Time Capsule : Part Two

Autumn arrived as it was destined to do. Rain poured and continued to pour. Each day brought the endless oppression of the previous night’s rain quickly followed by more rain. Progress made on the new school wing  had come to a halt. Cloudburst after cloudburst was washing the new  foundations away. Their edges no longer followed the guidelines so carefully set out by stooped ground workers in the Spring and Fr Ryan no longer paced the site in the hope of stepping out new developments.

Relentless weather  was eroding the whole area, transforming it into a muddy mess. A damp smell of open clay hung around the school.The foundations barely contained the water that filled them, water that would take months to dissipate. St. Jude’s was once again living up to its reputation as a lost cause. Clouds gathered. Ryan could barely withstand an upward look.  He was irritated. The avenue’s dead Elms were even more foreboding now as their  leafless arms stretched up into tumults of weather. September had returned and his plan to open  the new school wing was now further from fruition than ever. His time, it seemed, would never arrive.

Ryan’s moment had been deferred. ‘Move the goal posts’ the architect quipped. But he could  not fully understand the implications of  irretrievably lost time. Ryan passed through each day with a pithy bitterness, answered his student’s questions more curtly than ever and felt a bristling in his mind that could hardly remain contained for much longer. His evening Powers had increased to two and now three. Darker evenings were being  calibrated by the snap of bottle tops twice a week. Nothing soothed his impatience. What had begun as a small whisper of ginger after dinner, was now three large whiskys. It left Ryan with a burning mouth to match his burning mind and by the end of each evening his brain was crawling with regret.

Lives often turn on disregarded detail and unnoticed incidents. Ryan however,  could no longer ignore either. His thinking was alert to every single word and movement as though his life had consisted of some sort of reviewable design. No longer able to withstand the  memory of his uneventful years, doubts poured in and left him questioning  every decision he had ever made. The new school wing was to be his legacy. It would qualify a life spent in a dead end. Unlike a number of his peers remembered for their crimes,  he would be remembered for the transformation of a dilapidated school for the disadvantaged as he heard Department officials refer to his students.

At any other time a new school wing would go under the radar but the Church was desperate for positive news and Ryan knew it. This was his last chance to piece together a memory for those who would  come to Jude’s after him. It was his last opportunity before old age truly set in to become someone.  With each flood however, time and funding disappeared. He was drowning in a crumbling dream. Loss breaks on the back of irrepressible change and for Ryan the more things remained the same, the more he lost.

Turning a cracked  tumbler in his palm, he considered all of the small life knocks  that had left  deep impressions on him.  Unknown bruises were surfacing and the details of their occurrences were becoming unbearable.  The new school wing had become an impetus for change that was now  being stifled by weather. What would at any other time be hardly worth his regard was now  ruining Ryan’s resolve. Ryan would die a no one, a thought he simply could not stand.

 

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Time Capsule: Part One

Iron on rock screeched across Jude’s school yard. Children covered their ears while Father Ryan closed both eyes. He pause and  waited. Opening his eyes, he moved towards the noise. Beyond the window the limb of a machine pushed elbow like into the earth. He couldn’t help but watch the mechanical beast work. It was like spying on some new kind of species in the schoolyard, foreign and transfixing, the new yellow machine responded to commands with a fluidity rarely seen at Jude’s.

Pulling a bucketful of clay upwards, the digger extended a giant arm, swivelled and swung  towards the outer  walls of the school. Ryan saw it  turn, open  its jaws and dump clay on a growing mound. Scraws upon scraws, the mound grew while small stones rolled to the bottom and well beyond its edge. The students here may not well have the same response level as that digger, Ryan thought to himself, but something was certainly changing.

Momentum was gathering of late. Even Ryan was standing a little taller and straighter. Increasingly aware of  time, he could recently be seen striding across the city streets with measured intent. “The school must grow” was etched  mantra like in his thoughts and his visage had set into that of man with a singular goal in mind.  “The school must grow.”  And now that funding and planning were both in place, Ryan resolved that the whole business would be completed by Christmas. Time was pressing and another year could not pass without the turning of the key in his new flagship building.

Sounds of earth being suctioned away from itself had filled the air since digging first began. Garden crusts untouched for almost 90 years gave out as machines ruptured the lawns. Since then  teaching at Jude’s was even more toilsome than before. Penetrating the mind of a Jude student on a good day was a big ask, on a noisy day filled with machines, shouting and digging, it was a dead loss.

