Table of Contents

Section 0: Home

Section 1: History

Section 2: Literature

Section 3: Philosophy

Section 4: Creative Writing

Patrick's Wonderful Life

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five

Click to enlarge Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our
childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth;
that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away,
back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!

The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens

Chapter Four

Suddenly, the cozy study was gone, vanished inless than the blink of an eye.

Patrick's heart did a somersault in his chest when he realized where he was. It hit him like a sledge of bricks in the solar plexus.

Oh, my god, he thought, I'm either in Belfast or this is a bloody nightmare--one he'd had before, but not lately. But Gilbert was there beside him, and as incredibly strange as Gilbert was, Patrick's muscles untensed slightly. At least he wasn't alone….

Then the hotel room door swung open.

"Siobhan!" Without another thought, Patrick ran to her as she staggered in. But she stumbled right past him--in fact, she seemed to stumble right through him, and he had to turn around. "Siobhan! For god's sake! I'm here!" he almost sobbed, going to her, but she didn't hear him. She sank to her knees on the floor. Kneeling before her, tried to put his arms around her, but couldn't seem to grasp her--god, he was as unsubstantial as a bloody ghost!

In desperation, he turned around to Gilbert and mouthed the words, "Help me."

Gilbert shook his head sadly. "Oh, dear, I can't, I'm afraid."

When Patrick turned back to Siobhan, she had slumped forward, her breathing so labored she sounded as if she were breathing underwater. She moaned, trying to form words in between her gasps for breath. Patrick bent low to try to hear, to comfort her, but she seemed so oblivious to him that he felt tears of defeat spring to his eyes. Why couldn't Siobhan see him, hear him, feel him?

"Please…somebody," he heard her moan. "The sheet music…please somebody…take it…I've failed…."

"Siobhan! You already gave it to me! Don't you remember?"

"I'm sorry…oh god…I don't…want to die…all alone." Her voice trailed off. "No one will ever…know…."

Patrick made a last frantic attempt to reach her. "Siobhan Connelly!"

"No one…I tried…Inspector…Quilligan…." And then she said no more.

Patrick watched in despair as the life left in her body flickered, and then died. She had never even known he was there, but the horror of her death was as fresh to him as it had been on the day she died in his arms.

"Why?" he asked Gilbert in an anguished voice. "Why did you do this to her? Why did you do this to me?"

"I'm so sorry, Patrick," Gilbert said in the most sober-sounding voice Patrick had yet heard him use. "I knew this wouldn't be easy for either of us--my job really isn't a sinecure, you know--but there's a lesson here for you, and you must understand what it is!"

"A lesson? You're jokin'--I've been through this once, man. Siobhan--I thought she knew I was there at the end at least! You mean, she never even knew I--"

"You weren't there, Patrick!"

"You're bloody lyin'! I was there, I--"

"Not this time, I'm afraid. You see, you thought Siobhan would have been better off if you'd never been born, didn't you? And I am so terribly, terribly sorry, but this is the way these things work!--you had to see for yourself what it would have really been like for her if you hadn't."

"But Siobhan--why did she have to die again, alone? Just to prove all that to me?" Patrick asked numbly. "I'm not worth that!"

Crossing his arms against his chest, Gilbert produced the closest thing to a frown in his repertoire of facial arrangements. "If you were one of your own students, Professor, you'd flunk yourself. You simply persist in missing the entire point, my boy. Siobhan did not die again. This was merely a performance, for your benefit, of what could have been a different outcome to a particular scene in your life."

"Oh, come on, man! What're you sayin'? This was some kind of--reenactment?" Patrick gibed. Oh, if only it could have been.

"Exactly!" Gilbert exhaled forbearingly. "I believe you mortals use the term virtual reality? So tiresome--we don't put any distinctions on reality--reality's whatever we say it is! However," his features assumed a beatific expression, "no actual mortals were harmed in this reenactment! And, as you saw, without you, not only would poor Siobhan have died alone, she would have failed in her mission to get the sheet music to Inspector Quilligan!" Pausing for breath, Gilbert added, "And not only that. Your being with Siobhan helped ease her transition when she died. That's very important!"

