The Real Art

In the morning she lay beside him still asleep. He stroked her soft white hip while he spooned her gently with his body. He took a talcum powder bottle from her bag and sprinkled it on her skin. It fell like soft snow on her bare hip and the side of her breast. He stood over her and took several photographs with his new SLR camera, he framed her torso carefully. The powder completed the composition perfectly. The morning was bright and still with lemon sunlight landing on her skin and the comfortable duvet beneath that served as a makeshift bed on the white painted floorboards. He watched her for several quiet minutes while she slept.

 

She had arrived on the train from Belfast the evening before. He met her at Connolly station. He was excited to see her despite all his conflicted feelings, the sight of her never failed to impress him. On this occasion she looked so beautiful in her short red dress and charcoal nylon stockings. Her closely curled fair hair reached the top of her buttocks. She smiled as she approached him from amongst the bustle of people disembarking the train. He always enjoyed moments like these, the feeling of anticipation, metropolitan commotion that filled him with pleasant expectation. Still he held back, he smiled too but pretended aloof indifference as he escorted her back to his studio a short couple of blocks away from the busy train station. It was evening just after twilight, his favorite time of the day in the city, people scurrying through the rush hour going places with determined purpose while he enjoyed the atmosphere. Moments like these promised excitement and interesting things to come.

 

He and she were officially split up but he took their relationship very seriously. Throughout the previous year they had lived together while attending the same Art School in Belfast. At first it was wonderful, just like a real couple. They would sleep together in the bed that she had made up, it was clean and comfortable. They shopped for groceries together. At night they nestled in each other’s arms kissing and cuddling. In the mornings she would touch his feet with hers under their breakfast table and sometimes she pressed her foot against his crotch and giggled. He felt energized, secure. At last he could work on his art without the distraction of yearning for a girlfriend as beautiful as she. Each day in college he felt good but they pretended not to be together on front of staff and the other students. It was her idea and it bothered him but he went along with her wishes.

 

 

Sometimes she would go home to her family on weekends and when she returned her mood would have changed. Eventually she would tell him that she wanted to split up because everyone said to her that they were too serious and she should be concentrating on her college studies instead. He would react by dropping into depression and would set about convincing her that their love was true and no one else could possibly understand that.

 

One day while in college they went to a student party. She was having fun and he watched eagle eyed whenever other guys laughed and joked with her. When they were alone for a moment she said to him “I don’t love you anymore”. He said “I’m going home”. After a while she went home with him and that evening they said nothing else to each other.

 

For much of that year their relationship blew hot and cold like this. Money was always tight and this made things difficult for both of them. Her situation was marginally better than his. He had to work part time jobs to keep afloat while she had some support from her father who gave her tuition fees and a small monthly allowance. His father gave him nothing; he didn’t like him very much. He thought he was as an adulterer and an alcoholic with a mean temper, a regular asshole. Her mother was a woman he didn’t like either, two faced he thought, polite to his face but bad mouthing him all the time behind his back. She insisted that he would amount to nothing. His mother had died that year and he missed her.

 

At the end of the semester there was another student party. Everyone was drunk including him. He was very drunk. He saw her kissing one of his classmates, he was shocked and angry. The following day the guy turned up at their flat. It was embarrassing because they were still in bed from the night before. They were both very hungover and this guy was bright and cheerful. The guy was a good friend of his, so he didn’t blame him because the guy had no way of knowing that they were an item. The guy stayed for a short while nervously waving his straw hat against his perfectly pressed pin striped trousers. The poor guy clearly felt awkward and he did nothing to make him feel any better. The atmosphere was clumsy and when the guy eventually left he got out of bed and started to dress. He said to her “We`re finished”. She started to cry, he hugged her and started to cry too but he still said, “We have to do this, it’s now or never”. She hugged him tighter and said she was sorry but he left.

Afterwards he cried for a week. He consoled himself with some friends who said usual things friends say in these situations like “Your better off” and so on. After a couple of weeks he resolved to continue afresh with his art. He told himself that he had great and serious things to do, it was his destiny. He wanted to hate her but he missed their breakfasts.

 

Three months passed over the summer break. He got a job selling door to door to save money for the following year in college. He wasn’t earning enough so he had no choice but to drop out of college for a year. He began not to miss her as much but he still thought about all their beautiful nights together.

 

One night she called to his new house that he rented with three nurses. He had his own room and fancied one of them. When she turned up at his door he was very surprised. He looked at her, she was beautiful and all his feelings for her gushed back. She smiled first and then burst into tears. He melted. He brought her to his room. They made love. She was on top of him, so beautiful but he felt like a looser. He felt weak. Later she said she needed money to show her father that she had tried to earn enough for her college fees. He told her not to worry because he would give her some.

 

She went back to college in Belfast and he left the house with the three nurses. He was doing better at the door to door sales so he rented a couple of old rooms officially as an art studio but he secretly slept on the floor there as well.

 

Every few weeks she would come down on the train from Belfast. Every time she came he wanted her more and more, but he hated her too. She told him about her time in college, about guys she slept with and how he should find girls to sleep with on the weekends because it was great fun. He hated her but still wanted her. They would get drunk a lot together. Sometimes they fought while they were drunk but always ended up having sex. He was miserable. When she graduated from college she went to an art school for a post grad in Belgium. Her father financed it. Meanwhile he continued making art in his studio and things were going well. He started having exhibitions and even got good reviews in the press.

 

Once he visited her in Belgium for a week. While he was there they drank a lot, they also had a few arguments but then had a lot of sex. When he returned to his studio in Dublin she wrote to him almost every day. Often he would receive ten letters at a time. They were decorated with shiny stickers and written on beautiful paper. They told about all the interesting things that she was doing there. He would read them over and over scanning them for evidence of infidelity. They were officially split up but he was very jealous all the same.

 

A year later she returned to Dublin. She was so thin, skin and bone, he could see her ribs while they made love, and he was shocked. Still he was happy that they were together again. They continued together, getting drunk a lot and arguing but it wasn’t all bad. He started an art business and she went into it with him. They began to make a lot of money but he also began to drink a lot too.

 

A few years later they were in a restaurant together ordering their fourth bottle of wine. They had argued on and off throughout the evening. It was a recurring theme about how he wouldn’t ever forgive her for sleeping with other men all those years before, even though she had said she was sorry a thousand times. In his heart he knew she was right but now he yearned for other women anyone other than her. She said to him that she even hoped that someday they might even get married. He was genuinely surprised, flattered even but still he thought about being free of her. He wanted a new life and still fantasized about making real art. When he was in a better mood he would promise her that someday he would stop drinking but deep down he knew he never could. Still he did fantasize about a life free from her, a life where he could meet someone that he could have a real love with, a life where he could really express himself, fulfill his destiny but it was all so blurry, so impossible. Fatalism became his comfort.

 

Their fights got worse, they existed together. Once when they were drunk again she told him that she had an abortion in Belgium and that’s why she was so thin when she came back. She said that if she had told him at the time she surely would have lost him. He felt sad for her but wasn’t sure if he could believe her anymore. One night soon after he came home sober and said “I think we should split up”. She said “I think so too”. Later she said that she never really loved him but he found that hard to believe.

 

He drank heavily on his own for a few more years until he eventually gave it up. He started a new life one that surprised even him. He heard later that she married some other guy.

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The world belongs to them.

1.

I can’t remember exactly how I was introduced to him but I will never forget our first meeting. He lived in a small caretaker’s flat over an old Ford Garage in the heart of Dublin. I envied his set up. The entrance had a narrow staircase behind a glass door tucked away innocuously beside the huge windows of the car showroom. On weekdays the shop floor was buzzing with activity but this was late Saturday afternoon and everything was shut up.

 

When I rang the doorbell I had to wait a few minutes. I was really hoping that I would catch him because I was enthusiastic about meeting this man that I heard so much about. After a few tense moments his tall skinny figure appeared at the top of the stairs. His gate reminded me of a 1950”s movie star, a bit like Gregory Peck, tall with greasy jet black wavy hair, a bony face and an impressive smile. He wore a red leather biker’s jacket that was filled with zips and silver buckles and a pair of skin tight denim jeans that hugged his long lean legs. On his feet were pointed leather shoes that clapped as he walked down the narrow linoleum covered staircase. He looked very cool and a little absentminded because he stopped halfway down the stairs as he fumbled with a long chain of keys. He reminded me of a jailer as he gestured with his hand for me to be patient while he looked for the right key.

 

I was eager to meet him. I had been told that he was a really interesting guy and his art was supposed to be brilliant. I had no idea what to expect but the huge cut out hair comb on the wall at the top of the stairs looked definitely promising.

