A MAGNANIMOUS OFFER
& Other Pieces
Copyright © 2011 John O'Loughlin
1. A Magnanimous Offer
2. The Latest Cure
3. Between the Shelves
4. An Unusual Encounter
5. The Weekly Lesson
6. The Weekly Confession
A MAGNANIMOUS OFFER
room of Mr Cyril
Richardson's country house in
HOST: (Eyes his guest's three-quarter empty glass of white wine) I trust the wine is to your liking, Oscar?
WILDE: Oh, exquisite! What is it?
HOST: The best.
WILDE: (Politely if belatedly sniffs the bouquet) I thought as much. Vintage calibre! Alas, the number of perfect hosts is becoming steadily fewer these days. Perfection is quite out-of-fashion.
HOST: Indeed? How fortunate for me that I'm never invited anywhere by the imperfect ones. (He glances towards his wife, a beautiful dark-haired woman who has been waiting on the edge of a group of nearby conversationalists for the opportunity of being officially introduced to Oscar Wilde, and indicates, by a polite gesture of his hand, that he would like her to join them.) Tell me, Oscar, do you believe in miracles?
WILDE: Only when they fail to convince me.
HOST: Then you must meet my wife. She convinces no-one but herself.
WILDE: A regular affair!
HOST: (To Wilde) Allow me to introduce you to Pamela. Pamela, the poet Oscar Wilde.
HOSTESS: (Extends her hand) Delighted to meet you, Mr Wilde. My husband has told me all about you.
WILDE: (Kisses her hand) Then I beg your pardon, madam. He has probably told you too much.
HOSTESS: (Excitedly) On the contrary, he rarely talks unless he's excited, and he's rarely excited until he whets my curiosity.
HOST: Then don't allow me to blunt it, my dear. (He turns to Wilde) If you'll excuse me, Oscar, I must attend to our other guests a moment. Just let Pamela know if there's anything you'd like. There's no shortage of wine in the cabinet. (He points to a nearby wine cabinet and immediately sets off towards some other guests.)
HOSTESS: I trust you found your way here without too much inconvenience, Mr Wilde?
I did, madam.
For the scent of affluence sheds an irresistible attraction. One finds half of
HOSTESS: (Scans the crowded room) Are you familiar with any of our other guests?
WILDE: Too familiar, I'm afraid. That's the main reason why I'm alone tonight.
HOSTESS: Oh, really? Then I shall keep you company, Mr Wilde. We mustn't allow that brilliant tongue of yours to cease wagging just because you're temporarily or temperamentally out-of-favour with the bulk of our illustrious company.
WILDE: Thank you, madam. If I've previously exhausted myself on a majority of the other persons here this evening, I have yet to exhaust myself on you. Your company exalts me, as does your wine.
HOSTESS: Then have some more. (To his surprise she fetches an uncorked bottle of Sauterne from the cabinet and pours its contents into his half-empty glass.) My husband was telling me, the other day, how you recently made a valiant attempt to abstain from drink in the presence of Dr Hugo Fleming.
WILDE: (Blushes) Only an attempt, I'm glad to say. Had I been rash enough to succeed, I should have forfeited the ultimate pleasure of being carried home by that kindly old man and nursed back to drink again. It has since become a ruse among certain well-established dipsomaniacs to accredit me the possessor of an unfortunately high metabolism.
HOSTESS: (With a penetrating look) I find that quite credible.
WILDE: How discerning! But one can't believe everything one hears nowadays, particularly where one's health and pleasures are concerned. One must be content with believing only what one has to.
HOSTESS: You seem more of a sage than I initially took you for, Mr Wilde. Tell me, when are you going to get married?
WILDE: (Lights himself a gold-tipped and mildly-opiated cigarette) Why, I wonder, is it only the married women who ask me that question?
WILDE: One should only consider the possibility of marriage when one can't afford it. That prevents one from marrying when one can.
HOSTESS: (Smiles wryly) How paradoxical! But perhaps you're too eligible?
WILDE: (Blushes afresh) There you have it! For were I a desperate man, I shouldn't hesitate to clutch at a vulnerable twig. But, thanks or no thanks to my eligibility, I can never see the wood for the trees.
HOSTESS: How disconcerting!
WILDE: On the contrary, I find it most provocative. The trees are the only things worth looking at.
HOSTESS: Then you like my dress?
WILDE: Such an elegant leaf.
HOSTESS: How flattering! But you may pay the price of plucking it one day.
WILDE: (His gaze riveted on her bosom) That's a branch of aesthetics in which I'm well versed, I can assure you.
HOSTESS: Perhaps. But you aren't yet in debt to my husband.
WILDE: True, but only because he's in debt to me.
HOSTESS: (Slightly alarmed) Oh, in what way?
WILDE: Eh, financially.
HOSTESS: Then I shall ask him to settle your account.
WILDE: (In a subdued tone-of-voice) Personally, I'd rather you didn't. He has become such am amiable companion in the short time I've known him. Besides, I prefer intrigue. It's less wearisome.
HOSTESS: (Smiles in a subtly coquettish way) Then you shall have it!
WILDE: Allow me to congratulate you. What will you have to drink?
HOSTESS: (Taken by surprise) Whatever you suggest.
WILDE: (Turns toward the wine cabinet) A double orange juice?
HOSTESS: (Feigns indignation) Oscar!
WILDE: I mean, a double orange juice and vodka.
HOSTESS: I think vodka more becoming. Perhaps a little orange juice would suit you, though?
WILDE: Indeed it would, madam, were I not already partial to your magnificent wine and consequently disinclined to mix drinks. Even so, you would be none the less attractive for a change of glass.
HOSTESS: My apologies for having underestimated you.
WILDE: (Hands her a glass of vodka) Apologies are quite out-of-keeping with your demeanour.
HOSTESS: As is flattery with yours.
WILDE: Then we are cold-blooded?
HOSTESS: I prefer to think in terms of warmth.
WILDE: Your wish is my demand.
