Thursday, 24 November 2011
Author's Note: 'Happy Hour' is set in one room and is about an old man contemplating what lies ahead. The stream of consciousness style and the theme may offend some people.
‘Eighty-seven’s not a bad innings, I suppose, but now it’s time to move on - and it’s the first of April, now that’s appropriate - Fool’s Day - for the end of the line, and the last stop on the last metro.’
Peter is talking out aloud as he does from time to time without noticing it and right now he’s being troubled by an intrusive ringing sound which could be in his head but may not be so he picks up the phone as he continues to talk out loud as he was at the beginning of this sentence.
‘Everything’s in place at last, the die is cast and the end is nigh.’
‘For God’s sake dad, don’t be so mellow dramatic, why can’t you just answer the phone in the normal manner?’
‘We don’t do it like that in France, that’s why.’
On the table next to the window an old-fashioned turntable is playing an even more old fashioned tune that adds to the garbled noises in his head so that every now and then Peter sings along with Vera, the vocalist that is, but it’s obvious that he only knows some of the words.
‘We’ll meet again… Allo again. Peter Mulligan speaking. Don’t know where don’t know when… Is that you Jamie?’
(Italics will show when we’re speaking French as in la lanque Francaise even if we don’t have a cedilla - or more accurately, we don't bother to use it even if it must be somewhere on the keyboard).
‘Jesus dad do we really have to go through this again?’
He glances at the things he’s gathered together on the table, Peter, that is.
‘Give us the tools and we’ll get on with…’
‘Stop it Dad, Christ, I’d just like to just talk to you sensibly for a change.’
Peter looks at the open box and the crystal glass he’s chosen and sees all the ingredients are mixed together. He's already attended to that, he remembers.'
‘So, let’s just add a pack of paracetamol, a widely used antipyretic commonly used for the relief of minor aches and pains, but in combination with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioid analgesics, also used in the management of more severe pain just in case and just as a precaution I suppose, just because I’d hate there to be any pain - it's the thing I fear most even though the literature states that there isn’t any, one can never be too sure and you can’t exactly claim your money back afterwards can you, not if the stuff’s any good anyway?’ (Is this a question, I wonder?)
‘What? What’s that? What are you talking about, dad?’
(This is definitely a question - maybe it's three).
He picks up a bottle of wine, Peter that is, not James and for your information James is the other person, amongst others, who will be talking from time to time but you must have deduced that or guessed it already.
‘And, most important of all, a good Beaujolais nouveau, one of my favorites, on the other hand, Champagne would have been a good idea too, not that this is exactly a celebration, just the opposite, I suppose.’ As you can see it’s sometimes a problem to work out whether a word’s English or French and in this case we take the easy way out, like we do with so many things. One's in italics - the other's not.
‘But who knows no one’s ever been there and come back to tell us really, but I don’t think so, well, not recently, and all that stuff depends on what you’re prepared believe, or to classify yourself as a believer, although I must tell you that Lorna believes it, almost literally, she loves all that traditional stuff she was taught when she was young.’
Peter is being troubled by a different intrusive sound over his tinnitus which is toiling away as it used to from time to time and now does all the time. As you all know, this is the perception of sound within the human ear in the absence of corresponding external sound, so even if you didn't know, now you do.
He looks at the phone. He puts it to his ear. All he hears is an incessant buzzing. He puts it back on the table. (The phone, not his ear this time, but don’t forget that he is old and confused and he has tinnitus, which I've told you already and which can result from injury, from loud noises, or wax or foreign objects in the ear, or even from those nose allergies that prevent or induce fluid drain and cause wax build-up, so there).
‘OK, so now it’s time for me to get comfortable and to do the dirty deed so I’ll just light the fire to make it nice and warm in here.
‘Now to the hemlock,’ which is simply Shakespearian or, for those of you not old enough to remember, an old fashioned word for something nasty, quite often used by now old fashioned detective fiction writers.
He pours a good few inches of wine and some other liquid into the glass and starts stirring vigorously.
‘Good God what hat a disgusting colour, you’d think these days they’d be able to concoct something that looked a little more attractive, a bit more appetizing for the last round, something that looks like a banana milkshake, or a pina colada or a tequila, or some other attractive-looking cocktail.’ (No italics here because they’re not French).
He stops talking out loud, and reprimands himself.
‘But now’s not the time for jokes, Peter, Jesus, I do so whish Lorna hadn’t left me because I’d feel much more confident if she was still here and we were doing this together. That would be the way to go because she’d know exactly what to do and no matter where or when on this sunny day.’
LORNA STARTS SERVING LUNCH WHICH MEANS THERE’S BEEN A TIME SHIFT WHICH IS WHAT I WANTED HERE AND THE BREAK’S BEEN EMPHASIZED WITH CAPITALS TO MAKE IT EASER TO FOLLOW.
‘There you go darling. Bon appetit.’ (Remember what italics mean?).
But he was expecting something else.
‘Jesus Christ what’s this, Lorna? I thought you said we were having…’
‘Now don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, Peter your language is getting worse and worse. Why don’t you try practicing not blaspheming? Then maybe you’ll swear less when the kids get here. Anyway, to answer your question, it’s osso bucco (no italics) darling, and it’s east European. Well, I think it is anyway, and I’m sure it’ll be very nice, just try it, and here’s a drop of red wine for you, just one glass, remember what the doctor said to you.’ (Once again, the meal is not French).
‘Jesus again, Lorna, why spoil a good glass of wine, even such a small one, by contaminating it with this… this… whatever it is you know I don’t eat this kind of thing, I’d rather eat fish even if it’s not Friday.’
‘Peter, you know that’s not true. If I’d cooked fish you’d have made an almighty fuss and I’d never have heard the end of it, do you really think after all these years I’d cook fish for you? Now just eat up. There’s a good boy.’
To break up the dialogue, imagine the sound of knives and forks scratching around on plates.
‘I’m sorry Lorna, I’ll just stick to the wine.’
Lorna: Peter! You’re becoming an alcoholic, you can’t skip your food and just drink alcohol and think about what you’re doing to your body and your liver must be in a terrible state already.
‘I’m not sure about that, but my stomach certainly would be if I eat this… this osso… whatever you called it.’
Lorna: Bucco, Peter. Osso bucco.
But, Peter, you are impossible. I hope you’re not going to carry on like this when Molly’s here, Molly and the boys that is.
‘Ah, yes, Molly, is she bringing … you know… I suppose he’s coming, is he? what’s his name to spoil the holiday… you know… the grease monkey?’
Lorna: Yes, Peter, she is. But I’ll thank you not to call him that. You never know when you could make a mistake. Or someone else could hear you. Someone you wouldn’t want to hear what you’d said. Like the boys, for example. Because that would be very hurtful to Molly. If it was passed on to her. Even innocently.
He’s her partner, Pat is. And he’s very good… well, quite good to her as well. And He’s been with her for…? Mmm… let’s see now. It must be almost ten years I suppose. So I’m sure they get on very well together. And he’s been very good to the boys. He tries hard, anyway.
Peter remembers what he said in reply as the sound of the cutlery on plates competes with other noises in his head and Ms Lynn goes on about meeting again and this is what Peter said or thinks he said: Well, I’m not as sure as you are about him trying hard, he doesn’t seem to make much of an effort with me, does he?
Lorna: That’s not right Peter. He has tried with you, but… It’s just that you two have so little in common. And you can be quite difficult as well. As you know, I suspect.
