Poetry















Achilles on Sunday



1

This is a story about a heart, a man’s heart. The heart is: the consuming burning fire inside, which almost burns up everything and every sound idea; and, it is the warmth toward things; that thing which knows what it wants, despite all reason.

I can’t pretend I know exactly what went on, but this is my account of it. And, I’ll only consider the story of the events as they took place one day in Summer, around the time of the corona virus incidents. It happened in an English city, or in Wales, somewhere between. It was one of those walled cities on the border.

A man, Jacob, is asleep in bed. Marina is there, too. Who is Marina? Marina has told the sleeping man that she is not from this place, but from the other place. What she meant when she said that about herself, or what she meant when in earnest she said the same thing to Jacob’s divorced former wife, is not clear. It means to Jacob that she is from ‘the Other world’, and he accepted this ambiguity, and still does (though currently somnolent), even as a couple of years of connubiality have gone by between them both, between the first announcement of her having come to life from somewhere else, and their current commonplace situation two years later. It lends to her the air of one with unaccountable abilities, like how he suspects that she is still able to see very well when there is no electric light on, or, how she can correctly read her mate’s mind – albeit this second special skill might be common between many a pair of us.

She insists that she loves him; and he loves her, he says. If a man does not love that gentle being, which, by contrast with other examples of her kind, has never sent him outside the walls of the home, or based her allure on, and made use of the gambit of deliberate statements of, her own infidelity - then that man would be wrong in the head. He must snatch with both hands this tolerance, gentleness, and faithfulness.

Otherworldly being or no, she is currently in that state where everyone is innocent; namely, she is sleeping. And, in addition, it is sleep following a chaste night.

What does she look like? What she looks like is not pertinent to the story. Yet, she has a long neck, black hair grey at the roots, big lively brown eyes, and a full mouth like petals of a red flower.

What is going on around the bedroom? No more questions! Yet, outside the slightly unaired bedroom and its comatose bodies, you would find a family house, or something you could happily put a family in. There was a bed and a bedroom for a little girl next to the bathroom; it had posters of Disney characters from Disney films on the wall. The bed was suitable for a girl of, say, eight years, at most. A clothes stand was also next to the bed. There was another bed in the attic space upstairs; a metallic thing under the sloping ceiling, with a window built into the roof tiles; like the other room, this room had some bits and pieces which shouldn’t be in a boy’s bedroom in normal conditions: electronic boards, some old canvases leaning against the wall, little bits of industrial electronic equipment. In the biggest room the alarm starts singing and buzzing on somebody’s phone.

Jacob drifts into consciousness, and promptly tries to get back out of it. Consciousness of what, then? Choir, confession, and communion. Offering his own heart on a plate. It is sweet to close your eyes again.

Once they had got up, it would be proper for Jacob to slip back into the waking dullness and emptiness of a frustration without recourse. What about? About how nobody would listen. Why he should expect anyone to notice him, when his entire life he had been the last word in monadism, solitude amongst others, is anyone’s guess. And don’t think that he hadn’t thunk that. A man is not made for looking after his own children, and if the Court wants to deny him that mercy, then it simply will.

It was the most considerable of his sins, this: that Jacob didn’t care about other people’s fate; what they did, what they thought, how they died or lived. I mean, who cares? Not me. But he did care for his children; he cared for them most of the time, in fact. All of the time in the pit of his guts, and, at a conscious level, too. Putting a stop to these thoughts, annoyed by himself for falling into the drama inside his head, he rolled out of the duvet and the mattress, onto two feet, then lies back down again.

‘I will never fail to go to your Church. Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord, Jesus Christ,’ that is what he said in his mind while this went on.

But it was the Law which represented the obtuse immovable thing here, that Thing which would not help, or get out of the way, or tell him to go: nothing. The Court where the Law has its home absolutely should be helping him to see Joy, the little girl. It was the only possible opening into the light of truth inside the madness. And it didn’t. Help, that is. The Law doesn’t help. The law endangers his children, especially the young one.

