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Endymion

“Funny, isn’t it,” Ben Russell said, “how everyone ended up inside, your brothers, the whole damn lot of ’em, all ’cept you?”

Jude was slouched on the old brown sofa, pretending to watch as Piers Morgan tore shreds from a junior government minister on Good Morning England. His parents sat together at the drop-leaf kitchen table, the white and orange lino cracked and peeling beneath their feet, duct tape securing the floor where it met lime-green kitchen units. Through the eleventh-floor window, Jude could see three of the Seven Sisters, the malevolent fifteen-story hags that had arisen from the Salford slums during the sixties. Those caught in the witch’s spell spent their lives breathing in the poison of substandard materials, turning up the volume on the TV to drown out the sound of domestic violence, pulling down the blinds to escape the scything shadow as each tower block took its turn spreading a blanket of despair and despondency

 Ben Russell finished his bacon and sausage, dropped stainless steel onto crockery, slurped tea from a parcel company mug, fixed his grey eyes on his first-born, then delivered his judgement, “Make a deal did yer, son?” He picked up the Manchester Evening News and held it out in front of his face. “Stop clenching your fists, lad,” he said. “Forty years old, and you’ve neither wife nor heir. Are you not out of the closet yet, yer fuckin’ arse tickler?”

Jude watched his mum eating scrambled eggs on toast, her eyes never leaving the white dinner plate decorated with green dragons. All those chipped plates, teacups, and saucers stacked in the cupboards, they must be older than I am, he thought. He remembered his mother telling him the dinner service had been a wedding present from Aunty June. Lillian had been close to her sister, until the day Ben had fallen out with Uncle Derek over politics. And that was that—Jude hadn’t seen his Aunty June and her purple Mini Cooper since he was eight-years old.

His mother’s poverty offended his pride, his love. But his father would take no money, wouldn’t leave the place that had been their home for thirty-eight years. Old Ben was happy in hell and he expected his wife to keep him company there.

His father left the table and stalked past his son. Jude helped his mother clean up. Then, he started washing the pots and putting them on the drainer. His mother dried using a faded Royal Wedding tea-towel. Washing-up together was their ritual and both derived comfort from it. “You’ve got farmer’s hands,” he remembered Grandma Russell telling him as a boy, “like a spade, like your great-grandpa John’s.” His mum and his nan had provided the love he had craved. The twins, Samuel and Eric, were the centre of his father’s life. There was something in Jude his father resented. His mum had told him that parents were always hardest on those aspects of their offspring they recognised as weaknesses in themselves. As he scrubbed the frying pan clean, Jude hoped to God he had nothing in common with the owd fucker apart from a shared surname.

After the dish-cleaning ceremony was finished, he held his mother and kissed her goodbye in the hallway.

“I love you, and God loves you too, son,” she told him.

“Yes, mam.”

“Your dad doesn’t mean to mither: he loves you, too.”

“He’s never forgiven me for being born.”

“How’s your health? Are you…”

“Shhh,” Jude said, as he pointed to the parlour door.

“He can’t hear. How long will you be away for? Who’s minding the garage?”

“I don’t know how long. That’s why I wanted to see you. Just in case it’s a stretch. Just in case…you know. Kiddo is keeping shop while I’m away.”

“You did a good thing with young Jeff, him losing his dad so young. I’m proud of you. Your dad is proud of you too. In his own way.”

As he held his mother close, Jude felt a stab of pity for the man whose one gift to his firstborn had been to teach him how to hate, how to really hate. He had feared and despised the provider of his Y chromosome all his life. He remembered the beating he’d taken for torn school trousers, for refusing to eat cold mashed potato, for pranging his new bike, for a lost shoe in a field, for looking at his dad the wrong way after United lost at home to City.

Now, all that was left between father and son was a cold, empty space. All Jude asked of his biological sire was that he left his mother alone: because, if he ever, ever, raised his hand to her, again…Jude brushed away the image of his father’s bulging eyes, his hands tightening across the old man’s throat. He took the picture of violence, placed it on a high shelf inside the cave and was himself once more.

The cave of quietude formed inside Jude as he had grown into adulthood: the product of acid erosion, the cave was a remote place deep inside, emotionally distant, cold, dispassionate, a place where he found the state of separation that was the prerequisite for doing the things that had to be done for the country he had chosen to love above all else. The cave banked all his anger and rage: sometimes he made deposits, sometimes he made withdrawals. His mother’s faith in the coming Christ gave her solace amidst the pain that living brought to her. Her eldest son interpreted life very differently: he had learned that “turn the other cheek” pacifism could not stop a fist or a knife, could not protect a man’s home and family from robbers and rapists, and could not, would not, give England back to the Angle Cynn.

English republicanism was the one thing, the only thing, he and his father agreed upon—the righteous struggle against the American invaders, the global corporations, the greedy bankers, the corrupt politicians, the paedophile bishops, the tax-exile businessmen defrauding the poor of their pensions, and, most of all, the country’s tax-sucking Hanoverian King, George IX—Herr Odd as his disloyal subjects mockingly referred to him. The national socialist revolution could not be achieved through leaflet-drops and bring-and-buy sales: the only credible solution was a military one and that required soldiers prepared to take human life.

 He let go of his mother, kissed her, picked up his things, and walked into the front room. His father was in the armchair, reading the Pink.

“See yer, Dad.”

“I can always smell a betrayer. You’d sell your friends out for thirty-bob, you would. You’re lucky your mam’s still around. I’ve half a mind to have a word with those that know.”

Squeezing the ends of his mother’s fingers, Jude walked out through the door, slammed it shut, and never came back—never saw either of them alive, again.

He descended the stairways of his childhood, strode the covered walkways of his youth, walked past the boarded-up doors and windows, ignored the out-of-order lifts, and stepped over the needles and curled-up tin foil by the exit. The community he had grown up in was gone. Left behind were the impoverished English non-working classes, Eastern European immigrants, the poor, the old, the hopeless; a populace that was fodder for hate organisations, crime gangs, pay-day loan companies, and satellite TV providers.

On the plaza, Jude gazed up at Lyssa Tower—to the tenth floor, where twenty-four years earlier a police informant called Greg Kidd had got both barrels in the face from a masked assailant whilst his three-year old son looked on from his play pen.

Thirty minutes after leaving his parent’s home, Jude was stepping off the bus and lifting his rucksack over his shoulder. He walked through the glass-fronted entrance of Salford Central. Avoiding eye contact with the three gum-chewing, body-armour-wearing, pistol-packing transport police, he scanned his ID on the barcode reader—no alarm sounded, no lights flashed, and no urgent shouted instructions to lie flat and put his hands behind his head came. He breathed again, paid cash for his ticket at the machine, and descended to the platform using the escalator

The call the previous day had been brief—a man’s voice had given the instructions, “Our mutual friend has an interest in a place on the West Pennine Moors. See what you can find. Catch the train to Bolton tomorrow. A guide will meet you in the station café at eleven.”

Looking out through the window of the 10:26 Manchester Victoria to Blackpool North, Jude watched the homes, the factories, the supermarkets, stream past. The thought came to him: all the hatred, all the men he had killed, did they represent his father as he pulled the trigger? Nausea hit and his head began to ache. He swallowed his last four Nurofen Plus and washed them down with the dregs of an orange juice bottle left on the table.

Jude knew it was the cave, his dark half, his Slim Shady, his Tyler Durden, his Darth Vader that made him good at what he did. But another part of him longed for the fruit of the tree of life, the food that healed both mind and body. Through the train window he saw concrete and metal giving way to green fields, gardens, and farms. He was city born, his farming roots sundered by three generations who had lived and worked amongst the grime and noise of Manchester. But there was no joy for him in steel and glass. It was connection with the land, anchoring his feet in the soil that cured his headaches and gave him brief moments of peace. His allotment had become a lifeline, and he celebrated each carrot, lettuce, potato, and turnip the earth had given him.

