The Penitent by Darby McDevitt


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The Penitent by Darby McDevitt


Paralyses (Seven Dubliners Extraction Mixes)
  Words by James Joyce
  Remixed by Darby McDevitt
  The Penitent
  from The Sisters
There… third stroke. Night after night in the same way. Faintly and evenly dead. The head of a corpse.
  I am not long for this world, I thought, idle. I gazed up. The window said, softly, the word paralysis. It had always sounded in my ears. It sounded to me like some maleficent and sinful fear. I longed to be nearer upon its deadly work—old, sitting at the fire, smoking.
  Some former remark: No, he was exactly something queer, something uncanny, tiresome! We knew him first. He used to faint… worms!
  I soon grew tired. I have my theory about it; I think it was peculiar, but hard to say. Under observation I continued as if the news had interested me. I felt little beady black eyes looking up from my plate rudely. Too much.
  Bad for children, my idea is. A young lad with lads his own age! My principle, that's what I'm always saying: take exercise every morning. A cold bath, winter and summer. That's education, all very fine and large. Take a pick, for me. But why not for children? It's bad for children because children see it has an… effect. I might give utterance to my tiresome old red nose when asleep.
  I was angry, alluding to my head extract (meaning: unfinished sentences). In the dark I imagined the heavy grey paralytic. I drew my head and tried to think. But the grey face murmured understood desire. Confess! I felt some vicious ion waiting for me. I wondered why. It smiled continually, lips moist with spittle. I remembered paralysis and felt sin.
  I went under the vague name Ordinary. Aged sixty-five years, I was disturbed to find myself nearly smothered; this stupefied doze. It was I who emptied the black box, spilling snuff about the floor. Large trembling hand to nose. Little clouds of smoke. Fingers over the coat. Constant showers. Snuff quite inefficacious.
  I wished courage. I walked slowly, the sunny side of the street all theatrical. I found it in a mourning mood, annoyed at discovering myself. A sensation of freedom by death. I wondered a great deal in Latin. Napoleon Bonaparte had explained the meaning of the different ceremonies and difficult questions, asking whether sins, mortal or venial, were institutions of the Church. I wondered how anybody had ever found the courage to smile and nod.
  The Mass made me pensive, now and then, each alternately. Big discoloured teeth let tongue lie upon lip, a habit I knew well. I walked in the sun and remembered velvet; a swinging antique fashion I had in some land where customs were the end of the dream.
  It was sunset; the tawny gold clouds shook interrogatively and proceeded to beckon. I hesitated repeatedly. I went on tiptoe through the dusk; golden light like pale flame. I pretended to gather my thoughts, muttering… distracted. I noticed the old priest smiling and I saw that he was solemn, his large hands retaining flowers.
  We crossed ourselves and found a decanter of sherry and some wine. He pressed me to take some but I declined because I seemed to be somewhat disappointed over the sofa. One spoke at the empty fireplace:
  —A better world.
  —Quite. The breath of God.
  —Anointed and prepared all.
  —As if a beautiful corpse.
  —God knows all. It was Him brought all the flowers for the cemetery.
  —Wasn't that good of him?
  —No great trouble when it's all over.
  —I won't be bringing snuff!
  And then I noticed there was something queer with his breviary. His mouth open, he continued:
  —Before the summer, see the old house again. Where we were all born with Him….
  —The Lord? Mercy!
  He gazed into the empty grate for some time without speaking, a disappointed man. Silence? I seemed to have fallen into a deep reverie. We waited respectfully for the silence. That was the beginning of it. Of course it contained nothing, but it was nervous.
  —God? Merciful?
  I heard something. The chapel opened and the Father brought in the dark. I listened, lying still, wide-awake… something gone wrong.
Darby McDevitt was born in Spokane, educated in Dublin, and sharpened in Seattle. He is an occasional filmmaker, decent musician, former game-designer, and present author of the rather fine book, Volume Void: A Perpetual Novelty.
     [Note: The Extraction Mixes were torn from Joyce's original Dubliners stories under the following conditions: 1) Text subtraction was the only viable tool; no text (apart from punctuation) was added to any piece; 2) Text could not be moved from its original location in any piece; i.e. "it lies where it falls." 3) The general "theme" or "essence" of Joyce's original stories had to remain intact; characters, plot, and setting could not.]