In extremis my friend, in extremis.
What was meant to be an evening of conviviality amongst friends and acquaintances amidst the deep furnishings, large squashy cushions, paintings and dark woollen wall hangings from Turkey in the living room lined by book shelves containing manuscripts and novels, texts and biographies of those who pleaded to have their stories told, along with the red wines and cheeses of the local providors for measured complimentary consumption and the lives of those living their tangents of intellectual depth and meaning, their day jobs ranging from sitting in cubicles muttering onto spreadsheets, to manual realities sprung from twenty years of schooling to finally be put on the day shift, turned into something else when a randomly chosen line from a randomly chosen page from a randomly chosen book pulled from the shelf behind them somehow turned this gathering of like minds into a sirocco of subdued antipathy and enveloping rage.
Jealousy pulsed the room and stares were exchanged, heads bowed as the espirit de corp evaporated like the steam from a man hole in a Chicago freeze out, or some such descriptor to try and paint the scene and the ugly surge of unscripted deep-rooted uncalled for unorganised competition bared its teeth such that those present stiffened their necks like a teased; cajoled untrained dog.
Theodore Claw was a bear of a man, a barrel chest that would turn back a storm but passive attentive if you ever had the opportunity to sit with him over his favourite latte or beer and allow him to regale you with how much he loves his wife and kids, those around him, and everything else in the world that doesn’t lay waste to beauty and deny his right to wrap his bear like arms around you and give you a hug that sets you up for any bar room brawl on any night anywhere.
His deep tones always wafted across the room like some mellifluous anaesthetic for the soul that so easily salved the wounds that lay underneath those that came along to be comforted, be it by the red wine that flowed or from Theo’s baritone balm. He revelled in the singling out of truncated emotions – “don’t be afraid to express what is on your heart” was a favourite and so those who came sunk lower into the cushions in heavenly relief and took deep breaths in being satisfied that even though being on the day shift or having the spreadsheet make as much sense as a spreadsheet was ever designed to make, this once a month gathering, was where it was at.
Occupational anxieties were put on hold for a few hours, at least those anxieties that could be admitted to, prevented by the usual pretensions that go with career building and pretending that what one does is the least bit important. The consultant who, when asked what he does, could never quite explain, something about deliverables within the framework of the client’s overall mission and objectives, if that means anything. The marketing person who walks and talks, her pace, as the day progresses, on a steady upward trend until around the late afternoon collapse and all the Sigma X codes and customer feedback trendables have been analysed to deaths door. Wouldn’t it be lovely, she thinks, to herself but not yet to Theo and the group, if I could just have an outlet. And so Theo obliges, the writers group becoming more of an artistic retreat, and where the true selves can be found amidst the gossamer collective, attempting to develop an oeuvre of one’s own without ever having to suffer for it.
Gareth Bettencorp, an absent group member, had stated on a previous occasion that ‘there is a writer in all of us, just be true to yourself and others will be true to you.’ It was a comment that, when lined up with other aphorisms of the day, would be more than a match for “life is a journey not a destination” and to which, the stomach would be turned and the sinus would be blocked. Nevertheless, Theo applauded it, softly and respectfully, by bringing his hands together in a clap that started as a dead fish slap and ended up a gentle massage of palms, all of which just audible. He held his hands together in a sort of worship of the atmosphere that he presumed Gareth had created with his entreaty.
King then asked the question. ’So,’ he paused, wondering if his question would appear little more than a perfunctory nod. ‘What is everyone reading?’ King was new, at least to this group, though the group was new to what would later be identified, loosely, as his pedigree, or that it would threaten them.
‘No one has ever asked that question,’ came the baritoned reply. King hadn’t provided his first name, it was just King, merely King, only King. ‘It’s King, just King. People just call me…’ scanning the room for objectors ‘… King.’ It was ill disguised misanthropy in self imposed therapy.
It wasn’t wasn’t short for anything, such as Kingdom, or The King, just King. His hat suggested peerage, of a type, but there was nothing that betrayed imperial lineage. The hat looked like it had been too often left in taxi cabs, hotel rooms and airport terminals around the world, that had yet managed still, to remain with him. Some of those present knew who he really was, in only the most perfunctory sense, although none of them would ever really know who anyone else there really was, not if they couldn’t bring themselves to ask themselves such a basic question as ‘what are you reading?’
