Circles of Gold

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Donal Arrives

Once upon a time, when dreaming was useful, a child was born. His father, with youthful exuberance, watched his son enter his world and exclaimed, “Oh, me God, he’s beautiful! He’s ...” He stopped exclaiming for he had seen something he had not expected. His silence was palpable as he frowned and quickly forced a smile back to his face. Too late. His straining wife, focused on her own exertions, pains and joys, sensed a peripheral shiver touch her heart. She looked at her husband’s wooden smile and knew all was not well. The midwife and her two assistants – village girls learning this important craft – caught the cool wind of concern and they stopped momentarily, uneasily, for a second that travelled into eternity.

An impartial observer would have sensed nothing but, for those involved, a ripple of time, a shadow of unease, passed through all of them. They then returned to what needed to be done, pretending they had not seen what was fully evident.

The naked wee babe was wiped of the wax over his pink body with damp cloths infused with herbs, and then placed on his mother’s naked belly, flesh to flesh. Her fervent panting had by now given way to gentle sighs and grateful smiles and all looked a picture of peace as the three other women gathered their ewers, bowls, utensils and unused liquids, to be cleansed or buried in the ancient way. They left the candles burning and the bundles of sage and lavender smouldering to help cleanse and purify the room.

The young priest, his wife and son were soon alone. As he sat smiling at his wife and child, he wondered why God would give him perfection in everything and then mar it with deformity. He considered whether he should rewrite tomorrow’s sermon which was written, in anticipation of this sweet moment, on God’s preference for providing us with perfection if we would but get out of His way, stop judging and love what is provided. Perhaps the point is to accept perfection and imperfection, beauty and deformity, for life was never perfect, easy and fully joyous. Lovely sentiments, nice theory for a priest to talk about but, blast it! This was his son, in his life, in his house and they’d all have to live with that abnormality, that un-human monstrosity, forever. It just wasn’t fair, especially for a man of God to have to deal with the cruel humour of a vicious creator. God had always been so loving till now so why did He have to turn on him, a good and pious priest who had given his life over to God and His mighty works and now, now that he had all he wanted, God savagely distorts that which he must live with. Why, oh why, God? Why me? Why now? His thoughts raged on.

The dread that had been instilled in his heart from the gathering of men of his calling, two valleys away, two moons ago, rose as bile in his throat. In their flowing white cloaks the men had stepped down into their sacred pit, inside the heart of The Mother, to hear The Mother speak to them through the voice of their high priest. Instead of uplifting, the words were, this time, quietly foreboding of a time to come. This End Time, The Mother said, would see neighbour fight with neighbour, famine would be on the land and peoples’ minds and bodies would be deformed. This Time, She said, may not be in their lifetimes and they must not talk of it to the uninitiated, to the villagers. In fact, She said, the priests must bring as much light and love to their people for that could, perhaps, keep the blackness from this land. It would, at least, reduce its tragic effects.

This message of doom, though a long time off, had shaken Bryn to his bones and he could not share it with anyone and so it grew. And now his son – his son, the son of a druid priest – was deformed. Was it a reflection of his own impurity, the ungodliness he kept inside? He felt The Mother pointing at him, not with her usually loving smile but with an accusing grimace.

He knew that the deformity was there – he had seen it – but it was now hidden, pressed against his wife’s soft belly. He felt himself slipping off the map of his life, his fingers clinging to the edge as pebbles loosened themselves and spun into the abyss below. This was not as he had planned it to be and now he could feel himself about to plummet into the rude forests of his ancestors where gnarly, savage creatures waited to taunt him, if not to devour him. As that ancient fear of all men – the fear of not being in control – threatened to swamp him, he remembered his training. So he invited God inside. He sat with God inside. He stilled his mind, opened his palms, softened his jaw and smiled his eyes and mouth. He crawled back from that cracking edge of a life so-dreamed and lay there panting on the warm earth as God stilled his rushing thoughts. Through the panic he arrived back home to a comfortable peace, a knowing that he knew nothing, and that was as it should be, somehow.

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