WILDE: (His eyes reverting to her bosom) A breast in the hand is worth two in the bodice. (Mr Richardson is seen approaching the newly acquainted couple with two glasses of sparkling champagne in his hands.)
HOSTESS: (Almost whispering) I fear we are about to be nipped in the bud.
WILDE: Not when our liaison has already blossomed, Pamela.
HOST: (Smiles candidly and extends one of the glasses to his special guest) For you, Oscar! A truly exuberant bouquet.
WILDE: Cheers Cyril! I never reject a magnanimous offer.
THE LATEST CURE
surgery of Dr Martin Stanmore, the supreme exponent of
'Emotional Hypnosis', where a young and semi-delirious victim of
love, a Mr James Hamilton, is endeavouring to explain certain aspects
crisis to both the doctor and his female assistant, Nurse Pamela Barnes. He is seated in front of Dr Stanmore's
paper-strewn desk, while the good doctor himself - a tall, dark-bearded
is slowly pacing the floor backwards and forwards behind him. Nurse Barnes, who is seated immediately to Mr
Hamilton's left, is clasping a large surgical casebook in which she has
taking particulars and recording general impressions with regard to the
clinical nature of the patient's psychological condition.
The scene opens towards the climax of
MR HAMILTON: (In a state of nervous excitement) I'll buy five minutes of her time, four minutes, two minutes! Just a glance then, a touch, a word! I'll follow her everywhere, anywhere, what matter! I have only to set eyes on her for a second and my heart beats like a drum, my Adam's apple rises up to choke me, and my concentration goes positively haywire! I can't even eat without thinking about her. I get indigestion every time anyone mentions her goddamned name, that terribly beautiful name which haunts me all through the night. Her gestures, voice, smile, hair, eyes, limbs, buttocks, breasts, clothes, scents, opinions - everything about her completely enslaves me! For two pins I'd get down on my knees and start worshipping her. What else can I do? She has only to appear in my presence for a few seconds and I'm a nervous wreck.
DR STANMORE: (Aside to Nurse Barnes) He needs immediate attention. Grade A. This case is already serious. His state-of-mind may deteriorate still further unless we apply the emergency antidote at once. We'll have to put him under for several hours.
MR HAMILTON: (Jumps to conclusions) You're not intending to interfere with the workings of my brain, are you? I'd rather not experience anything more painful than what I'm already suffering from, if you don't mind. A sedative is all very well, but if it's only the start of a process that ...
NURSE BARNES: (Her hand on the patient's nearest arm) Now don't be afraid, James! You won't feel a thing. We've treated literally hundreds of young people, both male and female, since this clinic first opened, and the vast majority of them have profited enormously from our service, as can be verified by the many letters of thanks and acknowledgement in the cabinet to your right. We have every confidence that your welfare will be safeguarded with the utmost care, and that you'll be successfully returned to the pre-love condition without experiencing any psychical or physical repercussions whatsoever. Indeed, we even undertake to offer you a six-month's guarantee which ensures you free service, should today's application of hypnotic expertise by one of the world's top emotional hypnotists prove insufficiently therapeutic; though we've had few complaints or rejections, I can assure you. This emotional insanity from which you're currently suffering ... is injurious both to yourself, as victim, and to the community at large, which is to say to those whom you infect throughout the course of your daily routine - people who inevitably become victimized and, to a certain extent, influenced by your reduced efficiency, intermittent emotional aberrations, intellectual instability, and general melancholia.
MR HAMILTON: (On the defensive) But I didn't mean to fall in love, honest! I couldn't help it. Her continuous presence gradually overwhelmed me, despite the fact that she was attached to somebody else at the time and wouldn't have anything to do with me sexually. By the time I sought to evade her, it was too damn late. I had succumbed to the malady.
DR STANMORE: (Extends a reassuring hand to the patient's right shoulder) Nobody can help falling in love, my friend. It's beyond our control, since ordained by nature. If it happens it happens, and you must suffer the consequences, whether positively or, as in your case, negatively. If she refused you, then she is to blame. You have every right to the woman of your choice. If she was otherwise engaged, I rather doubt that she told you all that much about it, not, at any rate, unless you pressed her to, since the object of this engagement would then have constituted a reason for her excluding you which, regardless of human convention, isn't in accordance with nature's will.
MR HAMILTON: As a matter of fact, she claimed to be engaged with church activities every night.
DR STANMORE: (Raises his brows in surprise) Then you're very unfortunate, my young friend. For the Church is usually in opposition to nature. You've suffered, it seems to me, on account of someone's habitual bigotry. But don't worry! The new administration is seeing to the removal of outmoded institutions and we, for our part, will certainly do what we can to prevent this misfortune from incapacitating you further. It remains to be said, however, that the final solution rests with you personally. So you must be determined!
MR HAMILTON: (Frowns) But even if you do hypnotize me, or put me under, I'll still be in love, won't I? I mean, you can't cold turkey my emotions.
NURSE BARNES: (Slightly irritated, in spite of her show of good humour) We have absolutely no intention of "cold turkeying" you, James. We can only hypnotize you into forgetting her.
DR STANMORE: (Sits at his desk and then leans forward with fingers intertwined, his demeanour stern) Some people call it brainwashing. They believe it to be an outrage against nature, another very conspicuous example of the inhumanity of modern science, a ruse they're constantly exploiting as a means to furthering their own ends which, as we've already seen, are more often against nature than for it! Now some individuals even go so far as to assert that the interruption and subsequent termination of this pestiferous ailment actually robs its victim of a meaningful and emotionally enriching experience. As though such a condition as unrequited love were more of a pleasure than a pain, and therefore shouldn't be tampered with in the name of science! They fail to establish the difference between the requited and the unrequited kinds of love, thereby regarding them as equal when, as anyone saddled with the latter will know, they're virtually as far apart as heaven and hell! Indeed, I should be most surprised to discover a person whose love had been requited duly applying for immediate hypnotic alleviation. As a rule, such a person is perfectly at one with himself.
MR HAMILTON: (Still feels sceptical) But will I really forget all about my emotional attachment to her? I mean, isn't that a trifle farfetched?
