up and, encouraged by this unusual lack of obstruction, I’d maintained my speed and it was only at the very last moment I suddenly realized that although most of the barrier was indeed missing, a small stump remained, horizontal and defiant. Screeching to a halt, the jeep skewed slightly as the locking tyres fought for grip. There was a lone guard on duty, shivering in the doorway of the small wooden garden-shed that functioned as the security post. He withdrew a little, trying to avoid being sprayed and waited for the jeep to come to a standstill in front of the barrier, before staring in at me through the front window. I did not recognise him but did the suspicious sneer on his face. I stared blankly back at him, tired of how he and other guard’s in Ireland had often looked at me since arriving – a black, half-black anyway, woman, driving a large jeep. Either a drug mule or prostitute, they’d assume and then pull me over and question me accordingly.
Whether I am half-black or half-white depends, the colour changing with my mood. The morning was already what American racial segregationists would call a ‘single drop’ day and I felt victimized; by Séamus and now by this shithead of a guard with prejudice in his eyes. He’d first looked closely at my parking permits displayed on the front windscreen and then, with a pursing of his lips, had leant backwards to mockingly admire – in the peculiar sarcastic Dublin way of leaning back– the left-hand drive imported model of the Defender Jeep. He then started to walk around to my driver’s side before suddenly reversing his steps and officiously tapping a long handled torch on the glass of the passenger side-door window, indicating that I should lower it. At that moment all I had wanted to really do was to stick the torch so far up his . . . But instead I obeyed ...
Flanagan smiled to himself, yet continued to read quickly. Nearing the end of the entry he leant to one side and poured another whiskey but then did not drink it. His bladder was cramping again. He left the glass down and got up and walked unsteadily to the bathroom. Once there however the hesitancy took a greater hold and to relax he forced himself to remember what had happened next:
‘Who assaulted the barrier?’ Rio asked in a breezy voice, holding up her identity card.
The security guard did not smile and leaning forwards through the open window examined the card carefully, then her, and then the card again. He shook his head in patronizing bemusement as he then inspected the interior of the car, the bag of croissants on the passenger-side front seat, before returning his gaze to Rio. ‘Some fecking black . . . some fecking foreign eejit coming out from a reception in the Castle last night took it home as a bleeding souvenir. Lodged in the windscreen of his brand new Merc, it was. Blind drunk, he was, but with bleeding diplomatic immunity from some African arsehole with a shit-notion of nationhood,’ he snorted as he withdrew through the open window and waved her dismissively through.
Rio was indignant. ‘Loose racist observations like that could get you in trouble with your superiors,’ she said crossly.
‘Listen lady, you asked the question. Ok! Right now my superiors, as you generously refer to them, are warm above in the Castle while I freeze my balls off down here. Would you like to drive on through …please.’
Rio decided it was useless to pursue the point and closing the passenger-side window, she waited for the guard to lean back through the security-post doorway and press the button that raised the mechanical barrier. The stump rose with an almost embarrassed jerking snap-to-attention. Smiling, she accelerated the jeep forward to follow in the fresh tracks of earlier arrivals but noticed in the rear view mirror the blue-faced guard continuing to stare after her. He waited and watched until she had negotiated the narrow, pillared entrance into Ship’s Gate Lane before finally retreating back inside the shelter of the shed. Rio pulled into her designated place in the parking area that the museum staff shared with those from Customs and Excise, and left the engine, and its warming heat, to run. It was 7.40am and the temperature outside, according to the dashboard display, hovered just above freezing point.
Suddenly, there was a loud thud on the roof of the car, which caused the entire chassis of the jeep to shudder. An agitated shadow hovered just outside the driver’s door window and Rio, unsettled by the fright of the interruption, took a few moments to calm before partially lowering the window. The ruddy face of Mac – Cormac McMurragh – gloated in at her through the narrow gap. Dressed in a down-lined parka jacket, with only a blue-red nose and a frosted moustache visible through the puckered hood, he looked, she thought, like a lost Antarctic explorer.
