|Pádraig, Sé do Bheatha Bhaile
Author: Salvatore Paradise PM
Examining the what-ifs of a classical 'Night of Experimentation of Celtic Music' in a tavern-scene; set amidst the backdrop of uneasy Hiberno-English relations in the late 20th centuryRated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Words: 6,424 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 2 - Published: 01-14-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2882103
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Pádraig, Sé do Bheatha Bhaile
As was so often his want, Mr Patrick O'Mathers, beleaguered Irishman, was habitually, and punctually, late. Having awoken at precisely 10:18 AM, yawning and cynical, he had determined to gap his tardiness to a 9 AM soiree by only two hours, and had since gotten himself cleaned and shaven and dressed and encroaching sobriety while simultaneously giving vent to the most extreme of details a sudden and largely unprovoked suicide might entail. Exactly one half-hour later, on the steppes of Barney Ha'Penny's tastefully sallow pub, Mr O'Mathers had with his remaining dozen minutes, at last reached a achieved a conclusive and rough mental sketch of his self-immolation and proceeding aftermath.
His fellow lodgers would of course be questioned once his remains had been scraped from the cobblestones of Marlborough Street. Was Mr. O'Mathers exhibiting any signs of guilt or burden? Had Mr. O'Mathers been experiencing feelings of loss, loneliness, rejection, or neglect? Was Mr. O'Mathers experiencing despondency, apathy, or a lack of desire? Was Mr. O'Mathers known to consume any harmful substances prior to his death? Wrigley Wallace, Patrick's bulbous-faced roommate, an outrageously thin man who wore boy-sized suits and held a sprightly full-forward position in amateur's hurling, would smirk at that. "He drank too much. Even for an Irishman." That would settle things very nicely. Suicide certainly wasn't a rarity among musicians and even less of one among writers, two hobbies Patrick dabbled in but considered only the latter to be a profession.
From there things would proceed rather smoothly: there would be his perfunctory obituary in the Times, his publisher would be notified of the indefinite delay of his third book (likely a posthumous collection of scrapped lectures and translated passages jammed between book covers to sell all of fifty copies). Simon and John O'Mathers would be contacted and condoled with greatest sympathies, but they would groan and claim they had seen it coming years ago. Funeral proceedings and reservations might be cause for some unrest, everyone wanting to get in the ground between June and August when the dirt was still warm. Notwithstanding the graveyard traffic, Simon as the dutiful eldest (perhaps feeling some guilt for not talking to his youngest brother for over eight years) would take care of the putrefied-liquefaction-via-anaerobic-bacteria mahogany airtight casket on the side of the Cunningham's grassy death-knoll. There would be the €450 to €550 marble or granite tombstone inscribed with "casual inksplotcher," or "keyplinking dabbler," and this testament would be read over the course of the proceeding minutes before the guests filed away in eager anticipation of a free reception. (Of course, the parsimony of two poorly educated brothers might be cause for a slight emendation, and "guests" will thereby be prefixed with the word sparse, to indicate the nature of these two relations). Wrigley Wallace would likely have a new roommate by August, and McLittell Publishers would sign a new lecturer/writer before October (one who wrote beyond the limitations of early Irish natives and their orally transmitted polytheistic mythologies between the first and third centuries BCE). With luck, the tidy ends of his life would be wrapped up and done away with by November and certainly before Christmas.
However the intricate plan was dismissed once the necessitated suicidal preliminaries had been taken into account. It was, simply too much work an irresponsible writer could afford. One did not simply leap from buildings with intolerable cephalgia and expect all problems henceforth to be suddenly resolved. An untarnished and proper burial dictated at least some correspondence with the siblings, a pitch of the rent, a courtesy letter to McLittell and perhaps one to leave on his bedside table, maybe a phone call to his mother, and certainly a thorough scanning of the good Book to ensure that Peter would at least have the decency to give him a pitiable once-over before leveling him to instantaneous damnation.
