“All that time, life kept putting its face around the door, but never came into the room.”
When Angel learnt her days were numbered, she viewed a frosted landscape that chilled more than blood and bone. To tell Jude would put a false complexion on their life together. Immersed in the precarious expansion of his business, he little suspected the true cause of her failing health and changed outlook.
Events were only too ready to conspire in her silence.
The dilemma swiftly wove its web of misunderstanding which prompted Jude's infidelity and Angel's poignant rapport with 'the bookseller of Glenfinnie', reaching a crisis where Jude's own life was imperilled.
While she fought shy of the truth, Angel couldn't know how, on the other side of fear, an incorruptible world would awaken within her and turn shadows to blessings.
She was to make an inner journey of discovery, seeing in her condition some analogy with the global unrest of our times.
This is a story which prompts haunting reflection on the mystical nature of human 'presence'.
Were Life and Death two sides of the same coin?
My name is Angel. Angel Brightman since I married Jude. Before that, I was known as Angel St. Clare. A nun found me on the Convent doorstep when I was a few days old. I think I was born on a Friday, a day of Sorrowful Mysteries.
The nun must have thought I was a cherub sent from heaven! The Poor Clares are a Franciscan Order, committed to poverty, purity and prayer, whose measured days are bathed in peace and doubt-defying light, sobriety and song, and sprinkled with a modicum of mirth, so that my earliest encounters with humanity were of an impartial devotion. They moved about the shadows like seraphs in sackcloth whose wings and transfigured robes were yet unjustified, making the beginning of the journey seem so much like the end.
My mother – she must have loved me! – I sometimes sense a yearning presence and think I glimpse her angst-ridden brow – left me well-packaged in a clean nightie and shawl, with extra clothes and a tin of powdered baby milk. She sent me on my way as well set up as she knew how. I dare say she didn’t possess the moral and social means to keep me. Perhaps no one else knew of my birth and she would be forever racked by her guilty secret, wondering how I’d turned out and what sort of human being she really was.
'There was, I have learned, a flurry of publicity in the local press, but no one came forward to claim me. In due course, I was sent to St. Mary’s Orphanage to be cared for there, where, from the dawn of memory, I was encouraged to look upon Our Lady as my mother, to say the Rosary with diligence and to pray to her Son through her mediation. We were taught to feel that we were privileged to have been found, to have fetched up from the belly of Jonah on the shores of Holy Island.
The events of those infant years are a blur, uncomplicated by nostalgia. I was neither happy nor unhappy, but suspended in a sort of limbo betwixt and between, eternally expectant. It was as good a school for actual life as any, I suppose, and no doubt for me, better than most as things turned out. Our day is shorter than we think.
Only a few incidents from that era are clearly defined. One, in particular, is rendered more starkly than the rest…'
'Snow fell unexpectedly in my hopeful seventh spring. It made shadows of the bare boughs. It sent shivers down the spindly spine of young birch. It found out the eroded pointing in the brickwork. With a gentle insistence it gathered along the window-ledges, made portholes of the panes and silenced the astonished birds. Flake by flake, it settled upon the lawns Simms had already mown twice that season, and obliterated the paths as though it meant business. Soon it had created a ghostly monochrome world. A child’s world.
No one guessed it was coming. The weather forecast had been promising. It came without warning, this taste of winter in May, a thief in the night...
...It was as we were stamping our boots, about to file in, that a resounding thud drew our attention. A young blackbird had collided with the window and lay, a tumbled heap of feathers, on the path. I darted to his rescue, but it was too late! He fixed me meekly with his beady eye and lapsed, quivering, into stillness. I stretched out a finger and stroked his soft wings. He was as warm as my own flesh and blood, poor scrap, so deceived by the reflected universe. I couldn’t take it in. I fell on my knees and moaned and rocked to and fro and refused to be comforted. How could I bear such passive obedience to order?
That night, I had a nightmare about the hole in the garden and how it could be made good before Simms found out. I awoke, sobbing, to the recollection of yesterday and that precocious silence about which I could never speak.'
'It was a land of impossible concepts, Norway. A land of illusions, of boats suspended on liquid air. I came to think of our sojourn there as a blueprint for our life together.'
'Oh, he had taken me on so many diverting journeys! Not only the Land of the Midnight Sun had he wanted to show me, but ancient civilisations and oases fanned by palms. He would like, he announced in a moment of pure exhilaration, for us to make love in every capital in the world. He would show me the Seven Wonders and the places of pilgrimage. We were conquerors of Time and Space, traversing oceans and deserts in the twinkling of an eye, jetting towards some target on the fragmented plates of the globe. We’d seen cities astride fault lines, defying the cataclysm. And temples upon outcrops of rock above seas of clear turquoise, bays flooded with carmine as daylight faded. We'd explored the labyrinths of Crete and were overawed by the apocalyptic domes of Venice; way behind us, the sleepy spires of home. Yes, there were many such visions, all tarnished and corroded at close range from the miasmas of progress. Jude was always anxious to move on, be elsewhere.
Most haunting of all was the spirit of Greece. Athens, wreathed in a purple mote haze on a brilliant morning, dominated still by its archaic culture. Even after centuries and two thousand years of Grace, you could forget, on such a day, that any change had taken place.
I recalled the tunnel-like echo of its streets, the vehicles that tore and screamed around the Squares; the plangent music issuing from every taverna, drowning the welter of passions and sorrows within; the subdued old men, work-hewn and weary, bewitched by the anodyne glint of retsina and ouzo; the riots before dawn and the suffocating illusions of liberty; the emollient odour of olives that clung to the clothes and the Turkish coffee silting the cup. And at every street corner, at every entrance and exit, the lottery tickets…'
More glimpses will be added from time to time...