“Can art be this simple?” I asked myself as he finally snapped the awkward door lock open.

“David right”, he said offering me his big hand with a glowing smile.

“Yes, Antony I presume” I replied.

I followed him up the staircase. At the top we turned a sharp corner and proceeded on through a short hallway filled with paint tins, bits of timber, plastic and sheets of Styrofoam before we reached another sharp turn right into what I thought must be a store room of some sort. It was packed to the ceiling with items that on first glance looked like bed duvet covers except they were made from black plastic, the kind you find in refuse bags. On the well-worn floorboards were dozens of tins of domestic paint, mostly basic colors red, blue, yellow, black and white and loads of used tins of aerosol car spray paint.

The smell of cellulose oozed from everywhere in the room; it made me want to pick my nose but I refrained. Stacked against the duvets were a pile of polystyrene sheets with longhand relief words carved into them and then they were picked out in various primary colors with the paint. Against one tiny piece of bare wall was a disheveled red leather couch with heaps of paper, more bits of wood, still more tins of used paint and an overloaded ashtray on the seat.

 

All the time Antony was talking, apologizing about the clutter, while puffing on a cigarette and fumbling on front of a tiny scruffy sink. Beside the sink was an equally scruffy hot plate cooker behind the very narrow door.

“Coffee?” he said.

“I’d love some”, I replied.

He handed me an instant coffee in a dirty cup. I politely accepted it and put it on the floor beside the couch I was now sitting on.

Thus began our first meeting.

2.

We talked and talked and talked. The hours glided by. When it was dark, I was smoking perhaps my tenth cigarette and he was offering me another coffee and still talking. I politely assured him I was OK. All the time my mind was saturated with urgent questions. I felt like a journalist anxious to get the scoop for the morning edition. Where did his ideas come from? Why polystyrene, didn’t he worry that his work would eventually fall to pieces? The materials were mostly flimsy found objects and scraps. I was amazed at the simplicity and confidence of his work, not to mention its originality. On one wall was a poster of a forest, a river and mountains and on the sky he had simply painted a wavy stars and stripes motif of the American flag. I loved the simple spontaneity of it.

The American flag featured a lot in his work. It was all so fresh, so Rauschenberg. This guy was the real Mac Coy. He was an amazing artist. I envied his originality and such a contemporary feel. His finger was on the button, he had the edge.

I loved too his personal image, that wavy black hair, with the Elvis like curl that drooped over his forehead. Now he started to remind me of Samuel Beckett, not just because he bore a great resemblance to him but he seemed as fresh and original as him too.

 

He asked me about my work and instantly interrupted me when I tried to articulate what my stuff was about. He”d break in using distinctive terms like

“I can plug into that, there’s a real buzz in this, I can see connections here”.

Even the way he constantly shouted “Yea” had a uniquely appropriate air about it. He told me how important he thought “Talking Heads” were and how interesting a connection it was that I shared the same name with its lead singer “David Byrne”. I agreed like a disciple, it was love at first sight, I was his total devotee.

 

This visit was satisfying, like drinking a cool Pepsi in a desert, he refreshed me. He wanted to see my work; we’d have to have a slide show next time. He wanted me to meet more people, friends of his that buzzed, that were plugged in. I was impressed. Finally I had met a real artist, one I could truly appreciate and be inspired by. Moreover he was accessible because his studio was just a ten minute walk from mine and best of all he loved talking.

 

We talked for fourteen hours nonstop on that first meeting. I left him as the dawn was emerging, very symbolic a new dawn on a new friendship. My eyes ached in the sharp morning chill, but I felt enthusiastic, something significant had just happened, life has pivotal moments and this was one of them.

3.

A few weeks later he invited me around for the slide show we talked about and to meet the friends he mentioned. When I arrived two of them were already there in his studio, a guy and a girl. She was almost good looking. I took note of her great figure. She looked very serious. She had a shaved head and wore a black leather bikers jacket complete with buckles and zips like Antony’s one. She was showing her slides when I arrived. A lot of the slides were of her naked, standing on front of a brick wall having chocolate poured over her head from a tin bucket. Antony was sitting on a very small three legged stool hunched over like a giant spider and smoking a cigarette. He still wore his red leather jacket and pointed shoes. He introduced the girl to me as Julie. I didn’t want to warm to her because she didn’t smile once.

 

The other guy was introduced as Connor I think. He was more appealing. He also had a shaved head with protruding round ears like a monkey. He had a very squeaky voice. He wore a scruffy pinstriped jacket and tight jeans. He reminded me of a Chicago gangster from the 1930”s, even saying things like “Swell” and “Shucks”. He talked incessantly; he had opinions about everything and seemed to be very impressed by Julie’s chocolate spilling efforts.

 

I didn’t really relish the prospect of showing my slides to these guys but everyone looked very expectant so it wasn’t really an option to back out. Still I was curious as to their reaction. In any case when she finished her presentation Antony gestured to me like a school teacher to load my slides into the projector. Soon after I started flicking through them, quite quickly I might add because I have to admit I was nervous. His guests looked like a pretty unforgiving panel of judges. Very quickly Antony started to interject with a very loud voice that even the plastic duvets couldn’t muffle. He said that Julies work was important and she was plugged into something vital. I had no idea what he was referring to but I ended up saying,

“Yea, I see where this is going.”

It seemed the most diplomatic thing to say and besides if an artist as insightful as Antony, made a comment, then I was all ears in the hopes that the flattery would flow. His words were like nectar to me, they, to use his term, vitalized me.

 

 

Anyway he went on to say that he saw curious connections between her chocolate pouring and what I was up to especially around the idea of a “ritual buzz” that was happening in both our work. He made reference to the kind of religious alter thing that was happening in my stuff after I had shown them a piece I had done which comprised of a long black table with coincidentally, Styrofoam objects that were laid out in a carefully arranged pattern. Beside them on the floor was a pile of similar materials arbitrarily scattered. To my mind I was trying to say something about order and chaos and really couldn’t see any similarity to Julie’s chocolate pouring but still I zealously absorbed and logged every word he said in my mind. I planned to mentally relish them later. All the time Julie was looking at me with a vexed face. It was a look I had experienced in the schoolyard as a kid, like a bully who had their scope set on me. While she glanced at me she swung her knee like a pendulum and rubbed the back of her head. Still, I couldn’t help but admire her firm body as it sank comfortably back into the red leather couch.

 

During the show there were several interruptions with the doorbell. More people arrived and some left. This guy was popular his flat was like a university common room. After a while I got irritated because I wanted Antony for myself. I began to realize that our previous meeting had indeed been a rare private audience with this royal monarch of artistry. I really hoped that they would all leave but every time someone stood up to go the Connor guy sank further into his side of the couch like a cat intent on curling up on his favorite cushion for the evening. I was thoroughly disappointed and eventually I decided to give into the rival pet by announcing that I too had to go. Antony cordially walked me down the narrow stairs and said that he got a real buzz from my work, we needed to talk again he said. My heart immediately raced at the prospect of another private audience with my liege, lord of artistry.

4.

One day some time later, a letter arrived at my studio. It was hand delivered by Antony. I was so upset that I had missed him because I really wanted his feedback on my studio set up. I needed more nectar of flattery.

The letter was penned in swirling longhand and written so large that each sentence made about four words on average. The letter consisted of many pages. It said that he had been very busy lately, he was mostly writing but also he was thinking about organizing a group exhibition with some artists that he admired and one of the artists he thought about was me.

 

I was of course overjoyed to be included by him as someone worth his consideration. My heart raced with anticipation. Later I learned from him that Julie was his first choice but she couldn’t join because she was unavailable.

 

The show according to him was going to be a big spectacle. He told me that he once held a funeral for a dead sparrow, complete with a full sized casket he bought from a funeral home and a procession of fifty of his friends who were all dressed in black following the hearse through the city center in the middle of daytime traffic. The police stopped the event and he loved that controversy. Great publicity he said.

 

I had my doubts but still I wanted to be part of his show, so I said yes to his proposal. The final co-participants were Antony, me and two other artists, one a successful illustrator and the other an irritating self-promoting opportunist called Josh. Antony organized an exhibition grant from the National Arts Council and me and Josh ended up doing the bulk of the work to erect the final show.

Still the entire exercise was interesting and a lot of fun actually. We had several shows in different locations around the country and each show comprised of an opening night with lots of interesting people attending and usually followed by a great party afterwards. Our Arts Council budget also covered travel and hotel expenses but we did try to economize by sharing hotel rooms. After one of the shows Antony was sharing a hotel room with me, well actually not only the room but also the double bed because that was all that there was available in this particular town. To my amused surprise Antony stripped naked and got into the bed beside me. He said that’s how he always slept and hoped that I didn’t mind. I burst out laughing and said it was OK but please no hanky-panky, I have a headache. Antony burst into laughter but later in the night when I was still awake with his snoring it was no laughing matter. He snored like the horns bringing down the Walls of Jericho; I thought the room would collapse on top of us.

