From Q to Il Papa (Fragment from an Imaginary Western)

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That’s some speech padre. But it won’t save you.
I don’t want to be saved, Manolito. Do what you have to.
That’s why I’m here. To do what I must. To finish what was started 20 years ago.
You want your revenge?
Not as simple as that, padre. Compensation, justice, release. Yes, most of all, release.
You want your release? You give me my release. The perfect deal.

His arid laugh was somehow a product of the border town’s inescapable dry heat as it echoed thinly around the adobe walls. Manolito, though, looked coolly at the old man. He had spent his pity long ago. At his core now was an implacable will – a longing to put right a great wrong. To restore some balance to this skewed and twisted part of the universe.

You have no remorse for the things you taught me to do? You have no sorrow for the lives you infected? You have no shame for the betrayal of your faith?
What good is innocence if it cannot be corrupted, Manolito? Temptation is not the province of the evil. It is the justification of innocence. That’s the true meaning of the gospels. Faith is cynicism dressed up by scholars. I am only a herald of the true apocalypse. An acolyte of the Day of the Dead.

Manolito drew his pistol and pointed it at the old man.

Then you won’t need any last words?
No. Adios cocksucker.

Manolito saw the blinding light from beneath the old man’s poncho and in that final, desperate instant knew the world’s fury. Understood the anguish of the departed.

Act of Faith

Once again New Zealand is at the leading edge of social reform with the passing today in Parliament of the Religion and Faith Disestablishment Act and the Religion and Faith Freedom of Association Act.
Essentially, with effect from 1st July, 2017, all organised religions or faiths will cease to exist in their current form and be handed over to private enterprise to administer. Assets held by religious organisations will be sequestered and made available, under tender, to the new private providers

 

The Bills received their third reading today and were speedily ratified by the Unified Parliament. A spokesperson for The Ministry of Social Development said that it was gratifying to finally clarify the distinction between State and Church. ‘These necessary reforms also reflect the Government’s will to allow market forces to shape the future for all of our estates. The Church, in that sense, is no different from Health, Transport, Prisons and Defence – all of which are now being effectively managed by private providers.’

All citizens must register as members of one of the sanctioned Faith and Worship Providers (FWPs).
FWPs must provide a prospectus setting out the full range of services and related costs. Government will strictly regulate how the FWPs operate and ensure that there is no prospect of cartels or restrictive trade practices having a negative impact on competition for worshippers. ‘We don’t want the Anglicans and the Catholics getting together to fix the price of absolution. That would never do’ said a spokesman from the Secular Audit Office (SAO)

It is expected that the advent of corporatised religion will foster a number of radical departures from previous practice and the Government will provide favourable tax concessions to FWPs that invest in approved architectural initiatives that reflect both religious and corporate philosophy.

To ensure that all Citizens’ rights of Freedom of Association are properly observed, units of the newly-formed Shaolin Security plc will be stationed at key Corporate Cathedrals, Mosques and Synagogues throughout the country. ‘We are determined to enforce these freedoms’, the Prime Minister said at a press conference today.

What is This?

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What it is, is positive proof that in the race between disaster and education – disaster is forging ahead. Trump is the first post-literate President of the United States. As Philip Roth notes, Trump is ‘wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better described as Jerkish than English’
Now that’s pretty funny. And the media, the internet, is awash with scathing, humorous critiques of the new President and his entourage. But as we all laugh at these ad hominem attacks and reassure ourselves that we haven’t replaced thinking with laughing – have we paused to consider what it is we’re laughing at and whether we’ve stopped thinking while we laugh?
Before the Election, the television-viewing public was already consuming Trump; Waiting for his admonishment; Gratified by his judgement. Legitimised by his ‘You’re fired!‘ volleyed at an unfortunate contestant. There’s really no difference between that and  firing Boeing or a Security Advisor is there?  No more than there is telling Putin that he likes him and his product – and will back it.
So while we figure out whether the medium is still the message and whether or not we can somehow restore our attention spans  to the degree necessary to withstand the media deluge – we’ll also need  to re-establish our desire to have that same media at the forefront of the eternal struggle for decency and compassion. It’s either that or  the noxious hybrid of an Orwellian prison hosting an insane vaudeville. And that’s no laughing matter.