Patrick stared at him, faintly comprehending, but not wanting to comprehend, because it seemed so impossible.

Gratified, Gilbert summed up. "Since you existed, dear Patrick, you were with Siobhan when she died, you eased her last moments, and you took the sheet music from her, which eventually solved the whole puzzle of the Men of 21!"

Patrick swallowed as Gilbert continued.

"I think we're both a little too--overcome--to witness a simulation of the subsequent attempted bombing of the Palace Hotel, but that is another piece of the puzzle that you affected quite to the good by your willingness to take on the responsibility of the sheet music with which Miss Connelly entrusted you before she made her transition!" The self-proclaimed angel nodded for emphasis. "However, we do have a few more stops to make. Shall we?"

"Damn you, Gilbert," Patrick cursed, and then--

Suddenly, the scene changed. One moment they were in Siobhan's hotel room. The next moment they were standing on a dock, the raw dampness of sea air permeating their clothes, the mournful cries of sea gulls penetrating their ears, the lingering stench of explosives infiltrating their nostrils and casting a deathly pall over the scene.

"No," Patrick protested, recognizing with a shiver of revulsion where they were. Long-buried memories emerged, nearly forcing him to retch into the dark, odorous water below. "Oh, no. I can't bloody go through this again!" He turned tortured eyes to Gilbert.

Gilbert blinked and, for a wonder, didn't argue. "Hmmmm…all right, I'll humor you, but it can only be just this one last exception, Patrick!"

The two of them were once again sitting on Patrick's sofa.

It took Patrick several moments to retain his composure enough to speak. He clung to the arm of the sofa for support. "Why, why did you take me to the pier where Whiting's boat was docked?" he beseeched Gilbert.

He was long past trying to figure out the logistics of how Gilbert moved them around. At this point he didn't even care, for there was no doubt in his mind that they had been there, just as they had been in Siobhan's hotel room. Every muscle in his body was stretched for flight, and his heart thudded painfully in his chest with his reaction to them.

"Please calm down, Patrick--more tea?--and I'll be happy to explain! First of all, tell me, what did you see there?" Gilbert coaxed.

"I saw how it looked after we bombed Whiting's boat! My god, man! That happened, didn't it?"

"Yes, it most certainly did, Patrick. But, my dear boy, didn't you learn anything from our visit to Siobhan?"

"What the hell do you mean?"

Gilbert sighed. "I'll have to trust that you're a better teacher than student. To repeat, your presence at Siobhan's death affected every action that occurred afterwards in a positive way. Now, what did you see at the dock?"

"I saw--it looked like--after the bombin'," Patrick said blankly. "I was there and I didn't stop it, did I? So it happened. What good was I then?"

"Yes, Patrick, the bombing happened--even though you weren't there!"

"But--but I saw it--you saw it--it was just as it was, after--"

"Yes, we saw it, Patrick--but it didn't see us."

"Don't play games with me, man--"

"I'm quite serious. Had you never lived, your, er, non-presence would have made absolutely no difference to the consequences, because your existence wasn't crucial to Lord Whiting's fate either way! His boat would have been driftwood just the same, courtesy of his many other enemies. Who, by the way, have expressed no remorse, and that's something I'm grateful I don't have to deal with!"

Patrick gulped.

"Now, this isn't to say you don't bear responsibility for your actions--unfortunately, that's one of the many disadvantages to being mortal, and it's something that all too many of you just never get into your heads! But my goodness, there's no point in taking responsibility for everybody's actions!"

"Gilbert--you're not sayin'--" Patrick was beginning to feel like a broken record.

"I'm saying, if you'll pardon the expression, but it seems appropriate, since it's Christmas, don't you think?--that Whiting's goose was just as cooked without you as with you! In other words, had you never been more than a twinkle in your da's eye, Lord Whiting would still be one of our more, er, explosive guests."