(Unable to restrain her impatience) Mr Hamilton, you
a difficult man to convince!
Anyone would think you didn't want to be cured, that you'd
in the painful clutches of a disease which has virtually deranged your
mind! Why-on-earth did you come along to
us in the first place, if you only wanted to persist in playing hard to
get? Admittedly, many things appear a
trifle farfetched to begin with, but that's certainly no reason why
be thought impossible. Whoever would
have supposed man capable of travelling to the moon, let alone flying
MR HAMILTON: Yes, but what if, in leaving here, I encounter her within the next few days - as I'm almost bound to - and subsequently run the risk of falling in love with her all over again? Surely I won't be immune from that?
DR STANMORE: (Exercises his customary aplomb and paternal encouragement) O yes you will! For we assure you, during the course of your treatment, that she'll have absolutely no further emotional hold over you until such time as, given a change of circumstances, you may specifically request otherwise. If you shortly encounter her again, there'll be absolutely no possibility of unrequited love. You'll be completely free of her. However, should she subsequently become accessible to your attentions through either a change in her romantic or possibly even ideological circumstances, then you'll be perfectly free to become re-acquainted with her without running any risk of falling in love. You may even decide to return to us in order to be re-hypnotized into falling in love with her again; though such a decision will be entirely up to you, and obviously subject to the precondition that a mutually satisfactory arrangement can be reached next time.
NURSE BARNES: Unrequited love is a thing of the past, a kind of virulent psychic disease, or insanity of the soul, from which your parents' generation and all the generations prior to them constantly suffered. They had absolutely no protection against it, and consequently succumbed in their millions. Now if venereal disease was the chief physical manifestation of sexual hardship, then unrequited love was its chief psychical manifestation, against which it was extremely difficult to prevail. Clinics for alleviating the directly physical aspects of the problem were established quite some time before medical experts and politicians got around to taking its psychical aspects more seriously, and this traditional disequilibrium of attention - so often resulting in more cases of rape, juvenile delinquency, neurosis, severe depression, chronic perversion, and sexual hatred, i.e. the so-called 'war of the sexes' - was partly a consequence of the Establishment's inability and/or disinclination to link such social transgressions with sexual repressions, and partly a consequence of the prevailing misconception with regard to the nature of a healthy soul, the principal criterion for assessing the health of which should have been its social wellbeing and emotional integrity, rather than the psychological shackles with which the anti-natural morality of the state metaphysics chose to enslave it! However, the recent enlightenment schemes and re-education programmes which the new authorities have introduced, including a much wider and more liberal sex-education scheme; the possibility of regular sex in one of the many aesthetically-advanced 'Sex Centres', where one can privately, comfortably, and economically enjoy access to the most advanced films and sex gadgets/dolls; the widespread recognition of manic depression as the punishment inflicted by nature upon those who, whether through force of circumstances or in consequence of arbitrary decisions, have deviated from it to any appreciable extent, and the concomitant acceptance of the organic necessity of some form of regular sex; the systematic elimination of certain superstitions and anachronisms, and the establishment of the league against sexual puritanism, etc., coupled to the remarkable advances in modern technology - about which, incidentally, I need say no more - have entirely revolutionized the situation. And not only by the legalization of various theoretical antidotes to the old way of life but, more importantly, by the legalization of a variety of practical antidotes to it which are far superior to any old women's formulae or imaginable drugs, and certainly much less harmful. We no longer suffer from so many physical diseases, so why should we suffer from mental or emotional ones instead? What would it gain you to remain perpetually melancholic?
DR STANMORE: (Ironically) You're not a writer, by any chance, are you?
MR HAMILTON: (Without really appreciating the doctor's subtle irony) No, I'm not actually.
DR STANMORE: Well then, what have you got to lose, apart from a humiliating obsession which you're unable to control, a situation which is driving you crazy, a gratuitous attachment? The days of emotional slavery are over! There is absolutely no need for you to follow this young woman, this epitome of physical vanity, around on an imaginary lead, as though you were a craven dog whose very survival depended upon it! Renounce this servility! Have done with her! Embrace your independence!
MR HAMILTON: (Smiles for the first time) Maybe I'll be luckier next time, assuming there'll be a next time?
DR STANMORE: (In a conciliatory and overly reassuring tone-of-voice) Of course there'll be a next time! A handsome and smartly-dressed young chap like you? Don't underestimate yourself! Why waste precious time worrying yourself sick over some young prude who foolishly ignores you, when you can walk out of here, later today, and approach the first attractive girl your eyes light upon? Now don't take me literally, but that's the possibility. Too many young men waste months and even years in consequence of unrequited love when, given the right opportunity, plenty of other pretty females would ordinarily appeal to them.
NURSE BARNES: And that's precisely why we're here, complete with soft lighting.
MR HAMILTON: (Blushes slightly) Then please get to work on me, people. I have to walk out of here a new man!
BETWEEN THE SHELVES
A very attractive dark-haired customer, a young woman of average height and slightly more than average build, is busily scanning the shelves of a well-stocked provincial bookshop. She takes a fancy to a paperback volume of short stories by Guy de Maupassant and, removing it from the shelf, proceeds to read the blurb. Apart from an elderly man and two young shop assistants sitting by the till near the plate-glass window, the shop is otherwise deserted. From time to time the customer darts a quick glance at the more handsome of the shop assistants who, cognizant of this, eventually absents himself from his post and approaches her with a faint smile on his lips.
SHOP ASSISTANT: (Very politely) Good afternoon. Would you like any assistance?
CUSTOMER: No thanks, I'm just looking.
SHOP ASSISTANT: Don't you mean looking for a lover? (He smiles, and the customer coldly smiles back.) By the way, you're dripping.
CUSTOMER: (Glances at the floor) Where?
SHOP ASSISTANT: (Draws her behind the shelves at the rear of the shop and puts a hand up her skirt) Here.
CUSTOMER: (Somewhat embarrassed) Oh no, please! What d'you think you're doing?
