Irony In The Soul
‘The Kingdom of God is at hand,
God has a plan to rescue the earth from evil;
God is here with us, now,
The dwelling of God is within us,
Eden is here and now.’
And so the former rugby fly half, Joe Moss, proclaimed to his only aware audience, Jack Austin, lately a regular at this spot in the Southsea shopping presinker (precinct); Jack got words wrong; “It is but a norm, open to change”, he would say. “Open to abuse” Mandy would say, but many went along, even adopting the alternative vocabulary of Portsmouth’s, Mr Malacopperism.
Morning shoppers sneaked peeks at the bearded, down-at-heel preacher. Looks of disdain, or nonchalant avoidance. What happened to Care in the Community, the Big Society; who had volunteered for this one? Basking in the midday sunshine on this Saturday, late in June, bare legs outstretched, upon a most uncomfortable bench, Jack knew where the mental health programme had gone, could stand-up with his old rugby pal and spout equally uncomfortable truths, ‘Couldn’t care less in the feckin’ community’. Feckin’ was a favourite expression. Jack quoted many things from books, films, adverts, mostly wrong, but off the telly he loved Father Ted; got most of that wrong as well, but people thought him more endearing for all of that. Joe had stopped preaching, and Jack, squinting a look at people staring, ‘Did I just say that out loud, Joe?’
Joe shrugged, and recommenced his proclamations that would save us all. Ironic, they were outside a super-saver shop where Day-Glo posters, emblazoned upon the windows, offered convenience, readymade meals; ‘Better to save a few souls, the arteries have no chance?’
‘You alright, Jack, only you keep shouting.’
Jack pulled a fake grimace, ‘Been doing that lately, Joe.’
Joe returned to his pitch, energetically launching the radical word of the Lord. Not the word professed by Jack's friend and catholic priest, Father Mike, but more salvation, here and now, and not after you’d popped your clogs. Wish someone would pop Blogg’s clogs, Jack thought, a roundabout reference to the Deputy Prime Minister, who had conned a lot of people into voting for him on a social agenda, and then jumped in with the devil's spawn, Mackeroon; arch Tory Boy. Not quite the resolution (he meant revolution) Jack believed in.
Without thinking, he lifted his arm and a small child nestled. He did momentarily think, I hope this is Meesh, or he could be arrested, but it was, knew it was, he had peeked; Jack Austin was a famed cheat. In just a couple of months, Jack and Amanda had formed a close bond with this tiny girl. He knew about unconditional love with his own children, was beginning to feel it with Amanda, as he had felt it with his late wife, Kate. It was now three years since his wife had died, and it had been a long haul out of the depth of grief, unbearable pain, a pain he used to avoid the reality of existence. Amanda had rekindled within him a desire for life, and remarkably, a sex life he had formerly given up on, until a knob-head, kiddie fiddler, shot him. But life was returning; convalescence well spent, as Detective Superintendent Amanda Bruce, became his Mandy.
He must have signalled his warm feelings, because Meesh, short for Michelle and called Spesh by Jack, snuggled tighter. He liked it, missed it with his own kids, Alana, twenty five and living with Josh, despite Jack’s insistence she go into a Nunnery, and Michael, clearly not Jack’s son as he was so mature at eighteen, soon to go off to medical school with his girlfriend, Colleen. Jack could not stand the sight of blood, and fainted when approached by a needle; where did Michael get that tolerance? And maturity, Jack would say “Tried that, not much fun”, and much to Mandy’s frequently expressed exasperation, people accepted it.
‘Who’s Kate?’ Meesh asked.
Startled, he opened his eye and peered into devastatingly innocent, green eyes, of this delightful urchin. ‘Did I just speak my thoughts, Spesh?’ She giggled and cuddled closer, Jack’s shirt was already disporting a patch of sweat, and he knew Spesh and Amanda would laugh at him. He would complain, but it was another source of soulful comfort. Since being clinically dead, seeing the proverbial white light, just a splash of intense crimson from Mandy’s dress, moments like this had become precious, and he was eternally grateful.
‘Kate was my wife, Alana and Michael’s Mum.'
Meesh’s freckled, heart shaped, face, enquired, ‘Where is she?’ And a few months ago such a question would have Jack spiralling into a deep melancholia from which he would struggle to escape.
‘She died, Spesh. I like to think she’s with the Angels and your Mum.’ This satisfied Meesh, who had witnessed the murder of her Mum. Jack had rescued the child from a house of paedophiles, the beginning of May, which kicked off a particularly gruesome investigation, that Jack knew opened more lines of inquiry than it closed, knew also convalescence would be short, but for now, he stretched, absorbing the midday sun.
