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
4 Nemesis Saturday, February 19, 2011
5 Odd Shoes Friday, February 25, 2011
6 al-Rûh Friday, March 4, 2011
7 A Love Supreme Thursday, March 10, 2011
8 The Three-Cornered Light Thursday, March 24, 2011
9 Serendipity Tuesday, April 5, 2011
10 The Watchman Friday, April 15, 2011
11 The Upright Way Sunday, April 25, 2011
12 Angels Wednesday, May 4, 2011
13 The Cave of Montesinos Tuesday, May 10, 2011
14 Idols Tuesday, May 10, 2011
15 Nightingale Sunday, May 15, 2011
16 The Perfect Square Sunday, May 22, 2011
17 Haunting Thursday, May 26, 2011
18 The Uncontainable Wednesday, June 1, 2011
19 The Ear of Malchus Monday, June 6, 2011
20 Mauvais Pas Wednesday, June 15, 2011
21 Sinan Qua Non Saturday, June 25, 2011
22 Spirit-Level Sunday, July 10, 2011
27 The Vanishing Point
28 The Cat Walks
29 The Approximate Likeness of Being
Becalming Unscientific Postscript
“We had caught the word handed down through the ages with secret
laughter, that we ourselves are the inventors of the Game of Life.”
From the Upanishads
Jerome Flanagan and Cormac McMurragh arrived at the airport in good time to catch the 1.30pm flight to Copenhagen with an onward connection to Dublin. Ahead of them in the queue Rio and Jack Dawson stood together with Gerrit Flatley standing to one side. Flanagan thought that the former FBI man looked pale, and even at a distance sensed his agitation, as he held onto his shoulder bag tightly and cast furtive glances around the concourse. As if afraid that at the last moment someone might take the prize, Flanagan thought. ‘Either of them,’ he whispered.
‘Quickest fucking round-trip to anywhere, I’ve ever made, Jaffa,’ Mac interrupted. ‘Just as well you were paying for it,’ he said loudly.
‘My pleasure,’ Flanagan replied.
Rio turned to talk to Gerrit Flatley. ‘Why have you decided to stay on in Istanbul?’ she asked.
‘I’m a police officer, here as part of an international investigation. They might not help me, Rio, but they will not interfere.’
‘Be careful, Gerrit. For my sake,’ she said as she squeezed his hand for a brief moment.
‘I will Rio. That alone is worth the effort,’ the policeman replied sincerely without embarrassment.
‘Thank you,’ Rio said .
Flanagan watched her blush, a red hue to her beautiful blackness. Her eyes widened and she leant forward to kiss Flatley, not on the cheek but full on the lips. It then became the policeman’s turn to blush. It had been a brief display of tenderness but they had all noticed. Cormac McMurragh stiffened beside him and Jack Dawson’s knuckles whitened even more.
‘I’ll see you in Dublin, Tuesday. I’ll phone when I get in,’ Flatley said as he turned away from Rio. He suddenly saw Flanagan and Mac in the queue and that they had been watching all that had transpired between himself and Rio. He walked over to join them. ‘McMurragh! Make sure you stay well away from Rio. That is a warning. Understood?’
Cormac McMurragh grunted.
‘Jerome, may I have a word with you,’ the policeman asked.
‘Sure,’ Flanagan said as they moved out of earshot of the others.
‘You have a few questions to answer when you get home. However I’ve faxed my boss and the charge of obstructing our enquiry by leaving the jurisdiction is to be dropped. We just want your help in trying to track down any leads to finding Phyllis Andrew.’
‘Sure Gerry. Thanks. I’ll do all I can.’
‘One other thing! I’ll try my best to get some information for you on your friend Alanna.’
The man was genuinely sincere, Flanagan realised at that point: no agendas or shadows, Flatley was just being himself. Lucky bastard, he thought, knowing then that nobody else would have a chance with her, at least not at that moment in time. Rio had made her choice, he knew, and was going after it. In six months, or a year perhaps, he thought as he looked at the policemen, she would sooner or later return to living dangerously, passionately, and Gerrit Flatley would have his work cut out to contain that passion. There was no point in warning him about that inevitability, Flanagan decided, letting him enjoy that moment in time. ‘Thanks Gerry…. I really mean that. I hope we can catch up with each other in Dublin.’
‘Yeah. Why not! See you Jerome.’ Inspector Flatley left the airport concourse after one more wave back at Rio.
Flanagan rejoined the queue.
Mac seethed, ‘Smarmy git.’
‘Afraid of the competition, boyo.’ Flanagan tried to lighten the mood but realised he should have stayed quiet.
‘I’m afraid of no-one except myself, Jaffa.’ Mac’s eyes deadened as he spoke, like a shadow crossed over them.