 

After the shows we got some reviews in the newspapers. The reactions were mixed depending on which papers wrote them. To my amazement I got better reviews than the other three. Still I couldn’t really enjoy it because they dismissed them as being unappreciated by a conservative establishment. I didn’t bother to object and say the obvious,

“Hey guys you’re just jealous, I bet your attitude might be different if they liked your work too”.

5.

Never the less my admiration for Antony remained. I loved his spontaneity and the fact that he was constantly full of intriguing surprises even if sometimes they bordered on the plain crazy. One day, a rare occasion when I caught him alone in his studio, I saw a dying plant on his windowsill. Beside it was a carton of milk. I asked him had he watered it. He replied that he had been experimenting by feeding it with milk. Clearly this man was nuts I thought but in such a charming way, crazy actions like this made me think of the world in a different way even if that was basically ridiculous. I liked that about him.

 

He went on to tell me that he had been writing a lot recently. Intrigued again, I asked him to show me some and he proudly pulled out several cardboard boxes from under the plastic duvets. I felt like I was in a F.B.I. archive room looking at boxes of top secret files, there were literally hundreds of pages stapled together in bunches. He loomed over the boxes puffing on a cigarette and stroking his hand through his greasy hair. He talked incessantly as usual. I heard words like “plugged in, connected, vibe, vital, conduit, buzz,” and the like. I started to read some pages that I arbitrarily picked from a box and he put on the coffee while still talking, well actually shouting at the wall in front of him by the tiny scruffy sink. What I read was a kind of automatic writing exercise that went on for scores of pages, unrelated words that made no logical sense but were penned in his beautiful handwritten script. To me they were more like written scroll objects rather than having intrinsic informational value for their content. The documents were more like a prop for a TV play as opposed to something one might take the time to sit down and read as a narrative. Basically there was no narrative, not even one as rudimentary as an F.B.I. file on some suspect, i.e. basic information that might actually be useful in some way. This is what intrigued me about his writing and like the dying plant it too was fascinating from a pathological point of view, if I were his doctor.

 

Sometime later he informed me that he was “into” getting married. I didn’t know that he even had a girlfriend. He told me that he had recently started seeing six women all at the same time. These were apparently the shortlisted candidates. Needless to say again I was surprised, Antony certainly never failed to disappoint when it came to unexpected projects because that’s how this struck me; this was a project. It was the kind of spectacle one came to anticipate from him like his funeral for a sparrow. I asked him had the six candidates been made privy to his plans. To my amazement, he said yes.

“Actually you know one of them”, he said.

“”Julie?” I guessed.

“Yes”, he said with a smirk that belied his effort to look serious.

I smiled. He talked as he paced the room stepping over things with his long bony legs. He continued,

“I decided to be straight with all of them, to keep them in the picture. Their all cool with it and to be perfectly honest it’s a great buzz. I’ve been seeing each of them one after the other. I keep them all up to speed and they know that at the end of the day I’m going to pick one of them.”

“Wow”, I said, “Really, and their all agreeable with that”?

“Basically yes” he smiled back at me.

I was flabbergasted.

6.

A couple of weeks later I called into him again. While he was making the coffee I just couldn’t wait to ask.

“So any verdict yet?” I asked.

“Yea” he bellowed, “Funny you should ask, I made my decision yesterday and she agreed last night”.

“OK let me guess”, I said shuffling myself on his red couch to get a straighter view of him while he tinkered with the kettle beside the scruffy sink. “It’s Julie I bet”.

“Funny you should mention her”, he said, “She was the only one who dropped out of the running so to speak. She said that her plans had changed because she won an artist in residence grant somewhere in Germany so she decided to take that instead of me”.

He smirked again beneath the serious face and honestly I didn’t know if he was trying to be jovial or was just plain offended.

At this stage my jaw was hanging with anticipation, all this was just too surreal.

“OK, so don’t keep me in suspense for god’s sake, who is the lucky lady then”, I entreated.

He turned with a mug in his hand and breathing deeply, stubbed out his cigarette in the sink.

“Her name is Kaitlyn. You don’t know her, she’s a writer, well a poet really, she published a lot of stuff and she also writes articles for “In Dublin” magazine. We really bounce off each other, and we talk all the time, it’s a great head-space, and she comes at my work from a different angle, but still really plugged in.”

“Wow, you’re really that sure after such a short time” I said genuinely amazed, I really didn’t think he was serious about this getting married thing, frankly I thought he was nuts. In fact part of me suspected that he was making it all up, it sounded so implausible that six different women would be OK with a fiasco like this. Apparently I was wrong. Antony was a good looking man and interesting but honestly from a marriage point of view in the conventional sense I wondered who in their right mind would be seriously be interested in a Car Salesroom janitor who looked like he never took a bath and had little or no fiscal prospects. Evidently I was wrong; he won his prize on charisma alone. I suppose in a way I could understand that because after all I was drawn to him, I still thought he was a great artist in his own eccentric and charming way.

 

Soon after, I met Kaitlyn. Her face reminded me of a rabbit, she didn’t strike me as the literary type at all. She struck me as more of a pragmatist, a woman who was ambitious in the conventional sense. I thought she was bossy. She interrupted Antony all the time, in fact it was fascinating to watch him just smile and listen while she did all the talking. She talked even more than he did; wow he had met his match I thought. In the blink of an eye, they were married.

They invited lots of his friends to the wedding reception after a brief ceremony in the registry office. It was a “Bring your own drink” style budget party at his studio. I never found out why I wasn’t invited.

7.

A month after they were married Kaitlyn called to my studio. I was really surprised. She asked me had I seen Antony. It seems he had gone A.W.L.(absent without leave) a few days earlier. It suddenly made sense because shortly before he had written me a letter, a posted one this time, informing me that he had met some younger girl at an exhibition opening and he was hanging out with her until he could sort out his headspace. Kaitlyn told me that she knew about the girl because he apparently wrote her a letter too. If that wasn’t bad enough she informed me casually that Antony had also dispatched a similar letter to Kaitlyn”s mother. My jaw was now lying on the floor somewhere, this was just ludicrous, and I had no idea what to say to her.

She begged me to tell her where he was if I knew but I said I didn’t know. I showed her the letter that he had sent me and as she read it tears welled up in her rabbit like eyes. At that moment I warmed to her, I really felt for her and I was angry on her behalf at Antony for his flagrant selfishness. What an asshole I thought, I didn’t say that to her for fear of upsetting her more and instead ended up saying something like,

“Don’t jump to conclusions, I bet he’s just panicking because you both met and married so quickly. It’s a case of belated cold feet and I’m sure when he comes to his senses he will appreciate the fine woman he married.”

She sniffled and smiled a little and said that I was very kind but Antony was just a fucking wanker. She asked me to inform her immediately if I heard anything about his whereabouts. Of course I assured her that I would.

8.

Weeks passed, I was busy creating a new body of work for a solo exhibition I was hoping to have. I was still high from the success of the group show with Antony and the others. Ideas were coming so easily to me and I found it difficult to keep up with the flow, I couldn’t make things fast enough. My studio became my sanctuary and I was spending most of my time there. My girlfriend called in a lot too and I”d get her to help me sometimes holding sheets of timber while I cut them out with a jigsaw and other similar tasks. I often worked late into the night and on one of those nights a knock came to my front door. Hey presto it was Antony. I was so delighted to see him and amazed that finally I had him here in my studio on his own. He had been here before but Josh and the illustrator were always there as well for our meetings about the group show.

I brought him up the two flights of dimly lit stairs to my rooms while saying things like,

“It”s great to see you, I was just thinking about you, actually you came at just the right time I’ve new stuff I”d love to show you”.

 

Antony was unusually silent but carried a broad smile on his face as he followed me up the dusty staircase. When we got in the room he pulled over a wooden box and sat on it. I had a fire burning in the hearth, the lights were switched off because I liked the shadows the flames cast on the blue walls and ceilings. Ivy from outside the old sash window had over time crept inside and crawled along the internal walls beside it. I liked this; I hoped Antony would notice these details. He didn’t.

 

Sometimes I noticed Antony had a sadness in his smile, like he wore it unconvincingly, a forced enthusiasm that lacked the momentum of real joy. He wore such a smile on this occasion. He knew my girlfriend and he greeted her with a nod. She was sitting in an old armchair that I had. I offered him coffee but he said he was ok. I made some for me and my girlfriend. As I did he still wasn’t saying much, but he did manage to say “Wow you’ve been busy”.

