Saturday, 26 January 2008

Picture - if you will...

St Vincent's College, Dublin.

Jean McGuinness was justifiably livid, yet somewhat embarassed by her public outburst before her colleagues. Sitting alone at the octagonal table in the [now illegal] 'allocated for smoking' corner of the cafeteria, her rosehip tea and fruit scone remained untouched. She glanced at her mobile phone to check the time; she was on night shift in the office that week but still had things to do so could not hang around here all day.
Searching clumsily through the front pocket of her voluminous leather handbag she found her packet of Silk Cut Ultra's,discovering they were empty she crushed them determinedly as if she was strangling a small mammal. Gerry on the adjacent table provided her with a roll-up and after a few fumbling attempts to light it for her he succeeded and returned to reading his modern novel which, even Jean knew, was little more than "critically acclaimed" rambling soft gay-porn by an ageing english queen.
She drew heavily on the cigarette and reflected on the morning's events. That vindictive bastard Corcoran had thrown her Master's thesis back at her demanding a re-write with forty-one "points of contention" which she should "meditate and reflect upon in her discernment processes". The last sentence of the three page withering critique of her thirty-month struggle to present a "magnum opus" had enraged her the most. The implication was that not only was she a traitor to her own sex, she was "in denial of the earth-shaking spiritual revolution among the "people of God" over the past forty years which had resulted in a Millennial Church of Hope in Christ....."
The remainder of her Master's class ,except Tim [who'd rushed from college grounds] , were noisily and over-dramatically entering the cafeteria. It was unlikely Corcoran would follow - he'd have run off to gossip about Jean in the clergy's common room with anyone who would listen; well , that and watch "Countdown".
Pat and Katie [Two overweight, enthusiastically boring housewives in loveless marriages] together with Tony [an effeminate deacon in his early thirties whose ridiculous beard couldn't hide his disturbingly moon-shaped head] smiled as they walked past. Ignoring her as they returned to their seats with Lattes and assorted patisseries, the furtive glances, whispers and concerned faces confirmed she was their topic of conversation. The other five in her class didn't even acknowledge her existence; not even Sister Terry [a scottish de-caffeinated version of Julie Andrews] . She had expected more,at least a scowl from Audrey or a confrontational challenge from John? But, no.Nothing. The sense of isolation made a lump in her throat.
"Fine by me" , thought Jean [fully aware of how much of a lie that was!] "Their loss!"
Her eyes moistened, but she was determined not to cry ; not in front of this crowd.

It had only been half an hour ago but already it had the strength of a childhood memory : In the lecture room the American Father Joe Corcoran's patronising faux-sincerity at Jean's all-too-obvious shock and hurt at his assessment of her work had been the final straw. She had attempted a defiant diffidence of short sharp responses and a sarcastic guarantee that she'd return to him within the month with all the amendments to her thesis.
But he had smirked in victory, as if he was saying "you can get back in your box now".
She had inhaled as if to retort, but Jean was one of those people who had great difficulty in standing up for themselves.
Fr Joe flooded praise on the elderly canadian John DuQuesne's "Influences of the Hegelian notion of the Geist in Post-Conciliar reforms of the Liturgy" and Audrey Sheerin beamed at the ovation she received when Corcoran informed the class that her "Analysis of the Marcan Passion narrative" was worthy of publication.
Jean had quietly snorted in contempt - everyone knew that Audrey had "cut-and-pasted" every book and article she could find on the subject and the whole "academic all-day buffet" was filled with contradiction and irrational postmodern speculation. What's more the only things good about it were plagiarised from Richard Perigord's notes - word for word! Poor Ghost! She had not believed all the rumours...
Perigord was the one who'd suggested that that the name Barabbas simply implied illegitimacy and...
Jean's thought processes were cut short when Fr Joe coughed and his voice had a significant change of tone.
Corcoran had turned his arrogant venom on Tim - the extraordinarily handsome but twitchy Capuchin - Tim's "History of Contraception in Moral Theology" was without any doubt in Jean's mind , the best contemporary ethical work she had ever read. How Tim had uncovered vast amounts of detailed information was miraculous in itself - Even Jean had some difficulty in...well? She'd abused her position slightly at work and accessed some security files from the sixties which confirmed everything Tim suggested.
Corcoran's vituperative dismissal of it was more than she could bear. It was redolent of a criminal prosecution . In Fr Joe's opinion not only was the historical accuracy questionable, parts of it were defamatory,untrue and this ultra-conservative tridentinist misogynistic propaganda was worthy of the incinerator . Tim, nervous at the best of times, was suppressing tears and adamantly refusing to look his detractor in the eye.
Jean's raised voice was crystal clear and resolute.
"I think it's brilliant ! It's certainly better than Noonan and if any of our theses should be published and read by every catholic, it has to be Tim's"
One would have required a chainsaw to cut the atmosphere.
Jean was at this time beyond any consideration of back-pedalling. By the time a red-faced Tim had grabbed his folder ,hurriedly exiting the lecture room , Jean was fully aware she had burnt her bridges and it thus made the decision much easier to adopt the role of avenging angel.
It wasn't nice.
Corcoran made the gross error of attempting to spurn Jean's opinion using the regular disdain of an intellectual superior over a mere student.
From beneath her desk Jean hefted her notorious "handbag" , the oversized keychain jangling from a loop and the loud thump on the desk sounded almost mahlerian. She deftly produced a small green cardboard folder and withdrew a single printed sheet . There were seventeen itemised points :
"point one..Tim claims that on 27th of August 1965 Cardinal Heenan was..."
Jean proceeded to supply corroborative evidence and denounce false claims and rumours to prove that not only was Tim unswervingly accurate regarding the time-line and the opinions ,statements and machinations of those involved; Fr Joe was the one displaying abject ignorance of the subject.
Fr Corcoran had failed to know or understand either the personal motives or viewpoints of the participants ; and when it came to both the Minutiae and the Grand scheme of the Issue, Tim was not only orthodox and vehemently portraying Millennia old catholic tradition; this was the first time all the facts had been placed together coherently and ethical conclusions grounded in fundamental catholic moral theological teaching been formulated in an exemplary fashion.
Fr Joe was dumbstruck ! This wasn't happening...
"You can't know any of have absolutely no idea what was said in private by..."
"If you know where to look and whom to ask you can find out anything Father...I found that out from a teacher who should have been in Vietnam"
She knew she should not have said it. He deserved it, but it wasn't her place to say it....
Corcoran's face fell.
His lying to the authorities about his teaching qualifications in order to dodge the draft ? She couldn't know about that ? From her face it was obvious she did !
[People in the college knew Jean was a minor civil servant , They would have been bowled over if they knew what type of Civil Servant! James Bond's "Moneypenny" didn't look like a hippy social worker, but then again Jean didn't look much like a catholic - more a New-Age crystal-kissing, tree-hugger who read auras and discussed past-life regression therapy]
Jean sighed in despair
" Look Father, Tim's cleverer than any of us and he deserves a distinction for this work - and while we're at it, my work's bloody good too but unfortunately I happen to be one of those people you ran away from years ago - An orthodox catholic! Fail me all you want, I have nothing to lose - I have a job but this is Tim's future at stake..."
She was on a roll and wasn't going to stop now...
"John, I'm sorry, I really like you but it's an idiotic subject for a thesis and you have no idea what really went on with Bugnini and the liturgical commissions after vatican II..he was a truly nasty piece of work. As for you Audrey, yes I did like some of that thesis - I said I liked it to the man who wrote it - twelve years ago!!!!"
Fr Joe's voice returned to him.
"Jean, that was uncalled for...I will expect..."
"You'll expect me to apologise. Well you'll have a bloody long wait."
She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead...she then remembered that Audrey's husband was not abroad as she claimed; but rather serving eleven years for embezzlement. A cover story to protect his family -he'd really been involved somewhere down the line in a massive money-laundering system for the IRA . Guilt became overpowering.
"I'm sorry everyone. I'm just a bit emotional at the moment ...I"
Fr Joe inhaled as if to...The sharp stare from Jean told him to think again before he said anything.
Jean gave a sighing groan of disappointment at the whole situation...
"What the bloody hell are we doing? This isn't theology ? A kid who reads a penny catechism and the widow reciting her rosary at the back of church know more than the lot of us about God and being a catholic. And when Tim shows us all up and reveals to us what ignorant pagans we are you condemn him for it ! We're pathetic! "
Throwing her long suede coat over her arm, and in so doing it gave off a hint of patchouli and bergamot into the air, she grabbed the straps of the bag almost as big as herself and heaved..
"I'm going...." Then with acknowledging nods: "Father... Everyone"