A wind-whipped flurry of snow squeezed in past him to catch her full in the face and even less amused she had to fumble in the dashboard storage space for a paper handkerchief. ‘Christ Mac! You spooked me! Don’t do things like that!’ she said angrily.
‘Hah! Hah! Gottcha girl!’ he chuckled.
‘It’s not funny. I’m still half asleep,’ she hissed back at him, wiping her face.
‘I gathered that. You nearly drowned me in slush near the gate as you drove in,’ he said sarcastically.
‘Oh I’m sorry, Mac. I didn’t see you.’
‘Or the barrier, it seems! But sure, sweetheart, don’t worry about it. Having an excuse to scare the bejasus out of you made it all worthwhile. Come on! Let’s grab some coffee before it’s brewed to tar. Did you bring the croissants?’ The face in the puckered hood smiled benignly at her.
‘Yes. I’ll be with you in a second Mac. Let me fix my face,’ she pleaded.
Rio was genuinely embarrassed that she might have soaked him when the jeep skidded near the security gate and she watched him turn towards the Museum’s entrance. Poor Mac, she thought, her 40-something black-haired Connemara confidant; battered by this city, and the need to earn a living as the head of the photographic and reproduction unit at the museum. He was banned from driving and chose to walk the six miles from his home to the Castle and back every day, regardless of the weather. He’d head back to the wilds in the morning if he could, he’d told her. He had a plot in the local cemetery already picked out, he’d said, right alongside his family and relatives. ‘To annoy them in Hell,’ he had explained without smiling. Shutting up the window again, Rio turned off the ignition, replaced the lipstick in her bag and pushed the car door open. Stepping out, she immediately shivered in the damp cold air that burrowed through her clothes.
‘A bit of a nip in the day. Eh!’ he said, stopping then half-turning to half-smile at her.
She returned a weaker smile before realising she had forgotten the croissants. ‘Blast it! God, I wish I were back in Colorado. 20 below and it’s not half as cold as this!’ Her breath hung in the air.
‘No humidity and even less humour in some of those parts! Sure you’re better off here, Rio. Winter only lasts about a week,’ Mac grinned as he watched return to the jeep and retrieve the croissants from the front seat.
The redbrick-paved roadway that is Ship’s Gate Lane, with its imitation standard gas lamps, falling snow and the twinkle of working Christmas tree fairy-lights just visible behind frosted windows, reminded Rio of a scene from Dickens, or at least a TV version of Dickens. All that was missing, she thought, as she followed after Mac, were ragged-dressed urchins throwing snowballs at pot-bellied, top-hatted toffs, and then was instantly wary of him duly obliging. He didn’t and she was somewhat disappointed.
As they rounded the Clock Tower and made for the glass-panelled doorway of the entrance foyer she drew up alongside him. ‘But, the damp lasts most of the year, Mac. I’m rotting away in my townhouse. Have builders in Ireland ever heard of insulation?’
Mac stood back to pull the glass panel open, allowing her to go in first. ‘That inner-city regeneration development you live in, or townhouse that you so grandly call it Rio, was once part of a Victorian tenement, housing probably three or four families. They will always be damp, both with atmospheric moisture and the tears of past misery.’
‘Thanks for that, Mac! I’m enough of a sociopath in the mornings without knowing that history is against me as well,’ she said, giving him a small dig in the midriff.
‘My pleasure Ma’am.’
‘Good morning, Dr. Dawson… Mr. McMurragh. A day for bleeding penguins out there! Is’nt it?’ A deep baritone voice boomed out the greeting as Joe Reilly, a heavy-set figure, with a drooping moustache, uncurled and raised his bulk above the counter like a large walrus to welcome them.
‘Good morning Joe,’ Rio replied warmly, unbuttoning her long cashmere coat.
‘Yeah,’ Mac agreed, shaking off the snow from his parka.
‘Did you watch the John Wayne movie last night, Dr. Dawson?’ Joe asked enthusiastically.
Rio sometimes regretted giving Joe a selection of Zane Grey novels for Christmas. She had convinced herself that he was certain that she was one of them – a Western fanatic, Trekkies in rawhide and stirrups. ‘No Joe,’ she replied truthfully, her own version of the Alamo the previous evening had been enough trouble. ‘Was it good?’