‘This is a writers group. I assumed that people in a writers group would be reading things, books mainly, although it doesn’t have to be exclusively books of course. Newsletters are fine, if you’re not reading books.’
‘What are you reading?’ came the rhetorical as if to buy time. It was Molly Devine, who recognised the mis-en-scene, the build up of tension created by the question. Molly was a piece that no matter how you looked at her, you wanted to squeeze something of her until she squealed but realising at the same time that complicity in whatever she might have in mind for you would outdo even the worst of intentions. The artist who is an artist by dint of sitting in front of a computer programme that spits and wields axes of wild virtue into a form that makes someone else an awful lot of money.
Molly was thunder in the silence, by her transient blue stare from the twilight of her own failed submissions into the present, hoped that someone, perhaps not unlike King, may assuage that feeling in her. She had an ernest longing to have everyone in the room fulfil their potential, because she saw potential here, not just Turkish wall hangings, vino and cheese that was bound to raise her cholesterol. Molly would smile a smile that could launch the marketing campaign of all marketing campaigns, exclaim a ‘wow, I love that’ at even the most insipid and anodyne remark coming from the mouths of the sinful, the meek, the serious, and the overtly over-read literary impresario.
This impresario was Ziggy, he’d read Satre for fun (you have to have some reason outside of literary merit to read Satre, other than to impress a girl – there are better and less painful ways to do it) and was in the process of wading through a series of essays by Raymond Aron, someone who would provide at least as much literary élan as Satre and far more ammunition for the street. None in the group had heard of Aron however, Theo gave a nod but it didn’t convince, except for King, who had read him, but admitted to not being familiar.
Sekei Ramone was an aged care worker, a slightly disabled, aged care worker; a socialist disabled aged care worker; wanted the Revolution to be given another run. It would take him some time to describe himself, when asked. He got around his disability; his clients were slower than he was. Sek, his more lucid clients called him, wanted to write poetry as a therapy in exorcising the ghosts of a life that hinged on how people defined success. In here, the idea that failure could be freely talked about was seen as a badge of honour even if, at the end of the evening, allowing for various imbibements and false starts, you were still the same distance, that is, a million miles from any resolution as when you walked into the room. Sek gave the impression, by the way he sat in his chair, that he’d been sitting there all day, as if he was being punished for something he was obviously not guilty of. But he wanted to take the punishment, as if to indicate that it’s okay to suffer.
‘It’s strange that no one has ever asked that question, actually.’ He had teeth that would make all the difference with some work but perhaps look discordant set against a bloke with a walking cane and limp.
‘The what have we been reading question?’ Theo. ‘Hmmm, haven’t considered it.’ King leaned silent, enjoying the bonfire lit under them all.
The single word ‘yeah’ dragged out like a sunset over a Missisippi bayou. And Sek’s suffering went, like a cure for cancer had been found. The yeah word there, no one daring to touch it, play with it. It hovered like a piece of it’s own art, painting, breathing almost like the Holy Spirit, which was why everyone left it alone, the hour of Pentecost had arrived, with a simple “yeah”, an affirmation that something greater than themselves had descended, ascended and descended again, the second coming of the Alpha and Omega.
Theo had set out some food, to go with the wine, leftovers from the previous evenings dinner, which is what he told the gathering – roast pork that had cooked for five hours, cabbage and beetroot salad and a puree of sweet potato. It went well with lebanese bread and crackers, the some of the parts somehow making up for the deficiencies in each individual offering. Still, it was the cheese people went for because of the familiarity, except for Sekei and King, both of whom were used to taking the odd risk, of which the culinary, that is, being in a position to eat anything at all, was very likely low on the should-I-risk-it scale of risk.
For King, the evening was heavy with possibilities. His question about reading had not intended to be incendiary, nor would it be seen as prescient of the events that were to follow. He had pretensions for advancement in the industry, as much as one could call the art of writing an industry, as much as you might lump an artistic pursuit with a tag that one might also tag a pursuit such as selling real estate.
‘What has everyone been reading. Great question.’ I’ve been into Milton actually, when I really shouldn’t be, I’m trying to get him but can’t quite reach.