‘Well, it is quite difficult for me to get excited, enthusiastic even, about loud bands and about changing the exhaust pipe on one or other of his cars but the point is, I just don’t see what she sees in him and that’s all there is to it if all he’s going to talk about again is horse racing and hotted up motor cars, we’re in for a hard time, he and I because I’m not the least bit interested in either.’
Lorna: I can tell that you’ve decided already that you’re going to be difficult if they do come.
I wonder what they talk about when they’re alone together - divorce pipes as I remember it because Molly’s not really interested in bands and motoring either, is she? When do they arrive anyway and, just by the way, what did you mean, if they do come?
Now pay attention dear reader so that you can see who is saying what in Peter’s head.
Peter remembers Lorna saying next month or in about four and a half weeks time, when Vera was singing don’t know where, don’t know when. That’s when it should be, anyway. And I hope you’re going to be nice to them when they’re here. All of them that is. Molly, the boys and Pat. Try to remember his name Peter. It’s really simple. Pat. Short for Patrick. Use your word association technique. And do give some consideration to the fact that his career is tied up in the petroleum industry. Don’t let’s get into any of that heated stuff about global warming. Or economic imperialism. Or any of those other favorites of yours. That you trot out whenever you want to goad someone. Or to be controversial. Not everyone enjoys an argument, dear. Not like you do, so please say hello to the folks that I know and we’ll meet again some sunny day.
Peter: OK, darling I’ll try but…well…seeing is believing, I suppose and from what you’ve just said, and I quote, ‘that’s when it should be’ unquote, I’ve got my doubts because I know from experience that you can listen between the lines, so to speak, and I’ve now got a hunch that we’re in for another surprise, just like what happened last year.
Lorna: Oh Peter, last year was an exception. Molly was very upset about it. So were the boys. But Pat had to go to America at the last minute. That’s why they had to cancel their….
Peter’s bored with remembering this conversation but luckily that intrusive singing enters his consciousness again and his mind changes direction as he sings along, ‘Don’t know where… don’t know when…’
GET READY FOR A TIME SHIFT AS HE PICKS UP THE TELEPHONE.
‘Allo, oui, bonjour’, he says in French, but you know that already. As you can see, if you go to the next line, it’s Jamie again.
Jamie: Hi. Good morning again Dad. How are things?
‘Oh, hello Jamie, did you ring a short while ago? Yes, yes, I’m fine, I suppose, how are you? As well as can be expected for someone as old as me so, yes, I think I’m OK, if you’re really interested for the moment, anyway, but, in the end it really depends what you’ve called for.
Jamie: Come on Dad, you sound perfect. If you just stopped thinking about your age you’d be one hundred percent. And yes I did ring but I got cut off…
‘Well, yes, I suppose so but time marches on you know, and there’s the inevitable toll to pay, sooner or later you have to pay the…you know, the rower.. We all have to…eventually.’ (He’s Greek, I think – the rower, not Jamie - and more correctly known as, I think, the Ferryman or Charon).
Jamie: You really are hard on yourself, you know. But I’ve come to realize that a large part of this is pessimism and it’s put on for show. Isn’t it?
‘You’ll find out when you grow… I mean get older, now there was almost a Freudian slip Jamie, did you spot it, I nearly said grow up and you wouldn’t have liked that would you?
Jamie: Well you have said it Dad, as I’m sure you always intended to. But, don’t you think there are certain benefits related to getting older? Perhaps you should try to focus on them. Like no mortgage to worry about. Cheap travel. Financial security. Things like that.
‘Oh, Jamie, I’ve heard all this before, and anything positive you read about old age is written by people who are already old, i.e., someone with no alternative, or it’s written by someone with a vested interest, like someone in advertising where the objective is to sell something to old fogies, you know, holidays for the over whateveritis or health care when it’s too late, or insurance so that your dependants will live happily ever after, after you’ve gone, that is, and the only thing I can think of is cheap bus tickets for old codgers and you don’t get caries because your teeth stop growing and holes only develop in teeth that are still developing which is not much compensation is it?’
Jamie: You really do have a penchant for looking on the dark side don’t you?
(LET’S GET THIS THING MOVING AGAIN – LET’S MAKE PETER SAY SOMETHING MILDLY RISQUÉ WHICH IS NOW CONSIDERED ENGLISH AND REQUIRES NO ITALICS).
‘Well, perhaps, but let me give you an insight into the brighter side that I was reminiscing about the other day because when I was younger, I used to have really exciting dreams so Freud would have had a field day with them, was it Freud who did all that stuff on dreams or was it Jung? Well, no matter, whoever it was he would’ve have loved my dreams because I certainly did always have very exciting, not to say stimulating dreams and always in a room full of seductive young people, and me with only my shirt on and no underwear Jamie and I found the men as exciting and attractive as I did the women.’
Jamie: Dad! Dad! I’m not sure I want to hear about this kind of thing.
‘No, you’re right, Jamie, I don’t suppose you want to hear about my reminiscences do you but you should know that at about thirty something I suppose is when it all starts happening and you realize that you’re getting older and you have to get up to urinate in the wee small hours of the morning but once it sets in it soon increases at what seems a rapid pace.’
Jamie: Look Dad, if it makes you feel any better, it’s already happening to me and I’m not even half your age. I can’t get through many nights without getting up to go to the toilet. But so what?
‘So what? So everything… you seem to have missed my point, because of course there are sometimes more serious versions, accidents and so on, especially when you’ve had too much to drink, but luckily, I must say, it only happened very rarely, only once in fact, before Lorna left me and I’ll leave it to your imagination to work out what she said.’
Jamie: I’m sorry, Dad, I still don’t see your point. If this happens to everyone, and it happens gradually, then it’s not the end of the world, is it? Just exactly what are you getting at?
‘Well, Jamie, you’re right and wrong - it could be the end but as you say and I agree the odd bladder failure is hardly a capital offence, embarrassing, no doubt, but not much more than that, but what happens if, and more importantly, WHEN it gets to the other kind of incontinence that’s much less easy to pass off as a simple mishap, because it’s much more visible and much more… much more… well, messy, I suppose you’d say.’
Jamie: Dad, I’m sorry, but I really can’t follow your train of thought. Whatever mishaps you might have in bed is not a really big deal in my book.
‘Well perhaps not at your age, Jamie, that’s because it’s not on your radar yet but when it becomes a regular occurrence you may change your mind although it’s not happened to me yet, but it’s on my mind all the time because I can’t help thinking it must be the most embarrassing and undignified situation you could ever find yourself in.’
Jamie: I say again Dad. Who cares? It’s not that big a deal in the overall scheme of things.
‘As you say, from your perspective but from mine, it’s started to worry me and I’m sure it’s just around the corner, but… I AM DETERMINED TO AVOID THE NIGHTMARE SITUATION OF BEING TOTALLY INCAPACITATED, AND TRAPPED BETWEEN INCESSANT BOUTS OF MORPHINE-INDUCED CONSTIPATION AND GERIATRIC-INDUCED DIARRHEA.’
Jamie: So what are you telling me, Dad? What are you planning to do about it? Is there anything you CAN do? I don’t think so.
‘Oh, Jamie, you’re so wrong and there’s one obvious thing you can certainly do and the point is that you must never lose control of your ability to act so act in good time is the key phrase.’