SHOP ASSISTANT: (Withdraws his hand) My mistake. I just thought you could use a helping hand.
CUSTOMER: (Smooths down her skirt) But aren't you a trifle forward? I've never been treated like that before, not by a complete stranger. You've certainly got a nerve!
SHOP ASSISTANT: (Somewhat startled by her fierce rebuke) Forgive me. I wasn't intending to rape you. But I noticed you glancing at me - once, twice, three, maybe four times - while you were scanning the shelves, so I thought to myself: 'Either she's up to no good or she fancies me.' Well, preferring to give both you and me the benefit of the doubt, I considered it worth my while to introduce myself. 'Perhaps she's hard up,' I thought, 'or tied to a man who doesn't properly satisfy her. Why not find out anyway, do someone a favour for once.' But I couldn't think of anything to say by way of introducing myself that wouldn't have sounded corny or pathetic to me. So I said the first thing that came into my head and hoped for the best.
CUSTOMER: (Still embarrassed, but cooling slightly) I see. And you hope to make me your girlfriend, is that it? Well, you're certainly original, I must say! Though I wasn't exactly expecting to be picked up in here ...
SHOP ASSISTANT: You mean you only glanced at me because you felt I'd keep my distance?
CUSTOMER: No, not really. I ... oh, how can I explain?
SHOP ASSISTANT: (Takes the volume of Maupassant's short stories from her hand) You evidently had sex on your mind when you picked this up.
CUSTOMER: (Feigns innocence) Did I? Actually I haven't read his work before.
SHOP ASSISTANT: Quite an excellent reason for buying it, then. Allow me to congratulate you for having such good taste. Perhaps you imagined Maupassant would be a better and livelier read than anybody else?
CUSTOMER: Yes, I suppose I did in a way. But I like French literature in general, so I usually tend to gravitate towards the many French authors to be found in book shops. I studied French literature at college, you see.
SHOP ASSISTANT: Really? How exciting! The French have so much literary talent, don't they? The mind simply brims over with illustrious names.
CUSTOMER: How very true. So you recommend this volume of short stories?
SHOP ASSISTANT: (Flicks through the pages) It would certainly bring you lots of intellectual pleasure. (He looks up from the book and fixes her with a probing eye) Wouldn't you prefer the real thing though, now, tonight, whenever you like?
CUSTOMER: Thank you, but I've already got a boyfriend. I'll be seeing him tonight.
SHOP ASSISTANT: (Loses hope) Too bad! I'm sorry I bothered you. (He returns the book to her trembling hand and begins to walk away.)
CUSTOMER: (Catches hold of his sleeve) Don't think I don't appreciate your interest. If you really want me that much, why not take my name and address now, this very moment, before I leave?
SHOP ASSISTANT: How do I know you're not going to trick me?
CUSTOMER: (Smiles faintly) You'll just have to trust me.
SHOP ASSISTANT: Will I see you again?
CUSTOMER: That's not impossible.
SHOP ASSISTANT: (With a look of relief on his face) There's a spare room out the back. I can lock the door without drawing any condemnatory attention upon us.
CUSTOMER: (Follows him into the spare room, which is in fact a kind of coffee room, stock room, and office all rolled into one) But won't they miss you in the shop?
SHOP ASSISTANT: Yes, but they'll assume that I'm acquainting you with our latest stock. Anyway, we're not exactly over-worked today so, providing we don't stay longer than half-an-hour here, they'll manage perfectly well without me.
CUSTOMER: And what, may I ask, are you really doing?
SHOP ASSISTANT: Introducing a charming young lady to our chamber of sensual delights, of course.
CUSTOMER: (Quite startled) Indeed? So it's regular policy in this shop, is it?
SHOP ASSISTANT: Not really. But we allow each other enough freedom to chat-up the occasional customer who might appeal to one or other of us, if the opportunity were to present itself. The owner of the shop, although too old to be an efficient lover, is an authority on sex education who, providing we assistants remain fairly discreet and don't overdo it, is prepared to turn a blind eye to any socio-sexual activities which my colleague and I may choose to embark on, and all in the hope that we'll thereby come to a fuller appreciation of his own books.
CUSTOMER: (Visibly amused) How very convenient!
SHOP ASSISTANT: It's only natural. After all, being a book salesman in what is, by provincial standards, a fairly small shop on such a quiet day as this can become rather boring, you know. (He locks the door behind them and then offers her a seat on a convertible settee situated against one of the walls.)
CUSTOMER: (Looks around the room) So this is where the socio-sexual activities take place, is it?
SHOP ASSISTANT: Only with women who are pretty enough, intelligent enough, and compliant enough to permit it.
CUSTOMER: Well, now that you've got me ...
SHOP ASSISTANT: (Draws himself up alongside her on the settee) I'll get to know you on a more intimate basis. What's your name, by the way?
SHOP ASSISTANT: Well now, this is certainly the first time I've been granted the opportunity of carnal intimacy with a Dawn in the middle of the afternoon!
CUSTOMER: (Smiles to herself and simultaneously drops the volume of Maupassant into her shoulder-bag without his noticing it) Then don't spoil it, you persuasive man!
AN UNUSUAL ENCOUNTER
suburban park in
YOUNG MAN: (Turns towards her) Is that an interesting book you're reading?
YOUNG WOMAN: (Slightly startled) What...? Oh, yes. Quite interesting.
YOUNG MAN: You wouldn't be interested in some conversation, by any chance?
YOUNG WOMAN: (Blushes slightly) No, not really.
YOUNG MAN: I just thought you might like to talk to someone. To put it bluntly, you appeal to me.
YOUNG WOMAN: (Thinks to herself, "God, he's forward, isn't he? Fancy telling me that! He might as well have asked me to make it with him. I'd better be careful.") Sorry, I'm waiting for someone.
YOUNG MAN: (Coolly impertinent) You're not wearing red panties under that skirt, are you?
YOUNG WOMAN: (Somewhat startled) Pardon?
YOUNG MAN: (Smiles) I bet you're wearing red knickers.