She swallowed the last of her rosehip tea and absent-mindedly reached for her bag to get a cigarette. Angry with herself she turned to the empty seat where Gerry had been sitting. She skulked over to the counter and asked Molly behind the cash register if she had a spare fag. Molly handed over three "Major" with a smile she only gave to the "college old-timers". Major: way too strong, tasted like old tyres and bus tickets, but Jean needed her fix of nicotine.

She slipped out the side door , lit up and gazed out across the lawns and gardens that surrounded the island of college buildings. She looked around for Con, the tireless gardener who must have been close to seventy when Jean first encountered him sixteen years ago. He didn't seem to be around, but there were an unusual amount of workmen in the garden. They were each carrying assorted gardening implements , but nobody was actually doing any manual work. In Jean's opinion they didn't look much like your average workman - too clean,too tall, too well-groomed. Most were talking in small groups and pointing to certain areas around the walled perimeter.
Jean thought nothing more about it until she saw a well-tanned, silver-haired man of about eighty, dark eyes,bushy moustache, expensive camel-haired coat smoking a cigar and examining a college blue-print.
Jean knew that she recognised him from somewhere, maybe he was a politician or more renowned businessman ?
She ambled towards her citroen 2CV and hunted amongst her keys when her heart skipped a beat.
She turned and gazed directly into the face of the man who was fully aware that she knew who he was.
Sergio Endotti ? The once-head of Vatican Security!
The elderly man who still exuded a charisma that would have been the envy of men half his age,did not say a word, he smiled, his eyes widened and he winked mischievously.
Jean cancelled her hair appointment, rang home to tell them they'll have to walk the dog and find their own supper; and headed straight for her tiny office in Gardiner street.
The request for an appointment with the divisional and departmental heads was approved within thirty seconds of her stating two words:
"Endotti's here!!"
In minutes she was being chauffeured across Dublin to the General Central Headquarters of the Irish Intelligence Agency, an unobtrusive building amongst the quays....
They were fully aware of the intensity of movement around the college -which after all, in a half-century old deal with DeValera - remained Vatican territory.
Everything seemed to be linked to events commencing two weeks hence: Chickens coming home. An american old boy being briefed in the vatican and rumours he'd been made some sort of cardinal ?
It was so disturbing that level four surveillance had been implemented; three operatives would be required internally and they would prefer if she became FG [fairy godmother] of the operation. Getting her in as a resident was hardly a problem as she had a masters degree to complete.
Jean's son - a young and upcoming journalist - had arranged a surprise trip to New York for them for Jean's fiftieth birthday. She'd always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, the Whitehouse, Niagara falls...and to say a little prayer at ground zero for her cousin killed on 9-11.
The assistant director of Irish homeland security was now issuing orders to the woman , who hadn't done any fieldwork in twenty years ; which would ensure that her birthday would be spent somewhere entirely different.


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