The opportune beauty of dramatic departures
by Joseph Reynolds. Excerpted from his novel, Of Lunacy and Valor.

By the middle of the day after Dr. Keating’s death, Carrigan’s sleep was no longer dreamless. In fact, he dreamt with intent and purpose, for his dreams were a preamble to an event he would live very shortly. He dreamt of Jane Kiley. There would be a funeral. There would be an opportunity.

Carrigan had loved Jane Kiley at approximately four different times. He loved her longingly the first day he met her, when she had a boyfriend and he knocked on her door to take her roommate to an awful movie at the old York Square theatre. She was the intensity of the urbane and the random; the beauty and potentiality of the nondescript meeting. He loved her hopefully that first day. He loved her hopefully that first day, and that awful movie was bearable because its end would bring him back to her door.

He loved her desperately during the time period in which she hated him for making her love him so crushingly while she was still with that boy whom she couldn’t leave because the boy was too sweet to have ever done anything mean to her. Carrigan tortured her during this period; this is a fact that could not be denied, but he believed he loved her with no affect, so his torture could, and maybe should be forgiven. He tortured her with his awful benevolence. He would never ask for anything, or make any appeal for her guilt; which, of course made her feel intensely guilty. He laughed disarmingly when she felt sorry for his sorrow. He pulled her into side rooms and made intense speeches and walked away before she could respond. He wrote her letters the day before he would be gone for weeks at a time. He knew he was playing a role, and he knew he was benignly dominating her covetous heart. He thought it was fair.

He loved her passionately for the first three months of the seven they spent together. This was the time he could always remember, a time represented entirely by a single day:


And in the quickly fading New Haven sunlight, even at just shy of two pm, he sat across from Jane Kiley at an outdoor table in front of Sullivan’s on Chapel Street. It was virtually balmy for December in New England; approaching sixty degrees and even the breeze wasn’t altogether chilling. Jane wore a deep ocean blue dress that exposed a still tanned and smooth athletic left calf, under a black cardigan. Her blue corset earrings matched her aquatic eyes, which had mischief in them.

“You used to look off into the distance or even over my head during every single word. Like you were performing a monologue to an imagined crowd and just hoped that I would be in some vast, ill-defined audience.”

Carrigan didn’t talk for quite a while. He ate his now cold cheeseburger lustily even though he was only mildly hungry. It was as if the letter in his pocket were the evidence of a kind of secret fraudulence that was still embedded somewhere inside of him. He felt that she must know; that she could see it in his face for sure. It was a stain he couldn’t wash out.

He rose slowly and kissed her deeply, his path impeded at first by the shocks of hair that had fallen into her face. He pushed them back and caressed her lips softly with his own. He felt her tongue wrapped in his, and his heart beat faster. Sarcasm was suspended for a time.

The hour bells of St. Mary’s rang sonorously and Carrigan instinctively stood up.

“Old habits die hard,” said Jane. “You hear the hour bells and stand up like it’s some kind of cue for you to depart, for the scene to be over. It’s not a play Carrigan. We are not bound by the opportune beauty of dramatic departures.”

And he loved her deeply today, in a way that at least resembled some sort of assemblage of the three other ways he had loved her, except for the fact that this time he loved her with a great sadness, and a great fear. But the fear had no poetry in it, and so the sadness had no worth in it.

As Carrigan dressed for the funeral, he was reminded that, after all, he and Keating were not equals. Keating loved Carrigan with a kind of full bodied humanity; taking instant pride in his moments of greatness and spontaneous empathy and sorrow in his moments of sadness.

Carrigan loved Keating—were they friends if they acted like friends, even if the bond were never equal?—And he loved the qualities of Keating that he did not possess—that resolute and complete forfeiture of vanity and abject lack of human anxiety and want. And so it wasn’t coldness or indifference to the death of the man that made him end his dreamless repose with requiems for Jane Kiley only. Instead, it was a love, and more importantly, a faith in the pure reach and wonder of him, which made him profoundly and uniquely unable to actually believe that Keating was dead, at least in any non-abstract construction.

Today’s funeral was just another link in an invisible chain of human eventfulness that Jane and he held at opposing ends; one more thing they shared without being in the same place. The funeral. An opportunity to stand next to Jane Kiley at a time when mundane grievance and the social propriety of yesterday were suspended, and in their places were pathos and a feeling of gravity which was quietly acknowledged to be more important than romantic disgust or the effects of bad behavior. Carrigan would have an opportunity to convince her to love him once again, and this time, because he believed he missed her in a way that might not quit aching, or depart at all.

He dressed carefully, but not assiduously or formally. He made it to the foot of the great steps of St. Mary’s by ten-thirty. Droves of similarly dressed young men with fervor in their eyes stood nonchalantly on Hillhouse Avenue. The fervor in every set of eyes came from the same belief—a belief in a future of impact, a belief in a kind of assured greatness that remained in their eyes as even greater men before them continuously failed to find or seize it.

It couldn’t have been too long ago that a nearly twenty-year old, brown-haired Liam Keating, dressed in grey pants and a blue blazer, stood outside a similar event, and held a similar fervor in his eyes. The fervor that only comes when one has no idea where he will go, and so can still believe that failure is for other people, and success is non-definitive. The years must have moved so quickly away for Keating, all muddled up and stolen from him by the obscene pace of joy and reverie and the practice of love. He had been pegged for that nondescript kind of greatness and verve. He did not rouse any man who didn’t know him.

During his walk to the church, Carrigan had greedily pondered over a few questions. He worried over whom Keating’s oldest daughter Moira would hug longest and most affectionately, knowing he would feel slighted if it wasn’t he. When he walked in, he immediately felt silly, and then that disappeared quickly due to the reason he felt silly—he only felt sad. It wasn’t a link in a chain at all; it was the end of mortal flesh. Moira Keating had no role to play; she was just a woman bound to miss her father for the rest of her days.

Carrigan stood in the back of the church for the entirety of the ceremony, save the time he stepped backed into the great hallway, made the sign of the cross, and wept deeply and privately for seven continuous minutes.

As the recessional proceeded out of the back of the church, Jane gently grabbed Carrigan’s arm and smiled a sorrowful grin as she walked by. He had not noticed her coming. Was her banal, soft, embracing gesture an acknowledgement of a love that remained, or the final gesture of feckless politeness for a life that had ended, and a moment that had died?

PRAISE for Of Lunacy and Valor...

"It is with such a gladdened heart and extreme joy that I read Joseph Reynolds' truly remarkable and masterful writing. He is the master of adverbs. No one has ever used them better or more artfully than he. They stand, to me, as a signpost of his fluent lyricism, powerful emotion and insightful sentiments. I applaud these pages with full heart. His butterflies of imagination, deft ability to dissect human emotion, and whip around your linguistic lasso, are things only a seasoned and quite erudite prose writer could possess and ably deploy. A writer this accomplished must be promoted and published… I’m just stunned by his talents."

     —Da Chen

Joseph Reynolds is an Adjunct Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at Southern Connecticut State University and the University of New Haven, and an MFA candidate in Creative Fiction at Fairfield University.