George and the Holy Holiday

1 May 2015

George Jeffreys woke up in a sand lagoon
on a Wollongong beach on his back. He had
just relaxed enough to close his eyes, when
a group of holidaymakers grew concerned
above him, debating if he’d died. George
reached warily for a towel and crawled
up onto some rocks to watch his sometime
lover Clare, who sat on a grey shelf.
The foaming lace at her small feet was
the colour of her hair and ghostly skin,
the foaming sea lace like the edge of blood
after a knife goes in.
Clare’s small hands were clasped on
her knees in grey depression, rocking slow
inside the rock’s grey depression. She was
preoccupied with a boarding kennel
in Adelaide that had let the animals die –
by howling dozens, dogs and cats –
in a bushfire, apparently refusing
to evacuate early enough or accept
help in evacuation. She had heard that one
proprietor supposedly heroically on site
was really in America on vacation. George
wanted to warn her that such concern
for animals would completely break her heart, but
knew since she’d killed her siblings in
her childhood that, anyway, her heart
was already completely broken. Instead,
he stumbled over towards her, put his arm
bravely around her shoulders. She was
too polite to show her tension, allowed
again the intrusions of affection. He said,
‘It’s the Holy Holiday again. On the same
principle that Sitwell said that torture
could elicit anything from victims, except
that they hadn’t enjoyed their holidays, people
will do anything if they think that they deserve
a vacation.’ She nodded, “Some owners
of the pets are defending the kennel, because
they left their animals there and don’t
want to admit they took a risk with them.
People do think a holiday is sacred, will
sacrifice anything for it, angrily. Are
you enjoying ours?’ ‘I went to sleep for a second,’
he said, ‘but they thought I was dead. Would
you like to go home?’ He felt such pity
from unpossession that he rephrased the question,
‘Would you like me to take you home?’, but
she continued on the grey subject: ‘Every time
some child dies on a school trip, some
of the other parents defend the school, even
sometimes its parents themselves. Any
institution seems more powerful than
human love or loss.’ George said, ‘But it’s just
what you said: the guilt of careless
delegation. And blurring of ego with
any perpetrator. The remaining children
in Cairns declaring loyalty to Mother.’ ‘Is
your ego’, then she asked him,’still that
badly blurred with mine?’ ‘It never was,’
he answered, ‘or you’d never have accepted.
So if we’re still on holiday, would you like
me to ask Sophie and the baby to come here?’
Sophie was Clare’s friend from Paris, who had
been saved by Clare from a fire and a husband.
The baby was a few years old now, but
would always be The Baby, because
of her infinite mutuality. ‘Yes,of course, but
we’ll all just talk about sieges.’ ‘It seems
a good use for a holiday’, said George.

*

Florence on holiday from kindergarten
took everything as seriously as ever, but
had the serious person’s propensity
to shriek with serious joy. George
and her mother Sophie sat on the rocks
– that particularly Wollongong mixture of iron,
sand, anthracite and granite, which Clare
said reminded her of George – while
Florence and Clare ‘wave-danced’, which
meant them holding hands,jumping back
at each roll of a wave, chasing the next
one out while shouting with excited
surprise interspersed with risky
pas de deux worthy of the early
Nureyev and Fonteyn. George watched
and applauded – a function he enjoyed –
thinking the scene had even more beauty
than a lucent Bergman beach, and almost none
of the ominous undercurrents. Sophie
said, ‘So many deaths in Paris and the siege
here, also. I was thinking of you: your quote
from Bevan that the Labour Party has too
much reverence: that you must think the Muslims
have too much reverence, too?’ ‘Reverence,’
agreed George, ‘is a violent emotion. And what
confuses things about Muhammad is that
he was iconoclastic and didn’t want any
portrait of him to be worshipped, but
he also wanted people who disliked him
or his God to be executed.’ Sophie considered,
‘Yes, I suppose if it wasn’t for the latter, one
could say the Charlie Hebdo cartoons would be okay
with him. George affirmed, ‘Yes, because
they aren’t a form of worship.’ Clare was right,
he thought, that Sophie’s face was like
that of Paris Hilton and, he realised
looked therefore like an icon in the Orthodox
Church: the nose slightly curved down, the seemingly
one-dimensional smoothness confident, its depth
suggested by its surface, like a lake. ‘Yes,
like Luther, any prophet might well be afraid
of the power of icons’, said George, ‘as much
as by the power of cartoons, which always seem
too energetic to be sinister.’ Neither Clare
nor the baby looked the slightest bit iconic
as they turned to the rock watchers, faces
as animate as unconditioned kittens. George
knew it had taken Clare three decades
to reach that unconditioning in which
the system one rejects does not dictate
the form of one’s rejection: without this,
that form too often, as she had
told him, was ‘likely to be death.’ All
holidays presuppose too brutal labour, thought
George, and those two faces were too free
consistently to play these mere exceptions,
these holidays for deathly carelessness. Slowly,
and still protesting lack of grace, then he
and Sophie joined them, dancing with the sea.

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