The Grand Inquisitor

The Grand Inquisitor

 

“I’ll just be a minute, the painting is in the back” Old Crosby announced and disappeared into the storage room at the rear of the shop, leaving me to rummage alone through the array of stock he had scattered throughout his antique store. A wildly eclectic mix of items presented themselves before my eyes, items that had not so much been placed as had found their way to where they now lay. Watching as so many eyes in the ethereal stillness of this space where the dust seemed to hang expectantly in the air and the shadows of so much past cast themselves heavy upon on this dusky domain. I found myself drawn to a set of ornate Russian dolls hidden between a serving platter and a gramophone and proceeded to dismantle them absent-mindedly as I awaited the old man’s return.
 
Presently he announced himself, bounding up the corridor with the aforementioned object in his hands. “This is the piece I mentioned to you – it’s something I encountered in my ramblings, let’s say”. Wrapped in a velvet cloth, I could see the outlines of a frame. He carefully proceeded to remove the outer protective layer to reveal the painting beneath and placed it on a small table in front of him. “This is the work of Johannes van der Lember, painted in his late, shall we say, darker period”, Crosby stood away from the painting with an unabashed show of pride on his face and turned to me expectantly.
 
The painting itself was a characteristic piece of that 17th century Dutch masters, an exposition in shadow and light and with an attention to detail and realism that suggested surgical precision. The subject of the painting was a red-robed and white-bearded figure, standing in a torch lit room. Alongside – or more accurately, cowering beneath him was a man, bound and seated in an elaborate wooden chair, his face a mask of abject terror as the other figure loomed over him. In the shadows, lurking was a series of implements and tools hinting at the portents of a darker outcome in store.
 
“The First Time before the Grand Inquisitor” stated Crosby “one of a series of works van der Lember undertook towards the end of his life and without a doubt, his finest masterpiece. And…” he paused for effect “a much-coveted item”. “It had been given up as lost until… well… certain information came to light”. He stroked his chin and started to pace the floor slowly, back and forth. “Look, let me get to the point. What I’m about to tell you will put you, as well as myself, into a difficult position but I believe I have no one else that I can trust.” He then began to recount his tale….
 

  • John Wid, February 2016

A Passing

A Passing

Death, the final act and all the significance that it entails. How to ascribe beauty in the sublimation of raw youth or celebrate the life of some septuagenarian in heroic reminisce, attribute some meaning, some relevance to the passing carnage of a life poorly spent in ignorant rambling or give praise to the man of substance whose presence can never be filled. But what do I know of that…clearly nothing aside from blank rhetoric. Consequently, what can I carry in the way of apprehension or fear as I find myself the passenger in a speeding vehicle on a foray towards a dying man. Blind in my way, setting out on a summer’s morning, rare sunlight slanting early glow into my eyes. Dim as the early morning stupor and lingering effects of a night’s pointless drinking renders me monosyllabic once more. Serving its purpose I suppose, as the journey is one of contemplation and reflection…a last visit to an old friend.

Death travels in mysterious ways and forms, sometimes brief and chaotic, sometimes over years of brutal pain and decay. No one knows the day or the hour simply that it is the only certainty we can ever truly accept in life. Perhaps there is some beautiful symmetry in this idea but there is little beauty in the act itself, this passing- despite whatever patriotic dogma has been rammed into one’s consciousness. Three weeks previous, the old man, in his late seventies, had visited our home. He had driven the thirty odd miles alone and met us in his customary ebullience, cheerful as ever. A man whose vitality and drive suggested a model of health in old age, his face a healthy glow as he swilled another cup of tea, trading a series of wise cracks. Merely days later, a diagnosis resulting from a routine inspection gave the old man mere weeks to live. God giveth, God taketh away.

But what of death…its omnipresence renders it something we can direct disposable sympathy towards or even ignore. Media impressions of it drain it of any personal touch. Bodies pile up on screens, depicted in sensationalised gore infused print and visualised in graphic freeze-frame, but these corpses remain elusive, anonymous. So we become detached, can we truly grieve for these paper victims? Harrowing reports of the old man over the intervening weeks suggesting a massive spiral downwards in health had hardly registered with me. Illness is easier out of picture, terminal illness doubly so. How can one envisage a rapidly disintegrating old man without some context? Continue reading “A Passing” »

Smear Campaign

SMEAR CAMPAIGN

By John Wid

 

 

You could almost pinpoint, with definitive accuracy, the exact moment that triggered the series of events that led to the end of Thomas ‘Tos’ Falvey’s 32 year tenure at Father Billy Brosnan Primary School, Scubber, on the 15th February 1985. ‘The end of a great era’ some said sadly, others wept, more offered private prayers in hope of rescuing any lingering sanity left from the grasp of progress. Another portion celebrated wildly and agreed that the old adage ‘you get what you give’ was never more applicable. It is, of course, important to understand the nature of the man and consider this in the context of the circumstances leading up to that final moment.