Jamie: Dad, just what are you getting at. Please use plainspeak. So that I can understand.
‘I’ll let you know in good time Jamie, don’t worry, anyway, this is you calling me, and you must obviously have a reason so what can I do for you?
‘But please be brief, I’ve got lots to do today.’
Jamie: Hang on Dad, what’s the hurry? Are you in the middle of something? Don’t you want to talk to me? Busy on other more important things, and no time to talk to your son?
‘It’s not that Jamie, but I know from experience that you don’t usually phone for a social chat, so here must be an ulterior motive, if you’ll forgive me, for saying so that is.’
Jamie: Hell Dad, that’s a bit rich. You complain that I don’t phone you and then when I do, you think it’s only because I want something. I wonder why I bother?
‘OK, OK, I’m sorry, Jamie, how are you anyway, and how’s the… well, you know, are you working because the last time we spoke you were thinking about finding a job, weren’t you?’
Jamie: Well, if you must know, I’ve got a few irons in the fire, Dad. So I’m sure I’ll get an interview soon. But nothing as yet. Nothing concrete anyway. But, Dad, I didn’t phone you to talk about my job prospects…
‘I know you didn’t Jamie, I know it’s a subject that never seems to have interested you that much.’
Jamie: Look, let’s stop this right here Dad. It’s always the same. My job is my concern. It’s got nothing to do with you.
‘That’s the point, Jamie it is your concern, but you’re never concerned or not concerned enough in my opinion is the trouble, if you ask me.
Jamie: Well, no one’s asking you Dad. I didn’t phone to get into an argument about my personal life philosophies. Or yours for that matter.
There’s a long pause because Peter hears something strangely familiar but can’t immediately work out what it is, thinking it’s someone saying or singing, you’ll be happy to know, until you saw me go, I was singing this song, until the noise in Peter’s head becomes the front door bell ringing and he tries to ignore it but fails and gets up to answer same.
‘Sorry Jamie, just a moment, hang on, there’s someone at the…’
Jamie: No Dad, I can’t hang on… After all, it’s my call to you Dad! Dad! Don’t just keep me hanging on, Dad, for Christ’s sake!
But he’s talking to himself because Peter’s not there he’s gone to answer the door which you’d know if you’ve been concentrating on the dialogue, but when Peter gets back he’ll be saying out aloud:
This is Jamie, not Peter: Jesus, he’ll never change.
He just does what he likes. He never thinks about anybody else. Dad! Dad! Pick up the phone please! I can’t hang on all day!
And then to no one because, as we know, no one’s listening, but we’re reading:
‘What the hell do you do with someone like this?’
Peter remembers opening the front door that morning.
‘Ah bonjour Madame.’ ‘Goot morning Monsieur Mulliga, a parcel pour vous.’ ‘Thank you Madame. And congratulations on your English. It’s getting better every day. Do I have to sign anything?’ ‘Sank you Monsieur. Yes please, you sign here please. So many English so we must learn it. It’s from Olland. Ow you say? Amsterdam. You have friend zere? It has glasses in. I read on custom’ paper. To dring with not for eye glasses.’ ‘Yes, it’s from Holland. But it’s not glasses Madame. You either drink out of those or you read with them. Bottles. It’s a mail order purchase from an organization I found on the Internet, and it contains bottles.’ ‘Sank you monsieur. Bonne journée.’ ‘Thank you Madame. Bon appetit.’
Now, just to avoid any confusion, this is Peter:
‘Mmm. Looks very complicated but at least the instructions are in English, as well as various other languages it seems, even Arabic, or Sanskrit – or something anyway, and, let’s see, what is this all about, ah, some very practical information on how to actually carry out the terminal with your mind at rest, mind over matter, you’d have to say, good grief... Jamie, I’d forgotten about him.’
Peter: Hello Jamie, are you still there?
Jamie: Jesus Dad! You can’t do that! Just leaving me hanging on like this. It’s my call to you, remember. It’s costing ME money, not YOU. And I really can’t afford it.
Peter: Sorry, Jamie, I am sorry, really but that was le facteur avec mon colis.
Jamie: And don’t talk that foreign stuff to me dad. You know I don’t understand a word of it.
Peter: OK, Jamie, le facteur is the post lady, because although ‘le’ is essentially masculine, it’s been changed, only recently though because the gender laws have been relaxed, if you like, and previously, even if the person delivering the letters was a lady, you used a masculine noun…
Jamie: Stop this Peter! For Christ’s sake stop it! I didn’t you phone for a French grammar lesson. I’ve got something to say to you.
Peter: Sorry again, Jamie, but after all the money I spent on private schooling for you I would have thought you’d know that I was simply saying that it’s the post lady with a little something I’ve treated myself to and she’d arrived with my parcel from Amsterdam.
THE KIT I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR IS REALLY WHAT HE MEANS ALTHOUGH PETER DOESN’T EMPHASIZE IT LIKE I HAVE BY USING CAPS BECAUSE HE’S NOT SURE THAT HE WANTS JAMIE TO KNOW ABOUT HIS PLANS.
Jamie: Dad, I really phoned to find out how you are. And I want to say something to you. Well… I’ve got something to ask you really.
Peter: Yes, Jamie, I know you do and I know what it is but it’s just that after what I shelled out on your education, I’d have thought you would known the facteur from La Poste, and a very attractive postie at that who even wears high heels because we’re very chic we are here with my parcel which only took two days to get here all the way from Holland.
Jamie: Let’s just put the French lesson aside for the moment Dad.
But he can’t contain his curiosity, so this is Jamie again:
‘What on earth have you got from Holland?’
Peter: Ah well, only a little thing I found on the Internet, nothing to get concerned about though.
Jamie: Look Dad, let’s not play ducks and drakes with each other. Tell me what you’re buying on mail order.
Peter: Nothing to worry about Jamie, just a little kit I read about when I was ‘surfing’ as you call it and when I found some really interesting and comprehensive sites on a subject that interests me more and more these days, I suppose at my age, is what I mean.
Jamie: Dad, I know all about those sites. I’ve seen some of them myself…
Peter: Why would you be looking at them Jamie?
Jamie: Well I have, and most of them are rubbish. They’ve got the wrong morality. Contorted ethics if you like. Many of them are run by charlatans or quacks. And lots of the products are suspect. Bogus at best and ineffectual at worst. They’re just money-making scams cashing in on a trend. Tell me what you’ve bought Dad.
Peter: No need to get so het up, Jamie but it seems to me that at my age I’ve got a legitimate reason to look at these things because I need all the information I can get on the subject although why on earth have YOU’VE been researching the subject I just can’t work out.
Jamie: Please cut out this nonsense Dad. It’s my business what I look at. My point is that most of the sites are awful.
Peter: I can’t agree. I found them. Very helpful. I wish. I wish I’d found them. Before. Before Lorna left. Some of them were even quite funny. Even she would have thought so. In fact. Some of the stuff I found was really VERY funny. Well. The amusing ones were rubbish really. I suppose. And certainly not always serious. And you would think. That some people would find it really offensive. As it already seems to have done. Like you Jamie. Like you.
Jamie: Funny? Funny? Dad are you losing your marbles? Suicide is nothing to laugh at.
Peter: Wrong again, Jamie. And right. In a way. Anyway. There’s a very funny one. What’s it called again? ‘HUNDREDS OF WAYS TO COMMIT…’
Or something like that. No. That’s not it.