“Yes” I replied and I started to explain how I had been on a roll as of late and it was great that he dropped in at this particular time. He looked about smiling; he stood up with his long fingers squeezed into his pockets and walked about stepping over things with his lanky legs and making lame comments that were supposed to sound encouraging. My girlfriend asked him what he thought of one piece I had been working on that night. I had just begun. It comprised of a life sized image of a doorway with an image of a full moon outside the door. He ran his fingers through his greasy hair and raised his voice a little while saying things like

“Yea, I can plug into that, looking good Dave”.

“Thanks Antony I had hoped you would like what I’m at”, I replied.

Still, the usual energy was missing in his voice.

I came back with the coffee and as I handed it to my girlfriend I asked him,

“What’s the story Antony; you don’t seem your usual self. I might as well say it, Kaitlyn was here the last day and she was very upset. I know it’s really none of my business but…..”

“Really” he interrupted, “Seriously!”

“Yes, she came ………..” and I told him the whole story.

“Jesus Dave I’m sorry for bringing all this shit to your door, the last thing I expected was for her to turn up here”.

“No sweat Antony” I assured him, “I was just very concerned for both of you frankly”.

 

He followed with a lengthy explanation about how he just had lost the plot recently, how things were moving way too fast, how he just needed his own headspace for a while, and so on. Through his extensive account I really learned nothing that I didn’t already know, he had run off with some young one and Kaitlyn was very pissed off. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.

 

Then he started talking about his art, how he needed to make an impact, how he needed to plug into something vital like “Talking Heads” had. He wanted to reach a larger audience, really shake heads etc.

“In other words Antony, you want to be a pop star” I said with concealed irritation.

“Yea that’s it, why not?” He countered.

“Well for starters, you don’t sing” I laughed, trying to add some joviality to the somber mood.

“True”, he smiled back and I suddenly felt guilty with my cheap jibe.

He told us that he had been to the movies earlier. He had seen a film called “Flash Dance”. I had seen it too, it was a fun film I thought but it could hardly be described as profound art.

Antony leaned over on the box, his big hands clasped tightly and said earnestly

“How can I ever compete with that?”

Frankly I was shocked that this man I so admired could be so shallow. I argued the toss with him. It made me more and more depressed. For me something was really beginning to fall apart.

After an hour or so he stood up and said he needed to go. I said

“Are you OK?”

“Yes, yea”, he said in a raised voice. “Thanks guys, sure I’ll talk to you during the week”.

Something didn’t feel right, I walked him down to the front door and watched him as he paused smiled on the front steps and departed down the dark street.

When I went back upstairs my girlfriend asked,

“Is he really OK do you think? He sounds like a man who could go off the deep end”.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean he sounds suicidal.”

“What?” I said. “Don’t be absurd, how do you figure that?”

“Couldn’t you see; it’s obvious?” She replied.

I really couldn’t see and began to feel very stupid. I even thought about running down the street after him but decided he was probably well gone at that stage.

9.

A year later I got another letter from him. It was an invitation to the opening of his new exhibition in a shopping mall; it was to feature all his plastic duvets. The space to be filled was huge and I was truly amazed that he had enough work to handle it .It was impressive, the show went on for hundreds of yards along countless passageways and into nooks and crannies all over the shopping mall. Not many artists were capable of dealing with such an enormous space. If nothing else he was prolific.

 

A couple of days after the opening he invited me back to his studio and to my amazement it was bare except for the cardboard boxes that were stuffed with his written material. He talked a lot about the writing, he was his old animated self once again, and this made me happy, once more I was privy to the charming and eccentric doer of crazy things. Still I refrained from volunteering to read any samples this time I preferred to simply listen to him talk. He described his latest writing in detail to me anyway. He spoke about finally being able to plug into the right headspace, how he had connected into a vital buzz, all the terms were still there even if at this stage they were becoming clichés. His words still gave me butterflies. His momentum was back and energized to full charge.

 

Then he said that he was thinking about going to America for a while. My heart immediately dropped, the thought of losing my artist friend saddened me and I suddenly had a terrible feeling of abandonment. I knew this was selfish of me that I should be bigger than this and wish him well but instead I asked,

“What about Kaitlyn?”

“We`re thinking about taking some time out”, he replied casually.

“I know she and other people won’t be happy but sometimes you just got to go with it and sometimes that means leaving people behind. I know it sounds tough but that’s just the way it is”.

 

It struck me that he spoke about his plans as if they had nothing to do with him, that he had no part in the decisions he was making, that somehow all this was orchestrated by some divine book of fate. I was flabbergasted at how he absolved himself of all accountability. To be honest I also envied his apparent freedom and his fortuity in knowing the right people to make such trips possible. He was plugged in all right, plugged into the right connections that could bring pleasant opportunity his way. I was jealous.

 

Then the doorbell rang. This time it was his brother. Antony introduced him as Bobs the actor. He looked a bit like Antony, but not as impressive, somehow more ordinary but his accent was similar and he used the full range of buzz words that I had learned from Antony. Bobs didn’t stay long and when he left Antony came back upstairs.

“You know I’ve been seeing a shrink”.

“What” I said. “You mean a head doctor, a psychiatrist? “

“Yea”, he shouted with his old enthusiasm, his smile now was broad and self-satisfied.

“Are you all right” I asked?

He told me he was great now, but things had been bad a few months previously.

“Remember the last time I called to your studio, it was a Sunday night I think, must have been several months ago now”

“Yes almost a year ago Antony” I said.

“Well” he continued, “I didn’t go home when I left, instead I went for a long walk and ended up beside the canal”.

I could imagine what was coming next and he didn’t disappoint me.

“I stood there for a long time and before I knew it, I jumped in” he said. “I can’t swim so I expected it all to be over fairly quickly, but like, it was ridiculous, instead I found myself standing waist deep in the water. That brought me to my senses pretty rapidly”, he added with a smile.

“Anyway I eventually arrived back here drenched to the skin and I just fell asleep in my wet clothes”.

“Jesus Christ”, I exclaimed in sympathy.

“No, no it’s all OK. When I woke up the following morning I rang St Pats (local mental hospital) and said I needed to see someone. They told me to call in and they would try and get someone to see me. I did and I met a really cool guy called Dr. Brody. I’ve been seeing him on and off since.

 

“Are you still seeing him”, I asked.

“Funny you should ask”, he added, “I just got a letter from him today, he couldn’t make it to the opening of the show but he did call around a few days ago and I took him about it”.

 

Then Antony handed me a letter typed on a single page. It read:

 

“Dear Antony,

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and work with me today. I was moved by your art and in it I see a clear road to your recovery. I wish you all the best and your continued success with your endeavors in America.

Yours sincerely

Dr. Michael Brody.”

 

The letter read like a brush off. Somehow I wasn’t convinced. St. Pats I knew was a public hospital on the national health and it sounded like they were just trying to race him through the system. I was sure if he had been paying for a shrink his treatment would have been much more thorough and would have probably lasted a lot longer. Still I was happy for him, at least he was still alive and that was certainly something to be very grateful for.

 

 

I gave him back the letter and he continued by saying that Brody had helped him enormously. He said Kaitlyn was pressurizing him and wasn’t going with his flow. He felt empty, his achievements were vacant and his buzz was really wrecked. That’s why he needed to see Brody.

 

Anyway that was that and it was time to move on, he explained. He applied for an artist in residence in New York and they accepted him, it was to last a year. I now realized the real reason the studio was empty, he was moving out. I felt a hole in the pit of my stomach at the thought of him leaving. I guess I was to be one of the people he needed to leave behind and frankly it felt a bit like an insult. In my mind I could see the dust trail behind him as he sped away like the Road Runner in the cartoons and me like the frustrated Coyote left standing there on the dirt track. My feelings were conflicted but part of me was glad for him too. Still I couldn’t but help feel sorry for Kaitlyn, she was genuinely cut up that time she called around to my studio looking for him.

 

“Well there’s no point saying I won’t miss you because I will Antony.”

 

He walked me for the last time down his linoleum staircase to the awkward aluminum door at the end. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes as he offered his huge hand and said,

“I’ll keep in touch by letter and keep you up to speed on my antics”.

 

At that I walked down the street with a lonely heart, that feeling of being marooned when someone you know is going off to a brighter more exciting place while you have to languish in the humdrum of the all too familiar.

10.

