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Old, new, borrowed, blue.

Hey Siri.

What can I help you with ?

Play something old.

Which old ?

I scan the list and settle on “Seems Like Old Times”, remembering when we watched Annie Hall and fell in love with Keaton breathing into that microphone, red rose pinned to her lapel, awkward and adorable. Siri doesn’t remember Annie Hall and offers me the opportunity to buy some film of the same name starring Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn. You always hated Chevy Chase. I had a soft spot for Three Amigos but tended to keep quiet about it.

Hey Siri. Play something new. We’re past the pleasantries of what can I help you with now. Straight to business.

Which new ?

Option one is Star Wars: A New Hope. Who says algorithms can’t know you ? Of course that’s what I’d choose in almost any other circumstance but it’s not going to help tonight. You love that film. I prefer Empire Strikes Back, ever the connoisseur, but it was always “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” and “you came in that, you’re braver than I thought” for you. Two questions in and we’re still stuck in the late 70s and I’m still stuck with memories of you.

Hey Siri. Give me something borrowed. I change tack slightly. Conversation with my phone isn’t playing out quite how I wanted. What did I expect ? A curated cure-all list of content custom crafted for circumspection and forgetting ? An abbreviated alliterative  approach to answering angst through algorithmic artificial intelligence ?

Two options. Two films both called “Something Borrowed”. Way to go there Siri. I click on one of them and it promises a story of Rachel, a successful attorney, and also a loyal and generous friend. She is, alas, still single. After one too many at her 30th birthday (we’ve all been there Rachel) she ends up in bed with her long term crush Dex (okay, so we’ve not all been there). Dex, it turns out, is engaged to her best friend… I have not seen this movie. We, certainly, would never have gone to see this movie although, ironically, you did  sleep with my best friend so perhaps it would have been helpful. Some involuntary twitch, popcorn spiralling into the air during a scene that was a little too close to home. Maybe it’d have prefaced some guilt induced confession. Maybe we’d have been sleeping together afterwards and lost in the moment you’d have called out “Dex” in faint ecstatic desperation and I’d have pieced together that all was not well. My name is not Dex for the avoidance of doubt.

Hey Siri. Play something blue.

Hmm. I’m not finding anything called “something blue”.

Play blue.

The phone screen fades black before a woman’s face fills the screen, blue grey, frozen in silent contemplation. Joni. I say a silent prayer that Siri has picked this ahead of boy band Blue’s “All Rise” which I suspect is lurking somewhere in my iTunes folder. That was you. You liked Blue and Take That and Five (or technically, if stupidly, 5ive) and all of that chart fodder for kids that don’t know any better and grown ups that wish they didn’t. I like Joni. Depressing as shit. Isn’t that what you said ? Joni and Bob and Leonard and Neil and Carole and Warren. All dismissed. I played you “Big Yellow Taxi” once to try and convert you by stealth. Said you preferred the Counting Crows version. That should have been enough. I should have slept with John then, saved you the bother of doing it. Paved paradise and put up a parking lot. You said it Joni. You said it.

Hey Siri. Play something old. Play something new. Play something borrowed. But mostly, right now, just play “Blue”.

 

The storm

Someone scrubbed out the sky. We arrived under endless clear blue and departed beneath muted grey, almost dissolving and discolouring to white. As if the colour was a mistake, erased. Or perhaps drained away: we have used all of our colour today and there is none left for the sky. The details on the horizon remain, the tree line picked out in sharp focus against the grey-white backdrop. It’s like a child’s drawing that started from the earth, penciling in a road, some cars, headlights reflecting and refracting in the rain, making it as far as the midline of the page and trees on the horizon but then leaving the sky blank. Or did the sky simply wash itself out ? All its colour weeping across the earth, falling in torrents of rain ?

We ascribe meaning to meteorology on days like today. We arrive bathed in sunshine, hot and anxious in unfamiliar suits and collars, and you depart under a cloudless sky. We then depart and the storm breaks; the sky is spent, its facade crumbles and it denies us sun and permits us only rain. The storm will last a good and terrible while yet. I think we know this and we dig in, hunker down in its eye and listen to the relentless drum of rain on pavement, the gurgle of over worked drains struggling to clear the deluge, and watch the battering of the leaves on stoic trees. The leaves will submit and fall as summer fades to autumn, as seasons renew, as the world turns.

