Peter Hammill - Adam's Conviction

``There is something more,'' she said, ``something of which you really should be aware. It's in a much broader direction, nothing to do with the individual spheres...your attitude to life in total.''

Her hands rested upon the green baize of the table, enclosing between them the lay-out of those cards in which, some say, fortune is concealed and revealed, rather than won or lost.

``In what way?'' he asked. ``I mean, I know there is this conflict''... his hands making general motions over the cards, where hers had darted decisively from one to the next in tight triangles of intuition, logic, causality...``between the higher and lower natures, but what else?''

``It's something outside, not specifically from an individual card, or the position. I don't know whether or how to tell you really, but--well, the feeling is so strong from this hand, I don't think I've ever known it quite like this before. I can't tell you in straight words...I can't explain it in the ordinary way of a reading.''

``Well, whatever it is, if you've seen it....Tell me, and I'll say if it strikes a chord with me.''

``Oh, I doubt that it will. Still, I suppose I must tell you.'' She paused, gathering her thoughts to find a starting point. ``Well, as I've said, according to the cards at their face value, you have and will have a good life--after admitting the conflict between your higher and lower natures. On the material and mental planes there should be nothing but satisfaction; on the spiritual, too, to the extent you want or need it. But there's some shadow here, some change. ...It's far more than, say, what the Tower would have meant if it had fallen in the hand instead of''--gesturing with her fingertips--``Temperance, all these Cups. I don't really have the words, just the feeling, and I can't show you in the cards, exactly. It's there though. You are living a life of fruition and plenty, yet without conviction.''

She looked at Adam across the table. It was a strange moment, a strange environment for him, and he found it hard to hold her gaze with anything like the seriousness it seemed to demand. The woman was far from any image of fortune-teller he had previously fostered. He had neither expected nor found a shawl, crystal ball, or anything so essentially theatrical in nature. Still, he had anticipated some sense of beyond, some alien quality; perhaps even some dark sexuality...the woman who knows, who sees, who makes one see. But she was nothing like that, nothing if not average; her conformist clothes, her imitation pearls, her bouffant hairstyle, her suburban living-room, cheap ornaments and fibre-optic lamps. She, and the setting, could hardly appear less mystical.

Not, of course, that he was particularly mystically inclined himself; he would not have called himself a believer in matters spiritual and psychic. In general, he neither believed nor disbelieved in anything for which he had no direct proof. His mentality was that of a hermit, rather than a seeker: feeling the wind, rather than the sky. The wind of words had blown to him, in the course of a fairly frivolous conversation with a friend, the recommendation that he come to see this particular woman to have his cards read. He had been bored, inactive, at the time, so had taken up the suggestion. Thus he found himself here, facing this ordinary woman and her extraordinary words.

At this moment, he was confused, and did not really understand what the woman had said at all. Under her serious gaze, he decided that he should try to do so.

``But I give myself wholeheartedly to my work, my leisure, all my pursuits,'' he said. ``I do believe in my life...I don't know what you mean.''

``Yes, you believe in your life,'' she replied, ``and you live it fully. I didn't say you didn't. Forgive me, words are not...but it is the right word: you do not have conviction in your life. No, don't say anything. I'm not attacking you. You don't have to justify or defend yourself to me; only to yourself. I'm simply telling you what I see in and feel from the cards...it's for you to find understanding in that.''

``I'm sorry,'' Adam said. He did feel sorry: he felt as though he were failing some test, as though--ridiculously enough -- he were failing the woman. ``I understood all the previous parts of the reading, but this seems to be beyond me. I'm not sure...''

``No, you're not sure; I thought it would be like this. Still, it's there somehow, this estrangement.''

There was a clumsy pause, and he shifted in his seat.

``Look, I know it's difficult for you,'' she sighed, clasping her hands in her lap. ``On the one hand, you want to deny everything that I've said, outright; on the other, you want to protect my feelings, and to pretend you accept it all. Believe me, I meet a lot of fools, and I'm treated as a fool by a lot of people. I don't think you're a fool. Neither of those options you've been thinking about are any good. You cam here to have your cards read; that is not a light thing, there is duty involved. I have a duty to read them properly. You, unless you are a fool, have a duty to do more than just listen...to try to hear what there is for you.''

Yes, he had been weighing up those two choices, and had been about to take the easy course, leaving amid muttered expressions of gratitude which he would recant the moment he was outside the door. He had begun to feel uncomfortable, and wanted to withdraw his foot from the threshold on which he found himself, the tread of which he recognized, dimly, and was frightened by, dully. He had come here out of idle curiousity; now, as he was about to probe for further clarification, if only to hasten his departure, the woman blocked his words, too.