The flight boarded on time. Unseen eyes with penetrating presence watched them all the way to the plane, Flanagan knew, making sure he had no last minute changes of mind. Rio and Jack were already settled in their business class seats by the time Mac and Jerome found theirs near the back of the plane. A large – very large, they both realised – woman-with-enormous-breasts occupied the aisle seat of the row they were assigned to and as the plane appeared full, they knew there was little possibility of sitting anywhere else. They waited for her to extract herself from her seat before they squeezed past her into theirs. Mac took the window seat, and Flanagan crumpled into the middle space. At that instant he prayed for the plane to crash and a quick end. The woman ignored his obvious discomfort; donned earphones and settled down for take off.
By the time they reached cruising altitude, the woman-with-enormous-breasts was snoring loudly.
Cormac McMurragh looked at Flanagan for a long time before he finally asked, ‘What’s wrong with you, Jaffa?’
Flanagan knew at that moment that he could no longer hide his illness from his one true friend. He had found it nearly impossible to lift his suitcase at the airport and had asked Mac to help. ‘ALS,’ he replied.
‘ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig disorder! A disease of the nerves that control motor function.’
‘Jasus! Is it serious?’
‘Can anything be done?’
‘Nope. Death in two to five years but some survive longer.’
‘What? Are you sure?’
‘I’m a fucking expert, Mac. 34,000 site hits on the Internet search engine. All say the same, including retirementwithapurpose.com, and my favourite: AML products at shopping.com. Two to five years to permanent retirement but the shopping is all planned out: bathroom rails, a neck brace, a walker, a wheelchair, a voice amplifier, a living will, a ventilator – in that sequence.’
‘Any treatments?’ Mac’s voice became twitchy, like Flanagan’s hands.
‘Grape seed and gingo biloba, whatever the fuck that is. Oh! And minocycline in mice.’
‘Deep! Want to stick around?’ Flanagan stared at him.
‘Does Rio know?’ Mac asked.
‘No. Not the full story. She sensed something was wrong but now . . . she doesn’t want to know. About me . . . or anything. I don’t blame her.’
‘Shit!’ Mac said again and went silent.
The woman-with-enormous-breasts next to them woke, and did not know where she was for a moment. She then got up with difficulty from her seat, rummaged in the overhead storage, and made for the toilet.
‘I want to ask you something, Mac,’ Flanagan asked.
‘Sure.’ Cormac McMurragh said without conviction, afraid of what might be asked of him.
‘Why did you let her go, Mac?’
‘I haven’t let her go, Jaffa.’
‘But . . . What happened between you back in the restaurant? Jack said you hit –’
‘You disappeared off to do your thing, Jaffa. I was angry. Angry with you for getting us all into this mess, angry with myself for wanting her so much and angry with her for . . . being her.’
‘Why did you hit her though? What possible reason warranted that?’ he persisted. Ever since Jack had told him what had happened at the restaurant Flanagan had thought about how Mac would answer that question when it came. He had hoped the ‘reason’ word could be avoided yet knew, as Mac knew, it would come. What reason could Mac give? Had reason even come into it? Circumstances, accidents and metaphors are the shadows of reason, Mac had once said. Or Lou Gehrig blowing his trumpet with Coltrane, Flanagan thought, beautifying ALS to a jazz virtuoso.
The woman-with-enormous-breasts returned, smelling of Chanel.
‘I was lonely,’ Mac finally answered.
Flanagan suspected he had really wanted to say, I am afraid of being alone. Like me, he thought. ‘But you and Rio were great friends, Mac,’ he said, trying to keep his voice low, trying to understand.
‘Am a friend, Jaffa. Always will be. She forgave me for the slap, said she was sorry about throwing the hooker thing in my face. It’s just that I . . .’ Mac paused, as he glanced across the aisle, knowing he needed to explain, needed to allay Flanagan’s concerns, his confusion. ‘This is strange thing to say but all the time I’m with Rio I’m lonely. The friendship was not enough. I need something more.’
‘Like what? What was missing Mac? Was it . . .’ Flanagan hesitated.
Mac laughed at the cynicism, and Flanagan noticed that the woman-with-enormous-breasts next to him had been listening intently to their conversation. She too also waited for the answer.
‘Love, Jerome? Is that what you were going to say? What would you know of love? How would you recognise it?’ Mac said angrily.
‘Sorry,’ Flanagan said defensively, stung by the truth, but not the whole truth.
There was a silence for a moment but then Mac spoke again. His voice had an urgent edge to it.‘What were you going to say, Jaffa?’
‘I was going to say a lack of faith in yourself, if you must know. Or conviction if you like; a certainty in your love for Rio.’
The woman-with-enormous-breasts coughed; her eyes were anxious, concerned. Mac stretched out his hand and laid it on Flanagan’s arm. He engaged the woman with a tender smile before looking at him. ‘Wow. There are never any half measures in your questions, Jaffa. Let me think about that one.’
Flanagan nodded, leant back and was content to let it rest for the moment. This had always been their way: a chess game never played against the clock but always played out, to checkmate, stalemate or fool’s mate.
‘I . . .’
‘Go on, Mac.’