Jude felt the land outside the train reach out to claim him. He pressed his hand to the window—if he farmed, it wouldn’t be agri-business metrics and yield per hectare that motivated him: growing crops would be an extension of his self, just as his flesh and blood was an extension of the earth. Yeats was bollocks, Kavanagh was the man. He would be no Patrick Maguire, trapped in fields that imprisoned. He would be an artist of the soil. He was the son of those who had cleared the forests and first farmed the country now called England. His grandmother had seen that in him, appraising her grandson’s pedigree in the same considered way she had condemned her own son.

Severance from the soil had emasculated him: he could have had a wife, children, land, animals, crops. Instead, he was a bum, a murdering childless bum. He considered how much human pain was caused by disconnect from the earth. Could a cure for neurosis be found by bringing people back to the land on top of which they had built factories and multiplex cinemas? When the ERA was done, when they had given England back to the English, he would claim his own corner of the country: he would farm, he would find a wife, raise children. He would sow. He would re-fucking-build.

It was a crazy plan. He had no money, no land, no woman, and no real agricultural experience. But he was half-crazy already. If he was going to keep himself away from the void, he needed his crazy. If planting his feet in a field controlled his headaches, then he’d find a field. He would find the money from somewhere. First, he had to look out for his brothers, and if that meant shooting a cross-dressing vicar in the face, then so be it. What did one more corpse matter, anyway?

A boy in a field watched the train pass. The role reversal made Jude’s blood run cold. Instinct screamed danger around the next bend. Then, the houses started, the retail sheds, the fuel depots, and the engineering works. Green gave way to grey.

And nothing happened.

Jude got off the train in Bolton and walked down the platform steps into the station concourse. He saw the newspaper headline, “ERA deputy-leader captured in mine gun battle.” He made his way into the newsagent and bought a copy of The Express: Joshua Patterson had been found hiding in an abandoned lead mine in the Trough of Bowland. The news filled Jude’s gut with a corrosive sense of foreboding, for the Movement, for his brothers, for himself.

Armed police were stationed by the exit. He walked to the turnstile, scanned his ID, and that was when the buzzer went off and the turnstile locked.

Jude froze. His first instinct was to escape, to run, but something deeper within told him to stay calm.

A policeman walked over cradling a semi-automatic, “ID, please.”

Jude knew the drill. It wasn’t what he said, it was how he said it. He had rehearsed the story until he believed it himself: he knew how to control eye axis cues, and he could minimise the body-language indicators that a well-trained officer of the law would spot as incongruities in his narrative. He held out his ID card.

“We are conducting random searches today. Can you confirm your home address for me Mister…Russell? Where’re you travelling to? Are you meeting anyone? Where’re you staying? Do you have a return ticket?”

“213 Kant Street, Salford. Kearsley. No. I’m back home tonight. I’m going back on the bus.”

“What’s in the bag?”

“A change of clothes.”

“What do you need those for if you are going home today?”

“I’m working outdoors.”

The policemen watched his face, then grew bored, “Lucky man. Pass your bag through the X-ray machine, please. Okay, you can go, thank you for your co-operation.”

Jude collected his bag and walked across to the bus station café. He settled himself in a red plastic seat at a plywood table and ordered coffee and a ham sandwich.

He was half-way through his lunch when a short middle-aged woman with close-cropped purple hair came in and sat across from him. “Mister Los, I presume,” she said.

“Yeah,” Jude said, “and you are?”

“I’m Val, your guide for the next hour.”

“You want a drink?”

“Yes please: coffee, two sugars, semi-skimmed cow juice. We’ve missed the 11:05. We have forty minutes to kill before the next bus to Horwich.”

Jude groaned, got up, paid for two coffees at the counter, and carried them back to the table. He tried to count how many piercings the woman had in her ears, nose, and lip.

“You don’t drive?” Val asked.

“Nah, I like to use buses and trains.”

“What do you know about the West Pennine Moors?” she asked. “Why are they so special to our wandering priestess?”

“No fucking idea,” Jude said. “Is Val short for Valium?” He slurped his coffee and put the cup down heavily on the table.

“I’ve had to deal with rude, ignorant men like you all my life. Why do you get off on taking the piss? What would your mum say if she was here?”

Jude said nothing.

“Do you want to hear about the Moors or not?” Val said.

He nodded.

“The West Pennine Moors are a triangle of land stretching from Preston in the north, running south-east along Highway 61 to Bolton and Bury, with the vertical axis heading north along the Irwell valley following Route 66. The top of our right-angle triangle is the M65 which runs from Blackburn back across to Preston. Most people drive past these bleak hills. But our people have lived, farmed, and hunted there since Neolithic times. There are cairns, barrows, stone circles, burial mounds, Roman roads, churches built on pagan sites, Saxon villages, Viking farmsteads: the place is a microcosm of England’s history. But it is a hard land.”

“Fascinating,” Jude said, his voice laden with irony, but something in her narrative had awoken his interest.

“Your friend, Miss Arkuss, seems particularly interested in one place, an ancient church, a church with a very special stone outside its front door. I’ll tell you about the stone on the bus, but what I can’t tell you is what the stone means to her. And I rather think that our mutual friend would like you to find that out.”

Jude listened as Val explained more of the history of the moors: the highland clearances of people, livestock, and homes by the Liverpool Corporation as it drained the land and built the drinking-water reservoirs, mysterious murders, tragic plane crashes, mining for metals, local family sagas, and then the 575 swung into the bus station.

“That’s ours.”

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Jude said.

They queued behind the chatting pensioners and the kids playing hooky from school. “Two for the Crown,” Val said to the Asian driver, as she paid their fares in exact change.

Jude followed her to the back seats on the bottom deck. “So, what’s with this stone?” Jude asked, slumping beside Val and placing the backpack on his knee. “What’s so special about a shit village in the middle of nowhere?”

“The Sator Square.”

“And that is what, exactly?”

“There is one in the Manchester Museum that was found down a well in Castlefield. One was excavated in Pompei, another in Syria. Most of them are the best part of two thousand years old. The one in Rivington came from the Anderton family chapel. The Anderton’s were the local nobility. They had strong links with other local families: the Heskeths and the Standish family.”

“Our girl grew up in Standish. How far is that from Rivington?”

“A couple of miles.”

“What does a Sator Square do?”

“It is a word puzzle. There are people who think the Sator Square was a means of communicating during the times that the Church faced persecution. What is interesting is that the Square should come back into consideration at a time when some would argue the church faces another far subtler, far more deadly, form of persecution. There are others who believe the Sator Square contains a coded prophecy. I don’t want to go all Dan Brown on you here, but I believe there is a link back to Saint Paul himself. Don’t forget Paul was a Roman citizen. As to why this Sator Square came to be in an obscure part of Lancashire, I have no idea.”

“Show me what it looks like,” Jude said.

Val took out a pen and notebook and began to draw a five-by-five grid. “See, it reads the same backwards and forwards, up and down. Literally translated it means ‘Arepo the sower guides the wheels with care.’”

“The sower? Who’s Arepo?”

“No one knows; but if you rearrange it, this is what you get.” Valerie turned the page over and scribbled. “A Greek Cross with the word ‘Paternoster’ across and down, leaving the letters A and O to signify Alpha and Omega. Paternoster means ‘Our Father’ in Latin.”

“This country is littered with stone crosses,” Jude said, “I’ve often wondered why anyone would use an instrument of torture as a symbol of faith.”