YOUNG WOMAN: (Starts to get up from the bench) Sorry, but I don't want to answer that!
YOUNG MAN: (Catches her by the arm) Just a minute! I'm not intending to rape you, if that's what you're thinking. I'm essentially very civilized: in fact, too damn civilized! Sit down a moment, let's talk together. Are you really waiting for someone?
YOUNG WOMAN: (Reluctantly sits down again) Why should I lie?
YOUNG MAN: To keep me at a distance, of course.
YOUNG WOMAN: (Laughs nervously) I needn't lie to do that! Besides, even if I were, what business would it be of yours? (She closes her book and is about to get up again when he puts a restraining hand on her arm. She begins to look frightened.)
YOUNG MAN: You're very beautiful. That's the main reason why I must speak to you. A man like me could spend years looking for someone like you, someone who corresponds to his tastes. In a sense, you're very fortunate to be so beautiful. Probably more than 90% of the young women I encounter in this area make either no impression on me at all or only a rather unfavourable one. Very few of them actually appeal to me, the loner of loners. But I won't go into details. Normally I'm quite incapable of getting worked-up about strangers. I have to get to know people first, to find out more about the person in whom I happen to be taking a physical interest, just to be on the safe side. But you pleased me from the moment I set eyes on you, and that's very unusual. Look, I don't really know why I'm telling you all this, spilling the beans to a complete stranger ... but, well, I haven't spoken to anyone like you for ages and, since you look intelligent, I'm making a fool of myself for your benefit. You see, I need someone who'll listen to me with a sympathetic ear because, whatever you may think, I'm no monster but a human being in need of a little love and understanding every once in awhile, just like a lot of other poor buggers who are daily coerced into maintaining a false, pernicious, and self-defeating persona without necessarily realizing it! Believe me, I'm not homosexual or stupid or poxed or mad or dangerous or commonplace or ... believe me, I'm a damn sight more caring and considerate than most of the men in this world! Maybe you wouldn't understand ...
YOUNG WOMAN: (Shows signs of interest, in spite of her misgivings) Go on.
Well, for a time I thought I was homosexual, not having
a woman and not particularly going out of my way to get one. But slowly, gradually, it dawned on me that I
wasn't really homosexual at all but simply choosy.
I mean (He sighs, as from a realization of
the complexity of what he is trying to convey and the odds against his
conveying even a fraction of it convincingly), I had to have someone
felt it would be possible for me to admire, to talk to, to love, to
even - yes, don't laugh! I mean it! But poor and solitary as I was, I never
encountered anyone who sufficiently inspired such noble intentions in
me. In fact, I rarely encountered anyone
even casually. So
things just drifted: weeks, months, years, a face here and there, the
occasional disappointments, blunt refusals, hypocritical excuses, etc. I didn't go to university and I left all my
school friends behind in
YOUNG WOMAN: (Begins to show concern) But haven't you tried computer dating?
YOUNG MAN: (Faintly smiles and nods) Yes, I was desperate enough to give it a go. And d'you know what happened? (He hesitates to choke back rage and resentment) I wasted my money! Most of the bitches the firms informed me about didn't even have the courtesy to reply to my letters, quite apart from the fact that those who did took ages doing so. Some of the firms even had to be reminded about my application virtually every-other-month! And when they eventually got around to replying, it seemed as though they'd taken a lucky dip and, to pass muster, sent me whatever came up, irrespective of my preferences. Anyway, the few women I eventually got around to meeting were plain, to say the least! They'd have humiliated me on the street and exasperated me in the bedroom. As far as the likelihood of my being able to kindle any genuine desire for them was concerned, it would have been tantamount to flogging a dead horse! In fact, they might as well have been cows or sheep, for all the passion I felt towards them! No, I regret to say that computer dating didn't work for me. You never know exactly what you're getting and, besides, I found the whole idea too degrading. I had to take one girl back to the station after barely an hour of her company, because she was so damned incompatible. She hadn't even read one of the several hundred books in my possession at the time. Not one! And that was after I'd categorically stipulated a preference for someone literate. But if that was bad enough, I thought it even worse that she hadn't even heard of, let alone heard, any of the albums in my record collection. And they call that compatibility? Well, I soon got rid of her, as well as most of the others they inflicted upon me, too! Of course, a majority of people always end-up doing what they imagine everyone else is doing at the time. Climb on the bandwagon, let others think for you, and wait for the lucky number! For if, by any chance, a man with an ounce of self-determination approaches an attractive female in the park, on the street, or in any other public context with the intention of acquiring her, the spirit of technological progress will declare him to be either an anachronistic idiot or a potentially dangerous maniac who should learn to live with the times instead of wilfully following his personal inclinations, obeying the voice of his desire in his own sweet fashion, and taking the law into his own hands irrespective of the consequences! As though men were still capable of self-determination in an age like this, when the sheep-like collectivity counts for everything and the lone individual, especially the self-willed creative individual, next to nothing! Thus speaks the spirit of technological progress.
YOUNG WOMAN: (Raises her brows in apparent concern) I see! But what makes you so sure that I may be able to assist you?
YOUNG MAN: Simply the fact that you appeal to me. I mean, I wouldn't mind being seen in your company. You're very beautiful and, from what I can gather, intelligent as well.
YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles) Flattery will get you nowhere. Anyway, I'm waiting for my boyfriend, as I think I told you.
YOUNG MAN: (Frowns) So what's he like: strong, tall, handsome?
YOUNG WOMAN: Oh, good-looking, hard-working, intelligent, loyal, generous, considerate, able. A good all-round sort really.
YOUNG MAN: And how long have you known him?
YOUNG WOMAN: (Obliged to scan her memory a moment) Just over a year actually.
YOUNG MAN: And you had other boyfriends before him?
YOUNG WOMAN: Yes, a few. (She becomes puzzled) Why d'you have to ask so many questions?
YOUNG MAN: (Unable to restrain himself from shouting) Because I haven't so much as kissed a woman in nearly ten years!
YOUNG WOMAN: (Becomes indignant) Is that my fault? I'm sorry, we all have our problems, you know.