‘ONE HUNDRED AND ONE WAYS TO COMMIT SUICIDE’. That’s it. And it’s hilarious. Really. Even if whoever wrote the copy had a really warped sense of something. Humour. I suppose.
For example, what about the
JUMPING OFF BUILDINGS
method? With the caveat warning that only 9 out of 10 people die, and those that don’t might find the next attempt more difficult. Because what they mean of course is… What? Oh yes when you’re confined to a wheel chair. And paralyzed. From the neck down it’s hard. To launch yourself that is. Into oblivion from a tall building. In a wheelchair.
Jamie: Dad, I’ve seen that site, and I don’t think it’s funny at all.
Peter: Which just proves it. What I’ve always said. That you’ve never had a sense of humour. Anyway, did you see the
JOIN THE ARMY
suggestion. It was about number ten. Or eleven. It recommends you apply for a posting. To a war zone. Like Iraq. Or Afghanistan.
Just by the way, Jamie, did you know that we’ve had troops in Iraq for over twenty years now? Because you were just a teenager. When we first went in and got rid of Saddam Hussein.
Jamie: Look Dad, I’ve never heard of Saddam Whoever. I don’t know who he is and I really don’t care. Just tell me what your kit consists of. And what you intend to do with it.
Peter: You keep missing the point Jamie joining the army is like a suicide pact whether you like it or not and it always amazes me to see those teary eyed TV interviews with soldiers’ wives, or their widows, I suppose you’d say, you know, after one of their husbands has been shot, usually dead and they always seem so surprised that someone on the other side the enemy we used to call it in my day has had the audacity to fire back or to counter attack in one way or another because they always seem to forget that soldiers are taught to kill and that’s their raison d’etre and that’s what soldiers both sides are for and it’s their job to get shot at.
TO ANNIHILATE EACH OTHER.
But they somehow think it’s unfair if the enemy retaliate no that’s not on that’s dangerous’ is in effect what they’re saying but anyway I’m getting off the subject did you see the one where you
PUT TWO SIX-INCH NAILS UP YOUR NOSE
one in each nostril, and then you bang your head down on the table
but this method might just be there to tease us, so I’m not sure about this one.
Jamie: That’s not the least bit funny, Dad. I can’t believe you’re reduced to reading this kind of trash. And that you find it amusing. It’s amazing.
Peter: Easy to say Jamie but what else do you suggest I do, since Lorna left, my life has changed quite dramatically, as you know anyway, it’s research and I’m broadening my mind by imbibing information amongst other things and using modern technology and I find it funny, to boot, plus I thought it was really creative as well and that’s always a bonus. But the other one I liked suggests
CLIMBING INTO A MAN-EATER’S CAGE AT THE ZOO
with the Hot Tip, as they call it maybe they mean a caveat that’s Latin not French so no italics, to look for a lean, hungry looking animal i.e. one that’s obviously not been fed recently because you can’t take the chance of only getting half eaten can you, Jamie.’
Jamie: This is really too much Dad. Please stop this nonsense. And stop reading this rubbish. Please!
Peter: Hang on, hang on Jamie, stop interrupting, and what about
SLEEPING WITH SOMEONE WHO IS HIV POSITIVE
did you read that one because as you know I’m sure this method is available almost everywhere and depending on your personality experience or sexual predilection all you need to do is find and seduce an HIV positive partner but they do explain though that the time frame is open-ended so beware not you personally Jamie but anyone who’s thinking of trying this method because it could be several decades before your suicide is consummated if that’s the word and another thing you are warned about is that a cure could conceivably be discovered in the meantime while you’re waiting so to speak and if you’re not careful this could be administered after you’ve gone to all this trouble so it’s quite complicated isn’t it?
Jamie: Fuck! (That’s number one if anyone's counting).
What’s come over you dad?
Peter: Don’t be such a wowser Jamie and Lorna wouldn’t like that kind of language if she was here but she’s not so I don’t suppose it matters but I thinking it’s an amusing suggestion that you sleep around without protection until you find a sexual partner who has AIDS just to commit you know what and they do have the good grace to point out that statistically these days it
shouldn’t take long, especially if you live in Botswana or India and the gender of the person you’re in bed with is not material any longer these days meaning Jamie that if you want to catch aids you can sleep to use a euphemism with a boy or a girl whichever you like so long as they’re of consenting age which is a bizarre notion in itself.’
Jamie: For Crist’s sake!
What’s happened to you Dad?
Peter: Don’t you think it’s funny and again Lorna wouldn’t like your blaspheming but I’m sure it’s supposed to be funny and I thought
was another great suggestion and I must tell you Jamie I soon found that I was dreaming up ludicrous things to add to their list so in my mind you see I’d become a co-author of the site as a creative exercise and I started making up my own methods like buy a Rolex and go out for a stroll in Soweto or in the jungles of Columbia but I suppose the downside to the kidnap option is that your captors may not kill you immediately or they may try for a ransom or they might just cut your arm off to get the watch although you could still presumably bleed to death and you’d have to remember to make sure the money wasn’t paid I mean if you wanted your plan to succeed.’
A strange buzzing noise cuts across the conversation and blanks Vera’s droning on about meeting one day although she doesn’t seem to know exactly where or when and Peter wonders what she’s on about.
Jamie: Dad, can I please ask if we can forget all this rubbish. I need to speak to you about something really important.
Peter: As I said, I know you do, but sorry, Jamie, it’s the doorbell again, hang on for a moment will you or would you prefer I call you back?
Jamie: There’s no point Dad. You’ll forget. Or you’ll say you couldn’t find the number.
Peter: No no I will I promise I’ve found where Lorna hid she’d say kept them and they’re always at hand these days so I’ll call back shortly OK?
Jamie: Well I don’t have any alternative do I? You’ve obviously made up your mind that whoever’s at your front door is more important than talking to me.
Peter: I’ll only be a few minutes Jamie and I’ll ring you back right away truly you’ll see you just wait right there next to your phone.
‘Ah bonjour Ma Petite. You’ve come for your English lesson. I always manage to forget that you come around at this time. And it’s your last one isn’t it…? Mine too. But come inside and I’ll say goodbye. Not to you. To Jamie. My son. Please wait a few minutes through there, Darling. I’ll be with you right away. This sunny day.’
Peter picks up the phone: The number you have dialed is not available. Please check the number and dial again. The number you have dialed is not available. This is not French and it is only italicized to indicate that it is not dialogue but represents a digitized telephone message in print.
‘Damn! Oh, excuse me Darling. I shouldn’t use bad words. You call them gros mots when I’m teaching English. But I wonder what his new number is? Why do they change their phones so often? We must have it somewhere, I suppose. I wonder where it is though? But, well, maybe I should call him later. After the lesson. Yes that’s what I’ll do. He won’t mind.’
The following is Peter talking as he goes to pick up the phone.
AFTER THE LESSON.
It could be Jamie. We’ll soon know.
He picks it up and says:
Allo, oui, bonjour.
Jamie: I thought you were going to ring me straight back?
Yes it is Jamie.
‘Oh, hello Jamie, I am sorry because I really did try but I
kept getting a recording so it must have been your old
number and then I had my English student, I mean my French
student who I teach English, you know I’m always confusing
the two when I tell people…’
Jamie: Please Dad, can we not go through all this again, please!
‘OK Jamie let’s not talk about my problems, what is it you wanted to ask me?’