At lunch time the children stuck themselves to the wire fence erected on the perimeter of the building site. Ryan often joined them under the pretence of supervision when in fact, he too was mesmerised by the progress being made. Each day veins of rock and clay were extracted layer by layer leaving a skeleton of old foundations exposed to the world. Muscle was being pulled from bone.

The grounds of the institution had been undisturbed since the building of St Jude’s  at the start of the last century. Originally an orphanage and later a school, it  was one of the few remaining religious properties to withstand  the boom of the last 15 years. True to its name, Jude’s was seen as a lost cause and not worth bothering with by local or national property developers.

Encased in its own dark, foreboding aura epitomised by peaking gothic windows, the school easily dispelled any passing interest in the site. Perhaps it was the steep drive up to it that dampened  the appetite of any possible  investor. The  skeletal long since dead Elms lining the avenue, suggested a sinister past  where death slept but which could sidle up beside you should you linger too long.

Given all that had happened in the last 20 years, it was a wonder the grounds had not been confiscated  by the state. There had been fears of forced sales at one point. All of that seemed unlikely now. Ryan learned from whispering inspectors and  judges that the state was more interested in leaving the past to the church than confiscating its property, allowing him to work on expanding the facilities at Jude’s.

The whole disruption would  be worth it. With a bit of luck and a spell of  dry weather  the new building  would fly up. The children, currently being schooled under the damp high ceilings of old orphanage dorms, would soon move into the Ryan Building as he liked to think of it .Ryan had worked alone in the expansion project and was delighted to think that the fruits of his funding campaigns, chats with the bishop and school board and late night letter writing sessions  to the local  political elite would become manifest in concrete by Christmas.

The Ryan wing would house Jude students in what would be the most technologically advanced school in the district: Jude’s would pioneer the seamless join between student and IPad. IRyan he thought smiling and affording  the indulgence. Who was to know of such minor flirtations with his ego? after all, he would confess and all would be forgiven. Surely dedicating his life to lost causes  allowed brief lapses in modesty once in a while? He was just a man after all and others had done worse, much worse.

William Trevor and ordinary tragedy

article-0-01269851000004B0-913_224x350Unspoken tensions and  inexpressible disappointment dominate William Trevor’s novels and  short stories. Featuring the failure of ordinary dreams in ordinary worlds, Trevor’s fiction delineates the sometimes excruciating lines his characters thread in making conservative decisions blocking pathways to freedom, inhibition and  romantic love in favor of safe personal worlds. The strength it takes to make these decisions as well as the fear that motivates them are characteristic of Trevor’s writing as a balanced exploration of the tenderness and cruelty of humanity in the everyday.

Trevor’s novella Love and Summer sees protagonist Elllie abandon an opportunity of romantic love with a travelling photographer for a life  of tender security with a local farmer.  The middle-aged protagonist of A Bit on The Side also  leaves romance behind her in the foyer of a cinema for a life of singular independence. Faced with the charm offensive of a man lacking any authentic substance, she chooses to return home abandoning the  experiences that had seemed possible in the early evening.

In many ways leaving the possibilities romance seems to proffer highlights her strength and independence. However, the reader is also left with a suggestion of loss and loneliness that is tragic in its frequent ordinariness. Similarly,  The Piano Tuner’s Wives traces how the haunting loss of  romantic love forty years before the story takes place erodes the Piano Tuner’s second marriage. The unsustainable ghosting of the marriage by a decision made almost a half century before leads to a gradual and irreversible loss of love. It  is perhaps through this slow inquiry into characters’ actions that Trevor threads an appreciation of  humanity across his writing.

Trevor’s novel The Story of Lucy Gault  explores the tragedy of unrewarded bravery. Choosing to stay in the family home after it has come under threat from local rebels during the War of Independence, Lucy is  bound to the house by her past love for whom she has waited since the end of the World War One.  Remaining in Wexford after her parents move away leaves Lucy facing a life of indefinite and isolated loneliness.

As the daughter of the local Anglo-Irish family, she signals the end of the family’s line and the end of the Anglo-Irish in the  area echoing a past soon set to disappear. Lost romantic love and failed dreams, the stuff of mundane tragedy, become the closed cage in which Lucy is bound to wait until her tragic death. Taken by or given to the sea, Lucy misses the return of her first and only love by the shortest of time periods, leaving the novel’s conclusion bereft of joy and in mourning for  Lucy’s loss and, indeed, the broader loss her tragic ending signals.  In tune with the  quite grind of a life of loneliness, The Story of Lucy Gault is testament to Trevor’s capacity to humanise tragic loss that can be overlooked for its  ordinary frequency.