‘One of the best! True Grit.’
Joe, the night security guard, would be soon off-duty and heading home. Rio thought of him as being an unnecessary servile and melancholic soul but not, in any obvious self-destructive way; in the self-destructive way she had seen in other men with such melancholy; men like her grandfather… and Mac at times. Black bile, she thought, removing her coat, how apt for the bitterness that eats from within!
Joe’s repeated complaints of the fact that all cowboys called “Joe” were usually killed in the first five minutes of any Western movie had also long since lost its quirky appeal. And I know all about the impact of names, she wanted to tell him there and then, and also how she had wanted to lose her own first name, Rosalind, as soon as she was able. It was also her mother’s name; a mother in name only; a mother who had deserted her, who had left her high in the mountains, and who had died in a seedy hotel before she could confront her with her anger. Only Jack, her guardian angel, her mother’s brother, the man who was the father she never had, still called her Rosalind while moaning about his fifth and most recently acquired wife.
‘Stay single, Rosalind! It’s more mirage than marriage!’ Jack had said, yet again, during their last telephone conversation. At 36 years-of-age it was the only advice of his that she had ever followed, although she was more than grateful for the trust fund he had established for her in less fraught times, allowing Rio the freedom to pick and choose the places and conditions she lived and worked in, even if they were refurbished Victorian tenements. She was free to run away whenever things closed in around her. Today it had been from a cottage in the Wicklow Mountains, but equally it could have been Quebec or the memory of her mother, she realised. Her own melancholy was soon interrupted.
‘Come on Rio. Pull out of that trance you are in. The others are waiting for us in the café.’ Mac had shed his coat and boots and after retrieving and donning on a pair of loafers from his knapsack, deposited the wet items on the counter of the foyer cloakroom.
‘They’ll stink the place out Mr. McMurragh,’ Joe Reilly said disapprovingly as he watched the puddles of melted snow get ever bigger on the marble floor.
‘I don’t think there will be many visitors today, Joe. The place will be quiet for a change,’ Mac replied.
‘Yeah. I suppose.’ Joe shrugged resignedly as he searched for a mop and bucket amongst the shadows.
Not a job for a frontier marshal, Rio thought as she watched him.
‘I think Joe would be happier if we never had people coming to the museum,’ Mac whispered to her as they headed for the museum café.
At that point Rio looked up to see the director of the museum, Professor Aengus FitzHenry, staring down at them from the second-floor walkway that connected the exhibition area to the museum’s offices. She gave a small wave up at him. ‘He’s not the only one, I think,’ she whispered back.
‘What?’ Mac asked in a distracted way, not noticing FitzHenry.
‘Forget it. Let’s have that coffee,’ she said, as FitzHenry disappeared from view.
A blast of heat, generated by the steaming coils of the large cappuccino machine and warming bodies, met them at the door of the café. Phyllis Andrew, the Islamic and Middle Eastern Curator; James Somerville, the Far Eastern Curator and Joyce Holden, the Western Curator were already present, their hands wrapped tightly around large mugs. All looked up as they entered and smiled a welcome.
Joyce Holden who had been away from the museum for eight weeks – she had had a hysterectomy – looked up and admired Rio’s recently acquired tan. ‘Where were you, Rio?’
‘My bathroom,’ Rio admitted, laughing. ‘Good for attracting licking dogs if not men,’ she whispered, pulling out a chair and resting her satchel on it.
Joyce and Phyllis Andrew smiled.
‘Nice shoes,’ Joyce said, looking down at the ankle length, stiletto-pointed boots that Rio was wearing, a Christmas present to herself.
‘Thanks,’ Rio said. Probably cost the same as a hysterectomy, she was thinking.
‘What do you think, Rio,’ Phyllis asked.
‘About what Phyllis?’
‘Joyce wants to apply for a disability sticker on account of her recent loss of body parts.’
‘Best parking slot in the country now,’ Joyce said. ‘Completely safe!’
‘If you say so yourself,’ Mac laughed.