‘That’s poetic,’ came Honor Moonlight, who had changed her name to Moonlight because her mother had told her she looked so delightful under it. ‘If I’ve got the freedom to be I’ve got the freedom to give myself a name’ she had said and so it became.
‘Poetic you say?’ Smiling.
‘Yeah, why not.’
‘Who else is reading?’
‘You know, I’ve been having lots of conversations, I know it’s not reading, but you know, it’s conversation.’ There was a pause, probably required, to catch breathe. ‘Between all my lovely old aged care residents, asking me why I do what I do and how I get by, as if they’re in nirvana.’ There was a ‘hah’ that he held back, not wanting to crease his neatly delivered entrée into a new conversation. ‘But they’re right, I get $25 an hour while some of their children are earning three hundred and hour screwing the little man while I look after their parents. I haven’t been reading so much as thinking. That’s about it.’
Theo struggled out up out of his chair, it had a velvet covering which made the effort more concerted. One is supposed to be able to raise oneself, take three steps forward, turn around and go back and sit down, all within 15 seconds, if one is to be considered in reasonable physical shape. Theo couldn’t quite do it, although if his life depended on it he’d probably manage it but that’s the point apparently, one’s life does depend on it. It was a writers group not a gym class, it was over 20 seconds. Theo was cooked.
‘I just thought,’ said King. ‘You know, the first tenant of writing is reading right?’
‘Well, I suppose it is. And to be honest I’m struggling with Satre. I wouldn’t recommend him unless you’re at the very edge of boredom.’
‘Or despair. I also take issue with the comment that there’s a writer in all of us, as if the ability to string a few sentences together qualifies you any more than being able to drive a car qualifies you to be a racing car driver.’
The dialogue stopped, the writers group had been thrown off it’s axis. For some this was their their church and the doctrine by which it existed had just been altered, an addendum had been inserted into the commandments, that one must read. A fugue by which to play out the first act.
Above all the talk about what people might be reading, or whether they were reading at all, was something else about this group of people, above the verbal by-play and the jousting that King was no doubt aiming for. It was an atmosphere of inner contemplation that pervaded the group, it was this that had compelled them to come, it’s why Sekei Ramone came, it’s why Ziggy came, it’s partly why Theo gave up his lounge room for the evening, and laid out some of his good wine and made sure the cheese was at room temperature and that the cushions were well puffed. It’s why Theo held a commitment to the body corporate that the others didn’t hold so close, although Ziggy needed the company just as badly and King, whilst he wouldn’t admit to it, needed it too.
The mis-en-scene had been established well before King had arrived, an evening of discussion about what each individual was trying to achieve, some examples of their work, chat about what it takes to write a book, ideas for books, collaboration of ideas that may turn into a book and the odd early evening writing workshop designed to activate perhaps long dormant literary cells.
‘The key is simplicity I think.’
‘You’re only saying that because you’ve been reading Satre for too long,’ came Sek.
‘Reading Satre at all is reading him for too long.’ And Ziggy laughed without the effect of the wine.
‘Let’s get real,’ said Theo, attempting to bring things back into line.
‘Trying to bring people into line Theo?’ Sek was enjoying the interplay that King had shot through the evening with.
‘People must always be brought into line,’ said King. ‘Pushkin mean anything to anyone?’
‘The name’s familiar.’
‘I haven’t read him no. I probably should.’
‘One of the Russians.’
‘You’d be a safe bet with “Russian” if the question came up in a pub quiz.’
‘Sublime is what Pushkin is.’ King wanted to go further, he had created trouble, outed himself. He wouldn’t mention the Russians again, long dead and for a previous time, except for Pushkin.
‘I just love the name,’ said Honor Moonlight. ‘It’s so warm. Pushkin. It makes you want to throw your arms around someone.’
‘Throw your arms around me why don’t you,’ came Ziggy. And guffawed again his jolly stomach thrusting out into the centre of the tidy tiny universe ready to launch, and the crumbs from the crackers spilled off his shirt onto the floor, apologising to Theo as the cat scurried around the chair leg to gather up the remnants.
‘I do know King from somewhere,’ said Sekei.
‘I know you as well but whether I know you more than you know me is open to question isn’t it.’ And Ziggy again, this time with restraint. ’Pushkin eh?’
‘He’s not pretentious, he’s poetic and riotous. Eugene Onegin could be done in one day if you gave into it.’
