An excerpt by John Maxwell O’Brien
John Maxwell O’Brien is an emeritus professor of history (Queens College, CUNY)) who has written numerous articles on ancient history, medieval history, and the history of alcoholism. His best-selling biography, Alexander the Great: The Invisible Enemy (Routledge), has been translated into Greek and Italian and he authored the article on alcoholism in the Oxford Classical Dictionary. Professor O’Brien’s second life has been devoted to his first love, creative writing. Professor O’Brien’s poems have appeared or will appear shortly in Literary Yard, Hedgehog Poetry Press (where his poem was shortlisted in the Cupid’s Arrow contest), IthacaLit, The Southwest Poetry Review, and the Irish Poetry Corner of Irish Arts & Entertainment. A short story of his is in the current issue of Kaleidoscope and he has just finished a debut novel entitled Aloysius the Great, an extract from which appears below. Professor O’Brien is now looking for a suitable publishing home for his novel.
Doomsday has arrived. Budgen drops me off at the train station and I purchase a first-class ticket to London and, perhaps, Hades. Go there in style.
On this trip Aloysius Magnus will drift into a majestic state of mind and devise a masterful strategy for the battle of Cockfosters Station. First, wash down five magic tablets with royal coffee, thereby banishing headaches from the realm.
Aha! Here’s an empty car where the great one can doze off on his voyage south. But, alas, His Highness is a serial dreamer, and the most outré of nightmares come in the wake of lifting one jar too many. For a while it was those outlandish newspaper stories, but lately, it seems, the play’s the thing . . .
Where am I? A brothel? What did you say . . . I mean, who did you say you were? Zoe? Life? You are life? Jesus. Life is a whore. Why are you smoking a Cuban cigar, and where’s your twin sister, Thanatos? You don’t know her? Your own sister, Death? Oh, Jesus, what are you doing? I must warn you. I won’t pay. I never pay. Hey, you’re giving me money. Yeah, that’s okay. Who’s that? Bella? She’s the boss? Where’d she go? There you are. Elena, it’s you, isn’t it?
I am whoever you want me to be, but before you do anything else, I want you to look through this.
(She points Aloysius toward a zoetrope, which he peers into.)
That’s you Elena. Who’s that slimy-looking character with you?
That’s my husband, Dr. Delagracia. Let Zoe assist you while you watch. Zoe, throw that cigarillo away. Your mouth can be better engaged than with a cylinder of rank weed.
(Zoe undoes Aloysius’s belt, easing him down into a leather chair while kneeling in front of him—not, it seems, to pray. Dr. Delagracia takes out his black bag, opens Elena’s blouse, and places his stethoscope on her left breast. He listens and nods, then has her lie supine while he lifts up her skirt. He takes a tiny brush out of his bag and strokes her red pubic hair with his left hand, while placing his stethoscope on her vaginal labia with his right hand. He listens intently, nods his head in approval, and proceeds to expose his black priapic member.)
What are you doing to me? I don’t want to see this. Let me out of here.
(Aloysius squirms to liberate himself but thickened leather straps project from the chair’s arms and lock him in. Zoe gets up wiping her mouth, but Aloysius realizes it’s not Zoe. It’s Marthe Fleischmann.)
Marthe, what are you doing here?
What’s wrong with you, sir? Had a little too much to drink today? I’m not Marthe. I’m Kitty Higgins, and, good sir, may I ask, what in blazes are you doing here?
Well . . .
(Aloysius pushes her out of the way and sees a young woman in her early twenties pressing her face up against the window of the zoetrope.)
Deborah . . . is that you?
It’s me all right. Do you want proof?
(She backs up and reveals a transparent rectangle in her abdomen. The window acts as a camera lens and zooms in on Deborah, who’s now standing in front of a painting of a young boy in an Eton suit carrying a book called Aloysius’s Wake.)
