A Letter Home

7 March 1996

Dear Mum,

I hope this letter finds you well.

A short while after first stepping off the ferry in Dunshane Cross, I met a fellow named Nick Savage. We struck up a conversation and, over the course of a few pints, Nick briefed me on the local history. As near as I could gather from his slurred speech, the relevant annals run something like this:

In the thirteenth century, a fellow named Don de Corset arrived here from the east with the pope’s blessings. He was a straight enough arrow, a member of the Gerry family, who answered to a knave named Strongblow. In addition to the mandatory fistful of knights, de Corset also had himself a stunning wife, a princess from the Aisle of Men, who ordered the building of Ballybrady Abbey. Meanwhile, de Corset relocated the crusted bones of Saints Patrick and Columbine to some quiet spot far to the west of here, that their eternal souls might not be disturbed by the impending turmoil of his mission, which was to tighten the strings on Ulster until the desired shape was achieved. To that end de Corset set up camp somewhere north of Duncraven where he and his knights set about the tedious business of seducing the native race. In due time, the locals were vanquished. Don de Corset repaid his knights by granting them thiefdoms. The main thief around here was a knight by the name of Savage.

Old Nick also mumbled on about Pope Hadrian the Fart from the Temple of the Flatulation, who donated to Ireland a papist bull with a ring in its neb and how John Sorcery passed the ring minus the bull along to Henry the Sickened and he to Strongblow and he in turn to de Corset and in due course it fell into Savage hands there to remain until, come one chill January day, the precious jewel slipped from Lord Savage’s grasp as he rowed in the river. Lost forever or so it seems. Nick says it was forged from the finest gold and embedded with premium emeralds of diverse hues. But oh-the-pity for now that gem is lost.

Somewhere between our third second and second third pints, a few hundred years had passed. The Red Earl was now long in the grave, but the Savages remained. Your man Neil burnt the peninsula to cinders, much to the benefit of his Clammy Boy cousins, but then the Clammy Boys were soon history themselves and now all that remains of them is some old stone chair that sits in The Ulster Museum. The peninsula was useless after that, reduced as it was to little more than ashes and charcoal, so the crown imported a lorry load of lowlanders to grow plantains. And here they remain to this very day, comfortable and living off the fat of the land as they are. Somewhere along the way some Savage decided to change the family name to Newman, but to this very day most of the locals prefer an old savage to a new man. It has been downhill for the Savage clan ever since those new gents ascended to the title and built that two-faced mansion. So says Nick.

I was hoping Nick would elaborate further on the two-faced business, but he had to be off as the traditional music session was on the boil. Nick calls that stuff diddly dee. Your man has zero appreciation for those old songs.

I am trying my best to further educate myself about the local history. To that end, I was not unfortunate to lay my hands on a secondhand copy of Saga of the Six Counties. I study it nightly, along with my Holy Bible of course. Most of what Nick told me hails from the former. He knows precious little about the latter.

In closing, you will be pleased to know that the local aristocracy—Lord and Lady Newman—have taken a shining to me. Lady Eleanor Newman, who is also the church organist, has opened their home to me. I find my lady to be no great hand at the organ, although she does derive the utmost pleasure in playing the instrument.

I have now settled in at Eton Gate Lodge, situated on the Newman demesne grounds. Please send all future correspondence to this address:

William Stone

Eton Gate Lodge

Lough Road

Newtonards BT9 2XG

NI UK

All the Best,

Wills

The Middle of the Beginning of the End

 

I awake in a porcelain-lined bathtub.
She stands before me. I study her stunning face, her well-preened hair, her virgin-blue eyes while she massages my forehead with an icy, moist towel. What is she doing here? And why do I lie in this waterless bath?
Oh, yes: Pockets warned me last night before retiring: I walk in my sleep, he said, urinating everywhere. Only the other night I left a shite in the closet, he said. Mind yourself, it could happen again. No— it will happen again. No one’s perfect, said Pockets.
That is when I huddled a pillow and comforter into a neat bundle before staggering off to the safest room in the flat given the circumstances—the toilet.
She studies me, still holding the chilly towel against my crown.
“You look like the walking dead.”
Stiff and sore, I rise to crawl from the tub, to study my wan reflection in the vanity mirror. Your man in the mirror is not me, not the me who was standing in some blissful river three years past— happily married and well-employed, nor the me who stepped into the river two years ago and emerged on this side of the pond, nor the me who stood at the pulpit just yesterday and denounced his professed faith. And by no means is he the me who tied one on last night in the Botanic District and then stepped out in front of a speeding taxi. How I avoided being crushed by that taxi is a mystery to me. If not the grace of God and quickness of the Daryl Hannah Look-Alike’s reflexes, I might now be a dead man.
I believe God is not yet done with me.
“Feck all. I do look bad, don’t I? Say, I thought ye went home after breakfast.”
“I did.”
“Did ye meet up with yer husband?”
“He quizzed me nonstop for days.”
“Days?”
“Aye.”
“Days you say? But only yesterday…”
“Yesterday? Yesterday? We landed in Limerick four days past.”
“Four days?”
“And nights, now have your fry and then it is down the road with us.”

Black Taxi

black taxi

(Image: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye)

In short time, I am in the neutral zone as well. I ask Pockets for the key to the flat. Smiling, he refuses to hand it over. He motions toward two young women. He has sorted me out with the tall, attractive one, says he. She is a fetching blonde who favors Daryl Hannah. He fancies the brunette who would look like Sharon Stone if only she would drop six stone. I object, wanting nothing to do with Daryl or any other lady. I want to sleep, to steal away, to forget about the female species, to disremember what a beautiful woman like this Daryl look-alike can do to a foolish man’s heart.
Beaming, Pockets ignores my pleas.
An eternity later, myself, Pockets, Daryl Hannah, and Sharon-Plus-Six-Stone exit The Centre. We begin the short tramp toward Pocket’s flat. Up University we go, past Lisburne Road, walking, chatting, laughing at nothing in particular. Cabs and cars flash by. We pause at the multi-street intersection of Donegall Road and Shaftesbury Square to wait on the green man. Daryl Hannah wraps one slender arm about my waist and leans her head upon my shoulder. Lettering on the shops seems hieroglyphic; road signs, cryptic. Nothing makes sense, not the traffic signals, not our conversation, not even the paint growing long on stucco storefronts. Cars flash by in all directions, trailing past in illuminating streams of red and white. Malfunctioning traffic lights glow green indications in all directions. Cars enter the intersection from north, south, east, west, crashing into one another. They rise high into the city sky, tornado-tossed upward like rockets bursting into the foggy firmament. The ensuing din borders on the unbearable. Confused, I step from the curb into a river of chaos, into the oncoming traffic, as a speeding black taxi approaches the intersection.

The Nature of Reality

Although Will is curious about his own intuitive experience of the holy, by no means is he preoccupied with unveiling the  nature of our universe. Will is confused, depressed, and subject to the many weaknesses of the flesh. He is also a Realist in the Aristotelian sense of the term, and that is why he struggles to make sense of a mystical experience that makes little sense.  Father Peadair, however, is an extreme Idealist whose duty is to enlighten Will to the true metaphysics of God’s creation. Peadair believes the conventional conception of reality is fundamentally flawed. Father Peadair’s source of authority becomes incrementally evident as the story unfolds.