In which we rediscover Jack on the streets of Edinburgh. Since we met him last, Sri and the Bear have passed on, and an Angel is haranguing him. Jack, drunk and disgruntled, is not in the mood for Angels, Bears or Dead Gurus.
This is a story about the angel. She came and went quickly, just passing through. There’s a whole lot more to the story, but this is the end of it.
Well, she was seven feet tall and had wings of gold and everything she touched burst into flames, but apart from that she was just a regular girl. Just your average Saturday-night-on-Lothian-Road-cold-kidneys-warm-heart-and-a-bellyful-of-fizzy-blue-vodka-kind-of-a-girl, looking for a good time and the perfect clutch bag. Likes her mobile phone and follows the season’s fashions and gets the high street bargains.
No, that’s a lie, of course, she was nothing like that. She’s not an average kind of an anything. I keep trying to find boxes to put her in. They just melt. They burst into flames, turn into butterflies, armadillos. Don’t box me in, she said. Flames. My house is in ruins. When we met, she said:
- do you recognise me? She looms over me, burning, gold, wings and face of fire. So beautiful you want to die and live all at the same time. But, aah, burning…
- Oh, I said. I don’t know. Shit. Joan of Arc? Bridgit Bardot? Shiva in drag? Give me a clue, I said. Cary Grant? Abraham? Goliath? You are very tall… She rolled her eyes and I died another death.
- Forget it, she said, and I wished I could. Angel comes and takes apart your life, you’re going to know about it, friend. Watch out. Start running. Seven foot tall and everything burns.
She sat in my house burning dust particles with her eyes and then she left and I try to remember how she came to be here and how she left and it’s the same old story — boy meets angel, angel tries to burn boys soul into a recognition of its higher destiny, boy prefers to smoke fags and watch his life go by. Bum zen, I called it. Zen schmem. Or bum schmum, I don’t know. Schmem schmum for all I care.
It goes like this. I’m walking down Princes Street with an angel and ghost of my guru and the ghost of my bear (because Sri died, you see, and so did the bear, but that’s another story) and I’m trying to look inconspicuous. Trying to blend in. Because you have to, don’t you? Or do you? No, I guess not, but I was. Had my fill of being noticed shining too much. Ended up riding a Bear down the A1 with police marksmen shooting at us. No, sir. Instead, I’d taken my place at the table of the crooked, lined myself up at the soup kitchen of the soul to take some of that 21st century snot-green technogak into me, make myself small like a good little fellow. I was practically dragging one foot behind me and drooling and it was working a treat — I was almost invisible. Ancestral memories — been burned too many times, you see. You learn to keep your head down, one life, two lives; before you know it, it’s a habit, then it’s a fucking affliction and then you can’t remember what it feels like to stand up straight. How the Neanderthals are reborn. Take a shining spirit and crush it and crush it and crush it and before you know it, shazam: voila Bonnyrigg; voila Penicuik… Ah, the beauty. ‘Getting cocky, little soul? Haha — there you go: couple of lifetimes in a small ex-mining town in Midlothian. That’ll work that one out of you, you little gobshite… Who’s next? Let’s work on some nuns… Give me my phonebook, Gabriel…’
But, I am walking down Princes’ Street, shuffling, drunk in the afternoon on homebrew and a determination to remain unconscious that is my only friend, with an angel and the ghost of my bear and the ghost of my guru and they’re all looking at me as if I’m mad and I’m playing my part so well that I can’t even make eye-contact with them. The angel was all too much and I couldn’t take any more. Sri and the Bear? I don’t believe in them and it looks like they’re beginning to stop believing in me, and it hurts. I eat another Drifter to try and dull down the memory, try to remember where I hid my hipflask and roll another roll-up.
- Jack, they say. I pretend not to notice. Hum a little song. Finished with my woman ‘coz she couldn’t help me with my mind…
- Jack, they say again. The bear taps me in the ribs and it’s like being hit by a spanner, like being struck by something that’s been thrown out of a vast organic machine, just for the purpose of striking you. I’d like to fall to the ground, but they’re holding me up, protecting my disguise.
- Leave me alone, I say. You’re crowding me. Fuck off. Leave me alone. This always works a trick, as you can imagine. ‘Deranged man castigates invisible foes…’ A bit too convincing, Jack. You can work that trick all day and the people will leave you well alone — only the junkies and the angels can see you at all. I tried to flap my arms like a gull or a heron. I imagined myself to be a magnificent bird trying to take off from some moon-struck Loch, but Sri sat on my head.
- Jack! he said. She’s ready for you, Jack.
