Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee, part 54 – The Tower of the Red Figures
There was a coffee, a rucksack and a small, red, paper person waiting for me when I arrived at Rose’s Cafe that last Monday morning.
But no uncle John…
The coffee was hot, so I knew he had been there. Besides, I could ‘feel’ his presence, even though he was nowhere to be seen.
My sense of unease grew when I unzipped the black bag – the one he had often brought with him to our coffee meetings. Inside was an envelope with ‘Alexandra’ written on the front. I sipped some of the hot coffee before sliding my well-manicured thumbnail under the upper edge and slicing it open.
Inside were a standard-class rail ticket to London, a note and a picture of a place I knew well… Its golden dome a familiar landmark of the area in which our legal chambers were situated.
I picked up the red paper person, which was a crude figure, like a child’s cutout. For a second, I thought it had fallen apart in my hands. But the three paper people, linked hand in hand, opened, concertina-style; the lowest touching the table with its bouncing arm.
For the next few minutes, I sipped my coffee, thinking loudly. Was he sending me on a treasure hunt? I was, as usual, bound for London, anyway. Had he gone on ahead? Was our final coffee talk to be carried out in a different landscape to the native north?
An hour later, I was speeding south on the Virgin Intercity, set to stop only at Preston, Warrington and then on to London’s Euston station. I had used his ticket, even though I already had one for the first-class compartment adjacent. I had only done that because I thought it might be a test and he might have boarded the train, unseen, at the same time. My seat had, at least, been reserved… He had been very thorough in his planning. I noted that, my legal mind working overtime to extract the deepest meaning from this strange experience.
I opened John’s black rucksack, again, and examined the note. ‘The cattle were red,‘ It said. ‘You can make the connections with ease.’ I looked at the three red paper people, spread out before me next to my bacon bun, bought from the trolley as it passed, a poor substitute for the full breakfast being served in First. Beneath the reference to the Labour were the words, ‘Like Heracles, seek the blazing Sun.’
In his final Labour, corresponding to the astrological sign of Pisces, Heracles faces a task from which he may not profit. There is no payment due for his rescue of the Red Cattle, ‘imprisoned’ on an island under the control of the three-bodied Geryon, his double-headed dog, and a mysterious shepherd who has looked after the red cattle for time immemorial. I knew that much, but what to make of the clues John had left me?
I was no wiser when the train arrived at Euston some two hours later – My legal team knew not to expect me before midday on a Monday; I put in the extra hours during the week, no-one doubted that. I had a short time to make some sense of it all. Within minutes, I was speeding in a red underground train beneath the streets of the City and towards Monument – the tube station with the same name as the tower on the mysterious picture. Minutes later, I emerged into the unexpectedly bright sunshine and looked up at my destination. The tower, arrowing into the clear sky, had been built in the seventeenth century to commemorate the Great Fire of London, and was designed by Christopher Wren. It is capped by a blazing gold sculpture symbolising the Great Fire, itself.
There are three hundred and eleven steps to get to the golden viewing platform which forms the base of the massive sculpture. I am a fit person, but each circuit of that spiral was increasingly painful – in heels. On the third, I stopped, mouth open. A larger scale red paper man was fastened to the wall of the ascending stairwell. There was no other sign. I stopped and stared at it, happy to have any excuse to rest my feet and get my breath back. He had been here–and obviously just ahead of me…
After three further circuits of the spiral, I encountered another paper man on the stairway wall; but this one was black. Again, there was no other reference to my increasingly lonely quest.
The final figure came, as expected, on the ninth circuit, but this time the paper man was white. Red, black, white. The sequence triggered a distant memory of a conversation John and I had about the time we were beginning to talk about the esoteric. Now, I remembered that he had said that, from an ancient British perspective, the generic colours of the Goddess were red, black and white… Was I ascending, with much effort, through these colours? Would John be waiting for me at the top?
My heart was hammering in my chest, but I pushed on, clicking in a much slower rhythm on the old stone spiral. With my head hanging on my gasping chest, I staggered onto the viewing platform and looked, anxiously, around. I had to suppress a small sob when I found I was alone. The golden light, reflected from the massive, burning sculpture above me, was intense…but, slumped against the safety rail and gazing down the sixty metre drop to see the masses of people below, I knew nothing…
The revelations started when I began to descend. Passing the white paper man, I suddenly realised that the two-headed dog was a reference to the above and the below, and that Herakles had moved – had graduated – in the certainty of his own light to a being whose home was the above, the causal layer of all Being. He had therefore ‘slain’ the lower, seeing it for the resultant, if useful, shadow it was.
When I reached the black paper man, I became aware that the Shepherd in the story – the one guarding the red cattle – had been spared by the hero because he represented the one who looked after the the cattle; in human terms, the mind of man, woven, in a seemingly inextricable pattern, into the fibres of his being. Of course he had been spared – he was the way forward, once unity of being was established.
Crossing the final threshold of the red paper man, I realised with a smile that I was about to re-enter the world of the red cattle, that the three bodies represented our old friends the instinctive man, the emotional man and the intellectual man – all at odds with each other until the single arrow of redemptive purpose bore through them, as Heracles’ fiery arrow had finally done, not killing them, but fusing them all into a single entity, capable of being guided from above…
And now I had travelled up and then down that arrow, uniting the totality of my experience with John.
The golden sunlight streamed through the portal of the entrance. But, to my right something else red caught my eye. A scarlet rose had been taped to the old, rusty metal of exit’s door frame. With tears forming in my eyes, I took it…knowing it was for me.
And then I was in the street, and people were staring at me. Everywhere I turned people were curious about the woman with the flower in her hands, walking into a new world seen for the first time.
I wanted to give the rose to them, but I had only one rose and there were so many of them. How could I do that?
The sun shone at my back, I could feel its warmth on my head. I did not know what to do, but the previous sense of panic and confusion belonged to another world. In this one, the need to do something would be accompanied by the knowledge of what to do. That, I knew with a certainty.
Somewhere nearby, John might be watching… But it no longer mattered.
Everything that mattered was here… Everything that mattered was now…
End of Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee
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Pictures of The Monument, London, from: http://www.themonument.info/
It’s an amazing creation. If you are in London, and you like its history, why not visit?
Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.
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