Now, in his inner imagination, or his memory, or whatever it is when you see that which you want, and it is not actually there: he is carrying her to town, her face is near; the delicate little human being is sat on his arm; they are walking through multitudes of other people, in town. Who knows what she is thinking; she is only two years old. He is thinking that he is fulfilling his duty to look after a miniature human being, whose life, in a number of ways, depends on him doing so. But it is not about his ideas and thoughts, and, above all, it is a memory. He has another memory of getting back home and cooking something nice for the baby to eat, with his own money, in his own house, with his own child. That memory is interrupted by something else, namely: the mother was at fault of course, but she is mad. The Court is the problem.

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

The loss and the burning anger are like the magnetic superheated metal ball of liquid metal said to be at the centre of the Earth, but this is in the centre of his body. She is running around the house. Maybe they went to Moel Ffamau, and he let her walk a bit, in the mud. She lies down next, with a little book of stories about spacemen, or something stupidly ill-suited to children, like some story about a monster which lives in the forest. But kids like that kind of thing.

What’s the true enemy here? He doesn’t have the wit to ask this question. Suppose that the source of the problem of this dullness and depression and thwarted emotion and anger is life itself – that being alive itself is the problem? That being alive is the problem. Or, suppose that it is his native land that is the fault, with its laws somehow gone wrong.

Marina got out of bed next. She has a body; she is a body: arms, legs, head, slightly elongated, distinguished neck, little feet, slightly big thighs. There is a flash of white thigh and waist as she departs for the bathroom.

After the liturgy, they will make their way back to Chester, and he will go to the corner of a street the other side of town to pick up his little girl, if she comes out today. On the say-so of the divorced wife, the dissimulating woman, the thing, the demonic force, the impregnable fortress, the child may turn up, or it may not.

The sun shines through the window; but Jacob hates the sun in the morning; I am sorry about that: it’s not due to despair or anything rational, or to do with this story. Rather, he just prefers to lie in bed in the morning. Not appropriate for a story which takes place in the confines of a single day, is it? Come on! The day is half over already!

It’s not so much the mother’s fault, actually. There’s a set of offices in the town, just outside the walls, next the amphitheatre and the old Cathedral, where the Court is. A short road goes past it, alongside the decayed wall of St John’s medieval cathedral; there, there is a traffic barrier, beyond which is the Court office. At the door there are two bored looking contractors in navy jerseys with shoulder pads and epaulettes, taking names onto a piece of paper; not today, of course, it being Sunday. After going through the magnetic field contraption, you enter a world fit for a horrible Kafka short story, if you were to go to that place with something in mind. Well, if you had the history of Jacob behind you, anyway.

As things were, the judge had ordered three hours on a Sunday, an order which could be countermanded by the mother of the child at any time. He consulted the Law because it was his duty to try; and love is duty, isn’t it? We die alone, we live alone, too. Reaching out to other people, (to use the ready to hand parlance of the day), is not a necessity, but a duty. And this is how love is.

Such a man is not much like a soldier.

‘What kind of soldier can’t get out of bed?’ Marina says.

She is not angry, or boiling over with hatred, or peevish indifference. Marina is truly from the other place, Eastern Europe, the other world, the eternal world where you see the light coming toward you at death, or whatever. At least, her careful superhuman kindness is otherwordly, to Jacob. She is a gift of God. Her hair is dry, and she has clothes on.

He moves past the clothed woman into the bathroom; showers while singing (Welsh people sing when you put them under duress). Then, dresses and makes his way downstairs, to a cup of coffee. It’s not proper to drink before communion, but Marina is indifferent, and besides, he must drink. It’s a question of health; when you sweat and become dehydrated, you get a cold; he learnt that at Catterick, and confirmed it at Brecon. If you knew him, you’d probably know about Brecon by now. Only a couple of minutes later, Jacob with a smoke in his lips, they leave the door and make for the car, which is parked somewhere on the lane leading to a river and jetty.

2

The pub on the corner is shut, the burger bar is gone, and the little antique shops along the road are all shut. Is that for now, or is it for good? It’s hard to say. In any case, it being the year 2020, the town is under some level of what everyone is calling ‘lockdown’. The responsible people of the land presume that they are ‘saving lives’. I suppose they are, in a superficial and supercilious sort of way. By doing nothing any more, they are saving lives! Because of a very serious influenze which is going around, everyone is encouraged to stay in doors; businesses and workplaces are mostly shut; it’s like the end of the world, the millennium. But it may come back next year, so not quite.

