by John Morrison


73: Passion Play

It's high summer, the traditional 'silly season', when politicians decamp, en masse, to deepest Tuscany, to enjoy a little rest and recreation before the resumption of hostilities. Here in Milltown we have a silly season of our own, when a paucity of hard news makes the Milltown Times search - in vain - for meaningful stories. The only significant noise emanating from the newspaper's compact office is the unmistakable sound of a barrel being scraped.

So the paper has been happy to broadcast the news of the Milltown Miracle far beyond this valley, with the result that our church has joined Mecca, Knock and Lords as a holy place of pilgrimage. People are coming from far and wide to gaze in wonderment at the weeping effigy of St Diana, Our Lady of the Landmines. The miracle even made the cover of Which Altarboy magazine: reckoned to be the highest accolade in ecclesiastical circles. The Vicar of Milltown ought to be gratified to see so many eager supplicants packed into his church... but he's not.

He bites his lip; he knows only too well that he's supped with the Devil. In fact he's not merely supped with the Devil, but he's cheerfully gone all the way with the horned one, doing things of a frankly sexual nature which even Mrs Satan - generally reckoned to be broad-minded and unshockable - would blanch at. It's only a matter of time before the vicar is unmasked as a charlatan, and the weeping figure of St Diana as a brazen fake. But the further he walks down the perfumed road towards the eternal bonfire, the harder it is to retrace his steps onto the path of righteousness.

At the risk of being churlish, there are people who can put Princess Diana's exploits into sharp perspective. Carers who continue to hold the hands of Aids patients, even after the film-crews have yelled "Cut, it's a wrap" and put the lens caps back on their cameras. Yes, nurses. And let's tip our caps to the brave men whose job it is to disable those accursed landmines: men for whom a minefield represents a traumatic day's work and not merely another photo-opportunity.

These are just the kind of men that Wounded Man is hoping to emulate. Men of action. Men who react to the prospect of danger with courage and self-reliance. Men who are happy to take on whole battalions single- handedly, armed only with a Bowie knife and a six-pack stomach. Down from Wounded Man's bedroom wall come the pictures of Mahatma Ghandi and Florence Nightingale; up go posters of of Arnie Swarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. A man hitting his mid-life crisis feels the need for new role models.

Wounded Man is fed up with being a good listener. The trouble with listening empathetically to other peoples' problems is that you can end up doing it rather too much of the time. He'd rather be the Man With No Name: a charismatic stranger with a steely gaze and a monosyllabic line in conversation, who rides into a troubled little town and pits himself against the bad guys. It's a foregone conclusion: the desperados are no match for the stranger's vengeance. It's simple, eye-for-an-eye, Old Testament stuff. By the time he's through there are bandits, dead as doornails, lying all over the place... though the townsfolk discover that justice has its price.

Like an avenging angel, the stranger forces the menfolk to confront their own inadequacies. The menfolk, on the other hand, would prefer to leave their inadequacies just where they are: out of sight, swept under the carpet. One by one the women of the town overcome their reluctance to sleep with a man who hasn't showered for six months. Best of all, the Man With No Name doesn't sit impassively at a stripped pine table, listening to their interminable problems. He gives each one a Damn Good Shagging instead, which magically transforms raving harpies into compliant, doe-eyed maidens. He leaves them with their hair spread out over the pillow and a dreamy, far-away look in their eyes.

The Man With No Name doesn't think: "Hmmm, Deadman's Gulch, not a bad little place. Maybe it's time to settle down, find myself a bride and start up a business. This town looks like it could do with a decent dry goods store". He doesn't start looking at houses, or mulling over the pros and cons of simple repayment schemes and endowment mortgages. No, he just saddles up his horse and rides off into the sunset.

Apart from the undertaker - who reckons that Christmas has come early this year - the men are very glad to see the stranger go. He may have saved them from the hoodlums, but life in Deadman's Gulch will never be the same again. The men know they've been compared to the Man With No Name... and have come off badly on every count. The women part their curtains to watch the stranger ride down Main Street one last time, and they smile their secret smiles. Having tasted the forbidden fruit of unbridled passion, there's nothing to suggest that they'll be content to resume a bland and unchanging diet of apple pie.

The Man With No Name: what a hero... He can dispatch the bad guys with casual insousiance and a smoking gun. Then, with the same unerring aim - and without even pausing to wash his hands - he can move a woman to the very core of her being. He doesn't talk about it... he just does it.

These are thrillingly subversive thoughts for Wounded Man, a good-hearted fellow repressed by years of politeness and political correctness. But good sex isn't PC and it isn't polite. Once you start holding open the door that leads to sexual ecstasy ("After you...". "No, after you ...".) the passion soon gets lost amongst the pleasantries.

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