‘I’ve got an idea,’ said Theodore Claw. ‘I think we should do an exercise. Honor, I want you to pick a book randomly from the bookshelf and then someone else is going to choose a random page from that book and then someone else is going to choose a random line, umm, someone will just choose a number right? Then we’ll all write a story in ten minutes using the line chosen. okay?’
Honor Moonlight rose slowly from her chair, she looked too comfortable but was up to the task, she quickly placed her wine glass back on the Mexican coffee table. Lay her now would be the consensus, the ever compliant Honor, her name symptomatic of her state, to honour those who contribute to her wisdom.
There was a steadying clutching of order, a gathering of what might pass for ambition. Nothing that had gone before in this group approached what they were about to do, put each other to the test, make the cream rise and have each and every person glory in their effulgence, that merely by coming up with something that was honest would qualify as literature, or if not that then at least it would qualify as what the group would define as worthy creative output to satisfy strained longings.
So they could each be validated.
Sek lurched forward like a damaged tank and laughed, a smirk came over him, as if a group of children had rushed in and called him pa, a letter from an old sweetheart telling him she was wrong, a cheque from his bank apologising for their wrongdoing with the rider that he not contact the newspapers, so as to protect their shareholders, any one of them but Sekei smirked like he had all three in one and it measured the room. And then spoke.
‘This is from a book on ethics?’
‘Is that the line?’
‘No it’s a question.’
‘Then just give us the bloody text will you.’ So Sekei, fearing for his life under the gaze of Theodore Claw, provided it.
‘It says… but standing between earth and sky we are silenced by the sight.’
‘Silenced by the sight or silenced by the night.’
‘Blinded by the light. Ha.’
‘The first one.’
‘Silenced by the sight.’
It was as if Canto 3 of Dante’s Inferno had danced across the room and taunted, without warning, as if post modernism had finally reared it’s ugly smearing undignified ill-informed laugh like it’s funny head and every single impenetrable anodyne remark from every single asinine amateur dilettante commentator had invaded the space to demand that they check their phones, their emails, their websites, the playlists, the trends, every social manic media outlet laying claim to be deserving to be heard just so that some flannelette wearing flunky from downtown San Francisco who wanted to impress his mother after she had paid out for his education following his maladjusted father made off with the maid, could sell his latest enterprise for a couple of billion to Google so that they [Google, who didn’t like to] wouldn’t have to compete with the boy genius. Yes, consult the playlists, just to make sure no one had beaten them to it.
‘I’ll repeat it, just to make sure we’ve got it.’ Sekei. The floor. ‘But standing between earth [emphasis on Earth] and sky [highlight the sky] we are silenced [ensure audience appreciates the silence] by the sight [not light, not night or any derivation of the word borne out of modern laziness to deal with straight forward yet seemingly complex words].’
‘Ten minutes starting now,’ came the voice, the one that mattered.
‘Paper,’ someone cried. ‘We don’t have paper.’
‘We should start the time again.’
‘Is this the first time you’ve done this?’ asked King. Theo had gone for pens, his sons would have them in their rooms, there would be pens in the kitchen, pens on the floor, pens on the dresser and pens behind the door; one in the laundry because boys leave pens in shirt pockets and take them to the wash so that afterwards the whole wash would have to be thrown out. Pens would be everywhere, and pencils. Time was tight, the text for this evening’s lesson, or test, had been revealed, people’s brains were working. Theo came back with a handful, which was a lot of pens and pencils, more than enough; handed them out, with paper, pads from the kitchen, a scribbling pad sat on the Mexican watching it all, waiting to be called – ‘here’s a pad, can we use this?’ Sheets were torn off and they were away, starting now.
During this time it may have been worthwhile to have had a time lapse study take place, to see that some fidgeted and looked constantly at things such as the wine bottle, the book shelves, for reassurance, comfort in their arid creativity. King sat, staring at the page, for this was a writers group and writers must stare, or to put it more completely, they must do nothing and continue to stare, being unafraid of this apparent inactivity, the empty embraced space, for the right side needs something to set it alight, to gather the horses and summon the courage to ride them over the top. So staring and doing nothing was not nothing at all. King’s eyes didn’t move, they became almost bleary bloodshot tears ready to run.