Jacob, who can take or leave obedience to the state, considers it necessary to ignore all of this kind of thing, and to continue as if the lockdown were just an episode of ‘the madness of crowds’. Particularly when it comes to taking communion, an act enjoined by Christ in his last days, on everyone who wants to be with God.

‘Going to church is God’s work, and must continue despite the state and its attempt to commit suicide,’ he announced, as Marina sipped delicately on a cigarette. The motorway, when they enter on to it, is not so empty as it has been; it had been entirely empty a few months before. Who else is going to church to see God this morning? As for the enforced absence from his daughter, he will see her, and they will have ice cream, and he will hold her close for a second, like holding the photograph of her and her brother which he does in secret, at night, before bed. It will become good. He will keep going.

They drive. The last moments of a Radio 4 BBC program are on, before the start of the Archers. He will keep going and doing what? Just keep trying to get consolation from the law of this land? The radio plays, and also plays, this:

- The danger is: they’ll eventually take her from that mad woman, and not bring her to me. What alternative have I got? Break in to the house. Plan it first, though. Take a proper entry kit: a wrecking bar, sledgehammer, the enforcer, some large bolt cutters. And, go where afterward, after having seized the daughter? I'd be followed and caught by the Police. Capture, prison. I can’t do that. So the trial process is the only way to let Joy see me.

Marina, nods, reproaching him the while for talking like this.

- But this country, this land, the disgusting corruption of it; the feigned slowness and weakness; the refusal to believe me, while keeping the children always in her care, despite anything and everything which she has done. There is no sanction against her lies; and they keep an open mind about them; it’s like: don’t they see that she uses lies and allegations as a means of harming me?

There is a pause; it’s a speech everyone has heard, and many people have said it often, and much too often. It’s the words of the weak and pathetic. He has a son, too, called Max. But Max has taken his mum’s side and refuses to see his old dad.

- I don’t know why you think you can trust the Law.

- What else can I do?

The car moves on, and there is calm. This is the car he takes to customer visits; there is also a van, which he uses for works for customers.

A customer, only on Friday, remarked to his window fitter (that is, to Jacob, the educated and rather effeminate window installer), among conversation about Gould’s playing on the English Suites, that there was a newspaper article he had just read. A book had been found by a former pupil of Manchester Grammar School; the former pupil was then sixty years old. The old man and former pupil determined to return the book back to the school; it was a copy of Jean Antouille’s ‘Antigone’. The old man received a reply from his former school, by post, saying thanks for the return of the book, but that the homework which should accompany it was late.

‘Heidegger devoted lectures to the Antigone by Sophocles,’ Jacob remarked.

The other made the repost: ‘The speeches in Antouille’s version are some of the most moving things I’ve ever seen staged.’

To which, our hero: ‘Aren’t they especially thought of as the classic statement of the freedom of the individual within the state?’

We of course know that Jacob doesn’t see his daughter only in part because of the state. The Law would step aside if the mother would come to terms with her ex-man. She won’t. He might abduct the children, and do what is right by them; but the Law prohibits this. And so the internal monologue goes on, interminably. Family and loyalty to this particular little girl is everything to the heart, this particular spirit. Burning away, driving toward the church, in silence. Still, you could laugh at the way Jacob thinks that the Court is to blame, when it is the woman whose property they apparently are, who is really to blame, right?

If I were a great novelist, I would show what he was thinking, not just tell it. But Jacob has a peculiar way of not saying what he is thinking. And so I must do it for him, see?

He is thinking about what will happen when she is older, and she falls into bad ways; and what will happen if she is still young, and she falls into the wrong hands. This is the most urgent thing, and is terrifying, heart throbbing bad. He has a son, but the son he understands; his son has rebelled against him for the past few years, and is doing so again. This is fine. Father and son misunderstandings are very easy to understand.

