Conversations in the Tax Office | Edward Mc Whinney
As usual when the sap is as low as the sun of winter solstice, the frost thick on the rooftops, and the smoke fired in a straight, thin trail from the chimneys, the girls light up the streets like Christmas trees sparkling with attractive layers of tinsel and glitter before mingling with us, cosmetic bubbles in orbit, leaving trails of perfume, leaving draughts of desire. Leo says that if you admire too hard they will be affronted. It depends on who's doing the looking, I say. That's what I mean, he says. If you admire too hard they will be affronted, as they're not exactly switching on the lights for old farts like you. The cribbed and crabbed conversations are all we have in the office at this time of year, unable to afford a trip to the Caribbean or Bermuda. Bermuda is in the Caribbean, says Leo. The truth hangs as loose at winter solstice as in high summer and I am resigned to any amount of it because I've walked this way so often, it doesn't seem to make sense. I've smelt the blood burning in the morning ovens, I've seen the gulls screeching over the river, I've heard the vagrants singing in the doorways, and I've glanced back to see the Father of Temperance presiding over it all, more than once with a beer can on his hat, before ascending the stairs for another day trapped in these uncongenial surroundings. More than once I have felt like taking down a ledger and smashing it through a window, and I've felt like tearing my head out of the pit it has been sunk in for so long and hurling it like a coconut at the wall.
The cribbed and crabbed conversations are all we have. Tutankhamen really had all that wealth to shape the ultimate pleasure dome of a tomb. He was no punch-drunk boxer on the ropes. He was no dogless blind man at the crossroads. The Sandinistas may well have been good but we will never know because truth will not be found in politics or in power brokering. The clock on the wall tells the truth only for this moment. And no more than you believe the cuckoo on the hour should you believe the murky, grey eyes of the cat almost invisible beside the fireplace in Mrs. Maloney's Bar down the lane. There, also, we quibble about how to deal with a hormonal old flute of a boss, while the disasters pour out of the headlines, as well as minor situations like Leo's young fellow suddenly deciding to have his ear pierced and a large diamond stud fixed in it.
An earring, Roy is wearing an earring?
Yes, said Leo. What do you think?
I didn't have all that much to say about it.
A sparkling, diamond stud in his ear, said Leo, shaking his head. Call me old-fashioned but it only seems to me that anarchists and genius artists or musicians wear them. You don't go for an interview to the bank with one of them.
Roy wants to work in the bank?
I don't know, but what if he did? They'd see the hole in his ear and that would be that.
Leo chewed the top of his biro. He seemed to be staring at a flag fluttering from a mast on the opposite building, the red and white of rebel Cork, weather beaten, fraying at the edges.
Maybe I really am too square, he said eventually. Maybe I should aim to be a bit more off-centre. I wonder would I ever have the guts to get my ear pierced and stick a stud in it? What am I? A middle-aged office worker, rutted in the mainstream, angry with mass culture which is hardly cool enough. Anger equals participation. Death-like indifference is what I aspire to.
On that point we both shake our greying locks in unison.
Then he said that the more he thought about that earring in his son's ear, the more he realised he had been such a fool all his life, and in many ways a coward. I've been afraid to be myself, he said. Most people call me odd and solitary, which is after all what I want to be seen as but here's the paradox, I don't have the guts to let it really loose, to be indifferent to what I think they think which may or may not be true anyway…
To get your ear pierced, I suggested?
Well as a matter of fact, yes, and wear outrageous clothes and a tattoo on my forehead.
The phones buzzed. The clocks ticked, telling the truth for now. The beautiful girls, lit up like Christmas trees, walked down Pana, setting the town alight, the jangling, dazzling girls, pearls in the deep ocean of dank December light, that constant grey texture, pearls floating up out of the gloom.
All I want for Christmas is an android that looks like Scarlett Johnanson, Leo said. It's the way all our conversations end.
Edward Mc Whinney >