``I see I have to tell you in another way,'' she said. ``It is too deep, too much a part of you, to be uncovered in any normal words. I must be more oblique. Look, I'll tell you a story; I know that sounds a strange way to go about this, but believe me, trust me, it's the only way I know. At the end, maybe you'll have the question, the vision in your grasp. You have time?''

``Well, I...''

All potential moves had been seen and potently discounted. There was no option, and limitless time. She motioned Adam away from the table to a sofa; when he was installed there, she herself sat on the edge of an armchair. He laid his head back against the cushions and fixed his eyes on the ceiling; already he could sense hers locked onto him. For a moment he thought 'Is this some sexual...?' but then, from across the room, she began to speak, and her voice, with quiet assurance, lulled him into complete attention. She spoke at a pitch lower than normal, and her words, though measured, uniform, seemed to come to her at the very moment she spoke them. He glanced at her: though her eyes were on him, they seemed lost, far away, drugged. And now he himself was drugged by her voice, by the story.

``There is peace, but in it is stagnation. There is peace, after years of storm and war; unity, after division; hope, after despair; love, after universal hatred. Change comes; death comes, and leaves change in its wake. The world has been overthrown; it steadies itself and becomes whole again. The people of the land are joined together; they look to the future bravely. This in itself is not enough.

Now that the people can see, they must look upon each other, and upon their division. The hands on the same plough, with the same intent, move with differing motive. The people can see, but look only on themselves: they are defiant against the need for wholeness of identity. The fractions and fractioning of war are still splinters under the skins of the people. The world is razed, to be built again; but the plans for it are carried from the old world. All points to cycle, repetitious end, failure. Hope is undimmed, but the people can see that exultation is vanished.

Some were content; those who were dominant in the new world. Others did not care: those who had traded their hope for apathy, the easy trade. Others do not forbear from action. They have seen, participated in the destruction of the old world, helped to fashion the new, desired its success. They know that already it carries the seeds of its own destruction. Dissent and stratification have already begun. Those who see this choose drastic action. Convinced of their rightness, they choose to destroy rather than to accept decay.

They select, by ballot, from among their number, a man and a woman. These two epitomise the values and virtues for which the new world had striven. Their lives and interests are the fullest, their attitudes the purest. They are those least likely to pass on the germs of division and discord to others. These two they send to a safe place, to begin the world anew. Themselves, and all the others of the land, they destroy; and only the two they have chosen survive, to populate the world once more.''

She stopped. Adam, in semi-trance, looked at her, and was almost surprised to find that her voice still inhabited the same, homely, middle-aged, middle-class body. That body was still tense; the voice still had a few more words to say.

``There is a question all of us should ask, but never do. It is time for you to ask it of yourself. You, Adam, could you be such a last and first man? Are you satisfied enough with your life, the living of it, for that? Would the further generations from you, bearing your imprint, your life, be a good, a better humanity? Do you have the conviction that your life is lived to its fullest extent and to its fullest meaning? Do you have the conviction of inheritance?''

He knew it. He knew that ultimately he regarded as life as a diverting game, something with which he chose to be involved, rather than with which he rang in harmony. He knew that beneath the surface sparkle and urbanity lay shallow self-destructiveness. He knew that he was far from grace.

And she was now far from that power--of voice, of presence--with which, but a moment ago, she had been invested. She slumped back into the armchair, seeming to lose strength and substance with each second. Adam, now, was strong and grim, at least in clench of jaw. She attempted to say something: ``I...'' but her voice fell short against his granite expression. Tense, angular minutes; then each gathered their normal selves about them, and it was time, high time, for him to go.

His hat and coat. She accompanied him to the door, and there restrained him for a moment. For the last time she spoke, urgent question in each syllable, as though now she needed affirmation: the sudden suburban housewife.

``Is it...important?''

There was no affirmation, there was no ritual gratitude; there was nothing he could say. He left, quickly and thunder-headed.

The thunder did not last for long. Adam had seen, or been shown, something deeply wrong with himself, and had resolved to change it. But he did not brood--that was neither in the nature he had, nor that to which he now felt he must aspire. A few days later, he found himself visiting that friend who had recommended the fortune-teller to him.