Sometime after that last meeting I heard that he got back with Kaitlyn and they were going to have a baby in America. Later still I heard that they all three had come back home and were living in and artists in residence in the countryside here. Sometime later still I heard that they had finally split up permanently with Kaitlyn and their daughter going back to America. Apparently because of her poetry Kaitlyn landed herself with a cool professorship in some college over there.

 

On and off over the next two decades I would either hear about him or from him directly usually by letter. He had moved from Dublin to Limerick and for a time was teaching in the art school there. Later on I heard from his brother Bobs that he lost the teaching job and was working in a factory on the night shift.

I got a letter where he said that he had met someone new while he was teaching literacy as a volunteer. They connected he said. Later still I heard that they had split up.

 

His letters were wonderful. I really grew to appreciate his huge swirling longhand with four words to a line, they always included pictures and small drawings and he decorated the envelopes beautifully, like abstract expressionist paintings. I kept all of them. They were works of art in themselves. He always included small sketches he had drawn and he would decorate the envelopes with charming motifs and eccentric references to his current feelings like smiling suns and the like. Sometimes he would paste magazine photographs of landscapes and retouch them with his own contributions like his proverbial American flags painted on the skies or on rivers. I could imagine the rivers flowing like those semi-animated pictures you see in Chinese restaurants that are doctored to make waterfalls look like they were flowing. He was a master of Kitch; he did it in a way that made it look sophisticated, a Kitch beyond Kitch.

 

In the letters he kept promising that someday soon we would surely meet up and have a good chat. I kept promising in turn that I would make an effort to visit him in his studio in Limerick. Both of our declarations sounded like a verse from the song, “The cat and the cradle” where the lyrics went, “We’ll surely have a good time then son, we’re gonna have a good time then”.

 

I learned that his brother the actor was mostly a taxi driver because one night I got into his cab by chance. I was glad to meet Bobs because he would update me about Antony’s whereabouts and antics. Over the ensuing years I often bumped into Bobs and I would invariably ask him, “How’s Antony? “

On one such occasion I came across him in a coffee shop. I asked my stock question. The answer I got was a bit of a bombshell but it did explain a lot too. Antony had gone back into therapy and told Bobs that a memory of his father sexually assaulting him suddenly came back! I was wide eyed and aghast. Then Bobs said that he had a sudden memory recall of similar stuff happening to him too! Furthermore Bobs told me that their other brother had the same experience. I had heard about things like this, suppressed memories too traumatic to endure, eventually surfacing when the right trigger finally stimulates them. This was incredible. Antony sleeping naked in the hotel room with me all those years before now made sense.

“Wow” was all I could say.

He spoke a little more about it, not going into too much detail but enough to horrify me. Then we said our good byes and I said to him if he or Antony ever needed to talk I was willing to listen. He thanked me and we parted company.

11.

Perhaps a year later I was walking through the shopping mall that hosted Antony’s show twenty plus years before. To my astonishment and joy I saw Antony standing in the mall with a girl maybe in her early twenties. She looked sweet and innocent. She was dressed very plainly in a grey woolen winter coat and thick scarf. She looked sincere and friendly with white skin and red rosy cheeks. She was dwarfed by Antony’s tall stature, and he looked so emaciated. His clothes hung on his skeletal frame like rags on a scarecrow. In fact he was so thin he reminded me of a bird, maybe a buzzard of some kind. He had the same smile though. I was so happy to see him and immediately said “Have you time for a coffee?”

All the time his girlfriend was smiling and looking up at him, clearly she adored him.

In his familiar loud voice he said,

“Yea, great to see you Dave, Jesus you caught me at a really bad time; I’m racing to catch a train back to Limerick.”

My heart sank, I was so disappointed. I asked him a pile of questions that I can’t remember now because I was overwhelmed at just meeting him, like a long lost lover, I couldn’t articulate, I was just dazed with feelings of sadness and regret. I was actually really taken with the depth of my reaction.

 

Two years later I received another letter from him. On the first page was a drawing of a smiling sunrise. On the next page a big picture of his now grown up daughter. On the next pages were more pictures and brochures of various art projects he had recently completed and was working on. The letter spanned several pages but his longhand had become more compact and intelligible.

 

He spoke optimistically. He told me about his happiness at having spent the summer with his beautiful grown up daughter and how proud he was of her. He mentioned upcoming projects too and how he planned to visit Dublin very soon. He really wanted he said to finally hook up after all these years. His words were warm; they filled me with sentimental pleasure, I vowed to myself that this time we would meet for definite. I could feel the rich evening glow of amber sunlight touching my skin as I admired the sun he drew on the envelope.

12.

A couple of more years passed. I was walking down O’Connell Street in Dublin early one morning. This was unusual for me because lately I was in the habit of working late into the night and sleeping in the mornings. Like fate had ordained some synchronistic event, a tap came on my shoulder and when I turned around it was Bobs.

He was with a woman whom I had not known. She looked somber as did Bobs. He introduced her as his sister.

I said “Wow, fancy meeting you both here. Antony mentioned his sister to me many times it’s amazing to finally meet you. How’s Antony?”

“Well he actually died this week.” Bobs said with a matter of fact tone because knowing Bobs he had no other way of saying such things.

Stunned, I tried to process this news in my mind; I searched for my feelings and couldn’t find them. Instead I said,

“By his own hand?”

“Yes” replied Bobs. “How did you know?”

“I’m shocked but not surprised.” I replied in my matter of fact way, but still trying to be sensitive by using no nonsense honesty. They both seemed to appreciate that. His sister listened to me attentively as if hoping to learn some revelation. I had none but I told them both that he had spoken to me about such a scenario many times before. In fact he had only spoken about suicide that one time but somehow I remembered it as a multitude of conversations, like recurring Deja-vu.

 

I asked them tentative questions about the circumstances and the like, I didn’t want to press the issue but Bobs told me he had money problems. I didn’t believe that was his motivation and tried to offer some sensitive insight by saying that Antony was a complex man, delicate and caring and in many ways lost in his own wilderness of dissatisfaction. He had given so much to so many and yet couldn’t be kind to himself. I wanted to cry but didn’t want to upstage Bobs and his sister. I talked about his letters and immediately his sister smiled and said she so loved his letters too, his “Amazing letters” she said. I knew what she was talking about. I asked them about the funeral details and said I would see them the next day there.

 

As I walked on down O’Connell Street, I kept thinking how flabbergasting that I should have been on this street at this exact time so that I could bump into Bobs.

 

The universe sometimes seems like a deliberate conspiracy, contriving our lives into meaningful strands that mingle with such connotation that it’s hard to believe it’s all arbitrary. I never believed in god, purpose or cosmic validation of any kind but just as we join the dots in starry constellations our lives on this ground might be eloquent. In my mind, I felt again the amber sun on my skin. I felt your total absence and I felt like the Coyote standing in the trailing dust of the Road Runner.

 

It’s true Antony, sometimes you really do need to leave people behind, and I don’t know who I am sadder for, you or me. Who needs to leave who behind? I ask myself because as I write this chronicle I certainly can’t leave you behind. Neither I am sure, can your daughter and all those others you have touched. Our lives are a creation, we create them together, we don’t leave people behind, we abandon them and we abandon ourselves. Your death in some kind of twisted irony makes me feel alive. I am surprised that I miss you as much as I do.

 

Sometimes I think of your end as a project, like the funeral for a sparrow. “What’s the buzz; I’ll plug into that.” I hear you say.

 

The funeral was disappointing; somehow I had expected an amazing performance or surprise, instead while Kaitlyn recited some Emily Dickenson from the pulpit children giggled at the back of the church.

“The world belongs to them now”, I thought as I bade my farewell to you. “The world belongs to them”.

 

 

The Insolent Representative of PR and Company Etiquette: Sir Kendrick Smithson.

The wicked protagonist of this tale is the PR Executive and advisor on company etiquette for ‘Royal Blend’ Cigarette Co. Ltd which bears the seal “By Royal Warrant to the Prince of Wales”. This fateful personage brought about the humiliation and ruin and ultimate death of Dr Asher Benjamin Balshaw, presiding director of the Research Department of ‘Royal Blend’ Cigarette Co. Ltd situated in its subsidiary in Norfolk.

Ironically Sir Kendrick merits the appreciation of all, because he awakened rousing loyalty and dedication and provided the extraordinary occasion for the events which were to follow. These events have been well documented in the popular media, analysed in scholarly articles, discussed in taverns and coffee shops, spread viral on social networks etc and not to mention rich material for fiction and film scripts alike!

The actions to which all this reported controversy attests can easily elicit the readers empathy in its justification , given the circumstances in which anyone of common righteousness would have no hesitation in seeing.