“You forget your Church history,” Val said. “Paul was the conduit for transferring the Jewish concept of one God into Greco-Roman theosophy. Then, it was Constantine, who three hundred years later formalised monotheism as the religion of the Roman Empire. The great Jewish hope of the coming of the Messiah was represented to the citizens of the Empire in the form of the cross. A representation of pain and death was transformed into one of faith and hope. The X and Y axis combined to represent the intersection of time with the timeless. The cross is a promise, a promise that God will walk in the world to mend the schism of original sin, of separation, that She will break down the distance between us Herself…if you believe in that kind of thing, that is.”

“You’re telling me,” Jude said, “that Saint Paul left a coded message with friends of his who passed it down from generation to generation in an obscure part of the Roman Empire, waiting for the Christ to stumble across it with the additional assumption that he, the Christ, would be able to decipher this word puzzle two thousand years later. That doesn’t sound very probable to me.”

“You’re making the assumption that the Christ is a ‘he’.”

“Oh fuck.”

“Exactly.”

“Whose side are you on, Val?”

“Come on, pilgrim, this is our stop. This is where we say goodbye.”

“Which way?” Jude asked, as the bus pulled away, belching black diesel-fumes into their faces.

“Up,” Val said, coughing. “Everything…serves God, eventually. Do you believe that, Mister Los?”

“No, I do not.”

“By the way, Val is short for Valerie. It is a name that means ‘strong’.” She squeezed his hand until it hurt.

Jude watched as the mad woman walked down the hill. He lifted the backpack onto his shoulders, grimaced at the black clouds over his head, shoved his hands into his pockets, and started out.

He’d been on the move for two minutes when the heavens opened and pelted him with rain. He put on his orange waterproof and strode into the heart of the grey-stone Lancashire town.

Outside Wrights Wine Merchants, Jude let the rain pour down his face. He watched as liquid bullets bounced off the pavement.

The cold crept into his bones.

Kill the Christ, said the dead voice of the cave.

“Fuck you, pallid grey thing,” he whispered.

He saw the shadow. He heard the scuttling. The thing that lived on his evil, the thing that was him, the thing that wasn’t him, thrust its pincers into the floor of the cave in rage.

“I’m not you,” he said to the shitty rain, to the shitty grey town, to the whole shitty grey world. “You can’t fucking have me.”

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The Empire Never Ended

Pete sat on his mother’s bed and gazed at the photograph of his great-grandfather, William Alan Stansfield, in his army uniform. Who did William look like? There was a touch of Andy in the face, especially the eyes.

His mother had asked him to bring pictures of the family to the hospital. That worried him. She wanted pictures of those she had loved and those who had loved her to be with her in the hospital, as if she was getting ready to join them.

He looked through the photographs in the shoebox and came to one of his Grandma Joan and Granddad David on their wedding day. He only remembered his grandmother when she was old. In her simple wedding dress, she wasn’t classically beautiful, but she had poise: she had life in her eyes.

Pete put the wedding picture on the pile to take to his mother. But he found himself coming back to the photo of his great-grandfather William, Joan’s father.

Will Stansfield had joined the 1st East Yorkshire Infantry before the outbreak of World War One. He had left Anna, his wife, his four-year old daughter, Joan, and two-year old son, Harry, in July. War broke out in August: by November, he had died of his injuries at Ypres. His dog tags came home, but there was no grave. After the Menin Gate was pulled down, the man’s memory lived on only through his family.

Why had Will left his wife and children and gone to war? He had a good job as an engineer on the docks in Hull. Did he read the newspaper at the table as his children ran around the kitchen? Did he see the world growing darker and decide he had to play his part?

William’s family had suffered. Anna remarried, choosing a man her children hated and feared. Was another husband the choice between survival and starvation? Did Anna curse William between bursts of lost love and longing? Or, was William a wife beating arsehole that she was glad to see the back of?

Joan was thirteen when her stepbrother, Charlie, was born. She found work in a local chemical factory, which is where she met her future husband. Her marriage to Granddad David was long and blessed with five children, four of whom survived into old age.

Pete found a picture from his Gran and Granddad’s ruby wedding anniversary celebration at Rowley Manor. They stood smiling, holding each other’s hands, with Andy, Mum, and Dad standing alongside them by the front entrance. Pete had taken the picture. He put it on the “take” pile.

So much of his family history was unknown, unspoken, buried under good manners and suggestions that another family member might be able to help. It took him years to understand the coded language. He realised there were some things better not spoken of; that some family secrets were better left that way.

Would it have been better if William had stayed home, kept out of trouble, waited until he was conscripted instead of wasting his life so early on? Would he have saved his wife and children from fear? Would he have saved his daughter from the horror of being molested by her stepfather? Is it a parent’s foremost duty to deliver their family from evil?

Later that afternoon, Pete sat at his kitchen table reading internet news articles that reported the gathering gloom from around the world: the Russians were camped on the Polish border, the Americans had reinforced the Ruhr Valley, the Chinese were building missile sites in Nepal, and Egypt had declared war on Sudan for damming the Nile. “When will we learn the lessons of those who have gone before us?” Pete asked the empty room.

Abi and Ley ran into the kitchen as they got in from school. Nikki bustled past him, kissed his head and carried the kid’s coats into the hallway.

Simon Peter Horsley folded his arms and stared through the aluminium bi-folding doors of his new conservatory extension. What choice would he have made in his great-grandfather’s place? Would he have left his home and fought to the death in Belgium? What choice was he going to make about the war he saw building out there, out there in the world beyond his garden walls?

And what choices, he asked himself, am I going to make in the war above all wars?

Then, he remembered how pissed off he was with his brother for neglecting their mother while she was having her treatment… Pete had been left with all the responsibility for hospital visits and for making sure their father was looking after himself.

Typical, self-obsessed Andy, he decided, the apple of everyone’s eye and as useful as a fucking chocolate teapot.

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I am I said

Tom Bauer scanned the myriad titles in the Selfish Help, Mind n’ Body, Religion, and Pop Psychology subcategories, publications propped and penny-stacked on white MDF shelves.

Pop Psychology? What’s the world coming to? Tom thought. What he wanted was Death Metal Psychology, Hip Hop Head-Help, Roland TB 303 Counselling: anything but fluff and bluff. He started to laugh, at book shops, at life, at himself for being such a useless sack of shit. How have I ended up here? he demanded of existence, desperate for a fix of some arsehole’s fake positivity?

The woman stood next to him reading the inside cover of The Secret slid it back onto the shelf, then hurried away.

The man who didn’t believe in belief pulled a volume from the packed display and examined the recommended retail selling price printed beneath the barcode—the book was the same price as a leg of lamb, as three large chickens. How the fuck can I justify spending that? he thought.

There was enough money to last another couple of months. His personal account was overdrawn, as was the joint account. There was always the credit card and the emergency second credit card, the one that Kristin didn’t know about. The feeling of being overwhelmed, of drowning, washed over him. Tom was scared: scared that they could lose their house, scared that what had been certain, mundane, predictable was now fuzzy and nebulous.

He picked out a copy of the Selfish Help bestseller I can make you Bulletproof and tried to read the introduction, but the words expanded and went blurry against the paper. Kristin stepping up her working hours to full-time helped, but it wasn’t anywhere near enough to cover the shortfall in his wages: the choice was now which bills had tobe paid.

Tom knew that he was not on his own: across the Public Sector thousands of people were being let go, especially, it seemed, in the north of England. Every suitable vacancy had hundreds, thousands, of applicants. His mind flicked to the visit he had made to the Didsbury Job Centre that morning: there was nothing, not unless he wanted to be an amusement park squirrel on minimum wage. He had asked the stony-faced Employment Agency manager whether a drug habit was a mandatory requirement for the role.

Some people have no fucking sense of humour, he reminded himself.

Once he had been on an upward trajectory within society. Now, Tom visualised his family falling into the abyss of poverty.