YOUNG MAN: Yes, and some of us more than others! (In desperation) Can't you drop him?
YOUNG WOMAN: Are you out of your mind?
YOUNG MAN: (Frowns and sighs in exasperation) Why should that bastard take all my share of loving? Haven't I as much right to love as him, as you, as anyone? Or is that merely presumptuous of me, a gross delusion, a mode of self-deception engendered by the sight and sound of so much commercial propaganda pertaining to sex?
YOUNG WOMAN: (On the verge of tears) But it isn't his fault. He's as entitled to choose a woman as anyone else, isn't he? It isn't his fault if he happened to be in the right place at the right time and you, through no particular fault of your own, weren't.
YOUNG MAN: No, it's life's fault! Life is always to blame. That's why some people get everything whilst others get next to nothing. Fate!
YOUNG WOMAN: (Unable to hold back her tears) Oh, don't make such a damn fuss! There are plenty of people worse off than you. Look, if everyone went about spilling their problems over people the way you do, we'd have a civil war on our hands. At least you're still young.
YOUNG MAN: Yes, and that's precisely what riles me! Young and bitter! My God, it sickens me to see so many blatant half-wits, so many ugly, uncouth, depraved men with good-looking women just because they happened to be in the right place at the right time. I might as well have been born crippled, considering what use I make of the advantages I possess!
YOUNG WOMAN: (Dries her eyes) Haven't you ever had sex with a prostitute?
YOUNG MAN: No, I haven't! For one thing, I can't afford to. And, for another, I distrust them. Besides, they're not the kind of women who appeal to me, as a rule. So for anything approaching sexual satisfaction, I'm mostly dependent on the occasional wet dream. Actually, I used to be a bit of a wanker at one time. However, these days masturbation would only arouse my self-contempt, so I tend to avoid it.
YOUNG WOMAN: Masturbation's puerile.
Fortunately I didn't succumb to it all that often, just once or twice
a month in order to clean the works out, as it were, and reassure
myself that I
hadn't become impotent. After a while I
loathed the self-degradation involved with the use of sex magazines,
of which I rarely found stimulating. So
I'd resort to my imagination instead, fantasize myself into a climax
that I wouldn't become irredeemably perverted or the victim of a
haemorrhage. Nowadays I don't fantasize
as persistently or regularly as I used to; I stop myself going beyond a
low-key point and limit myself to one or two a day.... Frankly, I
fact that I was born in
(Smiles through her nose) I wouldn't particularly
blame him. After all, one doesn't
normally ask strangers those sorts of questions. In
one doesn't normally approach
strangers at all, at least not in
YOUNG MAN: I suppose I was being a bit silly then but, well, one sometimes feels the urge to do or say something unusual, if only to prove to oneself that one is still capable of self-determination and isn't utterly predictable.
YOUNG WOMAN: But having it off with a prostitute, or just about anyone, presumably isn't one of those urges in your case?
YOUNG MAN: No, I guess not, since the thought doesn't hold any great attraction for me. With a man of my sort it has to be all or nothing. I'd willingly continue to remain celibate until death, if only to keep away from half-measures, or anything which only served to compromise and humiliate me. I've seen too many half-measures in life to be particularly impressed by them. God knows what would become of me if I had to settle for someone I secretly despised! I'd probably become bad-tempered, jealous, cruel, cynical: any number of disreputable things!
YOUNG WOMAN: But aren't you most of those things already?
YOUNG MAN: (Sighs dejectedly) Well, at least I'm suffering on my own terms at present, which is some consolation. There's always the possibility of my meeting someone who'll really matter to me. I wasn't born for charity, that's all. I've seen too much of the negative side of it, its detrimental consequences.
YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles gently and edges closer to him) So you think I may be able to provide you with the companionship you lack at present?
YOUNG MAN: (Visibly surprised) Eh? But aren't you waiting for someone?
YOUNG WOMAN: No, not any longer.
YOUNG MAN: You mean someone else is going to suffer on account of me, then?
YOUNG WOMAN: Not necessarily. Anyway, you've been alone long enough already, haven't you?
YOUNG MAN: Yes, I suppose you're right. But I may take some getting used to.
YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles encouragingly) Don't worry! I'm a fairly patient person.
YOUNG MAN: Yes, you are, aren't you? (He squeezes her hand thankfully) By the way, my name's Stephen Kelly. What's yours?
YOUNG WOMAN: Susan Connors. And I'm not wearing red knickers.
YOUNG MAN: You're not? (Blushes profusely) Oh damn! I was just teasing you. Please accept my sincere apology. (They embrace each other and, following a tentative exchange of kisses, the scene ends with the young couple slowly walking away from the bench hand-in-hand.)
THE WEEKLY LESSON
I had just removed her brassiere and was in the preliminary stages of fondling her quite copious breasts when, to my profound consternation, the damn telephone rang. "Now who-the-devil can that be?" I asked myself as, reluctantly extricating myself from Sharla's grip, I hurried out into the hall, snatched up the receiver, and straightaway heard a gruff voice asking: "Hello, is my daughter there?"
"She is indeed!" I impulsively replied.
"Ah, could I speak to her a moment?"
"Er, certainly. Just a sec." I turned towards the piano room, the door to which was still slightly ajar. "Sharla!" I called.
"Your, er, father wants to speak to you."
"Oh, damn him!" she groaned, automatically putting on her vest. "What-on-earth can he want?"
It wasn't a question I could answer there and then, so I patiently held the receiver to my chest until, arriving breathlessly in the hall, she was able to take it from me and say: "Hi dad!"
Fearing that my presence beside her wouldn't help any, I ambled back into the piano room, where her bag, coat, shoes, miniskirt and underclothes lay strewn across the floor, and her perfume permeated the air with its delightfully sweet scent. Indeed, everything about her was delightfully sweet. Even the room itself, ordinarily so drab and formal, seemed to have taken on a romantic dimension which lent the furniture a mysterious poignancy, as though it had acquired the semblance of life and was now a silent witness to this evening's amorous events. Fortunately for me, however, Sharla's high intelligence permitted her the equivalent of two lessons in the space of one, so I never had to fear that her musical education would lag behind or be seriously undermined in consequence of my weekly devotions to her sexuality. In my view she was potentially a distinction candidate, the next and final examination grade almost bound to lead her to studying piano at one of the country's principal music colleges.