History often speaks of great men whose drive and endeavour serves to push humanity forward – men to whom institutional dogma and accepted wisdom are mere triviality, to whom derision and scorn are a source of focus and energy, whose unrelenting passion seems to overcome the largest of obstacles. Such men serve to define epochs. None of this is applicable to Thomas ‘Tos’ Falvey. A man who embodied perfectly the qualities of a generation of civil servants whose slavish devotion to bureaucracy and sycophantic drooling over superiors in the pursuit of advancement neglected any true dedication to their chosen profession. Unfortunately for Falvey, the rural backwaters of Scubber left him rooted in frustrated mediocrity, overlooked all too frequently for advancement, a victim of the very system he sought to embrace.

When externally changing social and economic factors forced teaching from the dark ages of pre-1960’s brute force despotism to the more benign pedagogical application seen today, Thomas ‘Tos’ Falvey was caught firmly in the old school. He greatly lamented the restrictions imposed by a progressing society which forced him to put his wooden ruler and leather strap back into the desk drawer. No longer the halcyon days of whipping off the belt and laying into whomever took his dislike, Falvey was forced to suppress his best intentions more and more.

Of course, this new relaxed approach did not encourage Falvey to apply any real restraint in dealing with successive generations of the ill reared Scubber populace passing through the Formica halls of Father Brosnan’s. Forthright manifestations of anger turned from overt physical abuse to a repressive campaign of mental anguish he waged against the unsuspecting youngsters on a daily basis. Through this thankless work, coupled with an emotionally distant, childless and sexless marriage to a socially ambitious wife, Falvey developed a thinly veiled misanthropic nature. He brooded dangerously, focusing his energy on deconstructing the world around him. Continue reading “Smear Campaign” »

Passage of Time

Passage of Time

Through the open window, a chiming of bells carried on the air. A slanting ray of light cut through the dust, illuminating an errant patch on the wall. Somewhere from the shadows of a room, a pair of eyes watched vacantly. A figure lay silently and unmoving on a wooden bed, supplicant to the movement of the sun. There was no light in these eyes, just a waxen yellowed glaze.

As the dust danced balletic twists, a hand moved slowly to the mattress below and stirred the body into life. Levering himself from repose, two feet circled and touched the ground as the man paused in motion. He sighed then, a sigh of weariness and defeat, and lifted his head upwards. The bells had ceased and stillness descended upon the room once more, bringing into focus the metronome beat of the clock hand on the wall opposite.

He stared fixedly into the clock face, focusing on the centre point. At this visual manifestation of human endeavour designed to capture the concept of movement he peered and nothing moved but the hands of time. In one beatific moment, he knew what it meant. All the time and motion flowed into his mind filling spaces long disused. Each rhythmic tick had ceased to be, just a unified idea of all time and movement remained. An eyebrow arched and a jaw sloped downwards. The myriad worlds and possibilities treaded his thoughts and he was subsumed into it.

On the windowsill a bird had landed and with the elegant flutter of a wing, the sanctum was despoiled. As quickly the ideas had entered, they now left in torrents. He sat silently grasping for the understanding flooding from his mind. Understanding had settled but had now taken flight. He lifted a bony hand to scratch at the futility of the moment as if to plug the leaking of something arcane and known to all but somehow unknown and elusive. Opposite, the clock beat an inexorable metronome march.

Passage of Time

Through the open window, a chiming of bells carried on the air. A slanting ray of light cut through the dust, illuminating an errant patch on the wall. Somewhere from the shadows of a room, a pair of eyes watched vacantly. A figure lay silently and unmoving on a wooden bed, supplicant to the movement of the sun. There was no light in these eyes, just a waxen yellowed glaze.

As the dust danced balletic twists, a hand moved slowly to the mattress below and stirred the body into life. Levering himself from repose, two feet circled and touched the ground as the man paused in motion. He sighed then, a sigh of weariness and defeat, and lifted his head upwards. The bells had ceased and stillness descended upon the room once more, bringing into focus the metronome beat of the clock hand on the wall opposite.

He stared fixedly into the clock face, focusing on the centre point. At this visual manifestation of human endeavour designed to capture the concept of movement he peered and nothing moved but the hands of time. In one beatific moment, he knew what it meant. All the time and motion flowed into his mind filling spaces long disused. Each rhythmic tick had ceased to be, just a unified idea of all time and movement remained. An eyebrow arched and a jaw sloped downwards. The myriad worlds and possibilities treaded his thoughts and he was subsumed into it.