Molly Devine smiled, her smile, as if a wickedness had come over her, wanting to pounce on the idea, run with it but then considering the apology that may have to accompany the idea. Ziggy scribbled madly (for he was on the verge of it), crossed out what he had written once, twice, now three times – he looked at Molly with a knowing at what was going through her mind. He did not. He could not. He imagined.
Sekei kicked the corner of the table, Mexico wobbled, the wine bottle almost tipped, like a rutting stag Theo lunged. The carpet. Sekei engaged in that most impressive of secretarial tasks, that of writing whilst not looking at what was being written, an alacrity that engaged King, being impressed but still he sat motionless with pen, lips pursed as the rumbling commenced. Sky. Stand. Hmmm. Sight. Alliteration but not useful. Discard.
Honor Moonlight wanted to ask a question, her about to break out laughter, haughty like an anonymous Mozart mistress, betraying her desperation about whether the text should be used in the literal sense or the figurative sense. Any sense you like came Theo. Any sense you like.
‘The creative sense then,’ as if she stood a chance, evidenced by the mere asking of the question, of knowing the difference. ‘I’m going to write something about the beauty of the morning,’ she said. Some looked, others ignored. Her words were wasted, worse, served as a distraction, like the chess opponent who asks – ‘are you sure you want to move there?’ She had no intention but Sek thought for a moment – ‘hmmm, hmmm, maybe I could…’
Sekei could always be seen thinking, it was his thing, to be seen thinking, it was not a simulacrum for something else, like a diversion into some sort of bleak erotica whilst waiting for a thought to hit. Sekei liked thinking, it added to his social dimension, that he could argue that he had thought about something and come to a conclusion not quickly but thoughtfully.
It was a thoughtful group, from the very first meeting, when Theo had asked the question – ‘what’s one word you don’t like, take five minutes and talk about it to the group,’ as if, as it were, a group therapy session for recovering pessimists. But there was the new exercise, that would awaken creative minds lain dormant – the random line.
I was silenced by the sight as I stood as a child, wanting mother to hold me, father to look at me without hate in his eyes and to not hurt me. I remember the times I wept into my pillow, yearning for Father to come to me and tell me he would be there when I woke in the morning, because sometimes he wasn’t, to be kind and not shout or be angry with me for messing up. Everyone was silenced, my mother was silenced, my brother too scared to talk and so he was silenced. I was silenced by the sight of my father taking his belt off. I stood between earth and sky, at least that’s what it appeared to be, no mans land more likely.
‘That’s some story Sek, some story.’
‘That’s all I’ve got.’
‘It’s beautiful. It truly is beautiful.’
‘Is that all true?’ said Molly.
‘Does it matter,’ said King from another country.
Sekei looked at King from somewhere between Disdain St and Bemused Avenue. ‘Is the story true or is that all I’ve got?’
‘I don’t get the question.’
‘I’m having another glass of red.’
The previous meetings of the group, other than the initial gathering, where they’d talked about each other, asked each other what they did for a living, whether any of them had written anything, listened to Theo talk about the idea of starting a writers group in the first place, had subjects such as “write about something that you which you could change (alternatively titled if I were dictator for a day)”; or “write something about your childhood” or “ask a question and mount your case”. Each of the topics raised with the intent of being taken away and delivered t the group at the next meeting.
Sekei stalked around his word, “failure” because that was a word he’d always associated with himself, or that people had viewed him as being. Whereupon Theo had sought to contradict him, or glad-hand him, ‘maybe you only think other people think that you’re a failure.’ Theo had lightened the mood and Sek had been able to absorb into himself the acceptance that the group had, already, sought to convey.
‘Can I change the word to sadness?’ Sek had said. The group had moved onto Honor Midnight, who couldn’t think of a word, and as a juxtaposition suggested a word that made her happy. She could talk about that. Theo saw his error but it caused Sekei to slightly withdraw, as if he had exposed himself unnecessarily without the everybody else coming to the party.
Theo wanted to broaden the scope of the conversation. ‘What do you miss as a child?’ He wanted to explore this subject because he saw creativity in it, the idea that one could build a narrative around what a child misses out on, to write about it and come up with a story that made sense to somebody else, that lit a fire somewhere else, that opened up a gate to a field that, hitherto, had not been explored. Honor, Ziggy and Sek returned the following month with contributions, in Honor’s case a screed.
