The Cork Landscapes of Edward Mc Whinney
I was but two months out of a seven-year relationship when a story arrived from Cork entitled, “Advice: Get the Farewell Right.”
Of course I hadn't gotten the farewell right. We had said goodbye in the narrows of the night, underneath the El train, exhausted from moving furniture to separate apartments in opposite corners of the city. "I guess this is it," the ex had said, and then I was on the Red Line, slipping into the tunnel that underscores the Loop.
“Last Wednesday when I saw you for the last time, ” said this story from Cork, “and how radiant you were, what a mess I made of the farewell. Unfortunately, I met you in an awkward location, right there alongside the fax machine that never stops...”
Some hold that it's easier to survive a breakup if you don't let yourself feel anything at all. That is to say, if you ignore how you're feeling. If you don't describe your feelings to yourself. But the El, like the fax machine, never stops, and this story I held in my hands began to describe those feelings for me.
“... and by a serious twist of fate, I was momentarily struck dumb as it were, well no, not dumb, dumb would have been better, instead I said all the wrong things, how maddening. I'm bleeding. My brain is hanging out of my sock. There's a cat chewing it like it's a fish head that's fallen out of a bin down a ratty alleyway. I got the farewell all wrong. I poured buckets of ice on your radiance. I took the wind out of your sails. And you know final farewells must be managed right for otherwise you have eternity to fall into the abyss, pondering on every spiral what an idiot you are, a langer. It could have been different, could have been more appropriate, the right word, I might have taken you gently by the elbow and said; come over here out of the way, I want to tell you what you really mean to me and that this is not the end but a beginning.”
I began to suspect I'd been tricked. Someone who knows me has written this story. Maybe she wrote it, the ex herself. Or maybe I wrote it in an inspired dream. But all our investigations pointed to one conclusion: the story in fact had been written by one Edward Mc Whinney of Cork, schoolteacher, who described himself only as “not all that young nor all that old.”
One thing we know: when you've got a stranger's story in your hands and it tells you your own story, that's something valuable you've got in your hands. That's what happens with Shakespeare, isn't it? He scrawls a little something with his quill, something like, “to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man,” and we say to ourselves, yes, that's right, that's true, that's how it is, and we've always known it to be so even if we've never thought about it before. Even if we've tried not to think about it.
Mc Whinney does that, but that's not all Mc Whinney does. He catches the intricate detail of daily life, renders it lyrical, shows us the humor and the sorrow, all without visible effort. Edward Mc Whinney's novels, we're sure, will travel the globe on persistent little feet and find themselves long remembered.
You'll find “Advice: Get the Farewell Right” in the Spring 2005 Contrary. You'll find more prose by Mc Whinney in every Contrary since. And you'll find something quite different on the three pages that await you today: three slices of life from Mc Whinney's Cork, which, like all cities in the mind of Mc Whinney, is home to all humanity. He calls them landscapes, but they are, of course, peoplescapes. --ed.
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