That’s your son. Or, I should say, that’s what he’d look like today if you’d let me have him. Would you like to see what he really looks like today?
No! Let me go.
(Aloysius pulls in vain at the chair to release himself, only to realize his shoes have been nailed to the floor.)
Well, you will, whether you like it or not.
(Aloysius tries to shut his eyes, but maggots have a restraining grip on his eyelids.
Deborah picks up a large jar with a male fetus immersed in formaldehyde. It’s a dwarf’s face, mauve and wrinkled.)
I was drinking heavily at the time.
You always drink heavily. Tell your son that and see what he says.
(She rushes toward him with the jar and pushes it up against the zoetrope’s window. The image blurs, and the young woman and her jar disintegrate. The blurry face of a woman with anomalous eyes and auburn hair approaches Aloysius through the zoetrope.)
Yes, Tabeel, it’s your Mameleh. Don’t listen to those who would bring you down with them. You are going to become a great man one day who helps others find themselves. Therein dwells your greatness. But to do this you must take control of your cup, your wallet, and your temperament. You must learn what the heart is and what it feels, and discover the power of the word known to all men . . . l-o-
(She disappears without finishing the spelling.)
(A priest wearing a black cassock enters stage left. A large silver Celtic cross is hanging from his neck set against a blood-red circular woolen cloth. A Hasidic rabbi enters stage right, wearing a black rekel and a dark red gartel encircling his waist.)
Why have you forsaken your son, my son?
(He points to a Christlike figure on the cross, which metamorphoses into a fetus.)
And why have you forsaken the God of your forefathers—the God of Abraham and Isaac and Rosenbach?
Let us hear your sins. Your most grievous sins and your venial sins.
Aren’t sins their own punishment? Why am I going through this with you? I will not genuflect.
(The priest becomes a wraith and vanishes. Aloysius stares at the rabbi.)
I will forgive you.
(He traces the Star of David in the air with his index finger.)
Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris.
(The rabbi vaporizes.)
“King’s Cross Station. King’s Cross Station.” It’s the conductor.
It’s going to take all day to shake myself loose from that horror. Sleep’s supposed to be a cure for what ails you. Sometimes it just magnifies the agony. The Greeks said the gods speak to you through your dreams. What are they trying to tell me?
Signal for a taxi.
“Russell Hotel, please.” I check in at the hotel and wait for Mountjoy’s call.
Well, if it happens, it’s going to be in the Tube at either Cockfosters Station or Waterloo Station. Elena’s father’s pursuers will either confront him, kiss him, or kill him. That is unless Mountjoy or I can intervene if and when things get ugly. It’s preposterous. We have no idea what to do. I should have never let Mountjoy volunteer for this, but I can’t be at both stations simultaneously. And all this to please my fair lady Elena. What price glory? Torquemada will probably emerge unscathed, his type always does and Mountjoy or I will have our tickets punched—permanently.
Finally, the phone rings. “Hello, Your Lordship. . . . Ha! You’re right. Why screw it up with plans at this stage? If I get there early and wander around outside Cockfosters, what sort of neighborhood will I be in? . . . It sounds decent enough. What about Waterloo? . . . That bad, huh? Sure boss, I know what you’re talking about. We call it public housing. It’s always a problem. What will you do if the locals try to mug you? . . . Ha! My money is on them. I’d better get going. Good luck at Waterloo. I’m on my way to Cockfosters. Bye.”
Nothing unusual about the station, except its above ground. I like that. It’s less nerve-wracking than that buried-alive feeling you get from the subway. There’s a large clock I can see from the platform. Twenty after nine. Wait. Here’s somebody. This could be de la Flora. Get close enough to be sure without letting him recognize you. Take off your beret and glasses and stroll casually in his direction.
It’s not him. Uniform back on.