What had proved only slightly easier than snuffing it was three cups of syrupy hazelnut coffee and a rather terse conversation with Wrigley Wallace. Nasally, curt speech regarding Patrick's piano-playing at Kiernan's last night (that would explain the headache), that chunky gobshite Damian who played half-back with a splintered hurly, and the so-often reiterated rant concerning Patrick's rubbishy folktales and heroes. He wondered vaguely if a messy end would be easier than sustaining the man's voice and concluded, once he had finished his coffee, that it was for attitudes and thoughts such as these that he was so often labeled a cynic.
Still, he thought as he began his walk to Barney's, it was better to have everything planned out just in case the day did come that he could no longer endure listening to that fat-faced full-forward.
At the intersection of Ormond Quay and Capel Street, the moistened bricks of Barney's pub gleamed in the rare Dublin sunlight, and a flow of casual go-abouters signaled the buzz of Monday morning. As always Patrick's writerly ear piqued in curiosity to the thousand blended sounds and sights that the rich streets offered him each day. The sharp smell of salt from the Liffey that conjured a feeling of nostalgia; the odor of discarded breakfasts, soda bread and toast and bacon and bits of egg, was infiltrating.
On Bachelors Walk, just behind Patrick, St. Stephen's hotel was under siege by legions of gulls carrying off bits of chewed lamb, garlic potato skins, and ornamental lettuce. Their forces mustered and vied for power on the Liffey curb under the careful scrutinization of cross-armed Americans wearing sunglasses and no-nonsense Orientals brandishing Polaroid cameras. Redheaded children instigated war amongst the gathered birds by brandishing uneaten stalks of bacon. The legions of furred adjutants balkanized with squabbles, assaulted greased mushroom discards and breakfast tomatoes with greed, and quickly disbanded at the first sign of a kick.
The tussle continued without Patrick's oversight as he dazedly regarded the pub before stepping through the doorway. A bright orange glow emanated surreally into his semi-consciousness and lingered until he forced his eyes downward. When he raised them again the light had dimmed and he spotted at once a corpulent Englishman in the far left corner whom he knew to be his rendezvous: Mr Connors.
The name resounded for a moment in disdaining memory. He had met the man once before at an Eason & Sons bookstore in Galway on the tour of his second publication. Connors had been lecturing in Connaught at the time and received the perfunctory invite from Murphy McLittell, Connors's half-brother and uneasy relation, to hear Patrick speak of the romance in the paganism of early Irish brutality. Patrick remembered the man as an intolerable talker, a pretentious glutton who reveled in the sound of his own voice, and a British Priapus who believed in the glorification of his own satyriasis as a crux for breakfast conversation.
Yet Connors had gone much further than mere sex. He had half-heartedly jested at the impotence of the Irish in establishing a sophisticated form of art. Dancing was thus dubbed "an amusing endeavor that carried the beat of horse hooves and the movement of mummies;" literature was the "faerie-squabbling of drunken men," as well as the "aggressive explosion of tired and shapeless words;" and music became the "charming druid beats that preserved every form and characteristic of the primitive culture."
Yet Patrick had torn from his mind the influence of Connors's words and flushed away all the ensuing images of dancers and literary excerpts and found only a picturesque mental image of the Dingle peninsula: brilliantly lit green fold, sprinkled with tiny cairns, fading into white shores and blue sounds.
It was not often he recollected with such fervor those primitive and impressionable years of his life where he had lived in the shadow of the Brandon Mountain in Dingle and explored in depth the vast landscape that had inspired his pursuits in the studies of old Erin.
Naturally, he was aware that he had drawn his love of mythology from the rural beauty of the land. Every hillock he saw was the severed head of some mighty mountain, shorn off in some drunk boast of the Gods. He followed, sometimes for miles, every river or brook that he discovered in the hope that he'd stumble upon the Children of Lir, melancholy yet beautiful swans entrapped in their watery abode for nine hundred years. He regularly took to seeing the monstrous silhouettes of the Fir Bholg, the demon armies of primeval Ireland, in the rocky outcrops that surrounded the Brandon Mountain, and he learned to harden his courage with the knowledge that King Nuadha of the Silver Hand and his Tuatha Dé Danann stood firm and valiant with him.
