John Gormley: Minister For Life

Morning in Dublin. A cold, ill-formed, fearful morning; a morning that bled agonisingly through a death-black night. The pall of smoke from the night before clings lethargically to the ground.

In his office high in the fortified Ahern Wing of Leinster House (some had called it the Bertie Boner, but never more than once), Minister For Life John Gormley presses a cup of tasteless coffee to his lips, as much for warmth as for sustenance. He’s older now; old beyond his years. That kindly, Clausian aspect which garnered such trust and favour has harshened to a weathered, leathery countenance. Long years of trouble and nothing but have traced deep, dark lines across his forehead. Catching a glimpse of his reflection in the window, he starts slightly, them smiles to himself. Who said this game was a beauty contest?

His gaze penetrates his reflection through to the wispy grey coils lingering in the street below. Tear gas, he thinks. Eighteen months ago it would have been smoke. Another dry, humourless chuckle escapes his lips; I guess that’s what we mean by progress, he thinks.

Footsteps. Six feet. No cause for panic. He crosses to the door and slides it open; here comes young O’Hara, his eager junior secretary. Briefcase handcuffed by his side, flanked by two stout soldiers of the Ministerial Guard. He really must look into how and where they make those awful rubber boots.

It takes O’Hara an age to traverse the echoing corridor with its painfully forensic fluorescent lights. At last, with a final frisking, he’s inside, the guards dismissed with a nod of the head. He’s nervous.

“Minister, I have a few little scraps of bad news for you. I’m trying to be positive, like you said, but I thought I should tell it to you straight.”

“O’Hara, you couldn’t be positive if you’d had three blood transfusions from the SubMediCentre up in Finglas. Get on with it.”

“Yes, sir. Okay, I’ll just – I’ll build to it, okay? Now, I’m just relaying what I’ve been asked to, I’m not – “

“Do it.” A harshness creeping into his voice. Must arrest that, he thinks. That’s not what got you here.

“Yes, sir. Now, the consignment of SuperGreen Bicycles from Atlanta arrive this morning, after a long delay, as you know. There are 10,000 of them, and we’re chasing them up about the rest.

The Shell Special Division lost two men in an engagement with the insurgents out west, but they did take down 17 of them, so that’s, I suppose, we’re up on that one. The outbreak of cholera in Galway is still going on, we’re counting another 340 dead this week. Cork Opera House has collapsed after the flooding, again I’m afraid. And we’ve just had word from Minister O’Leary that one of his jets has been hijacked over Wigan, we’re not sure if it’s foreign or domestic, but they’re threatening to blow it up. And eh, yeah, that’s it.”

Midway through O’Hara’s litany, the minister’s hands had reached for his GreenCo CleanPhone. Recognising the futility of dialling any of its numbers, he nonetheless clings onto it, tighter and tighter, palm whitening beneath his grip. His mouth is parched; twitching in his forehead is a vein he’s never noticed before. As he swallows the rage rising in his throat, the CleanPhone finally burst into smithereens under the pressure of his vice-like grasp. He hurls his gaze across the room, freezing O’Hara to the spot like a hunted stag in the pre-Special Period days.

“They PROMISED me 20,000 bikes, damnit!”

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