Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Twenty-Five

Twilight was beginning to take the sky.  Celia was kneeled in the courtyard behind Corpus Christi, at her mother’s grave.  The rose she’d left before was withering now.  She took it in her hand and began silently picking off the petals.  She glanced at the inscription on the stone cross.  Alice Gray.  Artist.  Mother.  Friend. 
     “I hope you’re proud of me,” she muttered, “I hope you’re proud of what I’ve done to the woman I love…”  She watched as the rose petals crawled in the breeze, across the courtyard, amongst the other graves. 
     She climbed to her feet and wandered back down the path and round to the front of the church.  The main doors were open.  She stepped forward and stopped, stepped forward and stopped again.  She laughed then and went inside.  Just above the inner doors there was a portrait of Christ in blue and gold.  His right hand was pointed at the heavens, in his left he held an open book.  One of the pages read, I am the Light of the World.  Celia stepped through the inner doors.
     The church was empty and dark, save for a few tiny electric lights and candles burning. 
     She walked into the main aisle and saw a priest in the far corner, extinguishing tall candles and organising leaflets.  He turned and saw her.  She waved.  He walked towards her, smiling, an old man with a full head of silver hair and a craggy but handsome face.  Celia thought briefly, inanely, that he looked quite dashing in his tailored black suit and robe, distinguished by the small white square of collar at his throat.  She grinned.
     “Father Cairn…do you remember me?”
     He took her hand.  “Sure I remember you, Celia.  One of the prettiest faces to come through this place.”
     “You’re not looking bad yourself, John.”
     He laughed.  “I haven’t seen you in, what – six years?  Was I really that boring?”
     “Not a chance, John.  It was me…it was all me.”
     He nodded and glanced away, “I was just going to do my rounds and then go home.  Clara has cooked roast beef.  She wants us to go to the pictures afterwards.”
     “To see what?”
     The Fortunate; she says it’s about an Iraqi man living in modern America, the writer son of a soldier.”
     “I’ve seen it.  It’s really good.”
     Father Cairn glanced sideways at her.  “I’m sure I’ll enjoy it then.  Are you okay, Celia?  You look troubled.  I’m concerned.  I’m having flashbacks.”
     She smiled and stared at the statues that thronged the church.  Some of them she could identify.  Patrick, Francis, Archangel Gabriel. 
     “I came to visit her.”
     He nodded and asked, “Did you ever get married?”
     “No.  Not yet.”
     “Girl like you?  Shocking.”
     She grinned.  “You still smoke, John?” 
     “Yes, unfortunately.”
     She pulled the pack of Lincoln’s from her jacket pocket and shook it.  “You want to have a sly cigarette with me?”
     He glanced at his watch and looked up at her, smiling.  “Sure, why not.  Clara would kill me if she found out.”
     “Clara won’t find out.  It’s between you, me and the Lord.”
     “Okay, just let me do my rounds.  I’ll be five minutes.”