Meesh was fascinated by Joe Moss, strutting, his Bible extended in an outstretched hand; more likely preoccupied with Joe’s overcoat, Jack thought.
‘Why’s he wearing an overcoat?’
Jack felt obliged to open his eye fully to the mousey haired waif, ‘Spesh, darlin’, Joe is a truly good man. He has no malice, but because he wears an overcoat in summer and speaks out loud, people assume he’s mad, but he is just hurting so bad he can’t think to take his coat off,’ which was an Army Great coat.
Blimey, children and their questions, heaven forefend if he had sometimes shown exasperation with his own. ‘It means bad thoughts, but that man would not hurt a fly.’
‘But flies are not good. Gail killed one the other day, is she malice?’
Gawd, ‘No sweet’art, Gail is the most loving person around, and looks after you well, doesn’t she?’
‘Is she going to be my new Mum?’
‘We hope so, and that makes you a very lucky girl.’
Jack returned to his recumbent position, and Meesh resumed hers, observing, the Preacher, proclaiming God was here and now and not waiting for you in heaven. Radical stuff, better look busy, Jack thought, chuckling.
‘What you laughing at?’
‘Just thinking how lovely you are,’ and Meesh settled, content, but the child psychiatrist had said to expect a crisis, and it will come probably when least expected.
The child psychiatrist was, Jackie Philips, nicknamed Phil by Jack, but she had firmly suggested that outside work he call her by her name, understanding that in the workplace he had a reputation to maintain; plonker. Jackie was a tall and elegant black woman of mid-forties, and a firm friend of Detective Superintendent Amanda Bruce, and both strong women were observing Jack and Meesh from the cool entrance lobby of Knight and Lee, the Department Store.
‘Certifiable, Mands,’ Jackie quipped.
‘You know who I mean, but now you mention it, why does Jack sit there listening to the word of God, thought he got that from Father Mike?’
Mandy snorted, ‘You know about the Father,’ and she went on, smiling benevolently, ‘Jack played rugby with Joe, got pissed together. Jack says you learn a lot about a bloke on a rugby piss-up.’
Jackie tugged Mandy’s sleeve to break her blissful review, ‘You do know that’s Jack psycho-babble?’
‘Oh yes, don’t you just love him, though.’
Jackie was not convinced, ‘I’ll be glad when you wake up and smell the coffee.’
‘Coffee would be nice,’ and Jackie turned to look at the woman she fancied, who, unfortunately, was so in love with Mr. Ugly, and he in love with her; Jackie knew. Jack had once described Mandy to Jackie with his eye closed, face first, novel for a man, she had thought. Mandy was fifty-three, for a few more weeks, and not aware of her innate beauty; Jack’s words. She had lines like any woman of her age, but Jack saw these as an expression of her womanly allure. He loved her eyes, and described their hazel qualities, her thick arched eyebrows and long lashes, light olive complexion, her large roman nose; aquiline was the word Jack searched for, and never found, and had he not given the aqueduct nom to Cyrano of the drugs squad, who truly came from Nose City, Mandy would have had to bear that agony, having struggled with her nose all of her life, but, here she was with a man who loved her fireman’s hose, as he called it.
“My Sophia Loren of Portsea Island”, Jack would say, alluding to Capri; certifiable? Absolutely, and Jackie agreed, Mandy was a handsome woman. Saw also the Sophia Loren resemblance, in that she exuded an innate sensuality. She could see it, and surprisingly, Jack saw it as well. He loved her full body, rounded hips that swayed, another of his observations Jackie had noticed. A real woman, growing old in a beautiful way, not a stick, and any right thinking man would want a woman like this, he had said, and Jackie thought she would to.
‘I give up, Mands. I grant you he is a gentle man, except when he literally goes berserk, but he’s a towering, overweight, in all the wrong places, ugly, crisis-magnet.’
‘I know…’ a dopy loving look on her face, ‘but he’s my crisis-magnet, and I quite like his little belly,’ and flipping her loving gaze from the grossly underestimated little belly, she tutted, he was wearing his Morecombe and Wise, shorts, and sticking out from the ridiculously huge shorts, were two extra-long, skinny legs, embossed with a throng of varicose veins, and like Jack’s distended belly, she chose not see them, though given the chance she would dispose of the shorts.
Mandy thought he had the naughty, boyish, charm of Jack Nicholson. However, his most obvious feature was a disfigured and blind eye, which he steadfastly refused to cover. Wrinkled skin sank into the empty socket, a vertical white scar sketching a line from his forehead to the top of his cheek; a historic, horrific injury. Yes, he was ugly, a cross between Geoffrey Rush the actor and a slapped arse, she thought; not attractive, but then he was, and to a lot of women; she had noticed. Jack Austin required circumspect viewing.