King had yet to arrive into their gathering, they had not been asked what they might be reading, they had not yet developed the quite rage, the group had not yet descended into cultural anarchy. This then was new to both groups, the group of King and the group of everyone else.
‘You know, back in the good old days, when everything closed at five, and people did with what they had, waited till the next day, made do, didn’t complain, couldn’t go online, weren’t obese, no 7-11? That’s what I miss from being a child.’
‘You’re a romantic.’
‘Moving along. Standing between earth and sky.’
‘But I’m trying to incorporate these feelings into the line of text we’ve been given.’
‘Have you got anything?’
‘Let’s hear it.’
‘Okay, here is what I have.’ Sek, without a pause. When I’m feeling sad I can stand between earth and sky silenced by the sight and fall into my sadness knowing that’s it’s okay to feel sad, that it’s okay to fall and that it’s okay to not know where I can go from there.
Sek had an audience, he’d always had an audience because people always wanted to know what Sek felt about things because Sek was always telling people how he felt and because he, Sek, always managed to touch an emotional nerve with people, a figurine ready to fall and break, that had been passed down through the family, was worthless other than the fact that it used to belong to great grandmother and it was the responsibility of all to keep this worthless artefact in the family just in case someone found it to have once been owned by royalty. So Sek was able to hold peoples attention, because they saw him as an artefact that may some day be worth something.
‘Happiness,’ King knelt forward, not speaking, kinked his head southward, like he was looking for something that he’d just dropped to the floor, insouciance begging for relief, ‘can stand between the earth and sky silenced by the same light, mean the same thing, but show me that my sadness is happiness in another form, whatever happiness is.’ And so they were all happy, except for King, who kept looking for something on the floor, behind his seat.
‘What have you got for us King?’ Theodore Claw would stamp his authority.
‘I’m looking for something on the floor.’
‘What have you lost.’
‘Nothing, I’m just looking for something on the floor.’
It appeared Ziggy would never stop laughing. ‘Is that the start of what you’ve written?’
‘No, just looking for something on the floor.’
Theodore Claw clenched everything in sight and then laughed a summary of all of his previous aspirations, once again imploring a response through a smile flashed teeth of romantic purity.
‘King, your writing.’
‘Can we hear what you’ve written. Please.’
‘Sure. This is what I wrote down.’ He started. Of course it had to be Midge first, he always wanted to be first. Midge, whose sister was all of last Summer’s sumptuous endings, his mother, coiffed like a cruel morning came out and banned us from heading out with him. He slowed his speech. He knew he was onto something. Midge had other ideas, he wasn’t a boy to be limited by what his mother, Gloria was her name, nothing glorious about her, fattened calves and a wastrel husband who could never remember who he was supposed to come home to. Midge was always first with the ideas and Gloria knew it, composing songs of praise for her son while trying to stop him from destroying the world, or coming up with an idea that laid waste to decency, longing, compassion and the latest excuse for why he couldn’t do what Gloria, his poor mother who put up with it, expected him to do. So Midge had it first, the idea that we’d all just set off, careering down the road, where Gloria, with her ankles, would never be able to find us, glimpsing the gallimaufry of all our youthful ambitions disappearing in the dust of our modern confections, to the lake, to the pond, to the reservoir, of ideas but really just of water, where Midge, who had the idea, and his proxy brother, who didn’t want to be there, his sister who did but wasn’t, and me, would stand between earth and sky, silenced by the sight.
‘Shit, that’s off the planet.’
‘It’s word-spill. That’s all it is. You wanted word-spill inside 10 minutes. I gave you some.’
‘And you say you’ve written a book King?’ Molly was loving him, beginning to feel as though she would like to love him anyway. As far as King was concerned though Molly would have been more Drive My Car than what Molly might have been contemplating, for Molly it was more Bacharach than it was Beatles.
‘Hey Sekei, enough of the language,’ Theo tried laughing. ‘We’re all church goers.’
Honor asked. ’Can we buy your book?’
Theo interjected, before King could commence his pitch, if indeed he had one, if indeed he wanted to deliver it. ‘Having said that, this is a meeting for ideas, so if Sekei has a contribution to make around what King’s written then that’s welcome.’
‘Are we going to have an argument?’ said Ziggy.