The two of them stood on the steps of Corpus Christi, staring up at the last streaks of twilight in the darkening dusk.  Father Cairn had his arms crossed, taking deep drags on his cigarette. 
     “I’ve missed you, John.”
     He looked at her.  “I’ve missed you too.  Clara still talks about you and Alice.  Your mum did a lot for this church.”
     “I know.”
     “She was a wonderful woman, Celia.”
     “I know.”
     “You’re a lot like her.  You’ve got her eyes.”
     Celia laughed and nodded.  “I know.”
     They smoked in silence for a while.  When Father Cairn uncrossed his arms she put her hand in his.  He squeezed it gently.
     “Do you think we’re living in the end times…like the prophecy of Revelations?  I know society has always seemed like it’s on a knife-edge, but to me it’s like that now more than ever.”
     He thought about it for a while.  “It seems that way sometimes, that everything is increasingly apocalyptic, but no.  I don’t think it’s the case.  I think the end of days is allegorical…it represents the inner world, the wretched, beautiful soul of humanity.”
     She nodded.  “But how do we explain all the suffering; the war and murder and rape?  How do we explain genocide, or hacking a baby to pieces with an axe?  Is it the will of God?  Can you look yourself in the mirror every day and believe that?  I can’t believe in a creator who would allow us free will just to abuse each other so spectacularly.”
     Father Cairn pulled on the cigarette, exhaling smoke into the breeze. 
     “I think greed and simple selfishness accounts for the horror.  It’s the lust for power and control over others.  Even the Church falls prey to it.  This is our world to make of it what we will.  Free Will.  He gives us that gift because he loves us unconditionally.”
     Celia nodded and sighed.  “I don’t understand, John.  I really don’t.  Is the Devil walking amongst us?”  She stared at him.  “Is he?  Sometimes I fear that Evil is a literal presence in the world, in the human heart.”
     He smiled and tossed the cigarette.  “I’m a learned man, but I can’t say without doubt.  I don’t think any of us can.  I asked the same questions when I was training at seminary.  Every priest has done the same, every man, woman and child.”
     “What do you believe?  Not as a priest but as a regular human man.”
     He stared deep into her face.  She could see that he’d missed her terribly. 
     “I’m a Catholic who puts his faith in Jesus Christ.  I’ve seen his divine love manifest in my life, but I also believe the Holy Spirit is present in the lives of all religious creeds.  Perhaps I’m a minority among my peers.  I do believe in the presence of evil, but I also think evil is just a twisted form of love, not the absence of love.  The devil is lonely; we all know this deep down.  Your questions have to be answered by looking inside yourself.  The Church might get frightened by the idea that the kingdom of God is within us, but it is.  His light and love, all his works…they’re within each of us.  I know it sounds trite but that’s what I fall back on when the world pisses me off.  It’s the best wisdom I can give you, Celia.”
     She nodded and dropped her cigarette, crushing it beneath her heel.
     “Can I get a hug, Father Cairn?”
     He laughed and hugged her, rocking her gently.  In her ear he whispered, “Am I going to see you back at church any time soon…?”
     “I doubt it, John.”
     He pulled away and kissed her cheek.  “Then you take care of yourself, okay?”
     She nodded.  “Okay.”  Celia walked away, into the night.

***

Namahey Finn was kneeled, naked in the darkness, before the Telling Stones.  He had left Lillibeth alone in the cathedral to contemplate the feast they gorged themselves on.  He could feel strength deep inside himself now, bloodfire that scorched his heart and mind.  In the native dream he’d been afraid and didn’t understand the meaning of dust and fire, flesh and blood.  In his native dream he wanted to flee the shackles of the corporeal form, he wanted to run his flesh into the ground, salting the earth.
     He licked at the boy’s life that still lingered on his lips.  Before, there had been too little sleep yet far too much dreaming.  He had turned that to his advantage now. The sound of footsteps came from behind him.  He didn’t turn, already knowing who was there.
     “I knew you’d come, little ghost…you’re nothing if not predictable.”
     The voice of a young girl whispered in his ear.  “If you love her so much why are you doing this?”  He smiled at her words.  She knew the answers to all her questions, but they both understood it was put upon her to ask them.
     “She murders me, Alice.  Murders me with her love.  And each time she cuts my heart from my chest we are drawn closer, deeper in love.”
     “Obsession, not love.”
     Namahey realised he was almost afraid to turn and face the little ghost.  “No, I cannot,” he said sharply, “I will not let them be who they are…I will not let them be who we were.”
     He felt small hands on his shoulders.  “How many times will you destroy yourself?”
     “Forever.  Until we become One.”
     “Will that actually satisfy you?”
     He laughed.  “This is trite, Alice, this attempt at a last healing.  You cannot heal her.  Go away now.  I never liked you anyway.”
     The little girl walked around him and he saw that she was naked.  She climbed atop the Telling Stones.  She watched him. 
     “I know why you do this.  You think she never really loved you, right?”
     Namahey looked away from her and into the darkness.  “She never did, little ghost.  She had to kill me to learn to love me.  I’ll never let that go.”  He glared at her.  “Do you understand, mother-in-law?  I’ll never let that go…it’s all I really have.  All else is a dream.”
     The little girl frowned.  “Because of this you want to destroy the world?  You’re nothing if not predictable.  How many times will you confuse this violence for poetry, confuse these petty holocausts for romance?”
     Namahey rose to his feet, and went to her, snatching a fistful of her long dark hair.  “This is our story, our fairest tale.  It’s the fair tale of the whole world.  I will not let you take it from us, Alice.  I can’t let you.”  He clasped his hand around her throat. 
     She touched the hand that gripped her and it burned him.  He recoiled instantly, staring wildly at her.  “You want to hurt me,” he muttered, “I like that.  Mum’s got claws.”
     “Why are you so terribly afraid of doing what is right?”
     He laughed out loud and threw his hands up in disbelief.  “This was never about doing what was right!  Space and Time mean nothing to me, I’ve told you all this before!  We’ve transcended that!  Always refugees, countless shores that are always the same fucking shore!  In your heart of hearts you know – you know that I love her…”
     The little girl pressed her hands together as if in prayer.  “I know that, but all of this will start again.  You’ll seal yourself inside your own petulance.  Namahey, please, if you love her…if you truly love her then set her free.”
     “No, never.”
     “Why?”
     Namahey Finn kneeled again before the Telling Stones.  When he looked up at the little naked girl there were tears rolling from his glass eyes.  “If I set her free…then…I will be lost to myself.”
    The girl came down from atop the stones and went to him, slapping him hard across his face.  It burned him and he winced. 
     “So that’s it, ‘Mr Finn’?  That’s what keeps you here?  After all your godlike posturing, you are afraid…to die?”
     He was silent.
     “You are in great need of healing, Louise.”
     He looked up at the child.  “I am not Louise.  I am an angel of light.”
     The little girl kneeled and whispered in his ear.  “I pity you.  I pity you both.”
     “I’ll burn the earth away.  It’ll be the end of days; a war of miracles.  Then you can pity us all…the serpents and the mortals alike.  Now go back to your box, little ghost.”
     She rose to her feet and turned from him.  He began to laugh, listening to her footsteps as she walked away.

