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
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
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
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?''
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
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.
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
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
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
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
``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
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
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
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.