Tom pushed I can make you Bulletproof with its free hypnosis CD back into the shelf. He stared at the rows of crack-lit books, at the dope publications, at the trash written by authors selling glass pipes and rocks to the vulnerable, pushers who peddled badly cut gear to existential junkies. Bluffers and bullshitters, he thought, the lot of youse. And yet, I want to buy your product, get high, face the inevitable come down, buy the sequel. The thought compounded his sense of despair.

That was when Dave Lucas and Bob Nielson from the Salford Health Trust Planning Department strode past the end of the aisle and took their seats in the coffee bar. Tom had forgotten the two spreadsheet goons read manga and graphic novels for free during their lunchbreak. The last thing he needed was Dave—the Lurch lookalike in his X Files T-shirt—and Bob—his skinny anaemic monosyllabic sidekick—asking him how he was. And he certainly didn’t want to hear how things were going back at the office, didn’t want to see that “you-poor-bastard” smile, or, even worse, the sparkle of glee in the eyes of those spared the executioner’s axe. In Tom’s considered viewpoint, anyone who still believed in “love for your neighbour” need only set up a corporate redundancy programme to see the reality of the human: fuck thy neighbour lest thou too get fucked.

Bob Nielson—a sadistic un-helpful prick in Tom’s opinion—was the man widely suspected of being the elusive Phantom Logger, that desperado of the digestive system who delighted in cooking up foot-long turds and depositing them in the men’s third-floor toilets and leaving without flushing. A closed toilet bowl lid was a sure sign that Nessie was back in town. Neilson had been spotted giggling outside Trap One just before one particularly unpleasant discovery. Maybe Bob n’ Dave took it in turns, Tom considered, competing in their own ghastly gastrointestinal game.

How had those two morons survived whilst he’d been cast aside?

He needed to escape the book shop ASA-fucking-P. Tom knew that if he had to engage in any form of communication with Beavis and Butthead, he was liable to murder one, or both, of them; bash their heads in with a British Bake Off cookery brick.

Option One was to hide in the stinking toilets for an hour like a junkie. Screw that, Tom decided, which left him with Option Two.

Option Two was printed on the flyer that he had been given by a smartly-dressed woman outside Boots the Chemist on Market Street, a piece of paper that announced Manchester Cathedral were running a lunchtime programme of speakers with that day’s febrile attempt entitled, “The Myth of Eden—a new approach to Genesis.” Having someone attempt to defend the Great Book of Fairy Tales enraged and fascinated Tom at the same time.

He decided that facing down a representative of a misogynistic, homophobic, corrupt organisation staffed by paedophile pensioners would take his mind off his financial woes, even if only for a short time. Tom wondered if he could get thrown out of church for heckling. Watch out all you bishops and kings, he thought, the Pale Rider is at your gate.

He paid for a copy of The Times at the self-scanning machine, extended it to its full height, hid his head behind the newspaper, and strode through the main door. Once he was on Deansgate, he stuck his tongue out at Dave and Bob through the window. The two men didn’t notice, but an old man drinking a latte from a tall glass stared at him in surprise.

It took two minutes for Tom to walk to his favourite place in the whole world, the John Rylands library. Tom loved everything about the building—the décor, the stillness and, most of all, the collection of ancient writings, works that covered every aspect of the human experience across three millennia: legal, medical, science, and the history of tribes and lost nations. He could spend his entire life in this one library and still only scratch the surface of the knowledge within.

Plus, it was free admission.

Through the glass entrance, through the gift shop and café, up the modern staircase, past the Italian tourists, then into the red-stone vaulted cloisters, and up the stone staircase to the third floor where Thomas reverently entered the Reading Room. There, he was greeted by old friends: Luther, Milton, Shakespeare, Goethe, and Calvin, evidently no girls were allowed in Enriqueta Ryland’s library, apart from the lady herself. Tom sat at the mahogany table beneath the statue of Gibbon and, trusting in the presence of this enemy of Faith, he read the newspaper, searching all the while for the one-liner that would transform his life.

Tom finished the easy, then started the medium difficulty, Sudoku puzzle. Thirty minutes later, he had ground to a frustrating halt. Checking his watch, he noticed he was late for the Genesis gig at God’s gaff. He had a choice to make—sack off scripture or go and put the righteous in their rightful place. Still holding the newspaper, Tom legged it from the library, dove down Deansgate, veered along Victoria, and arrived, gasping for breath, at the Cathedral doors.

The presentation in the Saviour Chapel had already begun and all the black metal chairs had been taken. Tom edged right and stood, leaning against the cold stone wall. A slim blonde woman in jeans and a blue t-shirt prowled the front of the chapel.

“Clothes are made from the cotton plant,” the speaker said, “from animal hide, from nylon that is made from oil found under the seabed. Clothes are human constructs of naturally occurring materials. Gravity is a physical law, but our certainty that the universe is a matter machine is a human construct, a metaphor. Even when we are given fact, we fashion it into meaning to wear about our person.”

“Amen,” a man in front of Tom said.

“Fuck me,” Tom muttered, shaking his head.

“Our certainties adjust during our lifetime,” the woman said, “new knowledge and different learning become more important, people we love die, friends change, our pets grow old and die, the world around us changes, new roads are built, and our favourite breakfast cereal has a packaging redesign.”

To Tom’s left was a disabled man in a wheelchair—twisted limbs, twisted face, thick oversized ears, and jam-jar spectacles. Tom averted his gaze. Poor fucker, he thought. It would have been better for him, for his family, for society, if he’d never been born.

“That which is our reality, our certainty, is but a metaphor. It is unreal in the sense that it is a construct of a construct. All our certainties are torn down at our death. We arrive at check-in stark naked and shivering, belonging to no culture and belonging to all. Stripped of all that we have ever wrapped around ourselves, what is left?”

You’re shit-boring, love, Tom thought. Wish I hadn’t come now. Behind the altar, a huge red curtain hung from the roof. Tom was struck by how much the church resembled the Uroz Temple in Ultimate Negation 2—the first-person shooter game that had used a digitised version of the building as the backdrop for all-out war between the remnants of humanity and hordes of gun-toting alien invaders. The Church authorities had claimed on the TV news that their Cathedral was a “space for grace,” and the Japanese corporation who had produced the game had violated this sacred principle. Tom had never heard anything so stupid in all his life: most city-centre tourist attractions would give their right arm for that kind of publicity.

 “The writers of Genesis describe how once Adam and Eve perceived their nakedness, they went and found clothing for themselves. The serpent in Eden did his job well: he introduced them to despair, and so the first humans went out and found themselves certainties in which to clothe themselves. The question that God asks is profound, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ This question reverberates through the centuries. I ask all of you today, who is telling us that we are naked?”

Nobody answered the woman’s challenge.

“The world believes morality is relative and certainties are absolute. I’d argue instead that morality is absolute and that our certainties are relative. When someone demands proof or evidence for God, what they are asking is, ‘Is your certainty more certain than mine?’ God’s response is, ‘What do you need certainties for?’”

Tom stifled a giggle at the absurdity of God-girl’s argument.

“The evidence for the Will to Love and the Will to Power is all around us, scattered on the ground, in the eyes of our brothers and sisters. Rather than gather up this evidence, rather than spend time thinking and fitting it together for ourselves, we want the evidence to jump together and present itself to us. This is the real non-thinking. When we catch a glimpse of this absolute morality, it is such a God-awful prospect that we would rather resort to denial. Our certainties are a strategy to support this state of denial. Like Adam and Eve before us, we hide from God.”

Hide from God, Tom thought. Lady, which one of planet earth’s 4,000 deities do you want us to believe in?

“Our day-to-day human reality is an implicit acceptance of the Will to Power. Our question is how much power is an individual allowed before they upset the balance across the rest of society? I can sit at home torturing myself with online porn: but when I go out on a shooting rampage, then I cross societies’ Will to Power line. Surely, the question isn’t ‘how much power is too much?’ or ‘how much power am I entitled to?’ The question must be, ‘why power, and not love?’”