Now, whenever someone says that kind of thing, you can’t help but pay attention, no matter how determined you thought you were. ‘She’s ready for you…’ Which ‘she’ exactly? The One? Hahahahaha. Been there, still alive, kind of. Well — been there as in ‘passed through briefly and couldn’t stand the intensity.’ Couldn’t stand the love. Kali? Maybe. It usually is. The dark goddess, the black widow in the yew tree? There’s your soul Jack — on the fire. Who’s the Daddy now? Wahaha. Great. My mother? She’d never forgiven me for killing the reverend, though I’d tried to explain about the mushrooms and the aliens a hundred times. My grandmother? The one with the beard and the hobnail boots and the jar of spores that I ate when I was 5. She was gone, gone, gone beyond, over the hills and far away. Far gone and out. Really far. She? Ready for what? Lunch? Children? Hopscotch? Kali hopscotch? Grandma children? Black widow lunch party? None of it looked good. That’s perspective for you. People are strange, when you’re a stranger, but ghosts and angels are even worse, Jim. Didn’t tell us that, did you, you fat drunken demi-shaman.
- she? Which she, Sri? I asked. I don’t see the ‘she’ you’re shpeaking of, Sri… So sorry… Sri sells sea-shells, on the seashore, for sure, for sure… He shook his head and rolled his eyes. This seems to happen a lot.
- Christ, Jack. You’re unbelievable. ‘Which she?’ You’re a cocksucker. You should be in Peru opening the portal by now — what are you doing here?
- Laying low, I said. Getting some R&R, you know. Cocksucker?
- R&R? Asks Sri. Reincarnation and renunciation? Sri doesn’t really get R&R the way I like it. Or pretends not to. He’s a tricky bastard, but then dead gurus usually are.
- What about you? I say. Shouldn’t you have reincarnated by now? Eh? Shouldn’t some little baby be attaining states of meditative awareness previously unknown and asking for his special bell or something? Why are you still here?
- Unfinished business, Jack, he said. Besides, it’s not as simple as that. Get with the plan, Jack.
- I was with the plan, I said. I sounded like a petulant toddler. Look what happened. You’re dead, the Bear’s dead. The Mayans are angry and I’m homeless again. Thanks for the plan, Sri. Look at me, Sri — I’m a mess.
And of course, Sri says: no, you’re BEAUTIFUL, Jack…
It was just about then that the angel punched me in the face. Her hand felt like a cattle-brand. A beautiful, perfect cattle-brand in the jaw. I reeled and the Bear blocked me. Beaten up by spirits on Princes Street. Just another day, Jack.
- when are you going to stop pretending, Jack? says the angel. When are you going to shake out of this slump — it’s been lifetimes already… Sri’s tried, Bear’s tried, I’ve tried, countless times, countless forms. You’re the biggest arse in all of creation, Jack. Her style is different from Sri’s — bad cop, worse cop. They just enjoy fucking with my head. Really, they do.
You see, it is the same story every time. Jack pretends to be a fool — more evolved forces attempt to rescue me from my idiocy. I am too stubborn for them. If I am god, as they keep claiming, then I shall be the God of Ignorance. The God of Stubbornness and Blind Insistence. The God of Samsara’s Triumph. Suck on that, you holy pains in the ass.
So I looked the angel in the eye and said:
- are you talking to me? I think you perhaps have me confused for someone else. I am but a travelling dishwasher — you are evidently mistaken in your appraisal of me. I was very proud of this line, proud of my composure in the face of overwhelming provocation. Man plays poker with angel. Cool-hand Jack, that’s me. I’m a cool fucking customer. Yeah. Cool as a frozen cucumber from outer space, that’s me… Great work, Jack.
I can still see her eyes. Burning, burning, burning fire that passes so quickly and leaves only sadness. The look in every woman’s eyes is an echo of this fire becoming water, as they see the man they love insist on remaining a fool. And that sadness containing the knowledge that something has passed, that something living has become no longer alive, that an opportunity for change is now no more.
I realised it just after she turned away. Just as my stubborn facade played itself out and some fragment of myself saw the game for what it was — just then, just too late, just a perfect moment too late to retrieve what can no longer be retrieved. Words cannot do it. It is the ‘sorry’ after the blow has landed, the apology that does nothing to balm the wound. War reparations; pretty plaques to holocausts. She had turned away and a door that had been standing open waiting for me swung closed. I looked at the bear and the bear turned away. I looked at Sri and the old dead guru turned away too.
Sometimes you’re just alone. Sometimes you’re just a useless idiot in a sea of other idiots, thrashing the water so that none of us can see we’re drowning. I wanted to die. It had been Her after all; it had been the ‘She’ I was waiting for… But what if the angel comes and you’re not ready? What if the door is open, but you can’t find your sandals? What if the door is open, but you’re in the other room, watching snooker. Or you’re trapped in the bathroom by a panther? What then, my friend? It doesn’t add up.
I don’t know. Angels, bears, dead gurus and lost sandals. Too much. I walked away down Princes Street and left the Bear and Sri to find their own way home.
Bum Zen — that’s the problem. Shit happens again and again and you’re too intent on remaining in Bum Zen to catch the wave. Today, Bum Zen — tomorrow, shining eyes clarity and the cosmic enema that is purity.
I threw my hipflask off North Bridge and stubbed out my cigarette. The hipflask ricocheted off a statue and struck a passing ambulance and two environmental wardens began to run towards me with their notebooks. In the distance, I saw the Bear and Sri laughing, and as the police sirens began to approach, I took to my heels, heading away from the madness of the city and into the sanity of the green hills beyond.