‘You know, Saul,’ Adolph remarked, ‘It really is such a pity we haven’t seen anything literary from you in a while.’
Saul frowned and said nothing. He was a hundred miles away.
The room was silent.
So deathly, deathly, silent.
‘Have you ever considered writing a little more?’
Saul grimaced, with an air of semi-indifference.
‘Hm?’ Adolph hummed, with his usual sobriety and plainness that was not, however, without a certain whiff of lyrical charm, in itself.
‘Nah,’ Saul grunted.
‘So few words, Saul. So few words. Now, what a pity.’
Adolph reached for his half-empty glass.
‘Did you enjoy that? I brought it especially for you. Be careful about your bones, Saul. I was worried when you told me you hadn’t had milk for months. You know how it is with this condition of yours.’
Saul furrowed his brow. ‘I’ll be alright, Adolph. Sure yer have more important people to be worryin’ about.’
Adolph raised his eyebrows. ‘Saul, Saul, you silly old fool,’ Adolph tutted in a disappointment only half-contrived at best. ‘Why, I don’t have anyone in the whole wide world besides myself! Well, I have friends, and colleagues, and acquaintances. But…
‘Well, Saul old friend, don’t they call me the Electric Quaker? Sometimes I think the Electric Monk would be nearer the mark. Don’t you?’
Saul looked down, embarrassed to say any more.
‘Your shower is broken, Saul.’
Saul stirred in his seat; by now he was starting to get irritated by Adolph’s nagging.
‘I am sure you can afford a decent repairs person. I can look one up for you if you wish?’
All of a sudden Saul sprang out the chair and rammed his fist down on the coffee table.
The normally unflappable Adolph Adams jerked upwards in his seat, startled by Saul’s helpless fury.
‘Excuse me, Saul. It was not my intention to nag. But I worry about you. You are an old friend, after all! I just don’t know what to do. People are saying things.’
Somewhat mollified, Saul sat down again. He puffed and panted for a few seconds; a few tens of seconds, even.
Silence came once more.
Eventually Saul drily murmured (I had almost as well have said, ‘prophetically intoned,’) ‘the dogs may bark, and the hyenas well may bray! But still the caravan proceeds.’
Adolph smiled warmly. ‘Indeed. But a great deal depends not merely on where the caravan is headed, but in what state the caravan is headed. There is a great deal of pain and trouble and fretting in this present world, dearest Saul. Is there not?
‘And would you not prefer as sturdy and as rugged a caravan as ever you may cultivate and renovate, on this wondrously prophetic night journey of yours?’
Saul hung his head. A single, solitary tear rolled down his cheek.
‘Come now, Saul,’ Adolph gentled, in this very same customarily quaint, archaic, homely tone of the Electric Quaker. The Marchtide Vitality of George Fox was upon him, and a Woolman out of season was appointed to preach good news unto the poor in spirit.
Or so, at least, it was dreamed and mused upon, in many a broken, aching heart amid The Fullness.
Well, who shall be bold enough to declare the judgment betwixt the twain?
‘You once had binders full of stories,’ Adolph reminisced.
Saul looked up, his tearful eyes appearing on the verge of a transportation most wondrous, fearful and beyond the telling of any tongue but one.
‘Here is one of them,’ Adolph sweetly murmured, his own generous, plaintive, plain-besparking eyes glimmering with affection: the purest kind of homely, spiritual love two men could ever know.
It was not for nothing that Adolph had won the Cardinal Newman Undergraduate Prize for Spiritual Significant Poetry, in the days when he and Saul knew a love sweeter than the love of women, and more generous and self-sacrificial than the love of gods and angels.
Saul smiled warmly. This pure, emancipated spiritual affection, as free of all carnal temptation and entanglement as it was bright and radiant in its spiritual wealth and splendour, renewed and kindled in his precious eyes.
Adolph read, as he used to read to his precious Saul when they shared opposite beds in that dormitory of old.
His voice was warm, generous of spirit, and full of a radiant love and purity that was dimmer and cooler than the cascading of water, yet warmer and more brilliant than one thousand stars.
THE FLIGHT OF NEW CHINA: SPACESHIP PINGDENG
Such a sound.
