His cigarette having burned down to the stub, Jeff leaned over and put it out in the soil of the flowerbed. So this was her motive? He had to be careful not to get ahead of himself, because Lynn was impressionable and eager to learn, and her parents would not be best pleased to hear her spouting left-wing, radical ideals at the dinner table in advance of the Munich Olympics. He mustn’t be seen to influence the elder Dyson daughter while she was still a minor, and silently he cursed her youth, as she did.
‘No,’ the nobody from New South Wales answered. ‘I’m not motivated by any religion, but I do believe there are ways humans can behave differently that’ll lead to a much more equitable world. A better world where everyone has rights and responsibilities to give and receive. But I’m not planning to do it in the name of any God, and neither can I drag you into it yet.’
‘But why not?’ the teenager asked, almost whining. ‘Even if I want to? Because I’m not old enough?’
‘Yeah, partly,’ Jeff nodded. ‘I don’t like it any more than you do, but you can’t deny your father’d go ape-shit if he found out I’m trying to enlist you onto my social justice bandwagon while he’s trying to make you into a multi-gold medallist.’
Lynn sighed. ‘Ape-shit’s about right.’
‘Yep. Agreed. I’ll third that, angel,’ her boyfriend smiled, kissing her temple. ‘I’m with you, but it’s too dangerous, isn’t it?’
The sixteen-year-old exhaled, turning around and pushing her man’s broad shoulders down until he was lying on his back in the grass. She kissed him hard on the lips, her worry at being overlooked temporarily suspended. To her surprise, her boyfriend’s strong right hand grabbed her wrist as it sent sensitised fingers inside his t-shirt, and the youthful malcontent took the honourable gentleman’s timely reminder with grudging good grace and in the true spirit in which it had been offered.
‘Yes, it is,’ she was forced to admit. ‘But it doesn’t mean we can’t still talk about this, does it? I just want to know what you think, because I love the way you express all these big ideas that can’t grow in small spaces.’
‘Ask and ye shall receive, my child,’ Jeff dared to play, and received a sharp tap on his chest for his trouble.
‘Arsehole,’ Lynn moaned.
‘Thank you, my child,’ he chanted. ‘Fucking arsehole, I think is what you meant to say… That’ll be four Hail Maries and six Our Fathers, and a spanking when we get home. What else would you like to know?’
The young woman laughed, throwing her head back. ‘So if you definitely don’t believe in Jesus but you don’t know if you believe in God, where’s the uncertainty?’
Jeff sighed, putting his hands over his eyes to shield them from the bright sun, as he stared up into the clear blue sky, also trying not to focus on her bouncing breasts, which had seized and reawakened his sedated imagination by their sudden movement.
‘Not because of all this,’ he began, lifting his hands upwards and waving expansively. ‘I certainly don’t believe a single God-like being created the cosmos. There’s too much scientific evidence against it, as you say, and the religious teachings of all kinds are way too simplistic to be credible.’
‘Good. We agree on that then.’
‘Good. Thank you again, my child.’
Lynn huffed. ‘Shut up! Tell me more.’
‘Well, take us, for example…’ the nineteen-year-old obliged.
‘Yeah. How did I know to find you if something wasn’t guiding me?’
The pretty teenager spun round, assuming the comedian was up to his old tricks. His face was not smiling however, and she noticed a familiar melancholy glaze in his eyes; a look that belonged to one so much older than her boyfriend.
‘You think God made us fall in love?’ she ventured, with a certain amount of disbelief in her voice. ‘Are you serious?’
‘I don’t know,’ the young man responded a little more defensively than he had intended. ‘Not necessarily the God, but a god or gods. All I know is I’ve been driven to meet you for as long as I can remember, and you said yourself that you feel like we’ve known each other for a long time. What’s doing that, angel?’
‘Your dick?’ Lynn cried out, suddenly stretching across to rub the front of his pants. ‘Isn’t that what drives men to find women?’
‘Hey, stop!’ Jeff sat up and grabbed her hand. ‘Stop, Lynn. Calmate.’
His girlfriend’s face was flushed, and her palm was clammy. He had unnerved her; distorted her usual, perfectly round planet into an uneven orbit. Reached too deep perhaps, and now she had embarrassed herself. This was a fascinating reaction which he hadn’t anticipated at all, but it instantly made him anxious too. Was Bart Dyson’s spectre bearing down on them, or was this latest revelation just a step too far for their fledgling relationship? He watched the teenager retreat, shuffling back a little in the grass.
‘Are you OK?’
‘Yes,’ she replied, kneeling up and hugging him. ‘Sorry. I’ve gone all shivery. I always thought that men and women were attracted physically first, and then they gradually learned what sort of personality they could fall in love with.’
Jeff felt a wave of emotion rush into his heart but refused to let it surface. They were indeed on very dangerous ground, their current location only serving to emphasise it more. Push or pull, the young man wondered.
‘You’re probably perfectly correct. It’s another theory that’s just as likely to be true as mine, angel,’ he acquiesced, pushing her gently back down onto her haunches. ‘Let’s not use us as an example then. Take someone like Mother Teresa, for instance.’
‘OK,’ Lynn nodded, her shoulders sinking as they loosened up again. ‘I didn’t mean to spoil your argument.’
‘You didn’t,’ the young man shook his head, deciding to use humour to recover the situation quickly. ‘I’m not done with it yet! I’ve had some pretty stiff opposition during my time making these arguments, and I’ve spent fifty years’ worth of nights thinking about it. So what makes Mother Teresa dedicate her whole life to saving the poor and starving? She’s no cleverer than any other nurse. No better resourced. Certainly no stronger, faster or higher, if I can be so judgmental…’
The Olympic athlete pulled a face and responded with nothing but a shrug.