Also, he is thinking about the voice of God in his ears, or its absence on this particular matter. Do you think that I will dramatise the voice of God in his ears? No! But it can be spoken of theoretically.

A man (or a woman), in his duty of love to his blood relatives, is capable of breaking any law. This is the nature of things. This is because, man is uncanny; he rises above the natural order of things, and ascends toward the divine. He has a duty to God to look after his kin. The human heart cannot be controlled or disciplined, when loyalties to God, or to children, or siblings, are at issue. Nothing that orderly human society can build, or instruct, will make any difference then. And how is the state, and the human order, in Britain?

Plague, fear, death. And economic ruin. And, in addition, no more resources for any future contingency. Any commander of armies would consider this situation to be the time for retreat; where there is no reserve during any movement forward to contact with the enemy, then at any time the advance could collapse and end in disaster. That is the condition of the state, and the communal life in Britain, economically speaking. There is no spiritual life of a community, a state, a group. But if there were, it would be half-dead from fear and restricted life. At the same time, the most vociferous elements, the newest elements, the intellectually most assertive elements, seek out the tearing down of the state’s symbols, its statues. Its actual flesh and blood is offensive to itself, and the state has taken to debating the merit of changing its preference for body colour. Male and female don’t know their own boundaries. History and language are unsure of themselves, or at least, full of hatred. Add to this the financial ruin of the land, the worst for three hundred years. Collapse of Britain, then.

Above the Church porch is the face of Jesus, immobile, expressionless. The boy, Max (absent), first taught Jacob how to enter a church properly. They make the sign of the cross and duck inside. The catacombs, as far as today’s England is concerned. It’s a Russian church. Max it was, who first pushed his dad into the Orthodox church. But everyone has a cross to bear; a soul is worthless unless it has suffered too much. And going to church without his dad is Max’s cross, perhaps. In fact, the positively empty space at church where the boy should be is itself mysterious and painful.

Marina puts down her jacket, and with the air of complete indifference to anything, utterly composed and at home everywhere, like maturity beyond time, she makes for the candles, takes some, and goes to the icons in turn. And with a natural nobleness, she makes her way to the confessional stand beside the heavily laden and bearded priest. We do not hear what she says.

With something like the attitude of a man getting out of a fighting vehicle, onto the battle field, or on some distant street, expecting to be shot, Jacob does the same.

After reading the preparatory script, as follows, to the immovable younger priest:

- I have a particular problem. I write, and after writing, I feel emptied out. Unable somehow to believe in the other world, to make sense of this world with that in mind anymore.

- What do you mean by ‘other world’?

Hesitates, embarrassed, but then emboldened.

- I mean, contact with God, who is absent. But who comes with prayer, when I pray. As the Holy Spirit, which is the energy of God, and comes with grace. And he can come to me because his Son, Jesus Christ, has taken on our human form and leant to God this. And I mean that this takes place out of sight of normal things. And this is the inner world. Constant inwardness is the Kingdom of God.

After this rather off the point statement of faith, The priest doesn’t hesitate.

- Well, it would make sense that your feel empty after writing; if you write for other people, then yes, you do feel empty afterward. Perhaps write for yourself a bit more. But if this is not possible, remember that we sometimes have grace withdrawn, so that we will search the more for it, and come to cherish it.

We suppose that the reason for confession is that we speak to God; but the response is the man’s own word, guidance and consideration. Whether it is itself an expression of the Spirit, and filled with grace, who knows for sure? Humbly submit to the words, and do not consider any assertion of self against them. Embrace the wretched wrongness of everything you think or do, at heart.

The deeper cause of this enervation Jacob did not disclose. But we know it as his almost total defeat and loss of energy at a court hearing this week, where Joy was denied him; and Max’s angry indifference were stated for the record. Jacob has a strained funny walk, just now, somebody noticed. Certain strings and joints giving way in his posterior area, making it hard to stand up straight or walk properly.

When the liturgy begins, the priest’s voice assumes a baritone and floats from behind the iconostasis into the decorated room. The people stand spaced apart; the icons of the apostles and saints pay attention. Jacob and the four other voices begin. A marathon opening anaphora of one of the psalms, and then two more. His tenor voice begins to loose stamina toward the end. Litanies, and then the offering. Some of the congregation, women wearing headscarves, fall down before it.