We submit and fall in the storm as our summer fades to autumn. We will renew but not yet, not so quickly or implacably as the world turns. It can turn awhile without us. We will wait for the storm to blow itself out and for the colour to return to our sky.

 

……

This is for my mum, my best and most loyal reader.

Doubt

The church sat atop a sea of freshly fallen snow, looming out of the dusk as Sean approached. The previous night’s storm had blanketed the graveyard and had covered the winding path up to the front door. Sean’s footprints followed him in a straight line: the most direct route to God was across the dead.

He stamped his feet clean of powder once he was inside and paused to compose himself. It was as cold in the church as outside but at least he was out of the wind. Flickering candles picked out the altar, rows of silent pews, a font, but gave up little heat. He hadn’t expected to feel the warmth of the Lord’s love but its absence disappointed him nonetheless. Stepping into the confessional he awkwardly made the sign of the cross as he sat down.

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. My last confession was…” He faltered. He couldn’t recall how long it had been since he’d confessed. It was a habit he’d slipped out of after he’d married Aoife and especially after Mary had been born. She’d been a difficult one, arriving early and struggling through her first few months, beset by illness. They’d almost lost her a couple of years ago in the winter of ’33. She was gripped with fever and he, Aoife, Dr O’Halloran and Margaret, his new health visitor, had sat with her in shifts, wrapping her in cool towels. Father Flynn had come down from the church and sat with them, leading the prayers. Twice she’d stopped breathing. Both times Margaret had revived her, forcing breath back into her lungs even as Flynn began his final administering.

“It’s alright Sean. Take your time. You’ve been through a lot.” The priest spoke in a reassuring but firm, low tone.

“My last confession was three years ago, Father. Before the wedding. Before the wedding and now, here we are, after the funeral. Perhaps if I’d come more often ? Been more diligent ?”

“God forgives. He sees the repentant man and he forgives. He didn’t take Aoife from us because your faith was found wanting Sean.” Flynn sighed. He had never had cause to question his own resolute belief and he sometimes wondered if some understanding of doubt would better equip him to bring the waverers in his congregation back into the fold.

 

“I know Father. That’s why I must confess.” There was a long pause as both men sat in silence. One searching for the right words, the other giving him the time to find them. Sean lowered his voice to barely a whisper. “I knew she was messing around. I saw the way he looked at her. James Ryan. Up from Cork originally he was. Always boasting about how he’d be leaving for America one day. It was hard for her, you know ? I was at the school all day and she never really took to motherhood. When we nearly lost Mary something changed in her, it was like she was scared of getting too close to her again. When I found out about the baby… Found out it was his…” Sean broke off, shaking his head. A sudden draught made the candles in the church leap and lean, some of them blew out and the confessional pitched further into darkness.

“What did you do child ?” asked Flynn.

“I took her to that place in Ennis,” he answered softly. “The parlour of Parnell Street, that’s what they call it. No questions asked. Pay your money and your wife’s mistake goes away and you never speak of it again. Except something went wrong. Was that your God, Father ? Was that his punishment for her for adultery ? Or for both of us for killing the baby ? Is that why he took her as well ?”

They both sat silently for a long time before Flynn offered up a prayer and talked of penance. He remained in his seat long after Sean had left. Against all that he’d been taught, against all that he knew, this was the worst sin he’d borne witness to. It was an affront to God. And yet, sitting there in the dark, he felt the first pinch of something new. Doubt.

 

……

This is story 26 in a series of 42 to raise money and awareness for the mental health charity Mind. My fundraising page is here and all donations, however small, are really welcome: http://www.justgiving.com/42shorts

This one, like number 25, also came from an unlikely source. It’s actually part of a longer sequence of stories I’m involved in with my writing group – I’ll add a link when they’re complete. Consequently it’s not typical for me in either style or theme. But I’ll take them where I can find them…