Patrick was thunderstruck. "But what about Granya? I took her to London--she got an abortion and she died--" He stopped suddenly. "You're not goin' to take me there. You're not goin' to make me watch her die again!"

"No, Patrick," Gilbert said softly. "There's no need. Without you as her brother, Granya never made it as far as London. She went to the boat to confront Whiting just before--I'm very sorry--the gang you never existed to join, blew it up. I'm afraid that we needed her back a little early, as we needed Siobhan."

"You needed her back?" Patrick repeated, grieved. "You took her, when I know she didn't want to go, but you're tryin' to throw me back, when I volunteered to--to--" He shook his head. "I don't get it."

"It's all part of the plan, Patrick, whether it makes sense to you or not--oh, dear, I know that doesn't answer your questions, but that's all I'm authorized to tell you," Gilbert tried to reassure him. "Your distress call was so sudden that I didn't have time to discuss the details with Granya's angel--she has one, you know--but I can say this much: the people who love you and want you to be happy aren't only the ones you can see and hear."

"Don't tell me that," Patrick whispered.

"Oh, but I'm afraid I must," said Gilbert. "And a very important point it is! I'm so glad you brought it up! Now you're getting the idea." He smiled most happily.

He was? Patrick shook his head. Gilbert was more confounding than Ulysses. "All right, all right, but what about Todd and Blair?" Somehow the glowering face of Whiting had turned to Manning's in his mind's eye. "Because of me, Todd was shot on Inishcrag, and for six months Blair mourned him! How can you say she wouldn't have been better off without me?" he demanded. "They'd still be married if I hadn't--"

Before he could catch his breath again, Patrick found himself in the Manning penthouse, standing in the foyer that led to the trendily but impersonally furnished living room.

"Jesus, Joseph, and Mary," he muttered in astonishment, as he observed Todd, Blair, and Starr through the open doorway.

"Oh, my! They're hardly the Holy Family!" Gilbert interjected almost testily.

Ignoring him, Patrick noticed that there were several suitcases beside the penthouse door. Blair wore her coat, with Starr, who appeared only about three months old, clutched in one arm, while she gestured angrily towards Todd with her other hand.

"If you ever want to see my little girl again, Todd Manning, you can talk to my lawyer! The cab is downstairs and the doorman's on his way to get my bags, so don't try to stop me."

"Stop you? My personal jet is at your disposal, Blair, I just wish it was a rocket ship that could take you to the next solar system--but there is no lawyer on earth who's going to keep me from my daughter," Todd sneered. "So don't set up the nursery just yet."

"We'll just see about that! I'm not putting up with your crap any longer--I don't know what ever made me think you could change! You're just as petty, vindictive, and mean as ever!" Blair stormed from the room. Before Patrick could evade her, she'd stalked right through him. The doorbell buzzed and she, with Starr in tow, soon disappeared behind the doorman's luggage cart.

From the other room, they both heard a litany of curses, crashes, and thumps as Todd reacted to the departure of his wife and child by hurling every movable object in the room against the mantelpiece. Patrick shifted uncomfortably.

"Oh, good heavens!" Gilbert cried in alarm. "Come along, Patrick! I believe this is our cue to leave!" And they were facing the dying embers on the hearth in Patrick's study, from the comfort of the sofa, once more. Without missing a beat, Gilbert asked him, "Now, Professor, is my method becoming clear to you? This time, suppose you tell me what the point of that little exercise was."

Patrick tried to process the scene he'd just witnessed…. He remembered only too well how Blair had loudly bewailed Todd's "death" so soon after their wedding, while she was still pregnant with Starr, and all the trouble she'd made for him and Margaret in attempting to avenge it. He has always assumed she and Todd would have lived happily ever after, if not for him.