Adventures With The Briscoes Lady

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As we sat on the terrace at Versailles and watched the fountains playing,  I glanced over at Tammy. She had never looked lovelier. Or happier. The early autumn sun, as it filtered through the sparkling fountain plumes, caught the highlights in her auburn wig and gave it hints of dying embers and Oloroso sherry. She caught me looking at her and then that cupid bow smile, the tilting of her firm jaw and those sparkling eyes announced that she was about to speak.
‘It’s gorgeous, isn’t it darling? And we got 30% off the whole trip in the sale.’
I nodded my agreement, content to look into those liquid brown eyes that had captivated the hearts and minds of so many retailers and customers over the last 25 years.
We both looked up as a footman, wearing the livery of the Bourbon regime, appeared and offered Tammy the autumn season catalogues of Galeries Lafayette, Monoprix and Printemps.
‘Merci’, she frothed at the man, tossing her head gaily, causing the wig to bob and shimmer as he retreated backwards, bowing as he went. We both noticed that the servant looked somewhat confused as he walked away – peering over the terrace wall as if looking for someone – and then back at Tammy. He stood motionless for a moment, then shrugged perplexedly before disappearing to wherever such people go.
Tammy sighed deeply. ‘I should have never agreed to that bloody voice-over transplant. He knew that wasn’t me speaking. He bloody knew.’
I summoned up my best comforting smile and kissed her lightly on the lobe of her left ear. I explained to Tammy that style icons, exemplars of wholesomeness, heralds of a consumer paradise – such as herself – would inevitably carry the burden of necessary artifice in order to satisfy the cravings of the hordes of television viewers who tuned in each day just so that they might see her and hear about the latest ‘specials’.
‘That’s all very well’, she ventriloquized, ‘but I can’t even remember what my real voice sounds like – I’ve been stuck with this call centre patois for so long!’
I placed my hands against her shoulders and pressed them reassuringly. I whispered my understanding and sympathy into her ear, once more lightly kissing that delicious lobe. Her agitation eased, the flame in her cheeks abated to its usual peach hue and her breathing became more even, more measured. She was back in control.
I chose the moment to remind Tammy that tomorrow was Mombasa and that she needed a good night’s sleep before the journey. I suggested that she might like to unscrew her right leg so that I could massage her stump before she retired for the night and she gave me that sincerest of smiles that had melted the hearts of so many in the last quarter of a century.
I’m a lucky fellow.

Eyes Right- Tales From The Waiting Room

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You can do what you like to me. Anything at all. But not my eyes. Don’t touch my eyes.

The waiting room in the hospital Eye Department is bereft of all visual stimulation. I surmise that the plain eau de Nil walls, armless DHB standard issue chairs and unisex white clothing the staff wear are all post-ironic. The other poor sods awaiting their fate either stare despairingly at their iPhones, pick without conviction at the ragged pile of vintage magazines or have mumbled conversations that, even from a distance, somehow convey equal measures of ennui and terror. I smile as I’m reminded of the Netherworld reception room in  Beetlejuice’. But the guy sitting next to me doesn’t have a shrunken head. Although he may well be dead.

As I progress through the hierarchical system of nurse, junior doctor and specialist, I’m directed to an alcove to await the next episode of ritual humiliation. There are seven others sharing the tiny space – my knees almost touching those of the noisy woman opposite. She seems to know everyone else in the tiny space and is leading a morbidly animated discussion on the various ghastly outcomes that may be visited on us. The bit about ‘injections straight into your eye’ gets my attention and promotes some nausea, palpitations and prickly heat. It’s like sharing the tumbril with a bladesmith, keen to describe the efficacy of the guillotine.