Yet never before had he grasped Erin's striking vivacity, its perilously daunting cloud-slicing power, its promise of bloody adventure and danger and discovery, or its simple terror, than in that moment with Connors. He felt the cocksure claims of the Englishman thrown back with every dramatic sweep of green field multiplied hundredfold by the power of the Irish pantheon.
This was precisely the reason why Patrick had been able to ignore the man and even smile at his so-called jests. Connors was violating the honor of a country whose passion and drama and intrigue were found amid cliffs, fields, waters, and mountains, and what's more was that the man was charging into an army of primitive and majestic Celtic gods and goddesses entirely unaided and blinded in the arrogance of his land's outspoken eminence. Then it was pity, decided Patrick, pity that the man who claimed the land had no art or music was going to become the flayed Marsyas to Ireland's Apollo, and all due to a flagrant hubris.
"Only pity though," thought Patrick, and he took the seat across from the gorging Englishman in Barney's pub. When Mr. Connors had wiped clean his fingers stained with fish-grease and proffered them to Patrick, his expression was one of intriguing, albeit feigned, humility. More than a passing thought of Patrick's suggested that this was due in part to the conclusiveness of their last rendezvous back in Galway, however that had been more than a year ago.
Connors even stifled, with a polite refusal of the hand, Patrick's prepared apology for his incredible tardiness. "No, my dear Mr. O'Mathers, I understand of course the busy schedule of a musician, as you I'm sure are well aware of, and there are no need for such apologies. No, what I am here to talk to you about is something that will be of the greatest significance to you as well as to me, and as such I believe I can hardly bear the delay of an apology." Mr. Connors sat back in his chair, bemused, as Patrick watched the humility of Connors give way to a small grin of knowing triumph.
"Something about you that I saw the first time we met, Patrick, struck a chord within me and I have been unable to get the note out of my head ever since. You're passionate. You're educated. You don't make bloody near more than a pence for your work. I read your books since our last meeting too, and I believe there is something of great value to your country that I may be able to give. You see I have undertaken a great experiment in the field of classicism, classical music, you might have gathered from my profession, and it hinges entirely upon your cooperation. No doubt you have realized that your country is a country of indigenous folk artists spreading folk melody. Your tiny orchestrations might have satisfied whatever music needs your country craved, however they are nothing in the face of the growth that British classicism has seen. Surely you must realize that your pipers and fiddlers have nothing to offer the world in comparison to the music of Handel or Holst?'
Mr. Connors paused, waiting for Patrick's nod.
"Please bear in mind, Mr. O'Mathers; this is not meant as a jab to your dear Ireland. It is a simple observation gathered from an analysis of popular and worldwide tastes, trends, et cetera. Thus said, I shall be frank. Ireland, Mr. O'Mathers, carries no power in the world of music. Modern music, perhaps. Yet the foundation of music, the pillars that gave berth to those now supposedly 'antiquated' measures of art, is lacking.
"And it is for this precise reason that I have taken upon myself this extraordinary project, sacrificing months and months of time as well as what possibly might be my very reputation, towards my night of experimentation in Celtic music. Such an undertaking has always been a great desire of mine, however it has only been in this past year that I truly set my desires upon the actuality of a Celtic classical night, which in a month to this very day, will make its bold premiere. Of course it is also out of my own musical vanity that I should wish for this night to resound forever in Ireland's future musical histories. You as a pianist will, I'm sure, recall America's Experimentation in Modern Music and what that night did for Mr. Gershwin?"
"I expected as much. I confess also that that historic night has served as my inspiration for this project of mine. And just as Rhapsody in Blue soon established itself as the foundation of Gershwin's serious musical career on that night, so will my experimentation in Celtic music secure you a place of equal and possibly greater splendor."