‘I once tested that faith in me and found it wanting in the face of love; an available love, a gamble with virtue without real virtue on my part. As a result I lost most of the conviction in what I believed to be the truth; mine own, God’s if you like, the truth of love, and what little was left clung like a ret rag to a drowning man in an ocean of deception. Because of that failure, my continuing failure to hold any virtue, I ultimately destroyed the love with Marie, and nearly destroyed our kids. I never wanted to test it again lest the last shreds would be stripped from me. But with Rio, I took the chance. I came out from under my own shadow and threw the dice. They landed on their edge and I moved to tilt them over. To no avail! I failed in that too. Failed in the simple task of convincing Rio of my love, the conviction of my love.’
‘But nothing, Jaffa! Rio did not reject me, I rejected myself and I hate myself for that . . . and in a way I hate Rio for forcing me into finding me out.’
They retreated into silence for some time after that. Shortly after the meal trays were cleared the woman-with-enormous-breasts handed Mac a card, behind Flanagan’s back, as he levered past her to make for the toilet. Mac showed it to him when he returned. Loneliness is the reward for true passion, she had written on the reverse side of a business card printed with her name, and below that her mobile telephone number. Mac examined the card for a long moment, traced its gold-embossed invitation with his finger: his blessing finger, he called it, then pursed his lips, and looked up. He thanked her, he hoped, with a smile of appreciation for her understanding.
‘Has she deliberately thrown reason back in my face,’ he whispered to Flanagan before winking. He then leant across and asked of her quietly, ‘Are you psychic?’
At that point there was sudden turbulence and the airplane shuddered. ‘I am a woman and it is called intuition,’ she replied, matter-of-factly, appearing to want to have continued but stopping short as the fasten-seat-belt sign came on. This took some effort on her part, and she began to fumble with the straps.
Mac pocketed the card with one hand while simultaneously buckling his own belt with the other.
Increasingly aware of other people’s dexterity, Flanagan is envious. He thought about all the women he had known in his life, and their intuition . . . and their intrusion. He also thought about reason, and its intuition, and its intrusion. He had accused Mac, almost accused him, of losing faith and he would be sure to bring him back to this later, when his feet were not swelling up . . . or when he wasn’t dying.
Mac sensed that Flanagan was thinking of him. ‘If I can’t have her, Jaffa, I don’t know what I’ll do,’ he said quietly into the narrowing space between them.
Flanagan did not have an answer. What Mac and he had, he thought, as Pilate had, in truth to do was to accept what faith offered; K’s collision of the finite and infinite, the merging of the improbable paradox and the passion, the release of subjectivity from the object and objectivity from the subject. I am lonely . . . I am afraid of being alone, he reminded himself, and buckled the seat belt with more difficulty than the woman-with-enormous-breasts. She looked at him and her look told him she was wondering why.
The turbulence eased and they all relaxed. Mac turned to Flanagan and asked, ‘Do you think much about good and evil, Jaffa.’
‘No, not really, at least not in such concrete distinction,’ he replied in a distracted way.
‘I do, you know. Back in the seminary, in philosophical and theological discussion, Good and Evil always seemed so important. The polar coordinates of all belief systems. It was if they always existed, despite our friend Augustine’s efforts to the contrary, even before the fall, justifying human existence because of the need to test their validity, their necessity. They were the Platonic life forces present from the very beginning. It was bullshit of course!’
‘What do you mean Mac?’
‘The first and only life force is reward. Good and evil are secondary volitions, the response.’
‘What do you mean?’ he asked again.
‘Think about it Jaffa. Born without sin, without knowing goodness or evil. As a unknowing child your understanding of good and evil is determined by the rewards attached to that understanding, either as self and a child’s exploration of his environment, or from parents, teachers or persons or established values of authority. All your reason, all your behaviour, all your will, is determined by your perception of that reward system. Whether this behaviour is good or evil will depend entirely on the reward anticipated. Without reward there is no good or evil. That is the secret truth.’
‘What’s this got to do with you and Rio?’ Flanagan demanded, not entirely sure at that point where the conversation was headed.
‘Goodness and evil are merged when I think of her. Whichever way I choose, and I will have to choose, she is the reward, Jaffa. She is the bounty!’
‘But –’ Flanagan began to argue.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the co-pilot speaking. We are now beginning our descent into Copenhagen. Please ensure your seats are in the upright position and that your trays are stowed away. Cabin crew. Ten minutes to landing.’
As the plane dropped through the clouds it hit another pocket of turbulence. An overhead locker opened and the woman-with-enormous-breasts’ duty-free bags fell with a crashing, splintering sound to the aisle. The scent of Chanel filled the cabin. Mac looked at Flanagan and said, ‘Shit!’
The airplane banked and Jerome Flanagan returned to looking out the window. Below them, he saw, there were wind turbines turning slowly in the harbour waters, and beyond these, in the distance, the blue, blue sea shimmered in the sun and the horizon behaved like a spirit level.