This has gone on for more than an hour; singing, tenor, soprano, bass, and alto. Cycling through the individual prayers, and the strictly predetermined liturgy; then the statement of faith is sung, along with the ringing of a bell, and signing of the cross. The Lord’s prayer sung again – before the holy moment of going forward to be spoon-fed the wine and bread; he can do this, having confessed and been absolved.

The priest’s short sermon expresses this:

- We have Christ inside us now. You could say, that Christ has taken possession of us. That we are his. And this secret is what makes us Christian. And in this world, where there is so much of the godless, let us hold on to the sacred mystery, and never let anyone take it from us. I know that it is for me to feed God’s people. And let us, so many of us, in this dark time, be thankful that we can still meet. And be discreet also; do not betray to others too much. There are enemies who would gladly shut down our Church and find us out. Be discrete, and let us go our own ways, back where we came from, hoping for better times when these regulations are withdrawn. And, for that matter, ensure that we have followed the regulations, so that we can continue to do God’s work here.



3

Elsewhere, a house where the two children live, and their mother. As far as Maxwell is concerned, his dad left the three of them to live with a foreigner, a cheat. He betrayed them all, and just cut them all loose. Dad left them. He committed adultery; he slept with somebody who is not his wife. Dad met this other person in a church, his church. This is what he did. Here’s a list: sin, deceit, adultery, fornication, cowardice, corruption, stealing, debasement, defiance of God. He is a pointless untalented man; he is a small and failed businessman who ran from his employer. And why did he do that? Because he is pathetic. Now, mum must live alone; she will never find another husband. It being Sunday, Max is playing computer games, and eating some biscuits; or browsing the internet for Jordan Peterson lectures, and methods for how to cook.

- Joy, it’s time to get ready to go see Dad.

Joy does not want to go, and goes to the sofa to kiss one of the dogs. She wants to stay in the house with the dogs. It is trouble to go out, and then to come back in; and mum doesn’t like it, either.

The three of them discuss how Joy will be supervised this week; in a superlatively complex situation, as considered by the complex mind of a mortal woman, where some of the Court want supervision, but where there is no real need for it; where Joy’s father should be supervised when he sees her; and yet where everyone knows it is not needed; the mother has determined after recent hearings, that she will make it plain that she is following the rules. And, it will make it harder to make the meetings between father and daughter come about, if the two of them must watched at all times, so that is what she will do.

Their mother, Zayna, begins to encourage Joy to get ready, and to go through the door, which she will do, in a while. Nothing can stop that, when Zayna has decided it. Why she decided that Joy can leave the house, is not something which she herself properly understands. The element of bringing back a supervisor to the meetings will be reason enough this week; so it is to happen. A supervisor, and Joy, and the dad, together. There being no supervisor available, she instructs the boy, Max, to do the duty.

And, he finds himself surprised to begin to encourage Joy; he will uphold the Court mandate himself. He will supervise his father, assuming his role as the man of the house.

- No Joy, you are going.

Max needed no coercion to take on this responsibility; that is unusual in him; he only had to break a meditated and voluntary absence from his father’s side for nearly two years. But he is doing this on the assumption that he will not say a word to his dad. Mum will want to know if they exchange any confidences. There is a game played in that house, where loyalty to Zayna comes before anything else of importance. The merest word to the person who is, by tradition or precedent, not on her side, means that the one making that word has betrayed her. But then, it is necessary to find out what the words, or the gestures were, and to get a confession about what they meant; and, after it all, for Zayna to ultimately judge for herself whether punishment, forgiveness, or something worse than either of these are due to the offender. It can always get worse, and often does! But Max knows this, and feels nothing but scorn for his dad. So, where’s the risk?

He puts on shoes, he dons smart clothes, and he stands by the door looking up the stairs where he expects the little girl of five shortly to appear. Joy herself has done this a few times in the past year, and absent mindedly slopes down the stairs to the door. She has put her own shoes on, and her own shorts, and she has left her hair as she found it. Mum finally makes after them toward the door, already full of anticipation about what is going to happen, and what benefit will come from the next three hours of absence from the children, when they eventually and punctually return. A smile revealing some teeth around a blotchy face, mum’s shape dressed in loose bright clothes, at the door, waiving and smiling open-mouthed, mulling over the future determination of things.