Pleased with himself, Mr. Connors sat back in his chair and let his thick fingers form a steeple on the table. "You, Mr. O'Mathers," he said with finality, "will write me Ireland's very first opera. You will draw from the extensive musical expertise you possess, and, with the mythology on which you so expertly lecture, you will give your country a new Tuatha Dé Danaan; a revitalized Táin Bó Cúalnge; a modern Cù Chulainn. And in addition to this opportunity, a substantial advancement awaits your signing of the contract that I guarantee will far outweigh the revenues your publications have garnered."
Obviously satisfied with this delivery, Mr. Connors assumed his look of triumph, and his cathedral of fingers melted away. A moment of silence passed between the two men, a moment Connors had obviously been expecting and therefore awaited with calm reserve in anticipation of Patrick's reaction.
When the silence was finally broken, it was by Patrick's burst of shallow-throated laughter. Mr. Connors maintained his smile even as Patrick's laughter progressed. The polite smile remained during the subsiding outbreak. When at last his laughter had fully died, Patrick placed a hand on his head to silence the ensuing throbs and peered up to view the still-smiling Mr. Connors.
"Although I do appreciate such a grand opportunity, I'm afraid that musical writings are simply not my profession, Mr. Connors. I am sorry that you have been mistaken."
It was the Englishman's turn to laugh; an offsetting chortle that caused the nostrils to flare and release a sound much akin to a whinny.
"No my dear Mr. O'Mathers, I'm quite sure I have found the right man for the job. You see I have been quite interested in your work for some time, ever since dear Richard first signed you as a writer in fact, and you possess a rare and invaluable eloquence in your words that I thought had faded long ago with the early masters of language. However what I later found when I was reading your work was that language has simply migrated: first from Greece, then to Rome, to Italy, and now to Ireland."
Connors settled himself into a more comfortable position. Patrick regarded him placidly, retaining a mask of implacable stoniness that juxtaposed his outburst just moments ago. A deep suspicion, however, was welling in Patrick.
"Now what initially led me to this attraction was an article I read some time ago, before our meeting in Galway in fact, that concerned itself with the Celtic hybrid monsters and their relations with the distorted beasts of Dante's Inferno. Unfortunately, I caught little of what point you were trying to make between the two, yet I could not help myself from finding my focus elsewhere: namely on your fearlessness in wordplay and in the dramatic strength of your words. Whatever it was you were saying, you said it gorgeously. I confess that I was unable to find another copy of that article after I had discarded it, yet I'm sure that you will remember your own work with much more clarity than I can describe.
"However it is not to this article that I wish to divert your attention, for I noticed a similar play with language in your two publications, the first of which I didn't care much for. You will understand that a musician of my standing must invest his time with the utmost care and wisdom, and as much as I would have liked to have reread and attempted to understand that wonderful native language from which you quote so extensively, I had pressing matters that simply could not afford further delay. Yet content, no matter how fabulously interesting, was not my chief concern in undertaking a reading of your work. Rather, I took the same approach with your article as I did with both of your more extensive works, and even the shallow readings I did on all three publications has served me well in the end, for I saw, what I will swear to be, a fledgling musician emerging from that mountain of text. Aestheticism, my dear O'Mathers; the music in words; the flavour of sounds; the tone of a well-crafted sentence. All are techniques which you possess and need only to set to instrumentation in order to achieve the opera.'
Silence passed as Mr. Connors stuck a thick cigarette in his mouth and fumbled for a match. In the excitement of his talk, his hands had begun to quiver, and faint signs of perspiration were shining on his forehead and emanating in dark globes under his armpits.
"It is an understanding of musicians," he continued after spitting a mouthful of smoke, "that however far we wish to divulge into the meaning in our work, our primary emphasis is on the aesthetics of our craft. This of course does not mean that we forsake one aspect of the art entirely and convey solely meaning or solely harmony: it is rather treated as a perilous continuity; a likeness to the narrative poem, if you will. Now, these basic concepts aside, let me explain to you the formation of the opera, no more complex, I assure you: merely proportioned in a different manner."
