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An Indyref Romance: Harmony and Dissonance – Chapter 8

Orazio Gentileschi and Giovanni Lanfranco, Saint Cecilia and an Angel, Italian, 1582 - 1647, c. 1617/1618 and c. 1621/1627, oil on canvas, Samuel H. Kress Collection

A few days later Paul rang the bell at Jenny’s flat. He was earlier than usual, but hoped that he’d catch her in. Susan answered the door.
“Is Jenny in?” asked Paul.
“No, but come in anyway. I’m rather bored and could do with some company.”
“Are you on your own then?”
“Mark’s studying at the library, Lorna’s off with one of her devoted servants.”
“You all laugh at Lorna.”
“We’re a bit jealous of her. She’s so much prettier than us and never had a problem attracting men.”
They sat at the kitchen table. A CD was playing quite quietly, something very peculiar. Susan made some coffee and sat down with Paul.
“You don’t really envy Lorna, do you?” asked Paul.
“No,” said Susan. “I envy me and Jenny for that matter. I feel rather sad about Lorna.”
“But she’s happy enough. She can pick up the phone and someone will be here in five minutes flat to take her out somewhere.”
“Someone. Anyone. I think that’s the problem.”
“You like where you are with Mark, I mean, you’re …”
“Mark’s your friend, you know him pretty well. I’d say I’m pretty lucky wouldn’t you?”
“But you’re also very different.”
“None of that matters much anymore after we’ve been together so long. You don’t have to agree about everything, just about being together.”
“But you must sometimes wish he thought as you do.”
“Not really. I love Mark. I love who he is. To wish him different is to wish to love someone else. Don’t you think?”
“I suppose.”
“What are you going to do afterwards?”
“After Uni?”
“I suppose…”
She said it in a way that obviously imitated him, but with the hint of a smile that meant ‘don’t get in a huff’.
“For the first few months,” he said, “I’ll be campaigning full, after that I haven’t really thought. Nothing matters more than the campaign right now, I don’t look beyond it. What about you? Have you got plans?”
“I’ll look for a job. Most of us have to. I’ll go where Mark goes, or I hope he’ll go where I go.”
“Marriage?”
“Oh, I do hope so! We sort of dodge around the subject as neither of us is in a position to make an offer, but we both talk of what we’ll be doing in a few years’ time.”
“And you talk of doing it together. I hope it works out, Susie”
“Me, too. I think it will. I have hope. I have faith.”
“What’s the music? It’s rather odd, don’t you think?”
“Very. But I’ve sort of got used to it. It’s something Jenny sometimes puts on.”
“Where’s the box?”
“You’ll find it on the shelf. It’s the one with the picture of the birds on it.”
“Messiaen, Catalogue d’Oiseaux. I thought it might be something like that. She played me something the other night by him. It wasn’t quite as odd as this, but nearly as much.”
“What was it?”
“Something on the piano about Jesus.”
“Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus?”
“I suppose so.”
“I know that one. I like it now.”
“You didn’t before?”
“No, not very.”
“What changed your mind?
“Oh, patience. We’ve lived with Jenny for 3 years now. Everyone likes to share what they care about. I’ve lent her books. We’ve watched films together. We’ve played CDs.”
“Does she like the things you like?”
“Sometimes, and I’ve grown to like some of the things that she likes. Jenny’s changed me and for the better.”
“Because you like listening to this rather odd music about birds?”
“No, Paul, because I give it a chance now. I don’t always get it, but sometimes I think, the lack may be in me.”
“I hardly know anything about classical music.”
“I didn’t either. But I’m glad I know someone who does.”
“She didn’t study it, did she?”
“I don’t think so, though she might have learned an instrument at school. No, she just listens.”
“I think, I could listen to this birdsong for 10 years and it would still be just plinkety plonk, random notes joined together.”
“I was just the same as you a couple of years back.”
“So you just listen long enough and like it, is that it?”
“No. Jenny began playing stuff that I’d never heard before. Bits of Beethoven and other stuff from the 19th century.”
“How did that help?”
“Well, she sort of showed how it all fitted together and developed.”
“Wasn’t it all a bit like continually studying?”
“No, she’d just have a CD playing at breakfast. Eventually, I became familiar with it and grew to like it. Then we’d play something else. It all just happened over the course of years.”
“Isn’t it a bit like having a teacher in the flat?”
“Do you find that Jenny lectures you?”
“No. Quite the reverse. It’s more likely that I lecture her.”
“That’s my experience, too. She just wants to share some things. With you, too. With you especially.”
“You think, I should be open to this?”
“I don’t think, it would be a bad idea. Don’t be dogmatic about what you think or what you like. I’ve found some wonderful things that Jenny showed me. Foreign films I’d never heard of and never would have unless she’d suggested that we watch.”
“I hate subtitles.”
“So did I. You should have heard the groans when it was her choice to choose the film we’d watch. Lorna and I just wanted to see something that had been made recently in English and in colour.”
“I didn’t know she knew quite so much about films. I had the impression she knew a bit but I didn’t know that it was that much.”
“Jenny is rather scared of appearing to know things.”
“Why’s that?”
“She’s not always had the best of experiences. Some people don’t like it when a woman knows a lot. It scares them off.”
“So you think she hides her knowledge?”