***

The dead man lay out in the corridor.  Louise had been sitting cross-legged on the floor of the front room for what seemed like hours, watching him.  The spots of red on her hands had dried.  She’d killed him.  Murdered him.  She didn’t regret it.
     In her mind she saw the image of him fucking Celia.  She closed her eyes to it.  Through the windows she saw that night had come.  She glanced back at the money and passports on the coffee table.  Feelings of unreality were groping at her.
     This couldn’t have happened…and if it had, it couldn’t have any consequences.
     Louise turned away from the image of the dead man in her corridor and scrambled on her hands and knees to the duffel bag, pulling it wide open.  There were two packs of cigarettes, a mobile phone, a black book with no title, and a photograph in a plastic sleeve.  She pulled the photo from its sleeve and stared down at it.  Two boys, one with sandy hair, the other a redhead.  She recognised the boy with sandy hair as the dead man in the corridor.  She tossed the photo away, pulled the black book from the bag and opened it.  There were hand-written pages inside.  It was the diary…Alice Gray’s diary.  She turned quickly and stared into the corridor. 
     It was him.  It was the man that had stabbed her, the man in black. 
     Louise tore the pages from the diary, ripping it all to shreds, breaking the spine.  She rose to her feet and stalked into the corridor. 
     Son of a bitch…” she murmured and kicked the dead man that lay at her feet.  She kicked him again and the corpse rocked with the impact.  “Son of a bitch!  You son of a fucking bitch!” 
     Louise kicked and kicked, as hard as she could, slamming her foot into his gut, into his crotch, into his face.  She stopped, smoothing her hair down with her hands, holding the back of her neck and breathing deep.  “Fuck you…” she murmured.  The dead man said nothing. 
     She kneeled and began searching his pockets.  An open pack of cigarettes.  A wallet filled with identifications that said ‘Simon Plath’.  An electronic car-key.  She took the key and raced into the bathroom.  She washed the dried blood from her hands, staring at her reflection in the mirror.  She didn’t look insane, only tired.  There were spots of blood on the hem of her sweatshirt.
     In the bedroom she quickly changed clothes, hurrying back into the front room.  She grabbed the duffel bag and swept the zip-locks, passports and her mobile phone inside.  The gun was lying on the floor.  She took it too, tossing it into the bag.
     In the corridor she stepped over the dead man without glancing at him, double-locking the front door behind her. 
     She left the building and raced down the steps, pressing the button on the key in her hand.  A blue Vauxhall bleeped twice and its headlights flashed.  She ran to it and unlocked the door, climbing inside and slinging the duffel bag onto the passenger seat.  She stabbed the key in the ignition and started the engine, pulling sharply away from the curb.
     With the motion of the moving car, her hands gripping the wheel, her pulse began to slow.  She tried not to think about the man lying dead in her flat but it was the only image in her mind’s eye.
     “Fuck!” she cried, “You’re fucked now!  You’re fucked…!”  The man was dead but she didn’t care about him.  She cared about the consequences.  She wasn’t going to cry.  She wasn’t going to cry for him.

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