I seek some sort of truth in the forest. Not an answer, for there is none. Nor is truth just in the forest, but to seek it in the forest is best. It is everywhere, above the forest, below the forest, around the forest. I don't exactly ask the questions either, it's not like that.
When I am sitting near the ruined castle in the forest, I stalk the truth the way a hunter stalks an animal. My bungalow, is a small white modern building, a refuge of peace in my old age. I get the bicycle lamp from the press and look out the window. With a full moon the country lane outside my bungalow seems almost as bright as day. I put a flask of coffee, a couple of sandwiches, and my binoculars into a small rucksack, and close the door, and pedal off down the lane towards the village of Rathmoen. The lamp light flickers ahead, pale in the moonlight. My bicycle is an old sports machine with bent handlebars, that I have turned up. I enjoy cycling in the moonlight.
Thomas Flynne, the pub owner, is carrying whiskies to three men, when he sees Mulvey cycling by. He puts the drinks down,
"Mulvey is off to the forest again".
"Aren't we all", said Quinn. "I am always searching for money. God knows a farmer never has enough. Mulvey is fit though".
"He is fit", said Jenkins. "I saw him once in Palmerstown, cycling into Dublin. How old is he"?
Flynne stops taking packages of cigarettes from a carton, and looks over the counter. "Seventy. Biddy Stokes in the post office in Clane says he is seventy. So he must be. Collects his pension there. Never think it. Fit looking old devil".
Quinn shakes his head. "But what does he do in the forest, aside from looking at the sky? Why does he go there so often, alone"? I cycle by a line of bungalows and pass a horse stud. A row of horse boxes, clipped hedges, a large Georgian house at the end of a drive. I'm at the entrance to the forest, its five miles long and three wide. Exotic trees and shrubs had been planted over the centuries.I cycle to the ruined castle, bare, with ivy breaking through empty windows. It stands beside a lake, and further back there is a small protestant church in the woods. They still hold services there on Sunday. I look over the wall at the graveyard, and see the old gravestones standing in the moonlight. Odd, all those lives. What did those people do in life? I sit on a seat beside the lake the water a dark sheen in the moonlight. I think of my years at sea, the stars above the oceans, the water rushing past. What a strange mystery it all is? I look at the castle, at the parapets in the moonlight. It was built in the 1400s by the Elmer Family. The family prospered, decayed, and prospered again depending on which kings, or who was in power. The castle had been lived in until the 1930s. A mystery how chance effects people, but the ral mstery is the three questions. What am I, what is the universe, is there meaning?
When I lived in Australia I joined an astronomical society. The members were knowledgeable, they knew about quasars, black holes, quantum theory, relativity, the big bang. But when I mentioned the three questions they shook their heads in puzzlement. To them, scientific facts were enough.
The doctor stood up to get a drink, but sat down again. "I have a friend in the police force. A detective. Looks more like a middle aged hippie than a policeman. Goes around Dublin pubs watching, listening. Blends in, but is checking for drugs etc. a terrible job, I think. He told me Mulvey cycles into Dublin sometimes and goes to Grogens pub, behind Powerscourt House, he has two whiskies, then goes to the cinema".
"they must know about him in Grogens", said Quinn.
"They know as little as we do. They have some fantastic tales, that he was a sailor, lived in Australia and was married to an Indian woman, that he lived in Norway and was married to a Norwegian woman. They say he became a bum when she left him, a bum in Oslo. He slept in hostels or on the street. The barman said he crossed the Sahara in a Land Rover".
They all laugh and Quinn says; "I suppose he has been to the bloody moon as well. Bloody nonsense. I heard he worked driving a forklift, in a London jam factory, since he was eighteen".
Jenkins nods. "That sounds like it. So he just worked in London".
The doctor shook his head. "Maybe, but he owns the bungalow, no mortgage. He must have saved money in his factory job".
The wooden café at the end of the lake opens only in summer. The lake waters looks dark and there are four swans in it. I take out my flask of coffee from the rucksack. I have sugar and milk in the coffee.
Thomas Flynne shakes his head. "When did he come here, was it three years ago?"
Jenkins said "About that".
"Well the woman with children are worried", said Flynne. "A daft old man wandering around on a bike. You never know, there are very strange people around these days".
The doctor shook his head, "nonsense, Mulvey is nothing like that. A gentle harmless old chap, with a childish sort of innocence about him".
"Then why does he not come in to my pub for a drink? Why does he not come in and talk to us? We won't bite him. Why does he
keep so much to himself?"
"There are people like that, they can't or won't mix with people. Natural hermits. Or maybe he was hurt in life, and has withdrawn".
I finish my coffee and wait for the merging to begin. As I wait I think of my years as a young man at sea, the existential strangeness of being aware in such a vast universe. I remember lying in the back, watching the sky through the small Land Rover roof window, in a desert in Africa. My Indian wife left me while we were in Australia. We had been married eight years, she left me, she said, because of my obsession with the three questions. She was interested in labour politics, and I tried to get interested, but could not. Nor was I ambitious enough for her.
I spent two years travelling. Travelling back to Europe in the Land Rover. One year was spent in India, her country. Odd? In India it was not thought odd that one should stalk the three questions. I met my Norwegian wife in Paris. We moved to Norway. How quickly the den years with her went by. I loved her very much.
One early morning when we were staying in a mountain cabin in Hemsedal, I went out to piss. It was only then below. There was a green half moon in one corner of the sky, the pink of the rising sun was crossing mountain after mountain, banishing the cold white sparkle from the snow. Down in the valley the light was reaching the frozen waterfall. It was beautiful. Suddenly I merged, I was no longer embedded in matter. I was part of everything, connected. There are no answers, but Bergson said to live and transcend experience, in the èlan vital is to understand more deeply. No, there are no answers, but the three questions, what am I, what is the universe, is there meaning, can be stalked like the white whale. That morning I merged for the first time, and I experienced ecstasy.
My Norwegian wife left me after ten years. She met someone else who was less strange. She was an economist. I tried to share her obsession with making money, with owning things, but I could not, I did try. I drank to forget. I became an alcoholic, and bum in Oslo for five years, drinking cheap wine with the bums on the streets, getting social welfare, sleeping in the state hostels, and sometimes on the streets. But even then the three questions were there.
I finish my second cup of coffee and looked at the ruined castle. The last fifteen years before coming back to Ireland, I spent in London. London fascinates me. The mystery behind how many people lives. I went to concerts, read a great many books, went to free talks, and I drove a fork lift at a jam factory. But I avoided any serious relationships, my wives leaving me had hurt too much.
One day I knew I wanted to go back to Ireland. I wanted to withdraw from people and I wanted to merge, to connect.
I put my flask back in the rucksack, and sat watching the lake. The forest, the lake, the ruined castle in the moonlight became one.
The desert nights, the snow on the mountains in Norway, the sea from the ships, the white sands on Pacific Islands, the love of my two wives, all became connected. I came back slowly. I had been gone for fifteen minutes. I used to be afraid that I would not come back, but that was a silly worry.
Now I am merely an old man sitting on a seat near a ruined castle, on a small planet, orbiting a middle range star, in one of many galaxies. I have circled from child to old man, reached the existential edge, and merged back again into what we think is real.
The village pub is closed and the four men stand huddled outside. They watch Mulvey as he cycles past. There is a cold breeze, and the old man like an existential crack, has let in the mystery of existence.
Jenkins said "He looks happy?"
Quinn says "I have a bottle of whiskey at the house. Let's have a last drink".
They walk silently along the country lane in the moonlight.
- Nicholas Emmett