OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.
I invite members to doctor and complete this kernel creatively, in particular where I have made reference to unspecified cabal members. I am not here long enough yet, nor have I read enough of the Sir Toby narratives to know who’s who.
It had been a cold evening of desultory conference at the famous inn. The die-hard theologians had been lamenting not their pure inability to conclude but their inability to be willing to conclude any of their arguments, though some, paradoxically, had already concluded that the cabal of Sir Toby’s should crystallize itself into what it always was - a figment of the imagination of an airline passenger already having enough difficulties trying to eat goat’s cheese and mixed salad in between two other people without any of it falling out onto his lap or not going cleanly into his mouth - and cease to exist.
Some stated mournfully that the moment this happened, it would be true that it had never existed and therefore no one would be able even to remember it and that if anyone subsequently claimed to remember it, it would be lie, a fiction. One said that they would eat their words but another responded that their words would ultimately eat them. All of them shared the one bitter irony that they were able to will anything positive and creative except to come to a conclusion. They were, alas, like the poor fly on the window pane, always climbing up then falling back down again, the full glory of the day in front of them but, for a reason or reasons they could never know, utterly unattainable. Even the dogs on the floor bickered over pieces of straw and other scraps, until one of the theologians, more angry with himself than with them, kicked them all out unceremoniously.
“Why don’t I paint a picture of us all?”, one of the more illustrious of the bunch offered.
“For what purpose?” the others responded unanimously. “Do you think you can paint a complete picture any more than we can come to but a single conclusion to our debates?”
A clever one interjected: “And what would be the difference between you and us who are not you in the painting? You want to paint a picture of all of us but how can you pose for yourself? The painting will be still but you were moving all the time you were painting it. Would you include yourself by imagination only? If so I must protest. You would be depicting us as we really are whereas you would be able to depict yourself in any way you chose. This is very one-sided!”
“To demonstrate my artistic skill”, and then after a pause “and because we are worthy subjects” came the unexpectedly obvious reply.
“That is too categorical an assertion” muttered several, “worthiness is a debatable concept. And anyway, where would you hang the painting, here on the walls of Sir Toby’s where it will disappear along with the rest of us, in an airport lounge where everything has lost its meaning, subserved to that non-purpose of everyone which is simply not to be there, or somewhere else?”
So the evening wore on. The murky candlelit atmosphere was presently interrupted by a banging at the door. “What da ya want” came the hostess’s brawling accusation.
“I want to come in!”
The voice was unknown to any of the other cabal members. A dog sniffed at the new man’s cloak in case there was something worth licking.
“Open up, open up! What kind of business is this that locks out its clients?”
The Highland voice had a tone of innocent disdain. Sure enough, the door had been bolted without anyone realising. Hurriedly, the hostess threw back the bolt and the door clattered open to admit a stout, medium height fellow dressed in a sable cloak, moist on the shoulders from the recent rain. Mysteriously at first, his head was nearly invisible, surrounded as it was with a ball of mist and fog. Only the vaguest shape of a head could be made out. The ball of mist dissipated slowly further away from his head until, about a metre away, the surrounding air was clear. The hostess looked in astonishment and as she tentatively pushed her hand towards him, she could feel the moisture condensing on the skin of her hand and a tingling sensation like so many miniature piano hammers knocking out a concerto on her fingers. She half expected her hand to go right through his head but, reassuringly, she touched his face and it was as solid as anybody else’s.
“That’s all right” the stranger comforted her, “I take a lot of getting used to.”
“What’s your name, stranger” one of the cabal called out “and what’s your business?”
“And what’s that diabolical, miscreated - thing - on - errr - around yer head” chimed another?
“My name is Oflan’gan” answered the stranger with an air of indignation. His voice seemed muffled, distorted rather, with a tinny, reverberant quality, perhaps due to the mist surrounding his head. Perhaps it was sound of many voices all in one. “As to my business, I am a theologian if you are.”
“We certainly are” came a voice from the shortest of the cabal members, with a kind of overtone of ‘there’s strength in numbers’ - or was it ‘the more the merrier’?
“Not too categorical an assertion then?” riposted Oflan’gan, who must have been standing outside a considerable while listening to their conversation that evening. There was an embarrassed silence as some of them realised how difficult it had become to live up to any definitions of themselves, let alone the particular ambiguity they had attributed to themselves of ‘non-defining theologian’.
Oflan’gan helped out by continuing “This haze around my head, this cloud, I’ve had for many months now but I haven’t always had it.” Most of the cabal settled to listen to the story, in the hope that it might divert them from their present frustrations and if nothing else to allow them an instant to capture the fleeting moment of creativity once more. A few wondered if it might not be simpler just to go off and read the Rime of the Ancient Mariner yet again.
“I do admit that it is so unusual that any of you might be considered as orthodox in comparison. Yet its origin is terribly simple. And I mean terribly. Disappointingly. For it happened over nothing other than a tennis match I was watching.
“It started off innocently enough, a game of doubles, a net, an umpire, four players with racquettes and a ball. The Umpire declared ‘Let play begin!’ But soon the ball went off court and was apparently by a coincidence (though I suspect the Umpire had intended it) knocked back into play by one of the spectators. After several more volleys to and fro, more spectators became involved and many of them seemed to have their own racquettes. The ball was just whizzing back and forth in seemingly random patterns, never stopping. Then the Umpire threw many more balls into the court, thousands if I am not mistaken, and not one of them ever stopped moving. Even the Umpire had a racquette. By now, some people had several racquettes each, which they had tied to their feet as well so that they could field more tennis balls back and forth.
“The whole stadium was in an unrhythmic rhythm, everything was perfectly timed whilst nothing was in time. I didn’t join in with that marvellous game, but after I left, I realised that my head was surrounded with this cloud. It is like the cloud of balls at the tennis match and I know that it will cease only when the match itself ceases. No tennis match will ever be the same for me again.”
As he continued, one of the other cabbalists got too near Oflan’gan and his head partially entered the cloud. At that point Oflan’gan’s voice seemed to alter slightly…