"Are you sayin'…that they split up anyway? Even if Todd never went to Ireland. Blair and I never--"

"Quite right!" Gilbert approved. "Despite the initial sincerity of their marital vows, Blair left Todd less than a year after their second wedding. You know what they say--leopards can't change their spots! And while I'm afraid that isn't a very apt comparison--leopards are entirely more reasonable and useful animals than some human beings--one might also say that neither one of these two humans could change their spots either, supposing they'd had them."

"Bloody h--, er, what d'ya know," Patrick mused. "I shall but love thee better after death" was a truer phrase than Elizabeth Browning might have intended, when applied to Mrs. Manning's relationship with her erstwhile husband.

Gilbert chuckled. "Dear, dear, one can't help but be amused by mortals sometimes. I just hope and pray I'm not on duty the night either of those two wishes he or she had never been born! I'll tell you this in confidence, Patrick, I'd be hard pressed not to agree with them. Dear, dear." He wiped his eyes.

Seeing this slightly more human side to Gilbert relaxed Patrick enough to ask another question he'd been dreading learning the answer to. "What about Margaret?" he asked reluctantly. "How have I not ruined her life? She's given up everythin' t'be with me. I've taken her from the only life she's ever known! What have I given her in return? "

He thought he was accustomed to these rapid location changes by now, but finding himself plunked down at Rodi's Tavern in Llanview was so unexpected that a sound of shock whistled from Patrick's lips. So many times he'd been here in the past: with Marty, with Bo, with Maggie; with colleagues from Llanview University for an after-work beer. Now, he could never show his face in here again--unless it just happened to be invisible, of course--and he looked at Gilbert anxiously.

Gilbert put his fears to rest immediately. "Don't fret, Patrick, my boy. Remember, I'm the only one who can see you! Too bad for that attractive young lady sitting there at the bar all by herself, now, isn't it?"

Patrick's heart nearly stopped. It was his Margaret who was seated at the bar. Her back was to him, but that was Margaret's magnificent wheaten hair flowing down it. Besides, he would recognize any inch of Margaret's body, anywhere. Grasping Gilbert's arm so tightly that the unflappable angel winced, Patrick gasped, "What is she doin' here, man? She can't be drinkin'! No…no, Angel! No!"

Bounding across the room, Patrick grabbed Margaret's shoulder to swing her around to face him, and his hands sank right through her flesh. He nearly howled with rage as the realization struck him: He didn't exist for Margaret any more than he had existed earlier for Siobhan or the Mannings. Heartsick from his inability to reach her, Patrick collapsed onto the empty barstool beside hers.

"Fill 'er up, Dylan," he heard her say in a slurred voice.

Glancing up, Patrick saw Dylan Moody, Margaret's first husband and Rodi's former bartender, approach her with a vodka bottle. Suppressing his impulse to knock it from Moody's hand, he watched the enfolding scene in horror.

With a disgusted look on his face, Dylan was saying, "Forget it, Marty. You see this here bottle? You ain't gettin' any more from it. Bar is closed. I'll spell it out for you. C-L-O-S-E-D. You've had enough for one night. I don't want Rodi gettin' sued if you run somebody down in your fancy sports car once you leave here."

"Damn you, Dylan. Who died and made you king? You always thought you knew what was best for me, didn't you?" Margaret retorted angrily. "When we both know now you don't know everything at all!"

"This stain right there on the bar knows what's better for you than you do, Marty," Dylan replied with contempt, stabbing it with his finger for emphasis. "But you still to manage to care only about yourself, so I'm tellin' you. There are innocent people out there. You're not gonna plow into 'em if I can help it."

Margaret drew herself up and hissed at Dylan, "Damn right I care about myself, Dylan, and isn't that more than you ever did? It turned out you only care about those--those losers in Angel Square!"

"I care about them. But Marty, I cared about you too. Then  you came back from that Irish trip last year and started drinkin' again, and that made Angel Square look even better to me," Dylan shot back at her. "At least the people there want to help themselves."