I follow the story as reported at the time of these events in the mainstream media of the day. I endeavour to relate as much as possible the unadorned facts and allow the reader to draw their own conclusions.

THE INSOLENT PROVOCATION.

In the winter of 1972 just before Christmas, Dr Asher Benjamin Balshaw, presiding director of the Research Department of ‘Royal Blend’ Cigarette Co. Ltd was obliged to receive a representative and board director of the parent company. Custom dictated that he offer the hospitality and entertainment of his home to him along with any other amusements the representative may have proclivities for. Two hundred years of company policy and tradition had fostered complicated and institutionalised rituals of reception to the point of tortured complication.

The board director represented the CEO of the parent company, with whom he held great confidence, a nuance which Dr Asher and his small and veritable army of researches, forty seven in number failed to appreciate at their peril. Dr Asher and his loyal researchers rarely saw or for that matter communicated in any regular manner with the head office situated in London, thus for all intents and purpose his team considered Dr Asher himself to be the living embodiment of ‘Royal Blend’ Cigarette Co. Ltd. Such was the relaxed and laid back vernacular cosiness of this little annex tucked away in the backwoods of Norfolk.

Having described thus, the reason for this official inspection was that the Research Department of ‘Royal Blend’ Cigarette Co. Ltd, under Sir Asher’s charge, were about to present the culmination of nearly two decades of work on their secret and prestigious project , a new cigarette that bore absolutely no health risks while still delivering all the expected satisfactions of smoking. They finally had produced a product that ultimately addressed the complaints of the most ardent passive smoking advocates as their invention had absolutely no ill effects on the smoker or anyone in their vicinity. It was Sir Asher’s and his team’s confident opinion that their innovation would not only restore the glorious heyday of smoking proliferation but would enhance the habit to such an extent that the industry would enjoy hitherto unheard of recompense. Furthermore such was their confidence that all 47 researchers and Dr Asher alike joyously poured their entire personal financial resources into the research project unbeknown to the parent company, with the full confidence that when their product proved to be the success they undoubtedly anticipated, they would be rewarded immeasurably due to the gratitude and appreciation of ‘Royal Blend’ Cigarette Co. Ltd for services above and beyond the call of duty rendered.

Such were the circumstances that occasioned Sir Kendrick Smithson’s visit.

Far from the glamour of London life, being despatched to these inconsequential backwoods of Norfolk seemed to be an offence to Sir Kendrick. Whether it was arrogant aloofness or simple contempt for the inconsequential riffraff which the esteemed Representative of PR Company Etiquette was ordered by the CEO to entertain, one can only speculate but nonetheless Sir Kendrick conducted his mandate most ungraciously. From the moment he arrived he adopted a tone of excessive superiority using every opportunity to make denigrating offhand remarks towards Dr Asher and his staff. Despite such condescension on the PR’s part Dr Asher and his staff remained polite and respectful towards their reluctant guest. They endeavoured to demonstrate and explain in great detail the particulars of their groundbreaking achievement and emphasised the even more remarkable pecuniary rewards all involved stood to benefit from. The more Dr Asher, out of genuine and deserved pride, highlighted these simple facts the more vigorously Sir Kendrick mocked their endeavour with unhelpful objections that were clearly intended on debasing the honour and prestige of the Norfolk operation.

At times Sir Kendrick’s candid tone amounted to nothing more than brazen insolence. His host, presiding director of this Research Department was invariably at a loss for a suitable reply such as the use of wit to diffuse the situation, for in truth in his heart he considered not the use of wit but rather the use of some blunt object instead as an appropriate retort to Sir Kendrick’s impertinence.

On the third morning of this official visit Sir Kendrick’s shoelace became unloose. He requested that Dr Asher be so kind as to tie it up for him citing a bad back as his excuse for not doing it himself. He made sure that this incident occurred while all the Doctors staff was present. The doctor although dumbfounded elected not to exasperate the situation and humbly but with inward indignation complied with his request. While he was doing so Sir Kendrick beckoned one of the researchers to give him a sample of one of the revolutionary new cigarettes to which the man duly complied and also ignited it for him. With the doctor subserviently tying his shoelace Sir Kendrick inhaled deeply the sample cigarette and with an exaggerated exhibition of coughing and spurting flung the burning cigarette on the doctor’s bald head.

“What incompetent, ill-bred oaf or oafs decided to pass these shit-sticks off as anything resembling a ‘Royal Blend’ cigarette! Are you seriously trying to tell me that you have spent almost two decades squandering company recourses, no correct that, defrauding company recourses, goodwill, and trust and then have the audacity to insult my intelligence by trying to pass off these rolled bits of manure as the fruits of your fraudulent labour? “

He turned on his heel knocking the doctor over in the process, marched over to a nearby table that had several cartons of the new product on show and duly overturned the entire display.

He continued,

“You Mr Asher and your cohorts are finished, history, caput! I am going straight back to London with the resolute recommendation that you and your entire pathetic charade of an operation will be immediately liquidated and dissolved!”

He was breathless with rage but also grinning and smug, the doctor had had enough, and he exploded. He stumbled several times as he brought himself to his feet and grabbed an impromptu weapon from the assembly paraphernalia (the details of which to this day is not fully known). Suffice it to say he lunged at the offensive representative who unceremoniously fled never to be seen in Norfolk again. With him he carried a graceful flourish of a delicate thread of blood on his forehead courtesy of the doctor’s impromptu weapon.

Shortly after, less than a week in fact the London office convened a board meeting and handed down its judgment on the attacker Dr Asher. He was immediately dismissed with the added humiliation of suffering legal prosecution for the physical attack and civil prosecution for fraud, embezzlement, aggravated damages and a demand for full monetary recompense for extortion of company funds and time. In short the doctor was ruined and shortly afterwards took his own life out of shame, despair, one can only surmise but nonetheless the entire unfortunate incident resulted in his complete downfall and untimely death.

The only note he left (he had no family to speak of as he never married) was to his clerk of works who headed the research team for him, Mr. Oisin Kugan and Irishman who had loyally attended by his side for the previous two decades. Mr. Kugan was beside himself with grief and rage when he read the short suicide note which simply said, “To my devoted and loyal compatriots, I beg your forgiveness”.

THE PRETENDER OF WEAKNESSES.

Dr Asher’s Norfolk operation was shut down, his legacy, reputation and name linked to execration.

His staff was duly dismissed with no compensation or severance and with the threat of litigation if they attempted to object. They were in effect ruined and left destitute and with the added public disparaging of their professional good standing they effectively faced a life of poverty and disgrace unless they were to go to the extreme of assuming new identities. Backed by the London office with its wealth and far-reaching influence Sir Kendrick Smithson unapologetically and vindictively saw to it that all 47 research staff would never work in the industry again. Needless to say the 47 researchers were justifiably enraged and hungered for revenge.

It’s rumoured that the same night that the Doctor committed suicide the 47 researchers met in the countryside at an undisclosed location where in excruciating detail they planned the act that would transpire one year later; whatever the case the researchers acted with well justified delay. What is more widely accepted is that at least one of their meetings took place in an abandoned railway station because of its remote location and seclusion, secrecy was imperative to their intentions, as is often remarked, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’.

The researchers craved revenge but it seemed impossible. Sir Kendrick Smithson was a powerful man with great resources at his disposal. How and in what manner could they get to him? This question not only addressed how to access him physically but also what form their retribution should take. Undoubtedly given his crime many felt without hesitation that the only honourable and befitting retribution should literally take on the dictum ‘an eye for an eye’, others preferred more subtle means as in financial and  social ruin, the total destruction of his reputation and standing so that he may suffer all the greater the consequences of his conceit .

Sir Kendrick Smithson wasn’t a fool, he knew that the harm he had caused would foster ill feeling and so used his spies from private security firms to closely monitor Oisin Kugan presumed leader of the researcher’s. By chance Kugan discovered this and based his plan for vengeance on that knowledge.

A consensus was reached amongst the 47 researchers on the form of revenge. An ‘eye for an eye’ being unanimous!

Kugan moved to London allowing himself to descend into a life of debasement frequenting cheap brothels, grimy taverns, gambling haunts. On one occasion he was expelled on the street from a cheap brothel, for getting into a fight with some minor celebrity of modest note, he was covered in vomit. This was enough to draw some attention and his picture ended up in a local Tabloid newspaper where he was identified as the supposed loyal friend and assistant to the once distinguished Dr Asher Benjamin Balshaw.

It was reported that one passerby presumably an admirer of Dr Asher Benjamin Balshaw actually spat on Kugan and uttered something to the effect of “So this is what the loyal Kugan amounts to, a pitiful vagrant devoid of self-respect or respect for his colleagues, shame on you”.