Excusing himself for a brief moment, Patrick left the table and returned with a glass of bubbling soda which he sipped absentmindedly. Mr. Connors scrutinized the uncharacteristic beverage with a frown before crowning the table in a wreath of expelled smoke.
"The two-act tragic opera is comprised of story, or a piece of story, entirely dramatized and rigorously affixed to melody. I shall assume that you have heard opera before?"
Bowed before his beverage, Patrick gave no sign of acknowledgment.
"Of course you have. And no doubt you have seen the relation between your own work and the art that I now speak of. Now, you have realized that conversation in opera proceeds rather quickly, and only in moments of profound emotion does the singer release this in an aria; pieces of defining action, sudden decision. Liken them to a sung soliloquy, if this representation aids you. Arias are often separated between extensive scenes of dialogue and change. Mind you, the drama that dialogue creates is crucial in ensuring that the aria does not come before the character has experienced profound turmoil and thereby needs the music to express a sort of catharsis."
Exasperated, perhaps by the vapid tedium in his own voice, Mr. Connors relinquished himself to the pleasures derived from his cigarette, and suddenly acknowledged the bowed Patrick before him.
"But my silent friend, this is hardly the moment to begin in matters of the piece itself and as such, I'll refrain myself from further digression." Abandoning the cigarette to his plate, Mr. Connors reached for a small book bag shielded in the shadow of the pub's orange light, and drew from it a gilded contract, which he placed delicately on the table, carefully distanced from the plate of discarded fish. "At least until we have concluded some business," he finished.
The gesture of such factitious, practiced professionalism; the glib movement of the hands in producing the ready contract; the stoic self-assurance that Mr. Connors's every action boasted; the air of conscious self-importance: every aspect of the man sitting before Patrick bespoke of every professional career save that of an artist. Those who possessed the genius Connors flattered himself with simply did not behave this way. And Connors had even gone so far as to admit his own egotism, his own preoccupation with vanity over his own desire to create. Draining half of his beverage, Patrick instantly felt his headache lighten. His nausea lessened. His face remained in a limbo bordering indifference and boredom.
He returned the contract delicately. "I said before, Mr. Connors, you have the wrong man for this kind of work."
Mr. Connors' smile did not so much as flicker. "Mr. O'Mathers, if it is a question of the advancement−"
"No, sir, the advancement is quite hefty, and more than triples the revenues from both of my books. However your project is simply not in my line of work, despite what you might have thought about what works of mine you have read."
"Well then if this is a matter with your publisher, I assure you Richard is in full support of this piece and will accommodate any deadline you need for your future publications and lectures. All preparations including necessary travel costs and crew expenses have been taken care of. We await only for you to write the piece."
"It is not a matter of preparation, or even of time, Mr. Connors," Patrick said, surprised that his initial decline of the offer had had no visual affect on the man's projected confidence. "It is a matter of identity. I am simply not the man whom you thought me to be. No matter how dramatic or musical my language may be, I simply cannot write what you wish me to write."
Patrick made to gather his coat which he had draped over his chair during the course of their rendezvous. Mr. Connors, strangely, sat quite still, with a smile.
"I pride myself in solving riddles like you, Patrick," he said.
Patrick halted at the suddenly intimate tone of Connors's voice. It was not the voice of the stoical egotistic pseudo-artist proposing a depredating venture. It was not the voice of a man whose conceit far outweighed his knowledge. It was Mr. Connors, a hardened-eyed, still-smiling, non-gorging Mr. Connors, talking to Patrick with the stern, commanding voice of a true professional. The transition, so sudden, struck Patrick like a thunderbolt. "When I'm not writing," he continued. "I even make a profession of it."
"What?" said Patrick, fixated hesitantly amid his rise.