"Shut up, Dylan. You'd drink, too, if you let a woman die, just because… because…," Margaret hiccuped and her voice faded as she stared at the stain on the bar Dylan had pointed out.

"Forget it, Marty, will ya? I've heard that story before, so many times I can finish it for you. You were too upset to help her because your own parents drowned. Now, like I said, the bar's closed, so why don't you get along home and start sleeping it off." Dylan turned his back on her. After a few moments, Margaret lurched to her feet and headed silently to the door.

Patrick's heart ached, and he longed to take his angel in his arms, to tell her that she hadn't let anyone die…remind Margaret how brave she'd been that stormy night on Inishcrag when the boat had capsized near the Wild Swan Inn where they'd been staying, how she'd valiantly overcome her fears and rushed to the half-drowned woman's aid…how the CPR she'd performed saved the woman's life. Feeling a poke in his back, Patrick swiveled his head to see Gilbert behind him. The angel's gentle features were transfixed with compassion, and Patrick's last remnant of control crumpled. "Will she be all right?" he asked brokenly.

"Oh, my goodness, she is all right, Patrick!" Gilbert reassured him, as usual reading his thoughts as easily as if he'd spoken them aloud. "Remember, this would be reality only if you had never existed. Since you did, it simply couldn't happen to her, because you were around to make sure that it didn't! Do remember, you were there the night Margaret needed to find  the courage she needed help those people who nearly lost their lives in that Irish storm. You, and nobody else, told her you knew she could do it. And so she did."

"And that was her, not me, Gilbert!" Patrick demurred.

"No, it was the both of you, my boy. Dear me, I've never seen anyone so unwilling to take credit. And oh, by the way, I'm permitted to divulge this piece of information to you: Mary--and isn't that an appropriate name for this night, my boy?-- the woman Margaret breathed the life back into, that is--she gave birth to a little boy a few months ago. Do you know what she named him?" Gilbert asked expectantly.

"Of course I don't."

Patrick's voice was flat, but Gilbert twinkled again. "I shall be the first to enlighten you then. Mary called her new son Patrick."

"No," Patrick breathed. "She never did. Wait...half the lads in Ireland are called Patrick!"

"That she most certainly did, Patrick! And please try not to generalize so much; Patrick was actually a most unpopular name in Mary's particular family--until one Patrick Thornhart went to the aid of a capsized boat. I also have it on quite good authority that the next child Mary is due to deliver into this world will be a little girl named Margaret."

Suddenly, Patrick blinked back tears. He'd given little thought to the events of that  night since they had happened; so many other crises had subsequently embroiled him. And damn it, he couldn't cry in front of Gilbert! But Patrick remembered Brendan, his own son with Blair, who hadn't lived despite all Patrick's efforts--and wondered if maybe there was a balance operating somewhere in the universe that he was only just learning about.

"Do you understand now, Patrick, my boy?" Gilbert asked patiently. "Do you see how it works? As a literature professor, you are of course familiar with the quote, 'No man is an island.'  Well, that's my operating philosophy in a nutshell! You see, because of you and your encouragement, Margaret Saybrooke is today a happy, healthy, fulfilled woman. Moreover, there's another family on Inishcrag who bless you both every day. It's the ripple effect, you see."

A single tear managed to escape in a silvery trail down Patrick's cheek. Margaret…his real Margaret, soon to give birth to their child, secure in his undying love, faithfulness, and support--secure enough to trade everything else in her life for it. And he knew that that was all anyone could really give anyone else. What a bloody egotistical fool he'd been to think otherwise. Egotistical, short-sighted, and very selfish.

He realized that now. No longer able to deny it, he was humbled by the proof that no matter how worthless it might seem to him, his existence was essential to the people he loved…and even, it seemed, to people he hardly knew.

"Gilbert," Patrick said quietly.

"Yes, my boy?"

"Thank you."

"Why, no thanks necessary at all. Just doing my job!" But Gilbert looked very pleased. "However, you might just mention a word to my superior!"

End of Chapter Four | Go to Chapter Five