When Sir Kendrick learned of this he felt relieved and much safer. “Obviously I was right about that entire gang of washout losers up there in Norfolk, wastrels and bum’s the lot of them” he was reported as having said.

Kugan didn’t stop there he deliberately started sleeping rough and hanging around Euston station (as it was close to Kendrick’s office) and when Kendrick’s spies reported this to him he relaxed completely. It was at this point that he dismissed most of the private security at his home and in comfort and good spirits set about resuming a carefree life of comfort.

On a cold and bitter night in the winter of 1973 just before Christmas the 47 researchers gathered in a small flat near Kensington close to the mansion of Sir. Kendrick.

RETRIBUTION.

Two groups attacked the mansion of Sir Kendrick Smithson. Oisin Kugan led the first who were able to disable the security settings on the main gate and quickly gain entry to the mansion itself thanks to the electronic security knowhow of one of the researchers. The second group attacked in a similar fashion from the rear of the mansion.

Sir Kendrick had a permanent security staff of 15 men who were armed with batons and some light firearms. The researchers were armed with homemade smoke bombs, gas masks and cricket bats. The defenders fought bravely through the smoke filled confusion especially given that the chemicals used in the smoke bombs were laced with irritants. None the less 9 of the researchers were severely injured as were two of the defenders. The remaining defenders were eventually overwhelmed and subdued with rope and duck tape.

Sir Kendrick Smithson the reprehensible cause of all that extreme loyalty was nowhere to be found. The attackers searched every inch of the now frantic mansion. They were beginning to despair, perhaps all their efforts and planning were in vain and this scoundrel had once again gained the advantage. Kugan decided to check his bedroom again and noticed that the bedclothes were still warm, they searched again and this time found a narrow back stairs that led to an open yard in the back garden. Standing there in his pyjamas, shivering wielding a poker was none other than the illustrious Sir Kendrick Smithson himself, he was trembling. His forehead bore a scar, the old rubric left by Dr Asher Benjamin Balshaw.

At this moment the 47 researchers went down on their knees to this detested man and declared who they were. They told him that they had come to avenge the ruin and death of their former leader and friend Dr Asher Benjamin Balshaw. Furthermore they demanded ‘an eye for an eye’ by requesting that Kendrick summarily commits suicide. Being a man impervious to the pleas of honour Kendrick burst into tears and protested the ridiculousness of their demand at which point Mr. Oisin Kugan approached with baton raised. Believing that his life was about to come to an end he gushed and pleaded for clemency and launched into an outburst of explicit remorse and confession attesting to his unjust arrogance and malicious humiliation of their master. He pleaded like a bold child who had just been discovered stealing sweets from the larder. It was embarrassing but effective because when he finally finished kneeling there on the frostbitten ground, Kugan said out loud, “Did you get all that?”

From behind the researchers a young man came forward and started discharging flashes from his camera in rapid succession. Unbeknownst to Kendrick the researchers had called the local Tabloid Press and instructed them to come to the mansion for a small but still consequential story that they might be interested in reporting.

“I got it, loud and clear” was the young reporters reply, “Thanks for the scoop guys, I think this will just be the thing to launch my career”.

The following morning the headlines in the local Tabloid read, “CORPORATE BIG WIG PEES HIS PANTS AND ADMITS DISGRACE”. A few days later the story went national. The CEO of ‘Royal Blend’ Cigarette Co. Ltd was quoted as saying, “Further to our inquiries into this unfortunate affair and the injustice done to our former distinguished colleague Dr Asher Benjamin Balshaw, we are outraged to learn of the deception and anguish caused by Kendrick Smithson who has now resigned his position with this company. In his place we are delighted to announce the appointment of Mr. Oisin Kugan and the restoration of our research facility and all staff at our Norfolk branch. Furthermore we are very excited to announce that in the New Year we will be launching our revolutionary new smokeless cigarette which is totally benign to human health and enjoyment.”

JUST END.

Sir Kendrick Smithson declined to press charges against the 47 researchers. For months afterwards he was plagued by Tabloid reporters trying to squeeze every last drop of scandalous information they could from him. In the end because of financial ruin and disgrace he began to sell his story to the press, as time went by be tried to recant his public confession but it was too late. Because of his notoriety he even ended up selling his autograph to passersby on the street in order to make ends meet. In the end even that source of revenue fizzled out as the public eventually grew tired and bored of him as the public always do.

The 47 researchers returned to Norfolk and triumphantly launched ‘Royal Blend-Healthy Blend’ which bears the seal “By Royal Warrant to the Prince of Wales”. In fact it’s reported that the Prince himself has forgone his unhealthy pipe in favour of the new cigarette, it seems to this day all his followers on social media have taken up the habit as well.

In honour of their beloved leader, friend and mentor Dr Asher Benjamin Balshaw, the 47 researchers had erected a sculpture to commemorate this great man outside the restored old train station in Norfolk where previously on that fateful night they first planned in secret their elaborate scheme for justice.

The site has since become a place of pilgrimage for travellers from afar. Amongst those pilgrims it is said was one from London who years before had spat on the face of Oisin Kugan, remorsefully he declared, “When I saw you in a drunken state covered in vomit outside a whorehouse in London that day, I didn’t know that you were plotting to avenge your master, I have come to offer my deepest apologies”.

CONCLUSION.

Thus is the story of the ‘The Insolent Representative of PR and Company Etiquette’. One cannot but be reminded of the ancient tale of the 47 Retainers as described in the Jorge Luis Borges story “The Uncivil Teacher of Court Etiquette: Kôtsukéno Suké”.

Perhaps there are lessons to be drawn here about loyalty, retribution and the true meaning of ‘an eye for an eye’.

I leave it to the reader to ascertain.

The Winter Solstice

Dated.Dec. 22. 07. 7a.m.

My dearest Sweetheart,

You left this morning and I didn’t say good bye, but I felt your tender kiss! I was awake. I pretended to sleep, its better that way. Better for me, because what I have to tell is too difficult to say to your beautiful face.

I thought of saying something poetic like ‘Now is the winter of my discontent’, but it seems so puerile. You have been so patient with me Robert, and all I can offer in return- is my pretence; being for you, whatever it is, that you want me to be.

Today is Dec 22; the date on which we first met all those years ago. Do you remember Robert? We sat on that wall for hours looking up at the moon together. We were so young and I so drunk. You saved me that night. I never forgot how you whisked me away from that dreadful party, when everyone else left me lying there in my own vomit; you were my handsome knight, who took me in a taxi home. You were my hero. You nestled me in your arms for hours by the wall in front of that house, because I needed you.

I wanted to leave that night Robert, but you gave me a reason to stay. You were- you are my Tristan, and we sipped from the cup. I dammed you so many times for doing that to me. Did you ever know? Did I, until this moment? Things we need to know, things we need to tell each other, if only , if only ; I’m tired of …………….if only.

Yes today is Dec 22 – The Winter Solstice, and like the sun, my heart is at its farthest point from your world. If it were not for you Robert, this would be so much easier.

Believe me I have tried, through my regret to spare you this sorrow; but I know you will eventually understand, the right in this wrong that I must inflict on you.

Remember that sunset in Crete? We were together – just you and I, sitting on the silent sand; waves lapping at our bare feet, your arms embracing me. The air was warm and dry. You asked me to marry you.

I said: Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

You laughed and said: I have everything I want, right here.

Did you know then, what everything really meant? Do you still want everything?

I remember the sun that evening, a gargantuan medallion, sinking beneath the sea, and with it sank my expectation. Against my sentient being, I replied: So be it.

You were so delirious with joy, my indifference escaped you. I was, as remote as the lonely sun is today, as you were drunk on the potion. For a time I was too Robert, but inevitably the concoction transformed.

Like a tree that stretches from hell to heaven, my roots have slowly carried the poison into the branches of your joy. I’ve seen your delight gradually wither each time you look at me.

How can she tell my Tristan that the sails are black when she knows they are white? I know how easy it was for her to take you from me. I have only myself to blame. So much to say, so late to say it! I am not doing you wrong Robert; I am doing what I should have done a very long time ago.

I know now, that you are everything. I know that you belong to her. Know that where I now choose to go, is where I’ve always been.

The love I gave you, as remote as the Solstice Sun, was none the less in earnest sincerity.

Good bye my love.

Isabelle.

The Last Fiver!

The rain sounded like hundreds of fingers tapping the top-side of the thin plywood that sheltered him. The rhythm varied from infrequent heavy drops to a persistent deluge, then subsiding a little and raising his hope’s that it would soon end.

The dank alley smelled of rotting food, urine, and petroleum.

