Thursday, March 14, 2013
The Death of the King
(A rose-gold pearlescence has gathered on the horizon, spreading across the skirts of the winter clouds as Pheobus Apollo sinks to his rest. A perfect time for the telling of omens. Jerome Kirkman walks towards the slaughterhouse, a weathered outbuilding on the edge of his property. Catullus follows in his father's footsteps, bearing, amongst other things, a slightly chipped clay amphora.)
Jerome: Good weather.
(Catullus surveys the snow-shrouded landscape. The weather is indeed good, but it is inadvisable to assume an auspicius outlook on the basis of pathetic fallacy. Jerome pushes open the slaughterhouse door and Catullus follows him inside. A goat lies in a small pen to one side, reclining on a bed of straw. Catullus put the amphora down atop a simple wooden altar and proceeds to rouse the goat.)
Catullus: Wake up. It's time.
(The goat raises its head and looks up, its eyes glazed with the effects of its last supper of red wine and barley. Catullus drapes a garland of winter ivy around its shoulders and crowns it with a wreath of yew. While he prepares the sacrifice, his father builds a fire beneath a large, shallow cast-iron cauldron which is suspended from the ceiling: a remnant of the days when the slaughterhouse was a maple-sugar shack. Once the fire is built, he takes down a sickle-shaped knife which is hanging on one wall and begins to sharpen it. Catullus lifts the goat in his arms and carries it to the altar.)
Jerome: Would you lead the prayers?
(Catullus scratches the goat's beard a couple of times and places his hand on its head.)
Catullus: O mighty god who presided over us in our innocence, veiled possessor of truth, fugitive King driven from his throne by his own son, we offer to you this sacrifice. Accept it now as we face the crisis of time, the rule of darkness, the passing of the year. Today we turn the world upside down: masters serve their slaves, and fathers their sons, in order to atone for the injustice that was done to you in the beginning of the world. We ask you therefore to bless and receive our offering, restore this wearied world and make all things new.
(Catullus takes the amphora and pours a small stream of water over his father's hands. Jerome strokes the flanks of the sacrifice and guides it down so that it lies still, its neck exposed. Catullus bends over it, covering the eyes of the goat with his arms as he embraces its head, his forehead resting against the brow of the animal. The drugged goat curls its legs quietly beneath itself as the knife slices across its throat. Catullus gathers a bowlful of blood and sets it aside, then helps his father to hoist the animal's carcasse upside down into the rafters where it hangs looking strangely reminiscent of Carravagio's Crucifixion of Peter. They stand together in the cold, watching it bleed.)
Catullus: Dad...You heard everything that Juvenal was saying, didn't you?
Catullus: You mean you already knew. I was afraid you might.
Jerome: I always know everything. You should know that by now.
(Catullus turns away, drawing patterns on the altar. Swirling lines, like miniature galaxies, rise and fall as he traces his finger through the blood.)
Catullus: So is there nothing else to say?
Jerome: (considering) No... I suppose I would like to ask you why.
Catullus: Because I was in love.
Jerome: I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were that desperate for it.
Catullus: Why must I have been desperate?
Jerome: You placed your life in danger. You had better have been desperate.
(Catullus returns to his picture. The lines spread out now beyond the boundaries of spilled blood. Jerome takes down a hacksaw, drawing the blade like the bow of a violin across the spine of the goat. The vertebrae split and the head is slowly removed. He places it on the altar where it gazes with lopsided serenity at Catullus. From the surrounding walls the skulls of sacrifices past look down. They hang their heads now, silently calling the spirit of their fallen comrade to join them. )
Catullus: Forgive me.
Jerome: Is that in the imperative, or in the interrogative?
(Jerome lays down the saw and contemplates his son for a moment. He says nothing, but takes up a knife and begins to remove the skin of the goat. It falls from the body, revealing mottled pink skin and curving ribs. Jerome hands it to his son and Catullus folds it loosely, laying it on the altar next to the head. He lifts the amphora again and washes the blood from his father's hands. As Jerome turns to dry his hands by the fire, Catullus secretly makes the sign of the cross on the side of the hanging carcasse. Jerome returns to the altar and studies his son strangely, weighing.)
Jerome: Are you going to take the auspices?
Catullus: I suppose. That's what you asked me out here for.
(Jerome hands him the knife and Catullus slowly and deliberately slices open the stomach of the animal. He midwives the organs down into a waiting red wheelbarrow and removes the liver, placing it on the altar. The firelight shimmers across the dark-red surface of the organ like oil spilled on pavement. Catullus prods it with his finger.)
Catullus: It doesn't speak to me. You'd better just consult the books.
Jerome: I'm not interested in what the books say. I want your interpretation.
(Catullus breathes deeply, pulls himself together, prays a private prayer, and then thrusts his hand into the wheelbarrow. Membranes fold themselves around his sleeve like pale balloons. His fingers fumble about in the steaming organs, searching. Eventually they clasp on something hard, clenched tight, still holding on to the remnants of life. He fishes out the heart, its vessels still tenuously connecting it to the body. A slanting ray of moonlight slips through the weathered boards of the building and plays across his bloodied fingers.)
Catullus: In the Beginning, it might have been one of two ways. It may be that there was a father, and he was frightened of his son. He tried to destroy him so that he would never be able to defy him, but the in time the son rose up, castrated his father and sent him away in disgrace. The son, now frightened by the weight of his own guilt, turned on his own children, devouring them in turn so that he would never have to endured his father's fate. But he had brought a curse upon himself which no paranoia could allay. In due time he was deceived, his son secretly spared from his consuming envy, and he too lost his seat upon the throne of heaven. Or it may be that the father was never really frightened of his son at all, and that the son was jealous and afraid, scared that his father was holding something back from him. It might be that Jove spread the story that his father was a cruel and unjust god so that no one would dare to question his claim to authority. History, after all, is written by the victors. Why not myth?
Jerome: Which do you think it is?
Catullus: I wouldn't dare presume to judge the gods.
(Catullus lays the heart on the altar, cutting away the aorta and the vena cava before placing it in his father's hands.)
Catullus: Offer it as a sacrifice and share it amongst your children, in atonement for the enmity which Jove bore to his father, and for the jealousy of Saturn. The rest, (he gestures towards the remaining innards) is inscrutable.
(Jerome places the heart on the altar and cuts it open, parting its two halves like a book.)
Jerome: What does it say now?
(As Catullus studies the bisected organ in silence, Jerome takes the remaining innards and places them in the fire as an offering to the gods. The flames flare up to consume the sacrifice, illuminating the shadows of the heart.)
Catullus: There is a third possibility. In the Beginning it may be that the father and the son were one, their wills beating in concord like the chambers of the heart. It may be that the father loved the son more than he loved himself, and withheld from him nothing.
Jerome: (placing his hand on his son's shoulder) Ita est. I think we should go and join the feast.
(End of Part XII)