"I can respect a man like you, Patrick, I really can." Connors clasped his hands on the table, and allowed an entirely new expression of seriousness to pass his face. "You're not motivated by fear, or greed, or altruism. You're a conundrum. A man who claims he has no desires because even he is unaware of his wants. My dear Patrick, you are a perfect find; the challenge I've come to expect of far too many clients, all of whom have disappointed me."
Connors withdrew his red packet of cigarettes and offered it to Patrick.
Patrick never smoked.
His fingers quivered as he slid an orange stick from Connors's proffered box, slightly weathered, marked Dunhill. Quite comfortable even with Patrick towering above him, Mr. Connors struck a match with deliberation and offered it politely to his guest before resuming, cordially.
"Because you offer so much, you are a man who should, and is meant to be, understood. And the understanding I have stumbled upon; an understanding I believe to be quite correct, fascinating, and quite appropriate for the artist that you are, I must say."
Patrick did not fumble for words because no words could have escaped his lips at that moment. In that instant, he sat immobilized, engaged in his thoughts, for what seemed to him like hours. In the course of his conversation with Connors, his thoughts had shifted so drastically that he was physically impaired by his own throat to so much as utter a statement. He had been prepared to unload his maxims on Connors; to denounce the man as a petty philanthropist seeking the instant glorification inherent of works of pseudo-merit; to label him as a desperate overseer over the "slaves" of the Irish citizenry, so named through each derisive gesture of his own contemptuous narcissism; to accuse him of shamefully working to downgrade the folk melody of Ireland into the conformed musical spawn of Western Europe. He would have sat up, refocillated in renewed self-discovery and in sudden, complete patriotism. "Erin doesn't want your classicism," he would have stated to a sordid and unprofessional Mr. Connors, flustered with defeat. "She doesn't need it."
Now, this fantasy yielded along with all of Patrick's maxims. What would it mean to denounce Connors as a philanthropist; as a non-artist, as an overseer to Irish originality, and a hamper to Irish growth? This new supreme self-assurance, this knowing smirk of the deepest secrecy now splayed across the lips of Connors as if by the brush stroke of da Vinci himself, even the proposal of the opera to Patrick, gave reason to a truth Patrick had only now realized: that Mr. Connors was not, and had never been, deceived, even by his own glibness.
He knew that he was no artist. He knew that his activism in this profession was a living insult to a religion that so many had sacrificed for. He knew that, single-handedly, the respect of himself alone was enough to determine whether or not the rest of the world saw Irish artistic development, and he was of course aware of the supreme irony in that he wore not even the facade of a true creator and yet was indebted for his outstanding contributions to the artistic world.
So shameful and disgusting was this irony however, that Patrick no longer had the power to tear himself from his place. He was quite wholly ensnared.
He took his seat.
"What do you know of artists?" he asked after a moment's silence.
"I know all that I need to know of them, Patrick," came the response. "I know what they appear to be to most people. And I, like most people, know how to manipulate them." Connors's voice was not cold. It was not anything. "Now do you wish me to continue?"
Patrick slurped his painfully sweet beverage, swallowing pent-up vomit, and did not answer. Head bowed in this self-induced chastising, there was no greater sign of supplication he could have given at that moment. He hated himself for it; he hated himself because he was afraid; he hated his fear, and because of his hatred, he continued to drink.
"The truth, Patrick, is that you want to find something worth wanting. What you desire is desire itself, but more important is what you want as a product of your desire: a why. Why you make the sacrifice to your country that will never appreciate the culture that they've lost; that will never appreciate the sacrifice you're making to restore it. Why you have this misplaced sense of patriotism that leads you to this sacrifice for art, for the people. Why you have such a desire to redeem Ireland; to protect Her from invaders, peddlers, philanthropists, when you have not the faintest idea what Ireland truly is. And can you answer even that, Patrick. Can you tell me what Ireland is?'
"A country," he said.
