Yann Martel, Beatrice and Virgil (Empty Good Cheer)

Virgil: Someone is dying and as they are dying they grab at the red cloth of suffering and they pull and tear at it and nothing before in their life has involved them so completely emotionally or overwhelmed them with such crushing intellectual totality – “I’m dying, I’m dying!” – so the cloth becomes everything they see and feel, covering the walls and ceiling of their room or, if they’re dying in the open, filling the entire dome of the sky, but getting closer by the minute until the red cloth of suffering clings to their body like clothing, only tighter, then clings like a shroud, only tighter, then clings like embalming bands, only tighter, until the red cloth chokes them and they breathe their last, at which moment the cloth, as if pulled by a magician, vanishes and there is only a body left, surrounded by people whose very pulsing being has made them incapable of seeing the cloth, and life goes on, triumphant, one might say, until the day the red cloth flutters into your view and you realize it’s coming your way and you wonder, with utter disbelief, how you could have missed seeing it before, how you could have ignored it, but your contemplations are cut short because you’ve already fallen back and started wrestling with the red cloth of suffering, pulling and tearing at it. (He wrestles the red cloth.)

Beatrice: (waking up) What are you doing?

Virgil: (stopping instantly) Nothing. Just folding this piece of cloth. (He folds the cloth into a neat rectangle and puts it down.)

Beatrice: Where did you find it?

Virgil: (pointing) There.

Beatrice: I wonder how it got there?

Virgil: I don’t know.

(Silence)

Virgil: We could do with a little good cheer.

Beatrice: We could.

Virgil: Something funny.

Beatrice: Something very funny.

Virgil: But not empty good cheer.

Beatrice: No.

Virgil: Although better empty good cheer than no cheer at all.

Beatrice: I don’t think so. The contrast between despair and empty good cheer would only make the despair worse.

Virgil: But if empty good cheer were expressed in extremis, might the irony of it not push one to transcend despair and bring on genuine good cheer? At that critical moment, might empty good cheer not be the first rung on a philosophical ladder to complete cosmic realization?

Beatrice: It’s a remote possibility.

Virgil: Why don’t we try it? Why don’t we agree to fall into empty good cheer when we are truly desperate, as a last resort?

Beatrice: We can try.

Virgil: But are we truly desperate at this moment?

Beatrice: (with a trace of good cheer) No, we’re not.

Virgil: (cheerily) One rung up! I’ll write it down. (He writes on Beatrice’s back with his fingertips.)

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