Jamie: Well… you’ve made it very difficult for me now Dad. I feel awful after what we’ve been talking about.
‘OK again Jamie I’ll make it easy for you so you’re down on your uppers again aren’t you and you’ve got no money and no job and I don’t think you’ve got much prospect of getting a job have you because it’s still all play and no work that has made you a dull boy Jamie and now you want more money from me don’t you am I right?’
Jamie: Well, yes Dad. You are right. But only a few thousand pounds. That will last me until the end of the year… It should anyway. Yes, I think it will. And then I’ll try for a job, Dad. I promise you, once I’ve got my degree. And then I’ll pay you back. That’s a guarantee, Dad, I promise you. All the money I’ve ever borrowed from you, Dad. Really.
In his head it’s that bloody song again, I used to know the words when Lorna was with me when you saw me go I was singing that song… where the hell did you go where the hell is Lorna these days?
Peter: OK Jamie, I’ll see what I can do…
For a moment Peter imagines he is being reprimanded by Lorna again. He stops to listen, but then the phone starts ringing. He’s not sure whether it’s in his head or on the table, but lets add a space here to show another time shift and some asterisks just to make sure.
This does not happen often and, without thinking, Peter answers in French.
So this is Peter: ‘Allo. Oui? Bonjour.’
A vaguely familiar voice says: ‘G’day Peter, is that you? I don’t understand your italics, whoever you are. Speak English please. I don’t know what you’re saying. This is not Peter Mulligan I’m talking to is it?’ Whether or not this is a question or the answer, Peter says:
‘Yes it is. I’m Peter mulligan. Who’s calling please?’
‘It’s Ronnie, mate, Ronnie Barker, your next-door neighbour. Well, your next door neighbour when you lived next door.’
‘Ronnie! Yes, of course I remember…’
‘Yes, of course you do. But look here, Peter, I was clearing out some papers and I found that letter you, or Lorna probably, sent me a few years ago. That’s where I got your number, so I thought I’d just give you a quick ring you to tell you my news. I’m going away for a while.’
Things are coming back to Peter. They had some good times with the Barkers although Lorna thought Ronnie who’s calling now was Barkers mad. But that was a long time ago.
‘Ronnie! Ronnie Barker. How great to hear from you. How long has it been, fifteen – twenty years? Are you all still…?’
‘Actually, mate, it’s twenty-two years. And a lot of beer’s been pissed down the Yarra since then. And yes, I’m still living in the same house. Next door to where you used to live. And, by the way, your place is worth a mint these days. You got out too early, mate. But now I’m also leaving. For a few years anyway. The bastards are putting me…’
But Peter wants to do the talking. He has lots to say, and Ronnie finds it hard to get a word in edgeways.
‘Look, Ronnie, wherever you’re going, we must keep in touch. You can phone me anytime. And I’ll phone you too if you give me your…’
‘Easier said than done, mate. I’m not sure what rules they have about telephones. Especially phoning overseas. It may not be possible once I’m ...’
‘Where are you going, Ronnie. You’re not moving abroad are
‘No, no. That’s not what I mean. Where I’m going it’s pretty… well, ordinary I suppose. You know what it’s like once they get their claws into…’
Peter: I don’t quite understand what you’re getting at Ronnie.
Ronnie: I’ll explain in half a sec. But first, how are you. I mean all of you? How’re the kids and how’s Lorna?
(Slow this answer down a bit because it’s important and it’s not supposed to be funny and although we’re beginning to suspect there’s something fishy about Lorna’s whereabouts, we’re not quite sure so here’s the rub).
Peter: Well, the kids are fine, or at least I think they are, Ronnie, but I’m not so good. And well, LORNA’S LEFT ME.
(What on earth does he mean 'Left Us'? But let Ronnie make a French faux pas in italics anyway, even though it's English).
Ronnie: You’re kiddin’ me? What do you mean left? You mean she’s run off with some other bloke? Or on her own? Ronnie pauses, thinking about another possibility. No! Not with a woman surely, Peter? The italics mean it’s to be emphasized not because it’s French because it’s not. It’s happening more and more often lately, you know. Wives leaving their husbands to live with other sheilas. I really don’t understand…
HERE’S PETER’S EXPLANATION:
‘No, no. It wasn’t that, she just went off to hospital one day and never came back and I’ve been going downhill fast ever since even the local priest has started showing an interest in me I suppose he must think there’s a conversion or funeral opportunity in the offing.’
Ronnie: Jeez mate, that’s bad.
I really am sorry, I mean about Lorna. Well, I mean I’m sorry for both of you. Heck, I’m making a cock up of this conversation aren’t I? That bit about the priest takes the cake though. Just when you want a bit of peace and quiet, some holy Joe comes calling. Why don’t you just tell him to piss off? But how are you coping otherwise, mate? With all this that’s happened to you?’
Peter marvels at the accent because he’s forgotten how distinctive it is.
‘Well, I’ve found a few things on the Internet that I think will help me over the next hurdle but I must admit it was difficult, you see, with Lorna not being around any more, I had to do everything myself and I hated that.’
That was Ronnie so now this is Peter:
‘Anyway, I got onto my computer, and most things just fell into place because it’s amazing what advice you can get if you do a bit of surfing is what I’m getting a, but not your kind of surfing you do at Bondi I think you call it but I got heaps of info about avoiding pitfalls when dealing with funeral companies.’
Ronnie: Yes, well, as I said, I’m really sorry about that. I always had a soft spot for Lorna. A very soft…
‘Yes I know, but, as I was saying, the internet is very helpful with funerals for example let me give you just one example where I very quickly learned that funerals can be amongst the most expensive purchases you will ever make especially if it’s a traditional funeral and even if it’s not including a coffin costs it can be as much as ten thousand pounds… mmm…let’s see that would be about twenty-five thousand dollars to you down there at today’s exchange rate plus there are all sorts of add on sales like flowers and acknowledgement cards and so on and on so there’s always another catch and the bastards can add thousands of pounds to their bottom line with things like the hearse and extra cars that they tell you are always needed and of course they love the viewing it’s probably an Irish influence you know VISITING THE DEAD PERSON IN A CHAPEL OR SOMETHING SIMILAR to say goodbye and I’m sure Lorna would have agreed with me but perhaps not but we’ll never know because she’s not here to have her say.’
Ronnie tries again: Yes, I see what you mean but the reason…
‘Then obituary notices can also add heaps to the bill and many funerals run to well over thirty thousand pounds apparently if you let sentiment run away with you.’
Poor Ronnie: Jeez, that’s a lot of money, mate, especially in dollars. But what I was calling for…
‘And you also have to remember that many people grossly overspend on funerals because they think it’s a reflection of their feelings for the deceased but luckily or unluckily for Lorna I suppose I’m not one of them.’
Yes, I know what you’re getting at, this is Ronnie trying to get a look in, you’re right mate, you always were a bit of a tight arse Peter…
‘Hang on a sec Ronnie I must just get this in because you must also remember the medical people want you to take charge of the body and pretty damn quickly and in my case it was midsummer and you can’t just have it lying around in the house or keep it in the freezer because that’s not allowed and as I said, Lorna would usually have handled all this kind of thing but she wasn’t around was she so if I hadn’t found out what to do so quickly it could have cost me heaps and let me tell you Ronnie if it ever happens to you as it will one day you must make sure you’re well prepared.’