On the windowsill a bird had landed and with the elegant flutter of a wing, the sanctum was despoiled. As quickly the ideas had entered, they now left in torrents. He sat silently grasping for the understanding flooding from his mind. Understanding had settled but had now taken flight. He lifted a bony hand to scratch at the futility of the moment as if to plug the leaking of something arcane and known to all but somehow unknown and elusive. Opposite, the clock beat an inexorable metronome march.

Untitled (Words)

Untitled

 

Perhaps it would be somewhat supercilious to remark upon a sense of detachment and moral decay latent in modern society without exposing an inherent corresponding cynicism within myself but such is the paradoxical nature of the polemic. While a countenance of seemingly emancipated aloofness has been cultivated among my contemporaries, it offers very little in the ways of perception and rationale and much more in the ways of denial and mistrust. The dogmatic social pillars of yesterday have long since been torn down and as a consequence a spiritual and emotional vacuum has emerged that festers almost as rotten as the system that has been supplanted.

The power base of religious dogmatism has been eroded to the point of parody by now, criticism of the church has reached the point of cliché. The pleasure taken in the breathless pace of this downfall is certainly a natural response to the erosion of any tyrannical entity but serves to illustrate the growing need to indulge in schadenfreude. Taken as a literal standpoint, the reaction to this debacle serves as a touchstone to the modern point of view. Critique is often blanket and reduced to base stereotyping.

Liberalism and excess has produced an attitude of ambivalence towards existence in general, particularly regarding spiritual issues. It is hard to consider these advances in outlook positively if the only natural response to rubbish the question rather than considering an issue from its constituent points. A case in point is would be to mention the words Jesus or religion at a pub gathering and gauge reaction from that.

To elaborate upon the point further it should be noted that there is little faith in any authority, religious or otherwise. As such, those in positions of power are seen as either puppets or driven by self interest wanting only to advance their own causes at the expense of others. Having watched the more visual perpetrators of the most recent excesses carry wheelbarrow sized portions of public funds away without any real rebuke or sanction, the response is perhaps justified but the overall effect is to produce a general dissonance amongst people

The worst aspect of this is that the end result is a lack of belief and hope amongst people and the manifestation of this is a notable apathy that eats away at the essence of a collective being. Now, it appears, would be a time to ask questions rather than to simply ignore them.

John Wid © Oct 2012

King of the pavement

‘King of the Pavement’

John Wid

A flow of unfocused light streamed in as Soulas prised his eyes apart, his world rendered in obscured newborn textures – all blurred tones and asymmetric shapes and bewilderment. Reaching his left arm outward in a tentative arcing motion his fingers met coarse gravel below, he groaned pitiably in some lament for his predicament. He wasn’t home. ‘That’s the way of it by God’ a voice shot out to him bringing him with a sharp jolt, which he immediately regretted, to an upright and alert position.

Continue reading “King of the pavement” »

Fingering the culprit

‘Fingering the Culprit’

John Wid

“And that” concluded old Johnny Herlihy “was how Lar Shea lost the first two fingers on his right hand”. That anyone among the audience he had managed to cajole into listening to this declaration could possibly be in agreement with what they’d just heard would be a major surprise. Old Herlihy had a reputation for fabricating incredulous stories and his tendency to take large dramatic license in the matters of fact and fiction during the telling of said tales was part and parcel of the experience. But this particular one truly beggared belief. “Bitten off” announced the Lurker Doyle “in a Junior B game down in Ballininch!”, scepticism underlining his tone “I’ve heard a few tales in me time Johnny but nothing as you’re after telling us there. Junior B hurling is rough enough but two fingers bitten off during a match, did you ever hear the like of it?” he mused, to no one in particular. “Sure wasn’t I there myself to see it” proclaimed old Herlihy, by way of justifying the tale.

It would be fair to say that Johnny Herlihy and his vivid imagination were largely taken with a fair pinch of salt. His musings were much renowned in the area and as was customary with a typical Herlihy tale, this particular one was greeted with the familiar raised eyebrow and knowing cough and would soon have been consigned to dustbin of trivialities but for the strange sequence of events that followed its completion. A general surprise descended amongst the regulars of Lally’s when a gruff voice announced from the corner “That’s a fine tale considering”, he paused briefly before delivering the clincher “that Lar Shea never picked up a hurl in his life”. Herlihy, suddenly affronted, offended even, by this sudden and unprovoked attack on his credibility was left speechless, his mouth agape as all eyes turned upon him. “Who are you to state otherwise?” Herlihy stuttered clumsily in his defence. “Someone who knows much better than to be believing such rabid nonsense from the likes of yourself” was his answer. Continue reading “Fingering the culprit” »