By Mark Mulholland.
So it’s to the station bar in Dublin for a quick scoop between trains when who is it but Audrey Hepburn that walks in and stands at the counter.
‘Hello, Miss Golightly,’ I greet her.
She turns and views me and turns again.
‘A long coffee, please?’ she asks.
There is something about her look. It is a good look, but there’s more to it, though I don’t know what that more is, it’s just there. Capote said women like this appeal to a streak of the poet. Maybe that’s it.
I step closer and whisper, ‘so what’s a fine gal like you doin’ in a place like this?’ I’m ridiculous, silly, pathetic, but that’s the kind of form I’m in. Stupid really, but, well, there it is. So I’m going to give the lines, I’m going to play the part; I’m going to deliver the complete theatre. But even without the performance, she knows I want her; they always do. And though she is an older woman, I see she was beautiful, probably very beautiful. Although, can very beautiful be? I mean, is there a variance in beautiful? Can beautiful and very beautiful be two different measures? How would such a thing be calibrated? And against what standard? Isn’t beautiful an end thing, a completed quality? Like full? A thing can be empty, partly full, or full. But very full cannot exist, even if we think it or say it, because full is the limit of fullness possibility. And beautiful? Can a person be partly there? Sure. Though it can never be said, not directly anyway, like in oh hello there, aren’t you almost beautiful or nearly beautiful or aren’t you eighty-two percent beautiful. No, we can’t say it, even though, often, it is true. So if a person is beautiful we can tell them, no problem; but if someone is partly beautiful, oh let’s say sixty-three percent beautiful for example, we are compelled to lie and tell them they are beautiful or to say nothing at all and so they may as well be pug ugly and that isn’t true either because sixty-three percent is a fair way there. In a certain way, she is beautiful. She still has the body, but the skin shows and the eyes tell. She is, perhaps, in her late forties, fifties maybe. Though she could be an older thirty-something, life can do that. No, I don’t think so. No way. And, perhaps, she’s a younger sixty-something. But I’m guessing forties, no, more than that, let’s say fifty. Women can be tricky. She wears a short black dress over her slim body. She wears the softest baby-blue wool coat with elegance and style and so much loveliness I want to jump into it like they do on the television with cartoon drawings. She wears a black silk scarf. She wears black ankle boots. Not many older women can get away with a look like that. She can.
She finishes her coffee and makes to go. I stop her.
‘Why don’t you and I, Miss Golightly, hail a cab and go someplace where we can turn the light low?’ The lines are so dumb and stupid that she shakes her head, but smiles, and I reach across and touch the softness of the coat. ‘That is a beautiful coat,’ I tell her because it is true and I am not joking and I see she knows that.
We stay and chat and laugh and take a taxi ride to her house. It is neat with shiny furniture and photographs of children and family. I don’t ask.
Her light body can’t hold my energy and drive and she is shunted to the side of the bed and over and only her legs and arse remain on the bed and only because I hold onto that arse and she cries out and I do too and when we finish she climbs onto the bed and across me.
‘Hello, Miss Golightly,’ I say to her.
‘Sshhh, you crazy fool,’ she says, and she raises a hand and touches my mouth.
I look to her. She’s not Audrey Hepburn, of course.
She sleeps in the morning as I make coffee and check the train schedule. Behind me, a gap in the curtains allows a beam of sunrise through the kitchen and illuminates a photograph, the light bouncing from it, no not bouncing from it, that’s too much, but enveloping it, cradling it, if such a thing is possible. I walk over. She is there and, I guess, her husband or partner and two children, two girls. She is younger, ten years, maybe more, it is hard to tell. Behind me, I hear soft feet on hard floor.
‘This is wonderful,’ I tell her. ‘It is really lovely.’
‘All dead,’ she says. ‘All dead.’
‘How?’ I ask.
‘Car accident. Twelve years last month, the twenty-fifth, a Monday, six thirty-five on the North Road. Dry weather. No alcohol. No speeding. No reason. They were just going to dance practice.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I tell her.