"Okay," her voice came from the hall, "but I won't be late home in any case. Yes, thanks for letting me know. Okay, bye then." She replaced the receiver with a peremptory slam and swiftly tiptoed back to where I lay, ruminating on the couch.
"Well, is anything amiss?" I tersely asked while fixing her with a searching look.
"He wanted to know if everything's okay, she drawled, still a little under the influence of our bottle of medium-sweet wine.
"What a silly question!" I asseverated, my hands instinctively groping under her vest for the milk-laden globes which were now generously advancing towards me, compliments of Sharla's graceful return to the couch. "What did he really say?"
Her long spidery fingers crawled nimbly over my stomach and up my chest. "A friend of the family has invited my parents over to dinner at the last moment, so they'll be out when I get back. Which means that my father has hidden the front-door key in one of the two small lanterns affixed to the wall either side of our front door."
"But don't you have a key of your own?" I asked, astounded.
"They still won't entrust me with one," she sighed.
"How silly!" I exclaimed. "Why, you're almost eighteen."
"And old enough to be my piano teacher's favourite pupil," she enthused.
I smiled impulsively, as much from relief as from genuine amusement. "Yes, but at least I'm a private teacher and not a schoolmaster."
"What difference does that make?" she cried.
"Less scandalous, of course."
"The hell it is!"
I had to smile in spite of my attempt at seriousness. "Look, this is a perfectly natural state-of-affairs actually. Let's just say that both of us are pupils in the art of making love."
"But you're always teaching me," Sharla protested, clearly no easy girl to convince.
I sighed faintly and said: "Not as much as you may imagine, sweetie."
"Well, that's not the impression I get," she smilingly retorted.
"Frankly, you're a very precocious young lady who knows, as well as anybody, that the recently-perfected transition from the keyboard to the couch considerably enhances your enjoyment of these piano lessons," I averred, "particularly when you can spend part of your fees on the quiet and boast to various classmates at school of having intimate connections with a handsome music teacher nearly ten years your senior."
"I don't boast!" Sharla retorted incredulously. "Whoever told you that?"
"Now, now, don't blush, baby!"
"I'm not b-blushing," she stammered. "I never tell other girls anything about you."
"Ah, but they tell me," I smiled, teasing her.
"What d'you mean?" she exclaimed. "No other girls ..."
"Alright, I was only joking," I admitted, the back of my hand caressing her cheek in a pacificatory manner. "But you do tell a few friends."
She lowered her large plum-like eyes in apparent shame. "Okay, only my closest friends," she confessed blushingly.
I smiled but said nothing as we lay motionless together on the couch, basking in the gentle warmth of each other's bodies. I ran a hand through her black wiry hair and then ever so tenderly kissed her on the lips a few times. Eventually she responded in kind and our kissing became more intense.
"The time always goes too quickly when I come here," she at length sighed, coming-up for air.
"Indeed it does," I agreed sympathetically. "It's a pity you don't come here more often."
"Humph! I might be able to if you weren't always so busy giving piano lessons to other girls every night," she complained. "Don't you ever take an evening off?"
"I don't teach at the weekend," I replied obliquely.
"Then why can't we arrange to see each other on Saturdays or Sundays as well?" she asked a touch petulantly.
"That might be possible," I conceded.
Smiling, she drew herself up closer to my face and brought her big dark eyes directly into focus with mine, or so it appeared from the way I saw her pupils contract so rapidly. "Do you have other girls like me?" she asked with a directness that momentarily embarrassed me.
"Unfortunately not, Sharla," I confessed in what was probably an overly frank sort of way. "The others are mostly too young, too plain, or too thin. Besides, I couldn't afford to let that many people keep a part of their piano fees in recompense, since I'm not exactly rolling in money, you know."
"But you do have a girlfriend besides me, don't you?" she asked in a tone of voice and with a facial expression which suggested she already knew the answer. So, to save myself extra complications, I gently replied in the affirmative. "And you see her at the weekends?" she went on. Again I replied in the affirmative. "Humph! That explains it," she solemnly concluded.
"Explains what, Sharla?"
"Why you won't see me then."
"Not entirely," I responded half-smilingly.
"Then what?" - She seemed on the verge of tears.
"Don't upset yourself," I gently chided her and, sliding my hands down her back and over her rump, proceeded to comfort her as best I could.
"What time is it?" she at length wanted to know, looking a trifle concerned.
"My goodness, it's nearly 8.50!" I exclaimed, glancing at the watch and scrambling to my feet. "I've another pupil at nine."
"What a drag," she drawled.
"What, having another pupil?"
"No, getting dressed!"
I smiled as, reaching for our respective clothes, the pair of us sought to cover our nakedness as quickly as possible.
That done, we briefly returned to the piano and to the Schumann piece which still stood, as though to attention, on the stand where it had been abandoned some time before. If it had presented her with a few minor problems it was mainly because her legato technique was still insufficiently pianistic, depending too much on the sustain pedal. I therefore suggested that she spend some of the following week practising scales in order to make her fingers work harder, since they were still rather too lazy and stiff for comfort (in marked contrast, I reflected, to the way they behaved on the couch). "In actual fact it would be better if, for the time being, you ignored the pedal markings altogether," I continued, growing in confidence. "For the pedal is fast becoming a crutch, and not exactly the most helpful one either!"
Thus after a few amendments to her Schumann technique, a brief display of scales, and a couple of aural tests, I set her free, saying: "And don't be late next week!" as a final piece of advice which, however innocently intended, was bound to sound ironic to Sharla.
"Oh, don't you worry about that!" she smilingly retorted and, much to my delight, planted a firm farewell kiss on my lips before regretfully taking her leave of me.