Ronnie’s getting desperate: OK Peter, but I’ve got other problems. More immediate ones, which is why…
‘For example you need to know whether you want a burial where the coffin actually goes into a hole in the ground which is very popular over here and bloody expensive I tell you or a simple scattering of the ashes but bear in mind that there will certainly be a charge for the urn or whatever other kind of container you decide on so you have to be a quick thinker when they’ve got you in their clutches.’
Ronnie has all but given up with his reason for calling.
But he’s trying again: Yes, as I said I know what you mean by clutches. That’s why I’m…
‘So, be warned, Ronnie, there’s heaps to consider.’
But Ronnie tries one more time: Look, Peter, sorry to interrupt again, mate…’
‘Don’t worry, you’re not interrupting, but I’ve just remembered something really important you went to Vietnam didn’t you, yes you did I remember now, well, this could save you quite a bit of money because in some countries war veterans are entitled to a free burial so you should contact your department of VETERANS AFFAIRS you never know your luck unfortunately for me Lorna was never in the army but in any case or in Vietnam for that matter so my advice to you and what I think the best thing to do for you is to get a quote several quotes that is long before you need anything and you just go to Google and type in funeral and you’ll be amazed at what stuff you can pick up.’
Ronnie has all but given up so he says: Yes again mate, but what I wanted to say is the older we get…
‘Yes I know every day means more wrinkles and less hair.’
Ronnie is sucked in by this remark and can’t help himself trying to say something he thinks is funny but not everyone will agree: Well, it doesn’t matter about the wrinkles on your face, mate, it’s the wrinkles on your old fella you have to worry about. Especially if they’re from lack of exercise… If you get what I mean?
‘What? Oh, yes, I see what you’re getting at. Well, mate as you say down under no worries (he’s never used these expressions before and doesn’t know why he uses them now or used them then because he’s already done so) everybody has to die one day.
Ronnie: Yes and all I can say is that I’m at the age where I’m lucky enough to be too old to die young. But look mate, as I say, this call will ruin me. I’m going to have to ring off now, but I just wanted to tell…
‘OK Ronnie I’ve got things to do myself and I’ve got the gist of your call so I’ll let you go and I’ll tell Lorna you phoned when I see her so remember to give my regards to…’
Ronnie: Sonia, Peter. You probably mean Sonia. But she’s not with me any more. She’s one of them sheilas that did run off with another bloke. I don’t even know who he was. At least he wasn’t a she. Never bothered to find out. Don’t know where they are. Don’t care either. I’m better off without her. I do my own thing now…’
‘Well I’m sorry about that Ronnie but thanks for phoning anyway.’
Ronnie: That’s OK Peter, I’ll be in touch again when I get out in a few…’
‘Much appreciated so, it’s goodbye for now Ronnie goodbye…goodbye.’
ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT ASTERISKS MEAN A CHANGE IN TIME BUT BY THIS TIME I SUPPOSE YOU KNOW THAT. BUT THIS THIS TIME I MEAN DATE RATHER THAN TIME
Hello Daddy says Molly brightly sorry about yesterday I really was stressed which means if you think about it that she’s spoken to her father without our knowledge.
Peter: Yes Darling, so you said in your email but it was my fault as much as yours and I don’t want to rub salt into the wound by attempting to be
lighthearted or to reopen the argument for that matter but you must see at my age we see things somewhat differently quite differently in fact so you have to make allowances for our old age and our senility brought on by the disappearance of brain cells and overindulgence in alcohol and Alzheimer’s too probably the three big problems when you get to my age not to mention Lorna’s disappearance.
Oh stop that Daddy she replies you’re not old and we don’t see you as old anyway you’re just our parents which implies by the way she’s speaking that Lorna hasn’t left Peter yet but she could be talking euphemistically so as not to hurt his feelings.
Peter: Well I’m not sure you understand Darling so let me give you my idea on the subject that probably starts when you’re a teenager or in your twenties when you absolutely KNOW you’re going to live forever and the idea of mortality never enters your head and even when you get to thirty plus the idea of dying is still quite remote because by that stage you still think you’re immortal but by the time you reach middle age and by this I mean when you enter the forties or fifties things start to change because people you know and many of whom are about the same age as you start dying all around you and suddenly you realize that you’re not actually going to live forever and then when you reach my ripe old age you finally understand that you’re going to die one day and that every morning could be your last?
You know I don’t like to hear you talking like that she replies and you’ve told us that silly stuff so often I can almost recite it myself.
Peter: But it’s the truth Molly darling and that stuff as you call it is all true because you can’t hide from reality and everyone has to accept the idea of death.
Please Daddy, stop this shit, a word that doesn’t count because it’s so common, she tells him you wonder why I phone you less and less, I’m sure, well here’s your answer a long, drawn out morbid conversation, who needs it and this is not why I phoned.
Peter: OK I’m sorry Darling but it’s how I feel and at my age I can’t help it and your mother Lorna leaving so suddenly has made it even harder which must mean that Lorna has left and Molly knows it but I’ve got it in hand at last and I’m going to do something about it.
Molly says she’s relieved, that’s really good news Daddy what is it you have in mind and have you found a counselor or a good place to move into, somewhere you’ll like because that would be really good and you’d have company.
Peter: Well it’s not quite that but it’s rather difficult to talk about at this stage and I don’t think you’re ready for it darling so I’ll have to get back to you when it’s all sorted out.
Molly is quite an anxious soul and tends to go off like a cracker in case you haven’t noticed and she demonstrates this by asking WHAT DO YOU HAVE IN MIND DADDY we don’t want you doing anything stupid so tell me what you’re talking about. PLEASE! Please don’t let what happened to Mummy cloud your judgment she says revealing now that she knows Lorna is dead. Then she adds most people have a gentle… But she’s not sure what to call it… A ‘gentle passing’… Or just a ‘moving on’, perhaps? Or some other silly phrase we use to hide the disgusting thought of DEATH.
Peter: Hang on a moment Molly you’re making it sound like a soft landing so I must ask do you really believe the end is… well soft and painless because I have to tell you that it’s NOT either psychologically or physically in my experience and it’s the ultimate and most evil bad joke ever to befall us and I mean all of us unfortunately and although ALL DEATHS ARE JUST PLAIN AWFUL, some are excruciatingly so.
But Daddy, from what I’ve read, I believe… But Peter cuts her off by saying: Well don’t Darling don’t just don’t believe any of that rubbish because it’s simply religious, medical and legal propaganda and it’s largely spread via an uncritical media or by those with vested interests who want to spread tear jerking ideas created to keep the gullible happy with misinformation.
Molly: But Daddy….
‘No hang on Darling let me finish and let me have my say because believe me anyone who tells you that death is anything other than ignominious undignified always dreadful often drawn out and sometimes very very painful that person is a liar or a fool or both so don’t believe anything you hear or read about happy endings with modern palliative care and all that bullshit because there’s no painless way past St Peter’s doors and unless you’re one of the luck, yes the very lucky few who who have a sudden and severe heart attack or stroke that snuffs them out quickly you’re going to be handicapped in more ways than one so what I mean is you have to hope you depart before any doctors or lawyers get their talons into you or your relatives for that matter.
‘Molly? Molly? Hello. Are you there Molly? is a traditional way to indicate the line has gone dead, which is the same as Lorna’s position as we now know, but no, it hasn’t gone dead because after a long pause Molly says:
Yes I am Daddy she answers just when he thinks she’s gone, but I don’t like talking to you when you’re in this kind of mood.
