I hope you saw the editorial notes in the previous story. My editor included them over my objections.?
For this conversation, Merlin and I met in a different hotel room than our previous meeting. However, it was the same kind of hotel. Nondescript, forgettable but clean enough to sit on the chairs. (Not sure about the bed given the section of town.) Our arrangement was the same for editorial control. I can print whatever he says.
“In all your stories, you sound as if you’ve been angry or fighting for most of them. You don’t sound as if you’ve led a very happy life,” I said.
Merlin, his face now devoid of expression, sat opposite me and continued to look directly into my eyes. He cocked his head at an angle, and said, “Is there a question in there somewhere that’s trying to escape?”
I confess I laughed out loud as he’d caught on to my thoughts. “No leading questions for you today? OK,” I replied to his broad smile.?
He thought for a moment while we looked into each other’s eyes. It wasn’t a staring contest but rather a mutual checking-out or evaluation.?
I didn’t drop the eye contact before I spoke again. “You tell stories with unhappy endings and?describe battles and massacres in great detail. Your voice sounds angry quite a bit of the time. Are you?”?
Merlin nodded but didn’t respond. Uncharacteristically, he dropped eye contact to stare at the floor. His face settled into an unreadable expression – a blankness of emotion I’d had only seen on people who were tired almost beyond their endurance with nothing left to give. It telegraphed some unfathomable tragedy or pain of those who had stared into the face of Death but had somehow survived. It was the face of one who had lost children in some unspeakable way. ?
I knew enough to wait for the answer and not to rush in.
Merlin took a deep breath. “I’m old,” he said. His voice was low, slow and sad. “And some days those years add up and I forget the good times. It’s as if the bad have more power – we remember the person who runs us down rather than the person who says something nice.” He paused, took a very deep breath and let it out as if it was painful to do so.?
He continued, “We often find it easier to remember the slight rather than the praise.?
We focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right.” ?
He shook his head slowly and met my eyes again.?
With one raised eyebrow, he continued, “I’m willing to bet you remember the last critical letter somebody wrote you about one of your articles but you don’t remember the words of the last positive fan mail you got. Right?”
“Guilty,” I said. I confess I broke eye contact to investigate the stained rug for a few seconds. Indeed, I remembered entire paragraphs of a ravaging email from last week sandwiched between two other positive notes that were gone from my memory. I nodded slowly but didn’t look up as those words replayed in my mind.
When I looked back up at him, he didn’t smile. He nodded before continuing, “Look. I’m old. I’ve seen more tragedy than you can imagine. I try, the spirit knows I try, to be positive and I’ve seen more good in people than you could even begin to believe.?
I’ve seen men give up places in lifeboats to other men so couples would not be separated. I’ve seen soldiers jump on hand grenades to protect their comrades. I’ve had men step in front of me to take a spear aimed at me.?
I’ve seen more good than anyone alive but when I see a human?destroying yet another ancient tree that is home to hundreds of the smaller fae just to clear a way for a stupid golf course for the rich, I become angry. And this world has lost its sense of magic. So yes, I’m…” Merlin stopped, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.?
He opened his eye, looked directly into mine and said, “It’s so easy to be angry when humans ignore the magic in life.” ?
Merlin stopped talking, took a deep breath and let it whistle softly out again. His eyes went somewhere else with an unfocussed look.?
I let him alone to his thoughts. I confess I didn’t know what to make of them but they sounded right. You know the?feeling you get when everything makes sense in the moment. But at the same time, you know reality and politics will intrude. My recorder said the silence lasted 45-seconds but it felt so much longer than that before he continued.
“Look, the world can be a beautiful place. Have you ever watched the sun rise over a misty field and slowly but surely the heat of the day reveals the shapes of tall grass dancing to a freshening breeze?” he asked. “Have you ever watched reflections sway in a still lake during a full moon? Have you ever taken the time to listen, really listen to the unbelievable joy in a baby’s laughter? Have you ever seen the look when two lovers – of whatever age – exchange that look? You know the look I’m talking about – every person on this planet who’s fallen in love knows that look. The world can be a beautiful place and sometimes we all, and I include myself in this, need reminding about how marvellous it all is.”
Merlin stopped, took a deep breath, held up his hand to stop me from talking, put it on his lap, and closed his eyes.
I confess I glanced at my watch but remained still and silent for what seemed like forever until Merlin started talking again. I took a quick look at my watch again to discover 25 minutes had passed but it had only seemed like a few seconds. I put my watch up to my ear and then dropped it again quickly. I’d forgotten it was electronic and didn’t tick like my old one.
“I altered your time perception because I needed to take care of a few small details,” said Merlin cocking his head at me.
“OK, well… That’s fine,” I said. “Nice trick, that…” I hesitated not knowing where to take the conversation.
Merlin took over the interview. “Let me see if I can summarize my sense of your question in the bigger picture of humanity’s history. I’ve lived through some of the most turbulent times when we did things ourselves, by our own hand.?
When we needed to eat, we collected or grew the food ourselves. We didn’t go to the corner store. ?
When we needed clothes, we made them out of what we had. There was no mall to visit.?
When we had to choose about who was going to eat – us or some other group who had food when we didn’t – then we took the food if we couldn’t trade for it.?
We fought against the elements and against each other for survival.”?
He stood, took a few steps towards the window but then turned around, looked me in the eye.?
I felt the beginnings of a challenge in that look, ?and he began speaking again.
“But things change. At least they did in some parts of the world. You’re very fortunate to live here and not in other countries where some of these battles are still ongoing without much of a change since the earliest of times,” said Merlin.
“I’ve also loved. Had children. Seen them grow up and have their own families. I’ve experienced the highs and lows of family life. But humans always want to hear about the battles and never the tender moments,” said Merlin. “Your news channels have a saying about this, “If it bleeds, it leads.” They know you’ll tune in for a tragedy before you’ll sit to watch good news.?
You sit here and encourage me to tell you about Jericho or Nineveh but you’re not interested in games the children played or what kinds of weaving the women did.” Merlin stopped talking, and the silence hung between us.
“Are you interested in the games the children played?” asked Merlin raising an eyebrow.?
I dropped eye contact, and at a loss for words because he was right, I stared at the floor and didn’t respond as I tried to find a way out of that question to continue the interview.?
Merlin hammered the point home, “And what about your readers? What do they want to read?”
When I looked up, he was no longer there, but the silence he’d left behind was deafening.