‘Settle down kiddies,’ said King.
‘There is no right and wrong anyway is there, and besides’ said Molly, ‘I love what King’s written.’
‘It’s kind of St Aubyn meets Karouc.’ Ziggy wanted to make a contribution, He didn’t want to be left out.
‘I wouldn’t say it’s anything, it’s just what crossed the frontal cortex, a word here or there and I let it go. It’s nothing spectacular.’
‘Literary masturbation?’ Ziggy cried, or did he ask, or did he wish to place his own wedge into the shock that the others wept over.
‘Okay. O——-kay. Is there anything anyone wants to discuss then?’ Theo was attempting to take charge, but there was silence, a congregation stunned by the conflagration, of unnecessary words and lazy language. Except Ziggy, who was still silent but smirking. Hymns to the Silence. Where do we go from here then seemed to be the prevailing question. Where do we go from here then? Until King stuck a jumper lead onto the meeting’s contact point, as he had done not more than a few minutes before, and the electricity got reactivated.
‘So, do you think there’ll be peace in the Middle East?’
‘What was that?’
‘I said, do you think there will be peace in the Middle East?’
‘What sort of question is that?’
‘A serious one.’
‘You want an answer from us?’
‘So it’s a rhetorical question?’
‘Definitely not a rhetorical question.’
‘But you don’t require an answer?’
Ziggy, Sekei and Theo (the men) had all bought in, reacting to King’s question, attempting to reposte without taking on water. Honor Moonlight and Molly Devine remained silent. It wasn’t that women, on the whole, are not, or were not, concerned with the question, it was probably due to their cogitating on the subject rather than merely rearing their heads to it.
‘It’s something I’ve been pondering that’s all. I was interested to know whether anyone has a view on it and since Theo asked if there was anything else, the question has to be considered a part of anything else. It’s in the news all the time. Surely there are views.’
‘Don’t you think that’s a ridiculous question really,’ said Ziggy, ‘while we sit here on the other side of the world contemplating something that we can have no effect over.’
‘It’s not so ridiculous to the Palestinians and the Israelis.’
‘Well King, have you come to a conclusion then?’
‘Is that a no, you haven’t come to any conclusions or a no you don’t think there will be peace in the Middle East?’
‘No, I don’t think there will be peace in the Middle East.’
‘Have you told them?’
‘Who do I tell?’
‘Got a feeling they already know.’ At last Molly chimed in with a contribution.
‘Then why do they keep having summits and signing treaties and so on and forth?’
‘You’re asking the wrong guy.’
‘You’re the one who raised the issue in the first place. You haven’t given that some thought as well?’
‘I’m not a sociologist.’
‘They’re playing each other that’s what I think,’ said Sek.
‘They wouldn’t be the first.’
‘So, even if you’re right, it’s just your opinion and whilst everyone is entitled to their opinion, you’re not exactly going to listen to you or me tell them they are wasting their time. Neither of us is Tony Blair.’
‘No one listens to Tony Blair.’
‘Tony thinks they do and that’s what’s important.’
‘Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, people like Tony, who retire from public life, bursary in hand, steps up to an even bigger stage, collects his fee, only for even more people to not listen to him.’ Molly and Honor looked at each other, as Theo sought to assert whatever authority he deemed himself to have.
‘Okay, we can probably move on from the Middle East, so we don’t turn it into a satellite discussion group of the Noam Chomsky appreciation society.’ Theo’s remark elicited any number of facial contortions, ranging from the sly smirk to outright confusion. The ones who didn’t know who Noam Chomsky was didn’t dare to ask. Theo attempted to reign it in. ‘It might be time for us to wind the evening up.’
The group got up to leave, as if they had been programmed to so do, an en masse upward movement of bodies, arching, groaning, sighing, exhaling effort to lift. Exepct for King, he sat for a moment and observed. There was no mingling. Theo made it clear he was tired. As they walked up the long steep driveway there was some panting, it was a good ten percent gradient, the sort of gradients goat herders from the Pyrenees would accept as all part of the job, the group talked about the evening.
‘When is our next meeting? We haven’t discussed it?’
‘I’ll email everybody, December is too busy for everybody.’
‘Bloody steep this driveway. I don’t know how you’d walk up this each morning to go to work.’
‘I think he drives.’