THE WEEKLY CONFESSION
When she arrived at the church there was nobody to be seen. The building was almost deserted. Apart from some barely audible mumbling from the confessional, there was nobody to be heard either. It was all very quiet.
Glancing down at her wristwatch, she saw that it was exactly 2.30pm, the time she was usually expected. The priest would be quite disappointed with her if she arrived late, as experience had recently shown, and might even decline to absolve her. It was one thing to arrive a sinner, but to depart the church an even bigger one was quite another! She so hated to repeat her confessions.
Sharon Conroy had just turned eighteen. With a shapely figure, a pretty face, a pleasant manner, good taste, and a few additional charms besides, she possessed virtually all the personal advantages for which a young woman of moderate means could reasonably hope. From a very early stage in her church-going career she had built up a considerable trust in Father James' confidence, in his congenially unpretentious manner of first absorbing and then absolving sins. Now that she had blossomed into a highly attractive not to say intelligent person, this confidence seemed even more important to her than previously, and notably as a means of securing his profoundest concern for her sexual welfare. It was he, after all, who had one day assured her that he always took her interests directly to heart.
She sat down on the end of the pew nearest the confessional and, bowing her head, respectfully closed her eyes. It was so still in the church that, excited as she was, she could hear her heart beating. The slightest movement on her part would have seemed like a sudden violence. A few tiny beads of sweat rolled slowly down her back and were absorbed by her underclothes. The deathly coolness of the place was so apparent on warm days like today ... it was a wonder to her that she didn't catch a chill, as she had often feared doing, from these sudden violent changes of temperature. Father James could at least have taken the trouble to warm the place up a bit!
Slowly opening her eyes she glanced towards the confessional, from whence the steady mumbling, now more audible than before, behind its thick curtain indicated that the priest was engaged in absolving an old man, probably the old fellow who had been there at a similar time the previous week; though what it was, exactly, that such an elderly person could be held guilty of ... she didn't have the foggiest idea! Perhaps he gambled or drank immoderately, assuming he had the money? Well, whatever he did, he was evidently a sinner and, as such, Father James would know how to deal with him, to keep him on reasonably good terms with the Almighty. One had to admit that it didn't pay to underestimate the power of redemption, especially where such an experienced emissary of God as this erudite priest was concerned!
After a few minutes had elapsed, the curtain behind which the elderly sinner had been hiding was carefully drawn back by a shrivelled hand, and a stooped figure, scarcely recognizable in the semi-darkness, slowly emerged from his part of the confessional with what may well have been a relieved expression on his ugly face, and straightaway shuffled off down the aisle, seemingly well on his way to eternity. The confessional would probably reek of pipe tobacco and spirits, but what matter! Father James was awaiting, whether in trepidation or stoical perseverance, his next sinner. Her part of the box was empty. Nothing could possibly undermine the favourable effect her perfume was bound to create. Absolution would soon adjust to that!
Gently rising from her pew she briskly walked into the confessional, pulled the heavy curtain across behind her, knelt down before the latticed partition dividing sinner from absolver, straightened her long hair, undid a couple of buttons on her blouse, and softly greeted the balding priest's squat figure, now seemingly reposed behind a mask of inscrutable receptivity. The ceremony had begun!
As usual, in keeping with the solemn tone of these proceedings, she had donned black externals: satin skirt, cotton blouse, nylon stockings, and leather shoes. Her underclothes, however, were bright red. But this deviation from formal solemnity, though never overtly remarked upon by the priest, was nonetheless silently accepted by him in view of the Devil's alleged persistence in tempting young women to wear such items of clothing as encouraged lustful sin, in Father James' vocational opinion: "That deadly poison eating away at our inner life like a cancer of the soul, and consequently rendering introspective analysis imperative as a means to exorcising its demon."
So it was, then, that the confession proceeded according to plan, with all due decorum and little or no allusion to certain previous events. Father James' reassuring intonation, cast in the most exquisite Christian humility, always managed to get around Sharon's innate distrust of authority, especially the omniscient authority which he claimed to represent, and almost invariably made possible a fairly candid reciprocity of exchanges between them. Thus after the opening formalities had paved the way for the young woman's temporary redemption, he continued, quite unaffectedly, to question her morality, alternating, with her responses, between passive receptivity and gentle innuendoes, nodding his sagacious head in confirmation of her disclosures and even occasionally shaking it from side-to-side whenever one of her confessions, more plausible than the last, happened to confirm his deepest suspicions. To be sure, the proceedings were never so confidential as when Father James proffered signs of being genuinely involved with them. For he was known throughout the parish for his fundamental indifference to commonplace occurrences, being temperamentally more disposed to the miraculous and otherworldly, so that anyone who commanded his sympathies in such matters had good reason to consider herself privileged.
following the introductory
recitations, verbal confessions, and general absolution, the
centrally-positioned secret door swung back towards the priest and a
clammy but not ungraceful, extended its fingers in the general
"And your virginity
is still intact,
"Let me see, my child." At which point his fingers begin to explore farther afield. "Ah yes now, there it is."
His explorations cause her to smile a little in spite of herself, but, as on other such occasions, she manages to restrain her emotion and pretend to treat this little physical examination seriously, as though pretence, and pretence alone, could secure its continued efficacy, and thereby avoid compromising the old priest's moral sensibilities. However, at this point she changes her position, so that the kneeling becomes a squat and her legs instinctively open to assist the movement of his fingers. Her vagina is warm, moist, relaxed, and his fingers play delicately over its outer parts, around her groin, and through to the contours of her amply seductive buttocks. Then he extends the torch in his other hand and begins to investigate her underclothes, the seductive implications of which are compared or, rather, contrasted with the innocence of her sex: the 'protagonist', as he likes to call it.
is in order,
This command applies to her displaced panties. The little door swings back towards the mad priest and, without a moment's hesitation, he gives her his dubious blessings.
"Thank you, Father."
"My pleasure," he impulsively replies, quite forgetting himself. "Same time next week."
"Of course, Father."
confessional, the church is empty as