‘Don’t forget to mention that when I called up to see you in the hospital, in your private “womb with a view”, you were swilling champagne to a welcome loss!’ Rio reminded her.
‘Still. It should count as a disability, at least for parking purposes,’ Joyce defended.
‘Post-menstrual depression,’ Mac suddenly added and they all burst out laughing.
Gynaecological and gallows humour were similar, Rio thought, liking the fact that her female colleagues were good people, and great to work with. All of this banter of course, she noticed, had drifted as usual, way past James Somerville’s social radar. Teasingly, she drew out the bag of croissants and passing them right under his nose placed it in the centre of the table while Mac headed for the counter.
‘Two mugs of black coffee please, Mags,’ Mac roared, good-naturedly from a distance while rubbing his hands together.
‘Janey Mac. Yous were fierce lucky to get those,’ Mags, the café manager, said in her thick Liberties accent as she nodded back towards the table where the croissants were being greedily grabbed. ‘Our own supplier rang to say that they might not be able to deliver today. Lazy sods! One fecking bit of snow and the whole shagging country grinds to a halt. Where did Dr. Dawson get them? D’you know?’
‘Rio! Mags wants to know where you got the croissants this morning?’ he roared again.
‘The small French bakery near Christ Church,’ she replied. Rio liked Mags Golden; six children and already three put through university, nothing seemed to be too much trouble. It was she who had arranged for Tressa, her sister-in-law, to come and clean the townhouse that she rented and now, increasingly resented. Mac’s earlier comments hadn’t helped, particularly as there were some nights when she was certain she could hear a child’s crying coming from beneath the floorboards. There were still four months to run on the lease however. ‘They do some lovely pastries, Mags. You should consider getting them to supply the café.’
‘I might just do that. Better than that shower who couldn’t get their arses moving this morning. Thanks, Rio. I’ll talk to Ahmed about it.’ Ahmed al-Akrash, the good-humoured, Syrian chef-proprietor of the café in the museum, was somewhere in the back of the café preparing food but already had trays of stuffed vine leaves, dates and sweet baklava laid out for the day’s customers.
Mac brought over the mugs of steaming coffee and, after sitting down between Joyce and Rio, began to load his own with sugar. They watched with cringing horror as scoop after scoop was added and how he blithely ignored their disapproval to snatch the last croissant and begin dunking it in the coffee. ‘Almonds would have been nice. Shit!’ He slurped his words, cursing as a small piece of the pastry broke off and flopped back in to float on the surface of the coffee.
‘You’re a pig, Mac!’ Joyce Holden squirmed as she watched him retrieve it with a teaspoon. ‘How did Marie ever put – God, I’m sorry, Cormac.’
‘Don’t fret, Joyce. In fact Marie and I are on better terms apart than when we were together. Things are looking up between us since I stopped drinking.’ He smiled as his finger dived in for another piece of the drowning croissant.
‘How long has that been, Mac,’ Phyllis asked.
Mac never talked much about his life away from the museum and Rio noticed that the others were all suddenly and intrusively attentive.
‘Two years, eight months, two days, seven hours and about five minutes, but who’s counting. I still need this sugar rush in the morning otherwise my hands shake too much,’ he answered good-humouredly.
‘Your metabolism must be rightly compromised McMurragh,’ a voice pronounced. James Somerville, although born and bred in West Cork, spoke with the clipped and what Mac had once described as the anal defensive acquired accent of a returned Oxbridge educated academic. ‘I remember a former colleague of mine in Delhi named Ralph Phipps, a good man on Tamil manuscripts, who had a similar problem. His liver was –’
James’s penchant for gloom-laden anecdotes irritated nearly everybody and Rio was delighted at the sudden pause caused by Aengus FitzHenry’s entrance through the door of the café.
‘Who the hell knows anyone called Ralph Phipps?’ Mac whispered to Rio.
‘Good morning Aengus.’ Phyllis Andrew was the first to greet FitzHenry.
‘Folks,’ he said, in a summonsing way.
‘Jasus! I hate it when he uses that word. FitzHenry is definitely not a folksy person,’ Mac whispered again, between mouthfuls of sodden croissant.