‘Finished drooling?’ Jackie said.
‘Finished drooling over me?’ Mandy answered, enjoying the exchange.
Jackie touché smiled, having recently admitted she desired Mandy, and for a time, this had unbalanced the Detective Superintendent who considered herself a modern and open-minded woman; you had to be in the police service. For instance, she was okay with her computer team Frankie and Connie. “It’s when it’s close to home”, Mandy had confessed to Jackie. She talked about how she had not seen, but Jack had, that her twenty two year old daughter Liz, was not only from the Isle of Lesbos, as Jack so irritatingly said, but was in a committed relationship with another woman, Carly, a psychiatrist whom Jack called, ‘Curly the trick-cyclist’. “And why did everyone think that was funny when it clearly was not?” she would argue, this sense of frustration, exacerbated as her daughter’s partner liked to be called Curly, and frequently quoted Jack’s ludicrous expressions, which Liz, now, ironically, loved.
‘Finished analysing, Mandy?’ Jackie asked, a consummate professional woman who also, ironically, frequently used Jack’s expressions, ‘You want Jack to yourself, and it’s irritating, so many people love him, feel a part of him.’
‘How’d you know I was thinking that?’
Jackie flicked her own lustrous eyebrows, ‘I don’t just fancy you sweet’art. He’s a big man with eyes only for you. Well, eye, and I’ve not a cat-in-hells chance.’
‘Shut-up Jacks, let’s have coffee with Sleeping Bertie and his angel,’ and Mandy strode off, acknowledging Joe as she passed; Joe maintained his stride and so did she.
Jack was asleep. He could sleep anywhere, and frequently did. Notably he could be found asleep in his deckchair in the Community Policing office in Kingston Police station, from where, as a Detective Chief Inspector, he ran his seemingly benign squad of monkey coppers. Meesh was in fits of wriggling, giggling, as Mandy shushed her. Jack remained still, enjoying the sport as she leaned over and kissed him on his right eye socket, the dodgy one.
‘That you Maisie?’ he reacted, and Meesh burst out laughing. Mandy feigned upset. ‘Finished talking about me, and Jackie…I saw you looking up the legs of me shorts; get an eyeful did yer?’
‘Hardly an eyeful,’ Jackie retorted, the two knew each other well, Jackie having been a colleague of Jack’s late wife, and they had a strong banter that usually left Jackie winning, only Jack couldn’t see it. Jack rarely conceded he was beaten. ‘631 to nil,' Jackie commented, using Jack’s nonsensical scoring system that he made up as he went along, so he could prove he had won. It was also amazing how many people got upset, they could not possibly be six hundred points behind, and Jack would wet his finger, and in the air sketch the addition of another point.
‘Shut-up Jacks, you’ve not added my seven thousand from last week, so that’s me winning, eh Spesh?’
Meesh leapt up, hugged Jackie’s leg and declared, ‘The winner.’
‘Turncoat,’ Jack muttered.
‘Is that Joe’s coat?’
Joe heard Meesh’s reply and cracked a heartfelt smile, a rare gesture from a man who had killed his family drunk driving.
Mandy broke the spell, ‘Costas, Jack?’
‘Coffee, Spesh?’ and Jack mimicked her screwed up face. ‘Okay, chocolate milk shake?’ Meesh was unmoved, her face familiarly questioning; a girl accustomed to mind games and never getting her way. Jack recalled a similar face when he agreed she could keep his dog, Martin; her comforter, no longer his. ‘Okeydokee, chocolate milk shake, espresso for me, and two sour puss juices for Jacks and Amanda, and afterwards, let’s take Martin to the countryside, eh, a pickernicker?’ A momentary excitement on Meesh’s face, then circumspect, but eventually she took Jack’s hand and lead the way to Costa Coffee, swerving to avoid some slouched hoodies. ‘It’s eight ‘undred degrees, ‘ow come you’re wearing fleeces and woolly ‘ats?’ Jack remarked, unable to resist a comment.
‘Fuck-off back to the monastery, Granddad,’ a spotty youth hurled back.
Mandy caught Jack’s arm, and with a disarming smile, disarmed him, steering him to Costas while addressing the yobs, ‘Swear in front of children again and you’ll have me to deal with, got that?’
‘Yes, Miss,’ a synchronised reply.
Jack looked back from ushering Meesh into one of the street-side seats; how come I can’t do that, he thought.
‘What’s a monastery Jack?’ Meesh enquired, as a fleece armed his way into the coffee shop; Jack had assumed a transitory daydream.
‘You go inside and order, then pay, Dinlo. Do that and I’ll explain to Meesh about your monk’s haircut,’ Mandy said.