"A byproduct," corrected Connors. "A byproduct of ideas gathered from Rome, from the Normans, Vikings, Tudors, and from modern Great Britain. And at the same time, it is an archaeological find of culture. Backwash and treasure.
"And only one of these things can be solicited.
"You see why I am here now, Patrick. Not for Ireland, not for the 'country' you claim Ireland to be. I am here to turn a profit in the untouched spoils of this archaeological capital; to delve into the unexplored caverns of ingenuity. And of course, I need a man who knows the land; who can tell me where to place my shovel; who speaks the native language that will rally my support. Who will reap the profits because of the blood that flows through him."
A glimmer of eagerness and insidious cunning flashed in Connors' eyes, and Patrick was stricken by their sudden, brilliant, potency. "Try to repudiate this proposition and these claims I make, Patrick, and you will see that all attempts fail. Ireland stopped being Ireland the day they shirked their religion to Saint Patrick. And on that day, dear Patrick, you were born. You lived by the idea that Ireland could free itself from the clutches of society, and once freed, that it could rebuild what had been before and become a true country; autonomous in its ideas, a country in and of itself.
"But Ireland doesn't want this. Ireland gave up her religion; Ireland gave up her freedom; Ireland gave up her language. Ireland gave up Ireland. Ireland cannot be salvaged by Ireland."
The cigarette dilapidated in Patrick's hand. Had the glowing orange end of the piece been thrust into his hand, doubtless he would have felt nothing; so concentrated were his eyes in Connors'.
"So Ireland cannot be salvaged, but of course as I have already stated, that does not mean that nothing can. Artifacts and antiques have market. What's more is that, beyond their wonder, they are even practical, quite astonishing, considering that they have been out of use for quite some time. And you, you are quite the proprietor of these relics, are you not? An expert of the language, of the mythology, even of the music; why Patrick, you yourself would make quite the relic, if the practice were not so out-of-times."
The conversation was drawing to a close. The gleam left Connors' eyes of his own accord. As if from a daze, Patrick took a survey of his surroundings, of the cigarette that had unconsciously left his hand, and of his hands themselves, which were quivering.
"Yet you see now what I offer you; what why you have been given," Mr. Connors said, concluding. "You will become hero, patriot, respected citizen. You will achieve that which all artists clamor for, but that so few achieve."
Standing, Mr. Connors gathered his coat. Nonchalantly, he placed too many euros for the bill. Easily, he assumed the lives of an obese British salesman, and musician, and uneasy half-brother, all in one. Confiding, he whispered into Patrick's ear before he disappeared out the doorway.
The word was too much.
Patrick crumpled to the table. He crumpled under the weight of the entire interview. Under these sudden and so freely given realizations. Under his trepidation that Mr. Connors was right about Ireland. Under his fear that this was his why. Under his fears that his life was a shallow exercise of deceit. Under his shame that he could offer nothing of a rebuttal. Under his shame that he knew he could do nothing. He crumpled under the weight of his submission.
When the reviews had shown in the papers the morning of June 17, Mr. Connors had given one of his chortles of amused laughter at his conclusion of the review on page A15. In the days that followed, whenever he heard the phrase "Connors's blunder" as well as the pitiful ratings given the performance by the spectators in his audience from malicious reporters, he brushed the matter aside and replied with a laugh."Gentlemen, I never promised success. It was as I have always stated it to be: an endeavor and a study. I have garnered precisely what I wanted from this little experiment of mine, and I regret nothing."
Indeed, Connors could regret nothing, because he had achieved everything he had aimed for. Ireland had been spoilt for any future onlooker; the metaphorical "caverns" and "stones" delved into and turned over to the point that any rival "archaeologist" would look elsewhere for his cache. And the tidy profit that emerged into Connors' waiting hands provoked a good laugh from the man, once his calculations put him to the realization that he had garnered more from donations, advertisements, and fundraisers, than from the actual goods.