Jacob is waiting at the corner of the street; empty, hungry, nervous; full of honour, duty, and an eye on the welfare and future of his little girl. Max is dropping her off, as usual. But this time, he does not turn and go back when they get to within fifty meters of each other. Max keeps walking.

- What’s going on, son?

Max says nothing.

- Max is coming with us this week! He is supervising, Joy says.

So: dad, the partner of Marina, (who is not allowed to be here), and Joy (who is smiling uncontrollably when she notices Max’s face), and Max, who is tight-lipped, shoulders hunched, wanting to seem uncomfortable, but ultimately wanting to get this over with – this is the scene of reunion.

Along with Joy, Max. Or, the grown up boy his father has not seen for nearly two years. It looks like his son, but it isn’t. The five or six foot boy with carefully brushed black hair, and a slim, a bit too slim body, refuses to speak. Like he always used to when upset, and theatrical about it. His chin is jutting out defiantly. He is wearing a loose T-shirt; it is warm, and bright, this day in Summer.

After leaving the house, Max’s outlook has changed; he has fallen into a place where he cannot find a way out. He cannot trust his mother to be happy when he gets home. And he must now somehow avoid his father, ignoring him, which is impossible. Saying nothing, remaining ultra-loyal to his mother. It’s like he is wearing bits and pieces of a totally inadequate disguise; both the son and not, his dad’s enemy, and the murderer of Max. By the mad logic of this situation, Max must now turn against his father in order to do the right thing – if he is to survive. And, doing this to his old hated disloyal dad is not easy, either. Joy and dad laugh at him for his silence.

He is dragged around by the two sides: his mother and father. He knows that he is in trouble and will be questioned and hated when he gets home. And the split of his parents tears him in two. His dad did this by giving him life. Why did he leave his mother? Why doesn’t he leave them all alone?

The daughter and father talk happily; they eat ice creams and drink. They look at a rowing boat. They go about warm and happy here and there around the city walls. They go to the park. They are only together because of the Court. She wants to be with Dad, but is also no better than an object. The real issues are going on in Max’s head. He is barely there at all. And yet full of energy, and intellect and fight. He is torn up into bits.

- Look at him, Dad, he won’t speak.

- Is he a naughty teenager?

- Yes, a naughty teenager.

- What are you interested in now, Max? The situation in Argentina? General XYZ of YouTube? Mixed martial arts death grips?

- Actually, he says, at last, I’m interested in food, and the preparation of a sufficient and yet delicious diet. I have charts and recipes which indicate everything a frame and body such as mine actually needs, in order to exist in the correct way.

- Oh, that’s very good.

The boy, who has historically suffered from heaviness, has lost body mass, grown. He has grown over the years. Dad said, a couple of times over the course of Max's life, that the boy was fat and scant of breath. But, like his mother, he does not forget these rude remarks, ever. Is going thin and concentrating on eating good things a symptom, in which absence of dad has expressed itself? He does not want to impress his father. He wants to defy him? Of course, he does. But there are no words for this at the time; and nothing can be done by either of them, whether they are conscious of it or not.

They talk a bit more. Joy laughs at the boy, who is losing the struggle to remain silent. Dad faces the moderate challenge of not weeping. As they both know, boys don’t cry.

It is inevitable that a boy gets damaged as he turns to youth. The world crucifies him, like fate. The cycles of the generations carry out the same sins, and suffer the same pains. One dad fails his son, and the son passes his days ingesting the bitter food of experience with regret, resignation, and with hunger. Maybe, as you see with Jacob and Joy, Jacob had tried very hard to give a proper childhood and a proper father to his son; and, as you see with Jacob and Max in fact, it did not work out. Something to this effect was said by Jacob; Max heard, or not, it doesn’t matter. While letting forth with these pious sentiments, it was also borne in mind that this heaviness of heart is itself a conscious recognition of the subhuman curse of existence; and letting rip on this subject, no matter how gently, is just another additional weight the boy must put his shoulder to.

