30 – Michael Bourke
I opt to meet her in the office, not the house. The church had to be re-opened anyway: outrageously selfish of me to have kept it closed. I also hope to project a more officious nature, surrounded by the trappings of ecclesiastical power. Not to impress the journalist – she is bound to be contemptuous of such things – but to bolster myself. In truth, I want to cancel the meeting but lack the strength even for that.
I hear her well before she appears: her high heels clacking down the centre of the church, proclaiming their vulgar selves against the tranquillity around; yobs in an art gallery.
I move to the door of the office and beckon. She’s not what I imagine a journalist looks like: far worse, in fact. I expected some power-dressed vamp with scarlet fingernails, but this creature is quite scruffy, her unbrushed hair featuring a vivid slice of red; as if she has accidentally tipped a can of paint over herself. Her suit is wrinkled and seems in need of a wash: rather like its owner, who is making heavy weather of the walk through the church. She smiles as she approaches me, then sighs, then makes what I assume to be a comical face, indicating that this wouldn’t take so long if she exercised more.
That is self-evident.
While I wait, I glance around the church, which is empty save the two of us. Been that way for years, it seems. Even on Sundays it is barely half full and at Christmas only reaches the three-quarter mark. But we have kept the place well, Jack Kelly and I, agreeing to avoid all the modernist dabblings many churches go in for nowadays. We have kept it traditional. Rich golds at the altar, with faux-renaissance paintings lined up on either side, marking the Stations. Each pillar is partially shrouded by magnificent velvet drapes which lead to the ornate wooden roof. The roof, however, is badly in need of repair: a task we fear we will never complete. We simply don’t have enough parishioners, who would be too poor anyway to fund such a project. Jack has beggared himself before the Bishop, but the money offered was far from sufficient to bring the roof back to glory; just enough, in fact, for the ugly scaffolding which now holds it in place. The roof consists of interlocking joists, between which are once-vivid depictions of the stars and god-men. Sadly, it will probably be replaced with something plain and modern; something altogether more secular.
The panting hackette finally reaches me. She jabs out a sweaty hand and declares: “Oh, I need to do more exercise.”
Already, I loathe this woman; but I loathe myself even more. I have the attitude of a willing penitent, ready to submit myself to righteous punishment. I lead her into the office, slump into a chair and wait while she divests herself of her jacket and searches through her massive leather bag for the tools of her sordid trade.
“Well,” she says as she sits opposite me. I ignore this prelude, this marked attempted at charm. I commence speaking. I tell her everything, or almost everything: my experience of this girl’s death, followed by my contact with the Gardai and everything they told me about this unfortunate girl, this Manda.
I don’t mention Jack, naturally. Wisely, the reporter doesn’t interrupt, but scribbles furiously: the sound of a mouse trapped in a small space.
I finish, and expect her to go. It is evident that there is nothing more to say, that I have fully exhausted my usefulness to her. I don’t look up. I can’t.
But she remains where she is, rustling and groaning and shifting on her seat; as if something has trapped her there and she is struggling to escape.
Then it comes: the softened tone, the elongated vowels which no doubt she imagines sound the same as compassion; a limping totter of words which take their time to stop off at every condescending cliché they can find. She suggests that I was a comfort to Manda during her final seconds. It is a vomit of well-meaning insults which reach their zenith with the harshest of all: that she, this bedraggled pimp of words, knew Manda. And of course, believing it would please me, she has to mention Manda’s great Faith.
Faith. Hundreds of years of mistranslation has the Galilean exhorting all he meets to ‘believe’ in him. But the word he uses in the original Greek texts is pistis: which doesn’t mean faith. It means loyalty.
Now the anger comes. But it is not energising; more as if black walls suddenly partition my vision, screening out all but my failure: not just in relation to the girl, but everything I have set out to do since the seminary. It has all been wrong. Worse: it has been cowardly and hypocritical. I have peddled myths just like the rest of them, hoping that others might sense the music hidden behind my stock phrases. There are no others like me; or at least, none who will admit it. I am alone with a howling truth which for the last two decades I have denied.
This is the truth behind what has happened to me.
I wish to say these things, to declare them, but the words shoot through my mind far too quickly to marshal. Like grabbed raindrops, they splatter against me. I have nothing, but must make her go. So I descend to her level.
She makes a noise; as if she is genuinely surprised by such vulgarity; as if it’s certainly not the kind of language she’s used to hearing in the salubrious offices of the Daily Tit or whatever her rag is called. She stands, picks up her leather sack and flounces out, leaving me to listen to the blood raging around my brain and watching the shake in my hands. I know what I must do; all I can do. I must burn it to the ground.
“The Angel of the Streetlamps” by Sean Moncrieff is available HERE
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