Drum, drum, drum, and “guan, guan, quoth the osprey!”
Reminiscent of the grand old China our ancestors once remembered; but even they were too old to live there.
Of course, in that old society, they were not equal.
There were boundaries.
There were the five and three.
Bonds of social belonging, bonds of responsibility. Or was it the other way around?
Five and three, five and three.
We no longer know how to count backwards…
Did we ever?
We must do.
Their boundary was society.
But it was also the planet Earth.
We dreamed that if only we could escape this barren planet after the May 5 incident, it would not be difficult to explore the boundless reaches of the Kosmos, as dreamed our most exalted visionary, Kang Youwei.
He spoke of a ‘Great Sameness,’ a ‘Grand Community of Perfect Equality.’
Some said it was at the cost of liberty.
But then again: the gloomy, unconstructively pessimistic novelist, Lao She, he wrote his idle dystopia ‘The City of Cats.’ By reducing our proud nation to squabbling felines, he denied that the outer reaches of the Universe were ours to explore.
So on the one hand, we, yes we, the New Chinese, have crossed every galaxy in search of a new age.
The old ways weren’t working any longer; neither our ways, nor those of our fellow-planeteers.
We sought wisdom within a narrow sphere; but this was no use for us.
The prison-cage of the feudal clan became the prison cage of the world.
We could not rest easy, we could not ever be satisfied.
Liberalism and Communism alike were of our world. We wanted a Greater Good even than these.
After May 5, the hacking of the Global Geo-Engineering complex left us no choice but to leave this planet, before our enemies finished us off.
But why speak more?
For is there not an old Occidental proverb (if my memory does not betray me), that ‘the man who roars in space shall never get a hearing?’
Or was it our Confucius?
It is also said that Confucius was of the bones of long-dead men.
Once upon a time, it was said that ‘China needs fewer -isms, and has need only of this: our practicality.’
There once was a time that ‘liberty’ was a word fresh and new.
But we are uprooted from that word by now.
And why? Because those who treasured liberty, among us and afar from us, traded freedom for a sturdy seat on Spaceship Earth.
We used to say that Liberty is a lifeboat; the only way to avoid capsizing it, is to steady your own ship.
This was our truth…
But it became our lie.
We never dreamed the May 5 incident would destroy all life on Earth.
Why were we the ones that were spared?
Now freedom, this treasure of the human race, is committed into our hands alone.
Would to Heaven we knew what to do with it!
Adolph laid down the book, and gazed lovingly upon Saul. Saul was now lying back in his armchair, softly whistling and occasionally grunting in the most peaceable contentment ever imaginable. The story had not been a long one, but Adolph’s legendary patience, and talent for adding curious and wondrous embellishment here and there without ever once losing the thread or plunging into a sentimental and pretentious bathos of dissipation…
Well, all this had resulted in a tale rather long in the telling, but not at all long in the listening. With the innocence of a child, Adolph pressed his brother’s hand gently. In any ‘civilized country,’ this would have been considered a sign of sexual deviance. The brief spring of gay emancipation had already been partially rolled back, so that if ‘sodomites’ were no longer as free as they had been some few decades ago, no more were they the figures of systematically vicious and abusive persecution and vitriol of earlier still. They were teetering on the abyss of utter destruction on one side, and a chastened renewal and fresh liberation on the other. For after all, ‘who by fire, who by water,’ was a common remark of Saul’s. And the experience of gay people was not, in the last instance, so very dissimilar from that of Jews in the America of the day.
And this, in turn, was the experience of America.
Turn forever, or burn forever, as the hellfire ‘Party of God’ and ‘Party of Allah’ alike were given to chant.
But if theocrats Christian and theocrats Islamist had the luxury of appealing to certainty, liberals like Adolph and libertarians like Saul had not.
Their road was a lonely one, and there were no promises, and no guarantees.
It was just as well then, given the circumstances, that Adolph Adams was actually impotent.
And Saul Friedman was entirely lacking in desires.
But freedom, at least, he did desire.
And was that not, after all, a great deal more than could be said for some?
Note: ‘Spaceship Pingdeng’ (Spaceship Equality) was previously published in ‘Valiant, He Endured,’ edited by George Donnelly.