He was asked, of course, about his cards, but gave only the most cursory of replies. He would not have been able to explain what had passed, and his friend would have been incapable of understanding it. Before, these two had been close, even if Adam had always had a touch of envy towards the other man. He had seemed so interested, so knowledgeable, so experienced in all things: music, magic, science, drama, psychology, films, society. But Adam's range of vision had been widened by his insight into his strange central disinterest in life and living: now he saw that at the kernel of his friend's existence--where in himself was this forceful indifference--lay vacuous boredom. Thus, in order not to diminish it, he stilled his excitement, and merely said that his visit to the woman had been worthwhile.

In any case, his friend was not much interested in his experience. He had, of course, been to see her himself; but he knew many clairvoyants, of different orders and disciplines. The only uniqueness he saw in her was, perhaps, the very incongruity between her suburban lifestyle and her houses of cards. Possibly it was for that very strangeness that he had sent Adam, the avowed non-believer, to her. Now it all seemed to be of little importance to him.

As always, the videocast was on in the apartment; Adam knew that it was left running so that even when nothing else was happening in the room, an impression of vibrant activity would be cast into it from the screen. It was one of the new channels: a constant flux of event, observation, report, each one leading implacably forward into the next. Round and round it went, the circle of perpetual fear and destruction (such the political, social and populational climate), of niggling aggression and fire-flash war. The passing of the year 2000 had brought Man little save more of himself: more of his greed, his rapacity, his lust for power and individual isolation...above all, more of him in numbers. The world was now a pressure-cooker; there was still no safety valve, still no end to the feeding flame, and none in sight. For there to be one each struggled more ferociously than ever for self-preservation and enlargement there was no chance whatsoever of that happening. Since the dissolution--in total chaos--of the United Nations in 1993 there had not been even a pretence at accord or unity. It was now each country for itself; and, since all save military space programs had long since been abandoned, land, the possession of earth, was the prime goal. Thus the news channels were constantly full of conflict, aggression and disaster....precisely the kind of panorama Adam's friend needed to sweep the ghosts of inactivity and boredom from his room.

Normally, he only showed desultory interest in the screen, but on this occasion Adam had been there barely ten minutes when something caught his friend's eye, and he leapt to the volume control. The propacaster's delivery changed from a whisper to a shout. The story was of a new defense system, the government's latest development. On that day, it seemed, a gigantic force field had been put into operation, skirting the rim of Britain's coastline. From Beccles to Bude, Southampton to Cape Wrath, the island was sealed behind an impenetrable, invisible barrier, impervious to all matter, curving round from all sides to meet at a ground-locked point miles above the country. Nothing would now go into or out of Britain, even to its satellites, the Isles of Man, the Hebrides, the Channel, Eirland. The news was celebrated on the screen, although none of the working of the system, one of its implications, were mentioned--least of all that the citizens' freedom had, once again, been curtailed in the name of their own security.

It was simply the further progress--or decline--of the world: Adam could not see why his friend was so excited. As soon as the item was over, he had leapt to his library shelves and, after a short search, taken down a book. Muttering, ``Amazing! Extraordinary!'' to himself, he switched off the videocast and inserted the cassette in his viewing panel, holding down the fast wind until he had skipped through nearly all the pages of the book. When the screen stilled, it showed a page of print, evidently ancient and equally evidently most exciting to him.

``I thought so,'' he said. ``Isn't that fantastic?''

``What is it?'' asked Adam.

``It's old stuff...a prediction, you could say; very extraordinary...It's from the apocrypha of the Matter of Britain, although no-one can be absolutely sure it belongs to that. There is only one copy, and very few cassettes. It was found in the remains of an Abbey at the end of the last century. No-one knows its date of origin, it can't even be pinned down by carbon dating. This fragment is all that we have of the Apocalypse d'Arthur.''

Adam, something indefinable drawing him towards what was written on the page, began to read. It was in English, although a certain cramped nature, an alien dissonance between concept and expression led him to believe that it had been translated from another tongue. At first, he thought that the unknown translator had probably embellished and romanticised the story. Quickly though, it came to him that this was not the case: the embellishment was, in fact, its opposite, a paring down to essentials, giving an impression of superfluity, but in reality being vital to the message. Nor was this a fragment, he knew--the page was complete, even if it was a cipher, a grain, a piece of a puzzle. There had been translation, yes, but from no tongue he, or any other human, had ever uttered. This was of supreme importance; and it was for him. He read now as he had never read before.