What is Max thinking? Nothing, exactly. Except he prefers to be left alone. Isn’t it the third rule of ‘parenting’, that you should ‘leave the children alone’? And the first? ‘Leave them alone.’ So the second rule of parenting is ‘leave them alone’? Yes. And Max wants to be left alone. He wants his dad to leave him alone so that he does not have to lie to his mum when he gets back home; and he wants his mum to leave him alone, too. And, I almost forgot to tell you: Max is also thinking about being back at home in the kitchen, and the ingredients to the new rice recipe; and, what Jordan Peterson said about food, and women, and home – which it would be in the interest of his father to understand. But he has no patience with him. He broke the rules about adultery.

After three hours, it is all over. It is five pm. Their dad takes them back to the street corner. He will not see Max again; but maybe next week. But that is not how it happens in real life, of course.

Jacob hands the stuffed green baby Yoda toy back to Joy, kneels down and kisses her on the cheek; and the long hair and little legs go bounding and skipping the other way for a couple of minutes, until they turn the corner and out of sight. Jacob himself finally gets into the works van, and sits for a while.

At home, Jacob holds on to Marina, and bewails his lot. Desolate, writing a bit, planning work. Then sits before the icons and prays. Meditates some philosophy and the triumph of God over this rotten place. It will be so: this is a rotten place, a divided plague ridden place. He aims his mind at the other world, the true one. To be near to the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus in mind.

Thus, to Marina:

- What sort of country doesn’t let a man like me, such as I am, look after my own children? What land has a future when it sees in me someone not fit to raise his own family? Which favours that mad woman, and doesn’t care whether she lies, is bad, is good, or whatever, but gives to her all she desires, in her extreme madness. And, me, whatever else I am, it strips me of my future and what I love? This land, that is the land which does this.

- I tell you now Jacob, I have told you before, in Eastern Europe, in the East, this would not be going on.

He lowers his head, a strained look, some slight quiver in the lips, he gets from time to time since Iraq, we suppose.

- Let me tell you how I see it. The restless spirit, the spirit discontented, he began, aware that this outburst does not bear directly on the theme in hand, the spirit is naturally discontented and distracted; because it is seeking the eternal. The burning spirit of the heart of a human being is searching about for a better world, and does not find it, because it is seeking God and the divine order. And it only finds rest there, not here in this stinking dung heap. All things around us, in the visible world, are inadequate. All existence, all material things don’t give the peace we want.

4

Marina and Jacob walk for an hour in the town in the evening, the empty place. The coffee with Mustafa at his coffee and chocolate shop, served with the manners of Asia Minor; the book shop which has been closed all day, and the Cathedral with its register for the visitor to sign, so that the pair of them can be tracked and traced.

Later, they sit and Jacob composes something in his head, something Jeremiah might have said, thinking of his short life, his power and absolute weakness, his failure to help anyone he cares for. He himself is now bereft again. Marina puts her arms around him and plays with his hair.

- I could have kept Joy and Max, particularly; could have brought them back here; Max especially would like that, I know it. But you see how I do everything right. I can be trusted to do that, which is no doubt why they all hate me, and why I don't see my son anymore.

The mother interrogates Max at home, retrieves his bewildered body and finds in it the soul she wants. She feels let down by him, but glad to have him back with her. She is vaguely aware that Max is being buried beneathe this divorce and hatred. But she has him back, and he will be hers forever. The little girl plays with things to the side, watching what is going on thoughtfully. Max returns to his computer. The little girl takes up a set of crayons and a drawing pad and writes something down. They talk more about what has gone on this afternoon, and laugh about dad. They talk openly about how pathetic and finished he is, and how they must stay away from him, if possible.

The inevitability of continuous hatred and battle, because the spirit, or the heart, only finds the end of trouble when it reaches out for help to its Maker; for only the dead have seen the end of the burning away of everything which stands in the way of the human heart.

Is that the end of the story? Yes. So let that be an end to this story.



Design Jason Powell, 2020.

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