‘We don’t know what death is,’ she says, ‘till it knocks on our door. And we don’t know what life is until death takes it away. And then, it’s too late.’ And she looks to me. ‘I thought you’d be gone.’
I shrug my shoulders, not knowing what to say, or do.
‘You can go,’ she says.
‘I’d rather stay.’
‘What about your train?’
‘There’ll be another train.’
I reach for her and she steps into that single beam of sunrise and I see her, I really see her, as if her whole self is carried in that light and I think her beautiful, no, not think, know, and I mean completely beautiful, full, no buts or qualifications or eighty-seven percent or any of that nonsense, just beautiful, simply so, and the strangest craziest thing happens and it has never happened before, but I know in that instant that everything is changed.
We decide on an outing and a walk is agreed and off we go on our four feet to no fixed course or agenda weaving here and there by Beggars’ Bush, Lansdowne, Ballsbridge, Serpentine, Claremont, Sandymount, Irishtown, Ringsend, Pidgeon House, Shelly Banks, Poolbeg, the Half Moon, and the Great South Wall.
‘The nomenclature of this small place was delivered by the Gods,’ I say.
‘Not the Gods,’ she says. ‘But those of a higher nature.’
‘Ah yeah?’ I ask ‘And who would they be?’
‘The poets,’ she tells me.
‘Well,’ I say, ‘there’s no arguing with that.’
The Great South Wall is a long finger of granite barrier that stretches into the deep, giving safe Dublin harbour from silting sands and the rough Irish Sea. Atop the coarse stone pier, a windy walk brings us two miles out to a red lighthouse. A big white boat passes heading for open water and into the spray, I launch out a romantic line of ships and sails and beauty and departures bound for England.
‘That’s a car ferry,’ she tells me.
‘It’s just that the song came onto me, sudden like,’ I tell her. ‘You know, that farewell thing by Roger Whittaker. The Dad is a big fan. Loves a bit of old Roger does the Dad. Do you know him at all?’
‘Do I know your father? Are you mad? Of course, I don’t know your father, you crazy fool.’
‘Not the Dad, Golightly. Roger old velvet voice Whittaker?’
‘Not sure. Don’t think so.’
‘Try to remember,’ I tell her.
‘Ah, only joking. Try to Remember was one of Roger’s big songs. Perry Como did it too. In fact, they all had a go at it. But the Dad says no one can beat Roger, says he’s the pure one.’
‘The pure one?’ she says. ‘I think I like the sound of your father. Perhaps you could fix me up with him.’
‘No can do,’ I have to tell her. ‘He’s fierce attached to the Mam. And, anyway, don’t you have me now?’
The Dad and Roger Whittaker thing goes on a bit and in the end, there is no option but to give the song an airing by the red lighthouse. For good measure, I give the Perry Como version a few bars, just so she might appreciate the subtleties in the variance.
She laughs when I finish and shakes her head. ‘Jesus,’ is all she says.
The ferry is well out to sea and the white wake has settled to grey roll when we bid farewell to the lighthouse and make for shore on the long wall.
‘I’m too old for you,’ she says.
‘You know,’ I say, ‘I have thought in this life that some stuff doesn’t matter, but, actually, it does. And I have thought other stuff does matter, but, actually, it doesn’t.’
‘I am twice your age,’ she says.
‘Yes, but every day I am catching up, relatively.’
‘Yes, every day the gap will close.’
‘That’s very sweet,’ she tells me. ‘But it doesn’t add up, relatively.’
I let it sit for a moment as I look on light carried on grey roll as waves fall and break on granite.