Silence. No words. The occasional cough. A scraping chair leg. The muffled sound of traffic turning onto Victoria Bridge.

“Biology is our certainty too,” she said. “As a trans woman, I tell you that love is all that matters.”

Not just love, Tom thought, but scalpels and a shit-tonne of hormones, that’s what matters to people like you. He tried to see the man in the woman, to glimpse what the boy had looked like before cosmetic procedures and HRT had adjusted their appearance. He could feel the antagonism building inside the building. Homo sapiens eliminated the Neanderthals, he reminded himself, and all the other evolved apes on their march to global mastery… difference wasn’t good then, difference had to be exterminated, difference led to slaughter, and difference ain’t good now. And this girl was different, and therefore a threat to everyone in the room.

 “This is our reality,” she said. “We need to learn to trust the God who eternally sacrifices her power. Our tragic optimism asks us to trust, to struggle, to give our lives if necessary, without ever being able to fully understand what we are about. Our reasoned uncertainty asks us to run the risk that we are following a powerful and convincing lie. And, in the absence of anything else more credible, to stumble on through life towards death regardless. Norman Maclean offers the phrase “divine bewilderment” in his book Young Men and Fire. Separation from the Will to Love is original sin. Pride is original sin. This land called Wandering, somewhere east of Eden is the spiritual state of desperation. And we walk on it, drive on it, live in it, every day. To close, I offer you a definition of faith as a verb, not as an abstract noun formed from a verb, and that is “the will to thy will, despite my will to power.” So, thank you, Mister Tillich, for being the giant upon whose shoulders I stand here, today, and thank you, all of you, for listening to me.”

Atomic Blonde sat facing her audience and a shiver ran through her body. Tom felt the electric anticipation within the stone walls of the chapel, as if this woman were facing a firing squad instead of a room of middle-class Faith-heads. She’s declared war on organised religion, organised society, organised biology, and put God the Mother at the top of the tree… She’s fucked, Tom decided. She doesn’t have a prayer.

An immaculately dressed, older woman rose from her seat in the front row and, as she turned around, Tom recognised leaflet-lady from outside Boots. She faced the silent, hostile audience, “Well, I’m sure that we’d all like to…thank…err…Jessica Arkuss for her words,” she said, attempting to clap in slow motion.

When nobody else joined in, the woman smiled weakly at her cross-armed presenter. “We now invite you, the audience,” she said, “to ask any questions that you may have. May I remind you that we are in God’s house and that we should all show due courtesy to one another.”

The woman sat down as fast as she could, almost as if she expected a barrage of missiles rather than questions.

Tom watched as an elderly priest in the middle row raised his hand. The rest of the audience was silent, watching.

“A question, if I may, to mister speaker,” the baritone voice boomed.

“Miss, if you please,” Jess said.

Sir,” the old priest said, “you preach a vacuous heresy to those of us schooled in the fundamentals of Holy Scripture. You have insulted the freedom of speech given to you by the elders of this cathedral by inciting rebellion against the gates of heaven. You have ridiculed both the common believer and those learned in the law. Tell me, who gave you the right to leach these lies and fabricate these falsehoods?”

A smattering of applause greeted the red-faced cleric’s rhetoric.

“My mother gives me the right to speak the truth,” Jess said. “And I am not a sir, I am…”

“Your mother? That same mother who was a pregnant teenager? The same mother who claims to be the only virgin in Wigan?” The laughter drifted around the chapel. “You are a false teacher,” the priest said, pointing his crooked finger, “a cross-dressing imposter who tempts the foolish and the weak away from the true path of salvation.”

“And what is this true path, Father…?”

“My friends call me George, so you can call me Reverend Reinford-Bentley. The true path is the One True Religion laid down for us by our father, Möse, who led us from slavery in Jutland, parting the waters as we walked across Doggerland into the promised land of England. He ascended Walbury Hill and God gave him our Common Prayer Book. We preserve this. We protect our heritage. No war, no foreign occupation, no famine or pestilence, no exile, and no thirty-year old gender neutral with an NVQ in Social Work will prevail over this one singular truth.”

“You call Möse your ancestor, but if he were here in this room, he wouldn’t know you.”

Reinford-Bentley choked on his answer, “How dare you speak to me like that, you vile, perverted creature? God will see to it that you, and those like you, burn for eternity in the pits of Hell. Repent of your sins before you are condemned for eternity to the tortures that await deviants and devil worshippers. As Saint Paul said…”

“Save yourself the trouble of quoting Romans 1 at me, George,” Jess interjected. “You delude yourself that God is the Chief Executive of your Religion. You seek to bind the Almighty Mother with the key performance indicators of an earthly corporation. You forget that love is the task and the process, that love is the law, that we are all loved irrespective of gender and sexuality, that salvation is a gift for all, that submission to the will of God is submission to love and to loving.”

Tom could see the puce priest was primed and ready to explode.

“Prove to me,” the cleric roared, “prove to all these gathered here today, that you, Joshua Arkuss…”

Tom made his mind up, he’d had enough of the old priest dead-naming the girl, “She’s a ‘she,’ you cunt,” he shouted.

There were disapproving murmurs and looks of animosity shot in his direction, but no one moved to eject him from the cathedral.

“…that you, Joshua Arkuss, are the Holy One of the Most-High, the chosen deliverer of God’s people, the Christos, the High Priest of Albion, the Heir of King Dafydd, and then, perhaps, we shall fall onto our knees and worship you.”

“I am not…”

“Answer the question, laddie, do you claim oneness with the Creator? Do you self-certify as England’s Messiah?”

“You say that I am.”

The priest was on his feet and hobbling towards her, supported under both arms by cassocked cronies. “Your wordplay is wasted. Your exegesis excommunicates you. Your doctrine damns your soul. You are an enemy of the Church, and of God. There is no safe place to hide from his wrath.”

“George,” Jess said to the man who stood towering above her, “it is time you grew younger: fatty deposits of theology have clogged your arteries, and the will to certainty has hardened your heart. For all your religious robes, degrees in doctrine, doctorates in divinity, you are not prepared to pay the price. You are not prepared to let God penetrate you. You, and those like you, want to capture her, imprison her, rape her, tape her, then claim to the rest of the world that you speak on her behalf. You are worshipping at the altar of a masculine machine that has no meaning other than the preservation of a priestly elite.”

Reinford-Bentley turned to address the room, his ancient face scarlet with rage. “God is a He. It says so in the Bible!” he barked. “You, sir, are nothing but a diseased freak who deserves to be thrown from the roof of a tall building!” The enraged minister was led from the chapel, scowling and muttering curses as the two young priests supported their master’s steps.

The crowd began to leave, standing up, murmuring amongst themselves until only a few remained.

Tom decided he quite liked Jess the trans tornado. It had been highly amusing to see the old bastard in the cape trundling off with a face like a bulldog chewing on a wasp. But, now, it was time to call a spade a spade.

He walked across the stone floor—the trusty sword of sarcasm ready to strike down this troublesome priestess.

“Hi there. Jessica is it?” he asked. “I want to ask you, what are you offering that isn’t in the Gita, the Dhammapada, the Tao, or The Phantom Menace?”

“Are you the guy who shouted out?”

“Yep.”

“What’s your name?” she said.

“Thomas Bauer.”

“I teach the difference between incoming and outgoing, ‘Thyself not free, but to thyself enthralled,’ as Milton puts it,” Jess said.

 “People with invisible friends usually end up in padded rooms wearing tight fitting jackets. Are you hearing voices?”

“I’m hearing yours. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a planner, an out of work planner.”

“A detail freak, right? A completer finisher?”

“It has to be right,” Tom said, his smile starting to disappear.

“I could use a planner,” Jess said. “I’ve a project that needs someone to make things happen.”

“What’s the project?”

“The project is a church, a new kind of church, a place with space for grace.”

