HAPPY HOUR

Peter is old and frail and lives alone.
Is there a way out?
He thinks he's found the answer on the internet.
But while he's setting his house in order, he has several interruptions.

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4. PETER AND PAUL

 

A SHORT WHILE LATER, AS INDICATED BY THESE CAPITALS, PETER IS INTERRUPTED ONCE MORE.

 

For a moment Peter thinks the phone is ringing again, but he’s mistaken. Someone has rung the front doorbell. It’s Paul. Peter always kept out of Paul’s way, when he called regularly to see Lorna. But every now and then a meeting is unavoidable. Like now, when he’s at the front door. Again.

 

‘Ah, bonjour Monsieur Mulligan. Peter. May I call you Peter? I’ve just come to offer my condoléances. I would like you to know how sorry I am, following your tragic loss. I only heard about it on my return to the village. I have been on a sabbatical in Rome.’

 

‘Ah, bonjour Paul. Thank you, thank you, well, it’s all over now and I’m over it too, in a way. Two months is a long time isn’t it? To get over things, I mean. Very resilient we are, aren’t we, we human beings. So now everything’s cut and dried as we say in English. Did you have a good holiday, by the way?’

 

‘“Cut and dried?” Well, yes, I think I see what you mean, I suppose, and, well yes of course, but a kind of a working holiday, I think you say “busman ’oliday” in English, yes?’

 

This brings the pedant out in Peter who is having difficulty hiding his irritation at being disturbed, as well as his personal dislike of the priest and all he stands for.

 

‘Yes…and no… because actually, and please forgive me for being picky, but we say “busman’s” with an “s”, it’s plural you see, and, “holiday” with an explosive “h”.’

 

The priest chooses not to pursue the matter of explosives.

 

‘Well, yes, yes, thank you for correcting me. So, now…  May I come in? Just for a few moments I assure you.’

 

‘Well, yes, I suppose so, but I must warn you, things have deteriorated here since Lorna left and the place is in a bit of a mess, I’m afraid. But, please, entrez s’il vous plait.’

 

‘Thank you, and don’t worry. I too live alone. Always have done, you know. Well, yes you’d know that I think. Silly of me to mention it even though you are not a Catholic, I think. Not like your wife. She was a very good Catholic, I believe. Because Mme Mulligan was always at mass. And confession. She was a good example to everyone. Here in our little village.’

 

‘That’s right, Père Paul, Lorna was certainly a churchgoer and she believed everything you lot tell your flock. However, I feel I must warn you, not only am I not religious, but I classify myself as a militant atheist. So you’ll have to be on your toes if you’ve come calling to try and convert me.’

 

 ‘“On my toes?” Ah, yes, I see what you mean. Probably originally a French ballet expression, I suppose. Well, in fact I have come to talk to you about your wife. Your late wife, that is, and I’m very sorry that I was not here when she passed away. Things might have been different if I was. Mistakes might not have been made. You know, with the body.’

 

‘Well, I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but, yes, she certainly did pop off quite suddenly, while you were away, as you say. But death always has a habit of being somewhat, what shall I say, inconvenient perhaps, don’t you think?’

 

‘I must say I’m surprised at your flippancy, Monsieur Mulligan. Is this a way for you to deal with your loss, perhaps? I suppose it is, but I must register that I find it somewhat surprising.’

 

‘Père Paul, if I may remind you, Lorna was my wife, not just a member of your flock. So, if I may say so, I do not see my remark as being flippant, whether it’s a way of dealing with death or not.’

 

‘I am sorry, I meant no offence, Peter. But I must also say that I was surprised you chose a cremation rather than a requiem mass for Mme Mulligan. She was a good Catholic. Did she not deserve more consideration?’

 

‘Look here Paul, you have doubtless had a good deal of experience in counseling. I’m sure you even undergo some course or other when you’re doing your articles, or whatever you call it, but may I point out to you that your method is predicated on dealing with religious people. But because I myself am not a believer, can you not see that we approach the situation from diametrically opposite directions?’

 

‘Yes Peter, I do understand what you’ve said. But knowing Mme Mulligan albeit not nearly so well as her husband…’

 

He pauses, wondering, ‘Am I couching this correctly. Is this the way to say it in English?’

 

Then he adds, ‘But I do have a slight feeling that she, herself, would have preferred a decent church burial. By which I mean a proper Catholic funeral.’

 

‘Well, that’s interesting, Paul, and you’re entitled to your opinion. But I’m interest in the logos rather than the mythos of death, and after Lorna died, as far as I’m concerned, she was no longer in the equation. So, from my perspective the issues were simply economics and convenience. And I looked for and found, I believe, a seamless way to end a difficult situation. What you might call a contemporary, efficient and highly civilized solution, if I may say so.’

 

‘I’m sorry you felt like that Peter. And I’m still not sure that it was the right decision. Perhaps Mme Mulligan would have chosen something different. Something more fitting… more elegant perhaps.’

 

Peter is silent for a while, and then slowly, with emphasis he replies.

 

‘I mean no offence, Paul, but quite frankly, I don’t care what you think. You see, I believe that Lorna and I had a wonderful time while it lasted. And although I loved her dearly, all that remains now is happy memories. And when I die, they’ll die with me. And after that there’ll be nothing left, no nothing at all, just eternal blackness, if you want me to put it in simple terms for you.’

 

Peter’s face contorts. Father Paul thinks he detects an opportunity. Peter might be encountering a delayed feeling of guilt. But it’s simply Peter’s tinnitus playing up again.

 

‘Gently now Peter. I can tell you find my comments intrusive. But I feel it my duty to continue. Would you like to pray with me? It may bring you some solace. Some relief.’

 

If there was a way to show Peter’s surprise turning to irritation with punctuation it would be used here.

 

‘No thank you. Not at all. Neither with you nor on my own. I see no point. And I don’t think it would help. Not one jot. In fact, I know it wouldn’t. And I’d no more consider it than I’d talk to a statue for consolation. One of those in your church. Or the ones on Easter Island, for that matter.’

 

‘I’m sorry you take this line, my son. Are you sure you’re right? Do you not think that there’s something more to life? Some divine force? Or someone, more likely, who controls our lives?’

 

‘Well of course Paul, it’s obvious that something makes the grass grow, and it's probably got something to do with all those bodies you refuse to cremate. So when you stick them in the ground, “the worms crawl in and the worms crawl out”, which makes excellent compost, and you could therefore claim that some good does come of burials, I suppose. But what makes the grass grow well is chemicals, perhaps released from decomposing cadavers. Not some divine force that can intervene in our lives when it chooses to do so.’

 

Well, someone detects that things are getting out of hand. It’s Lorna. She appears between bouts of tinnitus-induced buzzing and ringing.

 

‘Peter! Stop that this instant! It’s abominable. And insulting. How can you say such a thing to someone in your own house? You should be ashamed of yourself.’

 

‘I’m sorry and I apologize, I should never have said that, but for a moment I thought I was talking to someone else.’

 

But Père Paul stays for quite some time talking about the power of prayer and the importance of belief and the role of confession, and how with faith we can overcome everything, and lots of other stuff, with Peter only half listening and then Lorna and Vera get louder in his head and start singing over each other and babbling on about meeting him again in sunnier climes. Eventually Peter decides that enough is enough.

 

‘I’m sorry Father Paul, but I’m tired of this claptrap. And I’ve got lots of things to attend to. So why don’t you just take your primitive ideas and fuck off, there’s a good chap.’ 

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