Peter: But it’s true Darling and even Lorna came round to this point of view just before she left me.
Molly: Us, Daddy, say ‘us’. She left us. All of us. Not just you. You were so time jealous when she was alive, and you still retain that. You go on as if she was yours and yours alone. As if no one else deserves a look in.
‘OK Molly I get your drift as the saying goes but she was my wife for a long long time and we lived together very happily even after you kids went your own way.’
Molly: Oh Daddy, you say that with such resentment. You yourself have always said that the nuclear family is designed to split up when it reaches a certain stage.
‘That’s right Molly it is otherwise we’d all live in cumbersome extended families and all that eating and sleeping together not to mention other things would certainly get me down and probably all the others too before long but going back to where we were a few moments ago when you and Jamie left it came as quite a shock I suppose even though we’d always said we would encourage you to go when the time came.’
Molly: So what’s your point Daddy. What are you trying to say?
‘Well as you’ve asked Darling I’ll tell you because in a way it got to me more than it did to Lorna but when Jamie started bringing home girlfriends…’
Molly: You’re making a meal of this Daddy, and I can’t quite see where you’re getting at. Nor do I think I have the time really. The boys….
‘No no hear me out Darling because I’ve often wanted to explain this to you and never had the opportunity nor the courage I suppose because you see from my point of view the traditional male perspective of sanctioning your son sewing his wild oats was the norm but it had never crossed my mind that in the modern world the same right was passing to daughters and I found that very difficult to swallow.’
Molly thinks: What on earth is he getting at?
‘You see, Darling how do I explain this but Jamie had been bringing girlfriends home to stay for a few years before you introduced us to what was his name remind me please Darling his name what was it again?’
Molly: Daddy I really must go. Pat. His name was Patrick.
And we can tell she’s getting angry because of her clipped sentences.
‘Ah yes that was it I should have remembered anyway all he could talk about was cars and horses and betting and bands.’
Molly: So, what was wrong with that? You’re not the easiest person to talk to. And we found lots of other things to talk about. Especially in bed if you must know!
‘That’s just it Molly that was the hardest part because you were only half way through high school when you found this petrol head yes I mean it petrol head that’s all he was you brought home a petrol head that was ten years your senior and you expected us all of us and me to swallow it.
Molly: Are you sure it wasn’t a class thing that upset you Daddy, rather than my age? Or his age? Even though you might not have been aware of it, you always were so class conscious. In fact I have to say – and I’ve never said this to you before – but I’ going to say it now you’re just a common or garden fucking snob. That’s all.
(But it’s not all as far as that word is concerned because she’s referring to what she’s saying to her father and not the number. So that makes it two and I’ll tell you the total here: it’s five).
Then she adds, but I’ve had enough of this Daddy and I really must go.
No no just let me finish because this is the important bit you see Darling because it’s a very difficult relationship the one between a father and the man who’s fucking his daughter. (That makes this three out of five).
‘No matter what age he is he adds as she slams down the telephone and the line goes dead leaving a RINGINGRINGINGRINGING
tone in his head competing with Ms Lynn’s we’ll meet again some sunny day and all that sentimental claptrap.
You’ve just seen this and for your information even if you know it, it’s called onomatopoeic:
It’s another way to separate the action in time or to put a ruled line between two scenes which is basically the same thing I suppose.
For a moment Peter thinks the phone is ringing again, but he’s mistaken. Someone has rung the front doorbell.
It’s Father Paul. Peter has always kept out of his way, but he used to call regularly to see Lorna.
‘Bonjour Monsieur Mulliga’. I’ve just come to offer mes condoléances. I would like you to know how sorry I am, following your tragic loss. I only heard about it on my return to the village. I have been on a sabbatical in Rome.’
Peter goes over their conversation as he remembers it:
‘Ah, bonjour Père Paul, thank you, thank you, well, it’s all over now and I’m over it too, very resilient aren’t we, we human beings but that’s how we’re made isn’t it so, everything’s cut and dried as we say in English, did you have a good holiday, by the way?’
‘“Cut and dried?” Err, well, yes, I sink I see what you mean, I suppose and, well yes of course, but a kind of a working ‘oliday, I think you say "buzman’ ’oliday” in English, yes?’
This brings the pedant out in Peter who is having difficulty hiding his irritation at being disturbed and his personal dislike of the priest and all he stands for i.e. the teachings of his church which he firmly believes the priest’s mission is to spread about as often as he can.
‘Yes…and no…, because actually, and please forgive me for being picky, but we say “busman’s” with an ‘s’, it’s plural you see, and, “holiday’ with an explosive ‘h’.”
The priest chooses not to pursue the matter of explosives.
Priest: ‘Err… May I come in? Just for a few moments I assure you.’
‘Well, yes, I suppose so but I must warn you, things have deteriorated here since Lorna left and the place is in a bit of a mess, I’m afraid but, please, entrez s’il vous plait.’
Priest: ‘Thank you, and don’t worry. I too live alone. Always have done, you know. Well, yes you’d know that I sink. Silly of me to mention it even though you are not a Catholic, I sink. Not like your wife. And she was a very good Catholic, I believe. Because Mme Mulliga’ was always at mass. And confession. She was a good example to everyone.’
‘That’s right, Père Paul, Lorna was certainly a churchgoer and she believed everything you lot tell your flock, Mais prenez garde, not only am I not religious, but I classify myself as a militant atheist so you’ll have to be on your toes if you’ve come to try and convert me.’
Priest: ‘On my toes?’ Ah, yes, I see what you mean. Probably originally a French ballet expression, I suppose. Or maybe athletics, perhaps? I should have known it. Well, in fact I have come to talk to you about your wife. Your late wife, that is, and I’m very sorry that I was not here when she passed away. Things might have been different if I was. Mistakes might not have been made. You know, with the body.
‘Well, I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but, yes, she certainly did pop off quite suddenly while you were away but death always has a habit of being somewhat what shall I say - inconvenient perhaps - don’t you think?’
Priest: I must say I’m surprised at your flippancy, Monsieur Mulliga’. Is this a way for you to deal with your loss, perhaps? I suppose it is, but I must register that I find it somewhat surprising.’
‘Père Paul, if I may remind you, Lorna was my wife, not just a member of my flock so I do not see my remark as being flippant, whether it’s a way of dealing with death or not.’
Priest: I meant no offence, Peter. But I must also say that I was surprised that you chose a cremation rather than a requiem mass for Mme Mulliga. She was a good Catholic. Did she not deserve more consideration?’
‘Look here Paul, you have doubtless had a good deal of experience in counseling, I’m sure you probably even undergo some course or other when you’re doing your articles, or whatever you call it, but may I point out to you that your method is predicated on dealing with religious people, but because I myself am not a believer can you not see that we approach the situation from diametrically opposite directions?’
Priest: Yes Peter, I do understand what you’ve said. But knowing Mme Mulliga, albeit not nearly so well as ‘er ‘usband…
He pauses, wondering ‘Is this is couched correctly'?
Then he adds, ‘I do have a slight feeling that
SHE WOULD HAVE PREFERRED A DECENT CATHOLIC BURIAL.’