When the subject of the opera entered the conversation, Connors took full responsibility for its colossal failure, in very good humor. The four-week deadline was mentioned in reviews extensively, as were the amateur abilities of its writer, whose music was said to "inspire something like Handel only without the glory or the celebration." The cast was described as carrying "hardly any bearing to the gods and goddesses of the Celts" and were "quiet and bland; possessing voices as innocuous as the purr of a kitten."
The sets were described as "towering, yet decorated in the shallow colours of a clouded sunset." Hardly mobile, they stood in awkward pairing with the equally immobile cast, and accentuated the dryness of the performance rather than enhance it. According to Mr. Connors, this was to illustrate the omnipresence of the somberness of Ireland, whose mythologies mostly end in deep sadness. Yet Mr. Connors had concluded that the decision was ultimately reliant upon Mr. O'Mathers, whom he had attempted to contact and whose efforts had failed.
Three weeks later, Mr. Connors took a sabbatical to Russia, and his part in the venture was forgotten almost entirely a week later.
When the Irish Times had sought a rendezvous for further elaboration, Patrick O'Mathers was not available for interview.
He had relinquished himself to the silent, uninterrupted pleasures to be derived from his apartment on Eden Quay, and had taken to consuming copious amounts of vodka during the mornings. In the afternoons and on most nights, Wrigley Wallace had attempted to rouse his roommate but had eventually let Patrick succumb to the deep, loud sleep that whiled away the days into stretches of five to six hours. The guzzling of the vodka so early in the following morning was, if anything, an assurance to Patrick in that he would fall asleep sooner rather than later. He found the new beverage appropriate: it had neither the bitterness of the beer which he could no longer stomach, nor the sweetness of soda. He abhorred the taste, yet found it a useful whitewash of his palette, which could no longer taste much else than the pungent vodka, so many times had the mouth been reconfigured.
After two weeks, he no longer received phone calls from Mr. Connors. Three weeks following the performance, Wrigley Wallace had deposited a letter next to the sleeping Patrick that had been forwarded from Lomonosov, St Petersburg, which contained a check signed from the Englishman for €20,000. While yet to be cashed, it had wormed its way between several dozen envelopes and become entirely forgotten by its recipient.
Patrick would have burned the check had he found it.
The night was for him, worse than any defeat any general could have suffered in battle, worse than a failed novel, or a failed performance, or, indeed, failure itself.
It was an utter betrayal.
It had been voluntary submission, self-aggrandizement, a failure beyond failures, and now, clear proof to the rest of the world that Ireland was the puerile daughter whose maturity was, to say the least, very eventual. The thought of such single-handed destruction, and all in one cataclysmic night, disgusted Patrick. It was a maggot of a thought tearing through his mind, piece by piece, binding him in the excruciating agony that was the betrayal that he had inflicted upon his country: the betrayal that necessitated his endless torment of his own glaring conscience.
Two days later, stooped in his punishment, clutching desperately his vodka, Patrick had uncovered, semi-consciously, the slightly bent and bound pages of the original director's opera libretto. The paper still smelled new. The ink, from a drop of discarded vodka, had been smeared at the title. Yet it was not this that drew Patrick's attention. He was staring at his own name, burned in stark, flagrant black: "Patrick Mathers." Just "Mathers." The "O" had been omitted. An idea of Connors. "You are writing a piece for Ireland, my dear Patrick," he had said, "but it is a piece of Ireland for the world. A double-edged Irish name suggests a wholly Irish possession. And it is only a simple 'O'," Connors had concluded with a grin. "There are plenty to go around in this country. Why, O'Mathers, too? I must say the name by itself is quite strange; and the dactyl is strictly superfluous." Patrick had agreed then.
He agreed now. "Superfluous."
A drop of vodka, traversing the length of the bottle, suddenly fell square onto the front page of the libretto, and perfectly aligned itself with the text of Patrick's name. The residual discharge lingered, a half-formed globe of transparence, and Patrick moved to brush it aside lest the ink smear further.
When he dabbed it with his finger, "Mathers" was once again alone.