“I appreciate the offer, but you’re asking a vegetarian to run a burger factory.”

“You’re the guy.”

“Reinford-Bentley says you’re a guy.” As soon as the words left Tom’s mouth, he regretted it.

“That’s a cheap shot, Thomas.”

“I’m sorry, I promise I’m not a transphobe… Sometimes my mouth runs ahead of my brain. How do you know that I’m the right guy?”

“Just do.”

Jess wrote her number on a slip of paper and passed it to Tom.

“Think it through. It could be something to tide you over for a few months.”

“I’m going to say no.”

“Talk it over with your wife. It’ll be better than kicking your heels around town or watching Loose Women every lunchtime.”

“You don’t know me.”

Jess reached out. She shook Tom’s hand, then she made her way through the Cathedral door and out into the city.

Tom went to retrieve the newspaper he had wedged between the heating pipe and the stone wall. The disabled man was sitting on his own. Tom could see the man’s caregiver having a coffee with others assembled around the baptismal font.

It is then that he heard the man singing—a gentle sound, a beautiful melody that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Tom listened, transfixed. He stood amidst the nothing, framed by the beauty of a building, the song of angels in his ears. Understanding penetrated his carefully constructed defences.

He perceived his nakedness.

Tom bolted for the door and didn’t stop running ’til he had passed the front of Selfridges. Across a barren land of wandering east of the Arndale Centre, he journeyed, on through the darkness of the Printworks, out into the light of Dantzic Street, over the tram line to Shudehill, and a bus ride home.

Featured

Apophatic

The man, who was afraid, kept tight hold of his daughter’s hand as they navigated the teaming streets of York. Abigail chatted about the hair bands that she and mummy had bought in Marks and Spencer, oblivious to her daddy’s anxiety, unaware of his discomfort amongst the crowds.

Pete glanced behind him. Nikki walked with Ley, both were carrying paper shopping bags from expensive stores, declaring to the world that they have taste and money. His wife and children were easy prey for muggers and murderers, sociopaths and suicide bombers, paedophiles and purse-snatchers. Pete quickened his pace.

The Horsley family marched through the gaggle of giggling hen parties, circumnavigated the Chinese tourists taking pictures of themselves in front of medieval timber-framed buildings, strode past the sandstone church that had become a wholefood cafe, stepped over the pink-dressed girl unconscious outside the tapas bar.

On Parliament Street, two old men had set up a board proclaiming the good news of salvation. As Pete walked past, he saw three boys, no more than ten or eleven, grinning and shouting, “Prove it! Where is God? Show us.” One child knelt before the two men in mock prayer. The two men continued their mantra, “Believe and be healed…” acting as though the children were not there.

The Horsleys made their way to Coppergate, theirs the image of the perfect modern family unit; consuming, reproducing, growing. All around them, people were busy navigating their way through life, carving out their own niche in existence, growing up, letting go of childish things, flexing their will to power, and exploring what, if any, boundaries exist in human society.

 Between the retail reverie of the Coppergate Shopping Centre and the safety of Saint George’s Field Long Stay Car Park sat the imposing bulk of Clifford’s Tower; the scene of the death of one-hundred-and-fifty Jewish men, women and children, eight-hundred years before. Riot and persecution had driven terrified families to seek sanctuary in the stronghold during the night. Surrounded and besieged by their neighbours, most committed suicide with the few who escaped being murdered by the English townsfolk.

Pete hated the place: the citadel was a lasting memorial of man’s inhumanity to man, of separation, of genocide, of ethnic cleansing, of the reality of the human. The tower on the mound was a permanent reminder of the darkness that congealed in the corners of every soul. He felt this shadow inside his own heart, the cancer of sin within, and, worst of all, he wasn’t sure that he could live without it.

As he and his family hurried across the pelican crossing, scurried into Tower Gardens, the thought arrived in his mind that someone should buy that turret, pull it down, level the mound, and build a KFC drive-through in its place.

Beside the stone arch of Skeldergate Bridge was a dishevelled young man on a dirty, wet blanket. The sign in front of him read, “Ex-soldier—Hungry and Homeless, please help.” Cyclists rang their bells as they zoomed through the hollow, families walked through the tunnel eating ice-cream, spoiled infants stamped their feet in temper, dogs strained on their leads barking at other dogs, geese honked and flapped their wings, college students shuffled past with Beats headphones covering their ears, and Pete was in sensory overload hell.

As he fought his way through the queue stretching out from the burger van, Pete made eye contact with the beggar at the gate. He had a copy of The Big Issue, bought on Stonegate, in his bag, but still he felt guilty. The man is probably a heroin addict, he told himself, the army stuff just bullshit; the best thing I can do is walk and keep walking.

He and his family arrived, safe and unmolested, at the car park by the side of the River Ouse. They packed their shopping inside the BMW X3, climbed aboard, and buckled their seatbelts.

Pete reversed out of the tight space, pushed the gear lever to D, then pressed the CD power-button: Ian Brown’s voice drifted through the Bose speakers.

“Are you okay?” Nikki said. “You’re very quiet!”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just things on my mind, things to sort out with Dad.”

Clifford’s Tower—a tourist attraction, a stone relic that locals ignored as they hurried to Fenwick’s Department Store to purchase luxury gift wrap and Yves Saint Laurent Touche Ēclat.

Clifford’s Tower—a fact that screamed for a why?

Pete knew the answer to “why?” The townsfolk of York murdered their neighbours because the people inside that tower were different from them: different culture, different religion, different football shirt, skin colour, sexuality, sex, tribe…whatever. They did it because their blood was up. They did it because they could. They did it because evil aggregates. They did it because each small act of malice was a stone that built North Yorkshire’s very own Barad-dûr.

The realisation hit: God is the opposite of the lust for power.

Every hateful stare, every lustful look, every “fuck you,” are they all a stone in the wall of a bigger, taller even more monstrous Clifford’s Tower? Pete asked himself. And what about me? What if the world could see the man I really am? What if my wife ever found out that I am sexually attracted to other men?

And what had he seen in the homeless man’s eyes? Was it desperation, craving, or was it pity?

Pete found himself at the biting point, the place where he was torn between two conflicting impulses. He felt the call to action, long ignored, stamped on, rejected. And, pulling in the opposite direction, he felt the desire to run away, to find his own fortified corner of existence.

“Daddy,” Abi called from the back of the car. “Did Belle know the Beast was a prince?”

“I don’t think so, sweetheart. Are you both enjoying the film?”

“Yeees,” Abi said.

“How about you, Ley?” Pete asked.

“It’s all right.”

Abi, the little girl who loved unicorns and pink ponies; Ley, the child who had told their parents that “she” was a “he.” Pete’s innermost fear was that it was his chromosomes that were to blame for the birth of this trans child. Was it his supressed, repressed homosexuality that had resulted in a gender-confused seven-year old? Pete and Nikki had made the decision together to allow Ley to cut his hair and dress like a boy. Part of Pete hoped that Ley would grow out of it. Another deeper part of Pete knew that that would never happen.

He listened to Abi giggle. As he swung the Beemer around a mini roundabout, Pete wondered what would have happened if William Golding had written the movie script for Beauty and the Beast: maybe a gore-smeared Belle would have set the Beast’s maggot-ridden head on a pike whilst Lumière was beaten to death in a frenzied attack by Chip, Cogsworth, and Mrs Potts.

“You’re really quiet, P. Are you sure you’re okay?” Nikki asked.

“I’m good. Promise,” he answered.

Nikki smiled him a “I’m not sure I believe you’ smile.”

He had a loving wife. He had two beautiful children. He had a comfortable home in a decent town. So why, he asked himself, am I so goddam messed up?

Fuck all the existentialism shit, Pete decided as the Horsley family glided past B&M Bargains and Pets at Home. Nietzsche was right: we should stay true to the earth.