I pace up and down the platform endlessly and then check the time. The clock says ten twenty-five. No sign of Torquemada. Dammit. I wish something would happen this clock-watching is torture. What did Mountjoy say? Give it another half-hour and then fold up your tent. Finally, the clock strikes eleven. Well, I stood ready to serve, like Malachi wearing the collar of gold. Alas, to no avail.
Take the Tube back to the hotel and maybe get a good night’s sleep this time. Mountjoy said we’d compare notes tomorrow. Probably didn’t expect anything to happen. What’s this? Oh yeah. I told them to leave an iced bottle of Dom Perignon in my room. There’ll be no victory to celebrate tonight. So, what? They’re all Pyrrhic victories, anyway. One thing’s for sure: I can’t waste this bottle of champagne. That would be criminal.
What’s that noise? Where am I? Jesus, it’s the chambermaid. I shout out I need a few minutes. It’s eleven o’clock already? No nightmares. If I dress quickly, I can grab a cab and still catch an express train to Yorkshire.
There’s a taxi right outside the hotel. “King’s Cross Station, please.” Mountjoy’s going to ridicule me for wasting his time. I thought he’d call this morning, but he must have left at daybreak to get back to the university. Well, if Torquemada was nowhere to be seen, he’s probably still breathing, and that’s Elena’s main concern. Maybe it is a victory. That is, unless Mountjoy encountered something. Jesus. I hope not. If anything happens to him, it’s going to be me bearing the blame.
Here we are. Grab a stack of newspapers. I’m not sleepy and I don’t have a headache. Maybe vintage champagne is the answer to my problem. At least it would be an elegant way to go.
“Sir, they just dropped off the latest edition of the Daily Mail. Would you like that one as well?”
“Yes. Please.” I slip it under the pile and hustle to catch the train.
Boring. Boring. Bored. Let’s see what the Daily Mail has to offer.
“Oh, my God!”
BIZARRE INCIDENT AT WATERLOO STATION
Several travelers on the Bakerloo Line reported a most peculiar incident occurring at Waterloo Station between ten and eleven o’clock, on Saturday night, as they exited from their carriages. While reports differ, there appears to be general agreement that four men were involved in a dispute that resulted in one of them discharging a firearm.
The incident took place at the opposite end of the station from which the travelers exited from their carriages. Witnesses at the scene all agreed they heard shouting in a foreign language from that direction, which one bystander identified it as Italian, and the others as Spanish. Some pushing was observed among three of the gentlemen, two shots were fired in the air, and then something most extraordinary occurred. When the three men separated, a fourth man was seen stark naked in their midst, with both hands clasped over his head, slowly and methodically pirouetting.
Two of the men suddenly started running at a furious pace past the bystanders. One witness reportedly looked towards the end of the station and saw the naked man scamper to retrieve his discarded clothes and push the other man, an elderly gentleman, into the carriage of a newly arrived train. The naked man’s momentum carried him and the older man into the carriage just as the doors were closing.
As the train passed by, several witnesses observed the naked man, thought to be in his thirties, dressing hastily, while the elderly gentleman sat bewildered. Witnesses agreed they saw only one person, a woman perhaps in her late fifties, in the car the two men entered. She is said to have been staring at the naked man with what appeared to be a smile on her face. The local constabulary was contacted, and the station was shut down while police officials attempted to locate the bullets allegedly discharged into the roof of the station.
Anyone who has information concerning what transpired at Waterloo Station last night is asked to contact Scotland Yard.
“This has to be Mountjoy. Nobody else is crazy enough to do something like that.”
I can imagine the headlines in tomorrow’s tabloids:
MAYHEM IN THE BOWELS OF THE LONDINIUM METROPOLIS
PIROUETTING PEDANT’S PENIS PARRIES PERNICIOUS PLOT
DANGLING DINGUS DERAILS DESPICABLE DEED
WAYWARD WILLY WAGGER WOWS WATERLOO WATCHERS
FRISKY FRUMP FINDS FLASHER’S FLUTE FASCINATING
© John Maxwell O’Brien