‘The whole relative business itself, doesn’t add up,’ I say, still looking to the water. ‘I mean, this relativity grasp. Well, it adds up, mathematically. It makes for equations and calculations that work out sweet and lovely. And they do great stuff, brilliant stuff, these physicists and astro-theoretical-cosmologist people; but, here’s the thing, it just doesn’t add up in the way the world works. Gravity, you know, that push and pull business, well, relativity says it is made from space and time. But is it? I’m not sure, because space is a thing, actual stuff, even if we don’t understand what that stuff is, you know, the stuff that holds the galaxies, the stuff that’s flinging everything out and away, oh I don’t know what it is, but it is not nothing, perhaps it’s the breath of existence, although it may be the wind of change, you know, to a Scorpions fan, blowing straight into the face of time and all that, though that was about glasnost in fairness. Music, Golightly, mad isn’t it? It’s the best of us. In any case, it’s a thing this space stuff. Space is a thing, an actual real thing, not a nothing, and it is jam-packed full of something. But time is not a thing, no way José, not a thing at all. It’s a measurement. It’s no more real than a mile or a yard or a kilogram. You can have a mile of road, or a yard of cloth, or a kilogram of sugar, but you can’t have just the measure. Like, you can’t buy a mile in a builder’s depot, or buy two grams in a shop, or lift a yard or a metre and put it in your pocket. It’s only an amount of something else altogether, just a measure. Time is not a thing. What has happened, has happened. It’s gone and cannot be visited. Not in a way that you could reach out and touch it. And what is to come, has yet to be. And it might not come at all, something else could arrive. Hello, it would say, surprise!! The whole thing is only probabilities, possibilities, and surprises. Nobody knows. Only now exists. And that’s not time, that’s just now. And it is all that is. I wouldn’t get so hung up on time. I wouldn’t get so hung up on age.’
She goes quiet, probably thinking the relativity issue out, like where she stands on gravity and the space-time thing and the breath of existence and stuff, or maybe she is a big fan of the Scorpions and I caught her off-guard with the Wind of Change space-stuff association. Who knows? Or maybe she has hopes on the time thing, perhaps she considers time travel some sort of an eventuality, and I’ve gone and messed that up. And so there is nothing for it but to give old Roger Whittaker another lash.
‘You really are one crazy fool,’ she says, so I keep the song going.
‘It’s not December,’ she says, catching a lyric and objecting. ‘It’s June.’
‘And what does that matter,’ I say, returning the objection to her. ‘That’s only time. And as we have already agreed, time isn’t a thing at all.’
We walk home along the poets’ pavements and have coffee and I leave telling her that she’ll have to brush up on a few tunes, that I’ll expect a better contribution the next time.
‘Go away,’ she tells me.
I take the train home and call in on the folks.
‘How’d you get on?’ the Dad asks.
‘Fantastic,’ I tell him. ‘I might have another convert to the one true prophet.’
‘Good man,’ he says. ‘That’s great work. The battle goes to the brave. You did well. Blessed are those who make truth for Roger Whittaker.’
The Mam enters. ‘How’d you get on?’ she asks.
‘Mighty,’ I tell her.
‘Is that right?’ she says, looking at me.
And I tell her I did a bit of work on gravity and the space-time thing out at a red lighthouse. ‘But it has me beaten,’ I tell her, ‘Fair and square, Mam, it has the better of me. Space, the push and pull of the cosmos, the breath of existence, the cradle of being, I just can’t figure it out.’
‘Some mysteries must remain beyond us,’ the Dad says. ‘If we knew the reason of, there’d be no reason for. Perhaps Roger has something on it, some gentle tune to soothe the perplexed; perhaps something from the great man could be put to such use. I’ll get working on it.’
‘And as for matter,’ I say. ‘I mean, what is it? The closer you look, the less sense it makes.’
‘It isn’t a test as such,’ says the Dad, now surfing the groove, now that he has a mission ahead of him. ‘Not as in some sort of exam. No, it’s more a case of work done, what was made from the possible, what was thought, what was imagined, what creation was offered back out.’
‘And don’t get me started on light,’ I say. ‘Or vibration. That’s a pure head wrecker.’
‘Pure, yes,’ the Mam says, stepping close and taking my arm. ‘And not vibration, but pulse and sound. And breath? Well, breath indeed. And light? You know, we don’t know what it is, but it’s all that is, and it’s so present that we miss it and it slips by.’
‘What?’ I ask her. ‘What is it?’
‘Thought,’ she says.
‘Thought, Mam?’ I say, pausing, and reflecting on her offering. ‘Well, Mam, fair play to you. Thought, so that’s what it is.’