He began to plan what he’d make Nikki and the kids for their dinner.

‘I Ran’ By Paul Van Der Spiegel Short Story Recommendation By Edge Of Humanity Magazine | Edge of Humanity Magazine

‘I Ran’ By Paul Van Der Spiegel Short Story Recommendation By Edge Of Humanity Magazine | Edge of Humanity Magazine
— Read on edgeofhumanity.com/2022/06/21/i-ran-by-paul-van-der-spiegel-short-story-recommendation-by-edge-of-humanity-magazine/

Orlam by PJ Harvey- a review

Whatever the technical merit, whatever the story telling, whoever the author is, the most important feeling at the close of a piece of writing is grief – grief at leaving the company of the characters, grief at the sudden absence of the narrator’s voice, grief at the end of the protagonist’s challenge to our own settled pleasant valley Sunday view of the world.

Orlam is an accomplished poem, a fusing of faerie with the threat of the real-world horrors such as Dogwell’s house, the place where the babysat children of Underwhelem pray ‘the dread door does not open.’ The story is told through the eyes of Ira, a young girl on the cusp of adolescence, a young ‘gurrel’ full of rage, curiosity, and longing. The yearning for completeness, for an absent half, is present throughout the book – an absent mother, a brother who prefers the company of his imaginary twin to his sister, Stacy Gales’ unborn twin, Ira’s longing for Wyman Elvis.

Orlam is written in a Dorset dialect that illustrates the ancient Germanic roots within: Vs and Ws switched, ds and ths consonant swapped, zebm instead of seven, the play on the word ‘farter’ for Ira’s ‘loathsome tonight’ father. The poem is beautiful, grim, provocative, with language that reflects the kindness and cruelty of nature, and a nine-year old female Beowulf whose Grendel is her own sheep-farmer sire. Ira escapes into the woods. Scattered amongst the roots of timeless Gore Woods are Safeway carrier bags, 1970’s confectionery brands, used condoms.   

An evocative sense of place is at the heart of great writing. In many ways, Gore Woods is the central character of the book, the close-packed trees as the entry point of fear, adventure, self-discovery, death. Ira’s Hundred Acre Wood is haunted by rage, loss, the spectre of abuse, burgeoning sexuality. As well as the no-time world of Gore Woods, Harvey gives us the village of Underwhelem, the claustrophobic agricultural hamlet where resentments simmer, where secrets are hidden, where men drink to forget inside the Golden Fleece inn.  

Harvey avoids W.B. Yeat’s whimsical escape into a rural fantasy of yesteryear. Orlam instead evokes the yearning of Patrick Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger – of a place that is loved and hated in equal measure, a place that inspires and imprisons, the lustful longing for a life partner. Whilst Kavanagh’s sexually frustrated Patrick Maguire masturbates over the embers of a dying fire, Harvey writes ‘Where the bee sucks there fuck I.’  

Orlam evokes existential dread, that the ‘hag -ridden hollow’ of Underwhelem of ‘Jeyes Fluid, slurry, zweat and pus, anus grease, squitters, jizz and blood,’ is what defines life. The sense of despair of the human soul caught in the no-time of a sentient landscape reminds me of Alan Garner’s Cheshire dialect books… Thursbitch, in particular. 

I felt grief at the close of Orlam.

The wild magic of Gore Woods awaits.

I am anxious to return. 

Up

Cars were parked outside restaurants, shops and bars as the working week ended and the weekend began. Traffic queued along Chester Road North, buses pushed their noses out from back streets, laughing people weaved themselves between the ensnared vehicles.

A minibus-taxi was blocking the right turn next to the carpet showroom. Alan sounded the horn and the taxi moved itself closer to the kerb. All along Cavendish Street, which ran parallel to the main road, every parking space was taken.

Alan parked his SUV in the accountancy firm’s designated parking space, ignoring the notice that warned of mobile clamping in the area and a £70 release fee. He unfastened Cassie from her harness on the back seat, grabbed her lead, and together they ran up the cobbled street, stopping only so Cassie could pee next to a lamppost.  

The vet’s surgery was empty when they arrived five minutes late for their evening appointment. ‘I’ve brought Cassie,’ Alan gasped.

‘Yes, take a seat,’ the uniformed receptionist said through her facemask.

Alan sat on a bench as Cassie lay on her tummy.

A woman holding a plastic cat carrier entered the surgery, a school-aged daughter followed behind – both were red-headed. The woman picked up a magazine and sat down. The girl was next to her and began to read a story book out loud, asking her mother questions after every second line.

The man came in. He was in his sixties, shaven headed apart from a quiff, bearded, smartly dressed, and he carried a cat carrier. Alan noticed him shuffling as he walked. The man sat down, and Alan noticed his earrings, the rings on every finger. Alan smiled, but the man ignored him.

‘That’s a lovely cat,’ Alan said to the man, as he watched the cat gaze at its human. The woman looked up, and then put her head back in her magazine.

‘She’s old,’ the man said. ‘I was due to bring her in at the end of the month, but she’s taken a turn for the worse.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that. How old is she?’

‘17.’

‘That’s a good age.’

‘How old is your dog?’

‘12.’

‘That’s a good age.’

‘Yeah, it is.’

‘I know there is something really wrong because usually she cries all the way up here,’ the man said.

Up was an interesting description, Alan noted. Because as far as he was concerned town was down, at the bottom of the valley. He tried to figure out which location would necessitate an uphill journey to the vets.

Alan looked at the man’s clothes – they were impeccable, clean, and precise. His own clothing was an embarrassment – old Adidas Munchen that he used for gardening, Levi 501 bootcut that he had bought from Amazon with a 34- inch waste instead of 32 and couldn’t be bothered to send back, and a blue pullover with a toothpaste stain on it. And there was his wedding ring.

Alan reminded himself that he was flirting with a man with a dying cat.

The red-haired woman was looking at him.

‘Cassie?’ said the tiny female vet as she came into the reception area.

Alan smiled at the man, tugged the dog’s lead, and followed the vet into the treatment room.

Cassie was fine; a little overweight, but her heart, teeth, skin, ears, eyes, and tummy were all in good working order.

Back in reception, paying for Cassie’s treatment by debit card at the desk, Alan noted that the woman and her daughter were still there, but the man had gone – presumably into one of the other treatment rooms. Alan hoped that the 17-year-old cat recovered, but he knew the chances were slim.

The man would be devastated, Alan had seen that in his eyes.

Alan and Cassie left the vets, got back to their car, and made the journey up the valley to their home.

I Ran

David sprinted around the corner flag on the football pitch, his training shoes squelching in the mud as he ran parallel to the speeding cars and trucks on the other side of the fence and tree line. As he passed the grey metal gate of the all-weather pitch, he saw the line of demoralised, trudging boys snaking behind him in their yellow and brown reversible rugby tops.

The task was always the same: to be the fastest, to race ahead of the pack, to arrive back to the sports hall and get showered and changed before the other boys arrived and the racist, homophobic taunting began.

Mister Jesus stood by the school gate onto the housing estate. Jesus was a Business Studies teacher trapped in a hippy time-warp. He nodded to David as the boy crossed the road and headed down the dog-shit strewn ginnel towards the farmer’s fields.

On the stubble field, David increased his pace, feeling the power in his fourteen-year-old limbs as he raced towards the malevolent, looming soup factory that stood at the side of the motorway.

As he cleared the underpass and dipped into the gulley behind the factory car park, David saw Paul Harding fifty yards behind him. Harding was a fast runner and, whilst they were not friends, Paul Harding did not call him a wog or a queer and did not threaten to kick the shit out of him after school.

The two boys circled the fortress food facility and began the climb that would take them back to the school playing fields. As the path wound its way back through the estate, through the snicket at the back of the prefab garages, David saw the group of boys in their jerseys and shorts lining the sides of the pitted tarmac. He saw their eyes, he saw their silence, he saw Damian Jolley.