‘Well, that’s interesting, Paul, and you’re entitled to your opinion but I’m interest in the logos rather than the mythos of death, and after Lorna died, as far as I’m concerned, she was no longer in the equation, from my perspective the issues were simply economics and convenience so I looked for and found, I believe, a seamless way to end a difficult situation with a contemporary and highly civilized solution, if I may say so.’
Priest: I’m sorry you felt like that Peter. And I’m still not sure that it was the right decision. Perhaps Mme Mulliga’ would have chosen something different. Something more fitting… more elegant perhaps.
(SLOWLY FOR EMPHASIS):
‘I mean no offence, but quite frankly, I don’t care what you think, and I don’t need you to try to pull any mumbo jumbo wool over my eyes, thank you very much, you see, I believe that Lorna and I had a wonderful time while it lasted but now all that remains is happy memories and when I die, they’ll die with me and after that there’ll be nothing left, no nothing at all, just eternal blackness, if you want me to put it in simple terms.’
Priest: Gently now Peter. I can tell you find my comments intrusive. But I feel it my duty to continue. Would you like to pray with me? It may bring you some solace. Some relief.’
(If there was a formal way to show surprise turning to irritation with punctuation it would be used here).
‘No thank you. Not at all. Neither with you nor on my own. I see no point. And I don’t think it would help. Not one jot. In fact, I know it wouldn’t. And I’d no more consider it than I’d talk to one of your statues for consolation. In your church (he remembers wondering if he should go on at this point, but what the fuck in for a penny, in of a pound) or on Easter Island. Or anywhere else for that matter.’ (That word’s only going to be used five times, so even the most prudish reader can now read on without any further anxiety and there’s not far to go now so keep at it).
Priest: ‘I’m sorry you take this line, Peter. Are you sure you’re right? Do you not think that there’s something more to life? Some divine force? Or someone, more likely, who controls our lives?’
‘Well of course Paul, it’s obvious that something makes the grass grow and it's probably all those bodies you refuse to cremate and when you stick them in the ground, “the worms crawl in and the worms crawl out”, and that makes excellent compost so the grass grows well and you could therefore claim that some good does come from burials, I suppose.’
Lorna: Peter! That’s abominable. And insulting. How can you say such a thing to someone in your own house? You should be ashamed of yourself.’
‘Well I’m sorry darling… err, Father Paul, I apologize, I should never have said that… but I’m tired of this mumbo jumbo so why don’t you take your primitive ideas and just fuck off there’s a good chap.’ (How many’s that?)
But Père Paul stays for quite some time talking about the power of prayer and the importance of belief and the role of confession, and how with faith we can overcome everything, and lots of other stuff with Peter only half listening and then Lorna and Vera get louder in his head and start talking and singing over each other and babbling on about meeting him again in sunnier climes. But Peter is hardly listening any more when he eventually closes the door behind the priest and he goes back to his collected paraphernalia where he picks up a letter he’s been drafting and starts reading aloud while he goes along with Lorna and Vera who are still going on about somewhere when but not knowing where exactly.
”Dear Molly and Jamie,
By the time you get this letter I will have been dead for some time,” Hmm… well, let’s think about that one for a bit. Must try to let them down gently, and maybe that’s just a little bit blunt for an opening. Perhaps I should change it to something more palatable, let’s see now what about, “By the time you get this letter I will have been gone for some time.” Yes, that’s much better, I suppose, even though I’ve always avoided these syrupy euphemisms, but I think perhaps we do need one here, anyway, moving right along. “The funeral will be over, and my body will have been disposed of.” Well, once again that’s pretty harsh, but I can’t see how it can be avoided, ah, well, let’s plough on, no one should ever shrink from the truth. “You both know I’ve always believed that funerals are for the living and not the dead, but with an eye to (or on) costs, distance and inconvenience, I decided to exclude everyone - except myself, I hope you don’t think this too selfish or churlish, but it will at least obviate what would probably be a very tiresome journey for you both, so, please don’t worry on my behalf, everything’s been done in the cold light of day and with a clear and rational mind and there won’t even be any urn or box of ashes to collect, you have the Internet to thank for this, all I had to do was tick the appropriate square, and I chose "no ashes" which I thought was the best option.
There’s not much else to say, really, except that I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the good times we’ve had and there were many of those, especially when we were all together, in the old days before Lorna left.
Lastly, and I hope this does not come as too much of a shock to you when I say that, apart from a few thousand pounds which will be transferred to your respective accounts, I’ve left all my other assets to SAGE, the group I used, it stands for, well, it doesn’t matter really, but despite their not very clever name, they have been very helpful to me and they’ll even be in here tomorrow to clear up afterwards, in case there’s any mess which I hope there won’t be, anyway, my bequest to them includes Bellevue, which I felt would not be a problem as it’s been a very long time since either of you were here and I therefore assumed the house would be of no interest to you because there was little of value amongst the contents, and whatever I’ve not given away has gone off to the tip so there’s nothing really left for you to worry about and certainly nothing further to attend to.
Please don’t dwell or my ending, even if you don’t agree with what I’ve chosen to do because I am completely relaxed and at peace with my decision and I am convinced that it’s the correct one, so finally I encourage you both to get on with your lives and – this part is very important - to try and enjoy yourselves as much as possible and remember the good times, all my love and a fond goodbye.
There’s a time shift you can’t see on paper but take my word for it because I wrote it as Peter’s thoughts come back to the present.
Peter: Mmm. I wonder if it’s worth saying a prayer just in case because it would be like taking out insurance I suppose but I wonder if I remember any?
Now a TV quizmaster starts competing with the buzzing and Vera and Lorna and their incessant meet again don’t know where don’t know when.
Peter: Well here it comes Peter Mulligan so here’s the big one the sixty-four thousand dollar question is… well what is it really?
‘Ah well, the big question I suppose is this: When the moment critique arrives, will I have the courage to put my happy hour drink to my lips and say cheers, this is it, the end is neigh, and this is the absolute finish?’
Peter: Yes. I’m sure it’ll be easy. All that’s called for, is a simple toast. and that’s it. But… Will I be strong enough to say Skol!? For the last time. Because that’s what it all boils down to. The whole of one’s life distilled down to a single word.
‘But it’s such a foul looking concoction and without making a fuss and without Lorna being here to help me because if I do there’s no going back you can’t unscramble an omelet can you especially a suicide omelet and without her here there I go using a mixed metaphor again but I can’t think of a suitable alternative?’
Peter: So, do I finally have the courage?
‘Now that I’ve taken the first step and taken the first analgesics and now how long to peak blood levels and how long will they last and when will the effect wear off and what if I’m not here to know they’ve worn off and and and who knows what will happen then?’
Peter: Well I think I will anyway. I’ll give it a go.
‘Well come on give me the tools and I’ll get on with the job which shows that my imitations and impersonations are still quite good which means nothing’s started to happen yet as far as the numbing effect of paracetamol is concerned on my brain or nervous centre if you like.’
Lorna: Procrastination is the thief of time, Peter. Let’s just get on with it.
Peter: Well, yes, OK darling, but just hang on a sec.
Because I’d like to pause for a bit. Think about it. Wait a few minutes and see what happens…
Am I really ready to cross over do you think?
Lorna: The trouble is sooner or later you have to pay the Ferryman, Peter. We all do. Just like I did when I left you.
Peter: Well yes, OK, so perhaps I should just say down the hatch and we’ll meet again some sunny day and get it over with.
SO LET’S SEE IF I’VE FINALLY GOT THE GUTS.
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