``And then they built the wall around the land, so that no-one could pass through it, though the wall could not be seen. And they could not pass out of the land, nor could those enter who would invade them. And the wall was from coast to coast: wherever sea met land was the wall. There was peace in the land. The people forgot all that was before and all that was outside, and met and spoke only among themselves.

But the kings of the world outside the land then took to war, and the fight was so terrible that all the earth shook. Feeling this, in the land, too, they fought. And the earth moved with the fight, and the ground and the air themselves joined in the battle. The mountains crashed down, and the sky clouded. And then the ice from the North and the South melted, and the water poured over onto the world and drowned it. Then all those in the world were drowned, save those in the land behind the wall, for the water could not penetrate it. And so the people of Britain were the last on earth.

Then from the North, from the melted ice, came Arthur, who, it was known, would return. He was free of the ice, free to come to his country. So he came, in his black bier, with his attendants. But he found the people in disarray. Still they fought, but now they lived in a great fear, because of what had befallen the other lands of earth. They knew that none outside the land could survive, for they saw the water towering again the shield of the wall.

But Arthur took the people to him, and they had him as king. And he caused them to cease fighting, and set them toward a more glorious life. There was peace, and it seemed that the land would be forever serene. Years passed.

But then Arthur fell ill, his thumb pierced by poisoned thorn, and he died. And the people were dismayed, and they walked and spoke in fear. And soon they took sides, and fought again, and the country faced the ravages of war once more. It became among them as it had been before Arthur and the Flood.

And it was then that they saw the water at the wall falling; and in these days they knew the ice was forming far away; and that soon there would be lands on the earth other than their own.

And then many of these who had been close to the King looked at the land around them and saw that this was not the way it should be. This was the same as the old. It was not the life they had searched for under Arthur. And then they thought that the Flood and Arthur's coming and the hopes for peace they had had were for nothing. Then in anger and despair they went to the coasts of the land, and there they destroyed the wall, so that the water rushed in and drowned all in its path. So all the last people of the earth, the last people of Britain, were killed.

But first those who had planned this thing had sent two of their number away, a man and a woman. And they sent them to the highest place in the land, where they were safe from the Flood. And these two survived to populate the earth.''

Adam's in his room now, as he has been for days. It's time to tap the very chatter of his brain...

``Well, yes, it is on me.

Strange and just that the fortune-teller felt and knew her message to be so important; strange and just that the pieces fell into place through my friend's ephemeral interests. They way that the knowledge came was balanced. I'm balanced.

Oh, now I must prepare. Who knows when the cataclysm will come, what form it will take? Who knows what man will come forward as Arthur? How soon the Flood?

But I know...my will waxes, my powers increase, my certainty can grow no more...all these things will be. So I must make of myself and my life all I can. I am a mirror. When I shatter, splinters will fall all over the earth, each with an imprint of me.

I cannot be a perfect man, but I must try to be a perfect me. It's the same for all of us, the lot, the trial. But I've got responsibility. Not just to myself, like everyone; to all past, present, future, to all Earth and humanity. To that Beyond that has sent me this knowledge in advance. I can't be superhuman; I must be human to the limit.

Oh still nagging doubt. That tone of question in the fortune-teller's voice. Not the ordinary woman? Not her voice, a far deeper one. The Voice, asking if I realise the weight of my responsibility? The deepest concern...is 'Is it important?', really 'Do you understand how important it is?' Do I?

Still that preying fear. She spoke of a lack of conviction, a distance between spirit and intellect, a basic lack of caring. Is it ineradicable? Within me cancerously? In my genes?

I must fight to make myself ready. Even as I tear at each knot of the growth I know that there is yet more below, where my hand and eye have not yet reached. How deep is my indifference? I will pass on my seed to a new world...will it still be one of destruction? Not of discord, division and dogma--but of vacuousness, lethargy, lack of conviction in self, in world, in time, in reality, even in life? What world is to come when my time comes? Have I time to make a better, more of, me?

How long do I have to prepare, how soon before I am truly Adam...?

Perhaps he's cracked, perhaps he's gone mad. Perhaps he's right. Anyway, he and his problems are in a future none of us will ever know. Even so, it's hard to know what to think; whether we feel sorry for him, laugh at him, cry for him, hope for him, tell him 'good luck' or 'get stuffed', or even fail to believe in him at all...he'll still be one up on us.

For Adam now lives in the conviction that his life has purpose.




Russian Peter Hammill / Van der Graaf Generator Page
Sergey Petrushanko hammillru@mail.ru, 1998-2017