Jeff smiled and carried on. ‘She has the same religious beliefs as any other nun, and yet she’s done so much good and will probably become a saint. Something’s given her that drive. The same something that didn’t give it to any of the others. What is that, Lynn?’
The young woman drew another blank, seeing her man was not yet done. ‘Don’t know.’
‘And then there’s talent,’ he continued.
‘Talent?’ his girlfriend repeated. ‘What? Like musical or sporting talent?’
‘Yep. But not being good because of a honed skill or years of practice,’ the student dared, knowing he was again on treacherous territory with Bart Dyson’s daughter. ‘I mean natural talent. Times when a kid picks up an instrument and already knows how to play it, or the ability to write poetry or music with no training whatsoever.’
‘Or songs,’ the spellbound sixteen-year-old interrupted, now getting his drift.
Jeff cocked his head to one side and raised his eyebrows. His Pied Piper talents, whether inherited, gifted or learned, were working to perfection, planting seeds of assertion into his dream girl’s inner sensibilities and then subtly helping her to come to her own conclusions. He needed to calm down too. He would push her too far again if he wasn’t careful.
‘Songs, yeah. And what’s with déjà-vu?’ he trotted out another of his well-worn theories. ‘How many times do you think, “Hey, I know exactly what that person’s going to say next,” and they do. But how the hell can you know? Like it’s a warning from someone who’s been here before.’
Lynn nodded, laying back down on the ground. ‘Yes, I have always wondered about that. It’s a bit spooky, that idea... But is it the God, or one of several gods or something inside each person that gives them those special powers?’
‘Special powers?’ her handsome stranger echoed. ‘I like that. And whose god is it? That’s exactly where my uncertainty lies. Is there some other wisdom guiding us? Is it our own private god lurking inside our mind, who commands us to do what it thinks we should do? Or do the orders come from Head Office?’
Reclining on the lawn and staring up into a round window on the top floor, the young woman laughed out loud. ‘From Head Office? That’s funny. God’s Head Office, One-hundred Collins Street, Heaven. Or Hell? Do you believe in God versus the Devil?’
Jeff shifted onto his side, propping his head up with his hand. It was now his turn to feel uncomfortable, since the battle of good versus evil was a sphere of theological study where he had also spent a good, long while, calibrating and recalibrating his own, frequently misaligned moral compass. The degree of difficulty involved in describing his beliefs on this subject without revealing hidden truths in his past was about to take a quantum leap. Perhaps he should draw this conversation to a close, using their waiting schoolwork as a perfectly valid excuse.
‘Whoa! Not sure about that. There’s no doubt that some people are motivated by good and some by evil. So if you extend my theory, it follows that the thing that’s directing us could be a god or a devil. Shall we get going? We should reserve some time for our assignments today, I guess.’
Lynn rolled over again, sensing a sudden lack of energy in her previously animated boyfriend. ‘OK. In a minute. What’s wrong? You don’t seem interested anymore. Can I ask one more question? Well, two actually.’
The subdued orator invited her to stand up. ‘Sure. Let’s walk around a bit. We haven’t seen half of this place yet.’
The couple walked slowly, hand in hand down the steep bank and away from the convent, both admitting to feeling a definite unease. As they descended further along the winding pathway, the buildings appeared to lean over towards them with sombre distrust. Separately, each began to have second thoughts about coming to this place on Good Friday. Lynn was frightened that she may be trying to tame her wild horse too much, and Jeff guessed he was a stone’s throw from pushing his saviour away.
‘Do you think there’s really something like a soul?’ the young woman enquired, staring straight out in front of her.
‘And is your second question “Do I believe in reincarnation?”?’
‘Yes! How did you know?’
Embracing his girlfriend’s tense frame and wondering if she could feel his racing heartbeat, the philosopher smiled and kissed her passionately. ‘Because the two go together.’
‘Angel, I can’t talk about this anymore, because you freak out if I make reference to us,’ her mystery man reminded her. ‘If I were to tell you my theory on souls and reincarnation, it’s hard not to project it onto how it’d work for us.’
Lynn watched her boyfriend’s jawline tighten, realising she was pressing her luck. She felt apprehensive too. It seemed as though they were thinking along the same lines, but she couldn’t be sure.
‘But why, if it’s only a theory?’ she countered, reaching up and cupping his chin in her hand. ‘You believe it, don’t you?’
Jeff turned his face to kiss the soft skin on the underside of her fingers. There was more meaning behind her words than perhaps she knew, and he could tell it scared both of them. They stopped and looked out over the view, stuck in the quicksand of their perilous conversation.
‘Yes, I do,’ her enigmatic stranger affirmed, taking a deep breath. ‘But it is only my opinion. What I’d like to be true is that it’s our soul which directs our human incarnation, like the individual god we talked about. I believe that souls go round again, and I believe my soul is very, very old.’
Lynn cuddled into his side, almost like a child. ‘And do you believe we knew each other in a former life?’
A large left hand travelled up her arm and found its way in front of her mouth. Sensing his girlfriend’s pulse quicken and tears pricking behind his own eyes, Jeff turned her around, and they began to trudge back up the hill.
‘Two things I believe,’ he sighed heavily. ‘One, that it’s time to go home, and two, that this conversation must wait until your current human incarnation is over eighteen.’
And much to his surprise and relief, Good Friday’s decision-maker raised no objection.
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