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Ash is so fine, it, every day, filters through our letterbox and air vents. It is breathed through the nostrils into our lungs, fills our minds with poison. Furthermore we do not always know who it is we have breathed in. The notebook slipped from my hand, tumbled to the floor. I lit a cigarette and watched the smoke curl towards the ceiling. I saw a raven twisting around the light-bulb, twisting in a dance of ecstasy into distance, spiralling with joy to the end of time. A little earlier, one or two minutes ago, it was suggested that ash is poison, which may or may not be so but what it does prove is that in a sentence or two, from one minute to the next, things can change, the mindset, the attitude, the belief that ash may or may not be poison. Are you coming or not, the voice broke the air like an announcement in a railway station? I ran down to the street. The car was double-parked and purring with impatience. Charlene, whose voice it was had shouted in the door had returned to the car and was painting her nails in the back seat. What kept you, Faffiori said but as it was a rhetorical question I did not reply, already in the car en route and anyway no-one had the slightest interest in what had delayed me. The image of the announcement in the railway station occupied my mind for a few moments. Train journeys are important in old films and in psychiatry. Train stations too are places of immense symbolical significance. I tried to think of something I’d read during the night about the train station in Antwerp, as we rolled along through town, but soon drifted on to the old chestnut of wishing I was somewhere else, departing maybe, from Gare du Nord or Grand Central, arriving maybe into Marseille Saint Charles or The Atocha Station. I was in the back seat beside Charlene Sadd, the driver’s wife, Charlene Sadd who wore a short skirt with fish net tights and was very quiet. The conversation was in the front of the car, where Faffiori sat in the passenger seat, talking without cease, the football, the gardening, the mother-in-law, a healthy lifestyle, avoidance of fatty foods, alcohol, cigarettes, the need for regular exercise and less stress, the cost of things, the banks, the government, soap operas and tv presenters and then diving into a brief pause, the driver, Sammy Sadd, said that he had read that there has been no biological change in humans in 50,000 years, what has that got to do with anything, said Faffiori, just saying, said Sammy, then either in an effort to illustrate his point or else change the subject he related how his uncle was at war with the next door neighbour over planning permission for an extension, though he proclaimed himself a pacifist, he could turn violent if the wrong switch was triggered in his head so when when the neighbour, Rothsberger, told my uncle to feck off said Sadd, and my uncle, said Sadd, said that if he told him to feck off ever again, one of them would have to die. I gazed out the window at the ash of an infinity of corpses drifting on the air. It occurred to me that we had so little time, never enough time to read all the greatest novels, or watch all the great films, and yet a working day at The Foundation seemed long enough to present us with a grasp of eternity. As we passed a funeral home on a narrow street, I saw a heavy cloud of ash floating out an open window. Then we took a sharp turn onto the South Link Road and there was the sign for the Airport which we passed every morning, every working morning, Monday to Friday, airborne dust visible when the sun sparkled through a window of the office. In the cleanest places, where the cleaners work all day and all night to ensure cleanliness, the dust swirls in the sunlight. You can’t go away, you can’t leave now, where will you go, you’ll fall sick somewhere, stay here for a little longer, it’s safe, this is your bread and butter. Do you really imagine you’d fare better in Hong Kong?

In recent months, after lunch in a cafe near the office, I have developed the custom of taking a wrong turning to follow a breeze that moves papers, leaves and dust along a quayside, sweeping over the river causing lines of ripples, now v-shaped, now w, then run around to n and m. Swans tossed like anchored boats waiting for the woman with the breadcrumbs. Their orange beaks pecked at the soggy bread, a querulous sound slipped out of their long wind pipes where the feathers ruffled from white to a yellowish fuzz, bloodshot eyes. Inside a church porch a homeless man lay, giving off an odour of alcohol and must and dirty body parts. The crucifix glinted, the statue of the virgin with the golden nimbus glowed, before which I kneeled and prayed for deliverance. Please, Lady, deliver me from The Foundation. I know it’s my bread and butter but I can’t go there anymore, please deliver me, my mind is grey and saturated, I’m afraid to breathe for fear of swallowing ash, I respect society, its rules and standards and I don’t want to be different or detached. Please, Lady. An elderly man appeared on my shoulder. He wore a black suit with baggy pants and carried a black overcoat over his arm and a battered, brown suitcase in his hand. His face was weather beaten. Excuse me sir, he said, could you afford the price of a cup of tea, I was an accountant in London but was forced to leave the profession after having a little nervous breakdown. I convalesced for a time over there, then was sent to the Brothers in Dublin. There I stayed for a time but a short while ago I had to leave, as the Brothers themselves don’t have very much. I am quite hungry but unfortunately haven’t the price of a cup of tea, words rattled off without effort as a recitation that left me feeling peculiar. Sharp, little teeth like a rodent’s in the weather-beaten face, eyes strangely bright. The expression was sad, rueful and charming all at once. Upon my own brow I could feel the furrows deepening. I have no idea what is going to become of me. Like I said, there are days when I wish I was anywhere but here, knowing that if I was there, wherever it may be, I would probably wish that I was back here. It is as if a strange and toxic cloud of ash has gotten into my mind and in fact the other day, when I wondered further than normal off the beaten track, as I crossed the railway line at the level crossing after the bridge, I felt it falling on me, this cloud of paralysing ash, I don’t know what to call it, vertigo or entropy, or a simple desire to stop talking and disappear.

Edward Mc Whinney of Cork, Ireland, is a regular contributor to Contrary.