The young Englishman, Tim,  with the Oxbridge accent is rather jolly. He’s strapping me into a machine that is a kind of clinician’s Space Invaders. He’s going to laser my eyes. Usually, when rigid with fear, I deploy humour as a counter-measure. Tim notices the rictus that I’m trying to pass off as a calm smile and asks, ‘What’s funny?‘ I describe the Hammer Horror alcove experience and suggest that there should be a sign above the waiting area describing it as ‘Sartre’s Waiting Room’.  ‘Ah yes’, he says, ‘Existential hell.‘ That’s what a University education does. It robs me of the opportunity to explain and amplify the startling brilliance of my wit and wisdom.

Telling a Head of Department why his appointments system is hopelessly inefficient and offering to ‘come in and fix it up’ is most likely not a good idea. And it probably explains why I sat around for another hour before my appointment was kept. The impatient patient.

Author’s Note. Thanks are due to Josh Stuart for helping me back into the groove, as well as suggesting this topic as the means of re-entry.

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Storm Warning

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I’d seen it before. His face darkening. Glowering. I don’t mean in the theatrical sense. There were no histrionics involved. No actor could build the layers, manufacture the almost imperceptible tautness at the edges of the mouth, flex and purse the bottom lip in ways that suggested appraisal. Critical appraisal.
The eyes worked in tandem with the nostrils. The black, necromancer’s pupils pulsing in time to the sibilant breathing. The long mesomorphic levers – his arms – resting on the seat in front of him, somehow creating a perfectly balanced composition. He was both beautiful and dread in his stillness.
I’d seen it before. I knew what would happen. The first recognition of unbidden intrusion met with calm civility. A friendly smile and a suggestion of equanimity. All the while, the eyes appraising, the gestures encouraging.
Some time passes. Enough time for his words to be either heeded or ignored. He looks over at me. There is concern there but also resolve. And by now the darkening has wrought an almost metaphysical change. Then it happens. He’s out of his seat and turned to face his tormentors in a single movement. ‘I only ever ask once’, he says quietly to the man he holds in mid-air by his coat lapels.
I’m shaking – scared. But the man and his companions leave and they’re not waiting outside the cinema as I worried they might.
‘I think Bob Mitchum would have approved’, he says to me. ‘And Charles Laughton too.‘ He smiled as he guided me onto the bus home. ‘We won’t tell mum though, eh?

Author’s Note
When I was about 11 or 12 years old, my father took me on a long bus ride to a cinema to see ‘Night of the Hunter’ – a movie he had keenly anticipated seeing. Shortly after we had taken our seats, a half-dozen or so ‘teddy boys’ came and sat behind us. Dad dealt with the situation.

Widow’s Walk

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I knew her as Mrs Wraith. Winsome Wraith was her name. She came in the night while I slept and saw to it that I knew of her distress. It seemed to me that her great sorrow defined her existence rather more than her Nantucket provinciality. Living on an island that the native Algonquian people  called ‘a faraway place’ was one thing – but mourning for a man, a mysterious man, who had sacrificed himself to Mishibijiw, the Water Panther, was quite another.

Walter Wraith had courted and married Winsome Coffin in the summer of 1830. Walter was a newcomer and Winsome was old money. Her ancestor, Tristram Coffin, was one of the island’s original owners. A friend of John Smith’s. But Walter had a shaman’s ways and soon convinced his bride to fund the building from live oak of a 300 ton whaler, ‘The Starbuck’ – of which he would be the master.
How do I know this? Winsome has told me of it on those many occasions while I stared up at her from my narrow bed. Stared into those spectral, eternal eyes, framed by a glowing yellow moon. Listened as she paces around the belvedere at the top of the harbourside mansion where I have been transported in my dreams. Listened as she beats her breast and cries Walter’s name. Watched as she arches her body, thrusts back her head and entreats the moon, the unforgiving sea, the dissembling breeze to return her errant husband; restore him to her arms, to her cold bed.

And then she returns. Implores me. Holds out those wasted, pitiful hands. The anguish in her voice cannot be borne. She recounts once more the story of her lost child, William. She describes Walter’s despair. His rage. How he took ‘The Starbuck’ out into the fury of a New England storm. And how she is consigned now to stand duty each night, hopelessly staring at an unyielding horizon, waiting for her love’s return. Her only companion, her dead son, William.