“No, she wants desperately to share it, but only with people who don’t hold it against her.”
“I’m glad I found her, but it’s not always easy.”
“I know. We talk. She’s my best friend. We share. Mark tells me things, too.”
“Oh, I hope.”
“Don’t worry. No one is being indiscreet. We all just want to help Jenny and you, Paul. We care about you. You’re our friend. One of our dearest friends.”
“It’s funny how we’ve all got to know each other. Funny how I never saw Jenny in that way until it was almost too late.”
“You were in Lorna’s clutches. Poor, poor Lorna. It’s like she attracts ships to be shipwrecked. She’s not happy and the poor men are not happy either.”
“I still like Lorna.”
“Don’t get me wrong, so do I. She needs someone, but she won’t find him here. I’m not sure she’ll find him anywhere.”
“Where is Jenny? Do you know?”
Susan looked a little unsure of what to say. She hesitated for a few seconds.
“She’s helping someone.”
“Effie?”
“No. She helps some people with literacy sometimes.”
“She never mentioned it to me.”
“Do you know the phrase “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth?”
“I don’t think so. Something from the Bible, I suppose, given the archaic language.”
“I just like that way of putting it. But it could equally well be “don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.”
“I don’t think, I really understand. It’s a sort of riddle, isn’t it?”
“It just means when you help people, don’t make a song and dance about it.”
“What does she do? I’d like to know.”
“Don’t you think you could ask her?”
“Please, Susie. I feel rather embarrassed about a couple of things I’ve said.”
“About selfish, immoral Tories?”
“Something like that.”
“Jenny helps with people who can’t read or write. She goes when she can. We’re all busy of course, but she goes pretty regularly. She has been going there since she began here.”
“I didn’t know.”
“Nor did I. Some of the places are quite rough.”
“I’m sure they are.”
“It’s hard for someone to find work if they can’t read, so she does what she can to help.”
“It’s a lot more than I do. At least individually. I think, I do most by campaigning for a better Scotland.”
“I don’t really agree with Jenny’s politics either. We discuss it from time to time, but we just let it go. I understand where she’s coming from. It’s all rather well thought out too.”
“But you don’t agree?”
“No, we’re made differently. I believe in collective action and I think, politics is the best chance of making a better Scotland. Jenny doesn’t believe this. She believes only in what she can do as an individual. She’s fundamentally uninterested in politics.”
“So you’re sympathetic to independence, Susie?”
“On the whole, no. But I’m not completely opposed either. I may not even be here to vote. If Mark goes back to England, I’ll go with him.”
Paul paused for a few seconds and a question appeared in his mind that he really wanted to know the answer to. The conversation was going well with a flow that he could see they were both enjoying. He asked:
“What’s it like knowing that the man you love doesn’t believe what you believe?”
“You mean faith, don’t you? We are getting serious today, aren’t we, Paul?”
“Sorry, if I’m prying. Just tell me it’s none of my business.”
“No. I can see why you want to know these sorts of things.”
“At the beginning, when you first started going out, didn’t you ever want him to believe in what you believe? Wouldn’t it have been easier?”
“Relationships aren’t easy. We’ve been together for three years now because we’ve each been willing to adapt, to give and to receive, and to change also. I don’t think, it would have been easier if he had more faith than he does. It might have been harder.”
“I don’t see why?”
“I know a lot of couples in the Christian Union. It’s not as if all of those relationships work out. Everyone faces the same challenge. I’ve heard about some odd mental contortions that Christian couples go through to try to justify themselves to themselves.”
“But still if they both believe, it must be easier in at least that respect. I find it difficult that on something fundamental to Jenny we disagree. I just think, she’s mistaken.”
“She thinks, she might be mistaken, too, Paul. So do I.”
“And yet?”
“There isn’t such a big gap between Mark and me. I have doubts, he has doubts. It’s not as if I have some sort of knowledge that he lacks. In his own way he agrees with me. We just call it something different.”
“You talk like Jenny.”
“Of course, I talk like Jenny. Without her I might not have found the path that took me to where I am today with Mark. We had tough times, me and Mark. We split up a couple of times. I thought I’d lost him forever. I wouldn’t bend, and so we broke up.”
“I remember how upset Mark was. What did Jenny do?”
“She went to Mark. She brought him back. She showed me how we could be together. She’s not at all dogmatic. She hates dogma of any sort, not least theological dogma. She explained how we must be kind to each other. She’ll do the same for you if you’re kind, too, and if you have patience.”
“I just don’t see why it should all be so difficult. It isn’t for most of the people we know.”
“Sure it is. It’s just difficult in a different way. They flit about and find nothing that means very much. They have a relationship, but it’s little more than instinct, little more than inclination. It’s not something to envy, Paul. You have the chance of something much better.”
“So does Scotland, by the way.”
“That’s your article of faith, isn’t it?” said Susan.

About Effie Deans

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Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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