David knew he could turn around, find another route back to school and avoid confrontation with the lads from school who wanted to hurt him. But Paul Harding was behind, and David wanted to win.

As he raced through the middle of the gang, David was tackled from behind. He hit the ground hard, grazing his knee and banging his head. The kicking and punching began, Jolley was calling him the n word, calling him a queer bastard, telling him to get out of Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic High School or else he’d be dead.

Then, Paul Harding was there, pushing the pack animals away, telling them to stop. The six boys were laughing.

Blood was all over his face and hands, and on his sports top. Mum is going to be angry was all David could think as Paul helped him to his and feet and pushed him onwards.

Jesus looked blankly at the blood-smeared boys who stumbled through the gates and began the loop across the fields back towards the cubic, glass topped sports hall.

Inside the office, Mister Gables looked up from his desk. ‘What happened to you?’ he said.

‘Jolley and-’ Paul began.

‘-I fell,’ David said. Gables peered through his glasses and frowned. ‘Get yourself cleaned up,’ he growled, ‘and if there’s any blood on the floor after you’ve finished there’ll be a detention for both of you.’

Beat it Dudes

In Mattie’s gospel we get 8, maybe 9, Beat it Dudes, all cloaked in the spiritual symbolism that M loves. Luc on the other hand, gives us 4 Beat it dudes focussed on the hardships of the poorest, followed up with his ‘Sucks to be you rich Mofos’ diatribe.

The words of ישוע breathed through the personal perspective of the writer.

Matt’s 8: can you remember them, how they fit together? Paul talked of 4 values: strength, faith, hope and love. Blake engraved the 4 zoas. Angeles Arrien gave us the 4 Fold Way (teacher, healer, visionary, warrior).

For me ‘happy are those who mourn’ is the reframe of the anxiety of hopelessness, the reframe of anger. To mourn is to let go, to grieve, not to wish an equal curse on the perpetrator of our loss. That ain’t easy. To negate negation takes the will the love, Frankl’s ultimate human freedom – to choose our own attitude, our own response in a set of circumstances we can do nothing about.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ is the next step up from mourning, it is the unblocking of rage of the appetite for destruction. Mourning and making peace not war sit together in the bottom left quadrant of the will to love… they are hope, a social value, they are the opposite of the will to negation.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. … well, Matt recounts Jesus walking on the waters of uncertainty. The disciples like their little boat of religion, of certainty. Jesus says get out of the boat, walk to me, you’ll be fine. Peter was a try, then starts to drown. We’re all tipped out of the boat of certainty when we die. No religion, no nation, no football team, no branded clothes, just naked in the ether. The poor in spirit are uncertain, they take a baby step over the airs of the abyss and find that they are not weighed down by doctrine.

‘Blessed are those who get their ass kicked for righteousness sake’ is the next step from being poor in spirit. These 2 Beat it Dudes are courage, they are the opposite of the will to certainty, the opposite of the anxiety of helplessness. Courage sits in the top left quadrant of the Will 2 Love.

‘Blessed are the pure at heart’ and ‘Blessed are the merciful’ are personal Beat it Dudes. Pure at heart means don’t take advantage of the vulnerable, think of others, not your own selfish needs and interests. Mercy is a personal thing, it is a given thing, it is the opposite of the anxiety of worthlessness, of the Will to Sensation. Love is the bottom right hand quadrant in the Will to Love.

The opposite of the Will to Love is the Will to Power. ‘Blessed are the meek’ is part of faith, the opposite of pride, of the anxiety of meaninglessness, where we make our doubt bigger than God. Being meek is saying fuck it, I don’t know… really, I could be wrong. But I trust. And ‘Blessed are those who hunger for justice’ is turning trust into Rejoining.

4*2 that’s the key to the Beat it Dudes. But have a play yourself, rearrange, cut ’em up and position them where they work best for you. There ain’t no right answer, the only right answer is what works best for you in your relationship with God.

OnlineBookClub.org review of “A Particular Friendship” by Paul Van Der Spiegel

by Brendan Donaghy » 24 Feb 2022, 03:19

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4 out of 4 stars


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A Particular Friendship, by Paul Van Der Spiegel, is the fourth book in the author’s The Queer Testament series. It’s a fictional work that tells the story of Father Thomas Morton, a gay, middle-aged Catholic priest working in the English diocese in which he grew up. The title of the book refers to Tom’s relationship with his friend and former lover, Antony. It is an echo of the term one character in the story uses to describe the friendship of St Francis of Assisi and a man many scholars have identified as his romantic partner.

Bussell is a fictional former coal mining and mill town in the north of England. With its undercurrent of homophobic attitudes, it’s a tough place to grow up gay. It’s also tough to be a gay priest in a faith that condemns homosexuality even while so many of its own clergy are gay. The narrative centers on Tom’s struggle to reconcile his sexual orientation with his religious beliefs and the homophobia of so many within his own social and professional circles. It’s also about one man’s struggle to be true to himself. His friend Antony urges him to come out of the closet. Should he be honest and declare his sexuality, or should he continue to hide his real nature for fear of condemnation? In the end, Tom must choose a side.

I enjoyed this book on several levels. As someone brought up in the Catholic faith, I recognized and felt comfortable with the author’s frequent use of Catholic liturgy and prayers. Reading the words of a Latin hymn, I was transported back many years and found myself humming a tune I thought I’d long ago forgotten. The author’s use of these words of worship not only adds realism to the narrative but also provides a framework for the dialectic between characters on moral and spiritual issues.

I found that dialectic interesting. That doesn’t mean the book is a cold, intellectual exercise. The characters are fleshed out, their various storylines are given the attention they deserve, particularly the relationship between Tom and Antony. This is aided by how the book is structured. The narrative moves between Tom’s life as a younger person and his life in the present. We not only see Tom grow and mature but also other characters in the story, too. The result is a tale spanning decades that successfully fuses past and present into one seamless narrative.

The book has undoubtedly been professionally edited. I found a handful of minor errors, mostly to do with the use of apostrophes, but these weren’t enough to distract me or spoil my enjoyment of the story.

I am happy to award this book four out of four stars. It is an intelligent novel that challenges the world’s attitude to gay people and, more specifically, the attitude of traditional, conservative Christian churches to same-sex relationships. I recommend this book to readers who like their fiction to address big issues like God, life, and human nature. It has at its core a gay love story, so people who are uncomfortable with same-sex relationships might be wise to pass on this. The book also contains strong language and sex scenes, so it’s not a suitable read for children.

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A Particular Friendship
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Latest Review: A Particular Friendship by Paul Van Der Spiegel

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Review of A Particular Friendship – OnlineBookClub.org

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of “A Particular Friendship” by Paul Van Der Spiegel.] 4 out of 4 stars. A Particular Friendship ,
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Love Reading review of ‘A Particular Friendship’

A heartfelt story packed with emotion as one closeted priest comes to terms with himself and his past.
‘A Particular Friendship’ by Paul Van der Spiegel is the story of Thomas Morton, a Catholic priest who suddenly has to confront his past when the man he fell in love with years ago appears in the congregation of one of his services. This book handles bullying, dysphoria, homosexuality and abuse, but in a way that’s constantly lined with a sense of hope. Because the narrative has two timelines, Tom’s youth and his present day, the darkest parts of Tom’s narrative are cleverly shared with the reader alongside moments of triumph.
The character of Tom Morton is very well defined. As we learn more about Tom we understand his actions and his flaws. I found myself hoping for a positive ending after the challenges he overcomes through the book. This is an excellent and multifaceted book, with commentary of the Catholic church as well as being a powerful story of human connection, faith and love in all its forms. The remembrance at the end of the story adds even more poignancy to the story.

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