Rio smiled conspiratorially.
‘What were you saying, Mr. McMurragh?’
‘Oh! Just that it was a pity there were no croissants left for you Prof. It was merely a guilt response on my part. I occasionally still have them,’ Mac spluttered.
‘I’ve already breakfasted thank you. Anyway I wanted to remind you all about the meeting on Thursday. 8.15 sharp. There is a lot to cover and Brigadier Crawford has to be away by 10.00. Be there on time, please,’ he demanded.
Like guilty school children called to the headmaster’s office for possible punishment they all watched FitzHenry turn on his heel and head for the stairs. The lazy breakfast mood was broken. Joyce and Rio began to clear the table.
‘Leave it lads! I’ll do that.’
‘Thanks, Mags,’ Mac said for all of them.
‘Blast it!’ Phyllis was jerking at the control lever of her wheelchair. ‘I think the battery is flat.’
‘Let me –’ Mac was moving to help when he was interrupted.
‘Its ok, Mr. McMurragh. Let me do it.’ Joe Reilly had come into the café and pulling back on Mac’s sleeve barged his way past to take control of the situation. ‘I’ll give you a push, Miss Andrew. The damp must be shorting it. Your spare battery is hooked up to the charger in my office and I’ll arrange for one of the day staff to change it later.’
‘Thanks, Joe. You’re so sweet.’
Rio noticed how Phyllis gently touched Joe’s hand as she smiled back up at him. Mac had also seen the gesture and he winked as they left the café.
‘What’s going on there?’ Rio whispered to him as they reached the bottom rung of the first flight of steps.
‘Heh! Listen! They’re both consenting adults, whatever that means, but give me a few hours and I’ll have the dirt.’
She laughed at his roguish grin. ‘I bet you will too.’
‘Do you mind if I dash ahead, girl? ’
‘Sure! You go on, Mac.’ Rio watched as Mac pounded up the stairs, suddenly noticing that he was wearing odd socks and wondering for a moment how he really was doing on his own. By the time she had reached the first crosswalk she could see that Joe Reilly was manoeuvring Phyllis towards the ground-floor lift. He had managed to position himself in such a way that James Somerville was excluded and forced to take the stairs.
James was still annoyed as he joined Rio on the crosswalk. ‘That man, Reilly is impossible. I plan to have a word about him to Aengus. Don’t you agree, Dawson?’
‘I wish you’d use my first name, James.’
‘It’s an old habit m’dear. No offence meant.’
‘None taken . . . but do try.’
‘What do you think of Reilly?’ James Somerville was not to be distracted as he stiffly climbed the second flight of stairs beside her. Reaching the top they watched the lift opening onto the landing and then the smiling Joe Reilly pushing Phyllis in her wheelchair towards her office.
Hey ho, Silver! Rio thought, before turning to James. ‘Joe’s wife died from multiple sclerosis a number of years ago. I think he feels very protective towards Phyllis,’ she said, trying to keep her voice low.
‘Must say, didn’t know that. Nevertheless, the man should know his station. Don’t you agree Dawson?’
James Somerville was not about to make any such effort. ‘Listen to yourself James! The Raj has gone, join the present world,’ she said, annoyed.
‘There is no excuse for not maintaining standards, Dawson. After you, m’girl.’
She glared at him as he stood back to allow her pass and entering her own office Rio spent the remainder of the morning busy with unpacking and cataloguing a crate recently delivered from the Beatty collection at the Military Museum in the Curragh.
Flanagan returned to the computer and moved the mouse to close the file. He hesitated for a second to re-read the last lines before clicking.
...still thinking of food and sex. Last week I told Phyllis about my erotic food dreams on the new diet. She laughed and quickly followed up her Christmas present of Pizzy’s Food for Sluts with a birthday gift of Radhika Jha’s book Smell. The book is open beside me and a line catches my eye, “The smell of the paste made me feel hungry and satisfied at the same time.”
I feel the same about post-coital armpits!
One more call.
Jack is still not home.
I’ll try again tomorrow…