He liked the smell of petroleum; reminded him of happier times when he was a kid, looking in the window of the bicycle shop. He was looking at the racing bicycle he was saving up to buy. The old shop smelled of oil and diesel and was a veritable wonder world for his young eyes! The ancient man, who owned the shop, had agreed to hold the Raleigh Racer for him until he had paid the £50 at the rate of a fiver a week for it.

His lips gently parted and his eyes lit up as he recalled those wonderful afternoons, when he would visit the old man in the shop.

‘Ah Kevin’, the man would smile, ‘here to see if your Raleigh is still real?’

Embarrassed at appearing too anxious, the boy would casually reply,

‘No I just happen to be passing by, and I like watching you repairing all these things.’

He would look down at the ground and kick at bits of loose metal parts that were strewn about the concrete floor, while shrugging his shoulders and dragging his finger along the edge of the old mans workbench.

‘Of course Kevin’, the old man would play along, ‘I’m flattered that you find this old bag of bones of interest, but I was just going out to the front of the shop anyway – so you might as well come and have a peek while your at it! How’s your summer job coming along? I hope those vagabonds aren’t working you too hard?’

When he was twelve years old he got his first summer job. His mother had arranged it for him. It was in a small local factory that produced aluminium windows (they were the latest rage at the time, the ultimate solution for home insulation – double glazing!)

She had saved up and bought two double glazed units to be installed in the front of their tiny cottage. There were two other windows out the back, and the aluminium window men advised she should get them done as well; but for now she could only afford the two for the front. The rest would have to wait till next year.

She was a thrifty woman and insisted on paying for everything in advance. She never used credit, and if she needed to save for something she would pay the shop so much per week before she would collect it. Kevin was taught thus – this was the way to do business!

Hence the summer job! She asked the two aluminium window men if they could use the lad in the factory for the summer holidays. They obliged and agreed to pay the boy £5 a week for helping out. Kevin later found out that the wages were set on the advice of his mother. The two men didn’t know what a fair weeks wage was for a 12 year old, so they asked her what she thought. She suggested a fiver a week. When Kevin finally found out that it was his mother who was responsible for his first experience of being exploited in the workplace, he was enraged, but his mother said that he should be grateful for having the opportunity to buy his Raleigh Racer.

Kevin had only one dream – to own a Raleigh Racer and if it meant slaving in the excruciating and mind numbingly tedious aluminium window factory, then so be it. But he couldn’t forgive her for striking such a miserable deal on his behalf!

‘Why on Earth didn’t you let me negotiate, I would have gotten at least £7 a week!’ he complained to her.

By the time that summer was half way through, he despised aluminium. He hated the way his nails felt when he had the compulsion to scratch the metal. He could not understand why he had to do that, but he would repeatedly scratch the dull aluminium to check if the sensation was as bad as he imagined it to be. It was like the way he hated the feel of nylon. Every time he saw one of his mother’s nylon stockings he felt a compulsion to lick it. The sensation was horrible but he couldn’t resist doing it anyway. That was how he felt about aluminium, it was torture. When his boss would switch on that chop saw to cut a new batch of aluminium he would sink into the depths of despair. No sound on this Earth was a torturous as the sound of that screeching saw searing through that raw metal like a dentists drill excavating a loose filling without an anaesthetic. His mouth would scrunch up and salivate and his jaws would lock tight as the sound of that chop saw wreaked havoc on those lengths of aluminium!

But it was worth it in the end, after ten long weeks he was down to the last payment- the last fiver, and now the coveted Raleigh Racer was to be his property! He was so elated, so proud the day the old man said to him,

‘Kevin my boy today is your day. I suppose now that you finally can cycle off on your new Racer I won’t be seeing any more of you, except perhaps when you need a puncture repaired, or do you know how to do that yourself now? You should you know – god knows you have seen me do it often enough here while you came in to look at me repairing all these things!’

Thirty five years on Kevin looked out along the wet dank alley and wondered will this rain ever stop.

‘The fiver in my pocket has to last till tomorrow, dole day. A bus is out of the question. When this rain stops it’s a Big Mac at Mc Donald’s and maybe a coffee if I have enough change!’

Paruresis – The Bashful Bladder

Twilight in the city – he liked this time of the day. The bustling crowds and the beautiful girls released like whippets from their office kennels scurrying through the streets on their way to god knows where. It was winter and during those extended evenings he would plan his journey in a carefully co-ordinated route in order to maximise his enjoyment of this urban frenzy.

Total darkness was looming and the full moon presided over the freezing metropolis. He considered as he walked each evening, how promising the delights of his stomping ground were, even though in a few hours he would feel the onset of disappointment that something anticipated yet again did not transpire.

But now was the overture of the evening, and he would enjoy the symphony. The crisp sound of his leather soled shoes clapped on the icy pavement as he made his way passed the bookshop. He compared the sound of his footsteps to those of others around him. To the left he heard the clicking of high heels reminiscent of a young horse about to break into a canter; another young wench trying to catch a tram that had unforgivingly closed its doors. He smiled to himself taking secret delight in her distress. Behind him moving at a pace slightly brisker than his, came the soft patter of children’s sneakers interrupted by an occasional scrunch of one child sliding along the icy pavement.

The street was lined on both sides with bright and busy shops. Pedestrians were abundant meandering like termites following unseen chemical signals that led them in and out through shop entrances, up and down pavements, and wayward ones that seemed to wander aimlessly. The sweet aroma of commerce filled the air!

He turned the corner towards the river and momentarily altered his pace, synchronising his step to keep in tune with the music emanating from a fashion boutique. Crossing the street his pace changed yet again when he fell into step with a woman going before him. This was a game he played while walking – he would pick a pedestrian close by and try to match their pace exactly. Then he would follow someone else who was going in his direction and match their pace. The goal was to see how many people he could seamlessly synchronise himself with before reaching his first destination.

He turned another corner and made his way across the cobbled street, mindful of the fact that slipping on this surface with his leather soles was a hazard to be wary of. This would be the first stop in his itinerary, ‘The Silver Spoon’ coffee shop; even better, there were free tables outside. He could smoke a fag and enjoy the world walking by. Here he ordered an espresso – easy on the bladder, he thought; ‘I still have a lot of stops before I get to Mavericks Bistro!

His breath emerged like steam from a locomotive as he sat sipping his coffee. ‘Bladder still OK’ he mused. Mavericks Bistro was where he chose to have his meal this evening. The toilets were secure, strong cubicle doors ensuring maximum privacy – he needn’t worry about interruptions there.

Sitting there, he viewed the roofline above the bustle of the street and stared at the full moon. Misty clouds traversed its face with haste, like they had somewhere important to go to. In contrast the roof tops stood like battlements, rigid, timeless and oblivious to the transient world below. ‘Perhaps I should start my story with that image’ he wondered as he stubbed out his cigarette and rose to continue on his journey.

He joined the dense crowd of pedestrians and with them crossed the narrow bridge to the far side of the river. He followed them through the narrow walkways that were lit up like oriental bazaars. The symphony was now reaching its crescendo. Music, human voices, laughter, portable generators behind stalls, the din of traffic in nearby streets, distant sirens and a busker playing a didgeridoo, all added to the pleasure he felt by being an anonymous participant in this extravaganza!

He wandered into a new bookshop he hadn’t noticed before. The unpainted MDF shelves were stacked with bargain priced rejects, a kind of ‘straight to DVD bookstore’ he joked with himself. He was beginning to feel the dull discomfort of pressure on his bladder, as he leafed through a book entitled ‘Al Qaeda, Brotherhood of Terror’. It was only €2 so he decided to buy it; ‘Good reading material while I’m eating in Mavericks’ he thought. ‘Maybe there is material here that I can use in my story’.

In Mavericks Bistro he ordered his usual, penne carbonara with a large sparkling water followed by a large latté. It was safe now to fill his bladder to the maximum. In fact it was mandatory that he stressed the organ to its limits because he intended going to the cinema after, and a visit to the loo’s there was out of the question. The reason being, that the locks on the doors were missing! He knew the condition of almost every public toilet in town- he had to, after all he suffered from chronic Paruresis, a profound fear of voiding in public toilets.

As he confidently emptied the copious contents of his bladder carefully into the inner side if the ceramic toilets bowl, behind the solid bolted cubicle door the idea came to him. ‘That’s it, fantastic! My protagonist is an Al Qaeda operative suffering from Paruresis who kills anyone who accidentally witnesses him urinating. The cops will take ages to find a link between the victims and any probable motive for the crime!’

He left Mavericks Bistro and instead of going to the cinema headed for home to scribble down the first draft of his story.

THE END