Wednesday, 28 December 2011
Penelope was wearing her best tortoise shell comb, a souvenir from Paris from a long-dead uncle and never yet worn. She’d taken down an equally vintage frock from its tissue-papered reliquary perched on top of the wardrobe. The stage was set.
She could hear her mother hovering outside the door, panting as heavily as Towser, the family’s asthmatic bulldog they’d locked in the kitchen for fear he would slobber on Mr Prendergast’s trousers. Her father would be hiding amongst his roses. Both parents would be on tenterhooks about the morning’s outcome. The impossible achieved; a home to themselves after long years. A spinster transformed. A daughter finally fledged.
Penelope thought of the little terraced house she and Simon would aspire to. Of knitting while Simon read of an evening, beside their own prudently banked coal fire. She allowed herself a glimpse in the clock glass. She was, admittedly, not in the first flush. Not a slip of girl. But she’d got the lipstick to behave eventually. She felt she could afford to think of herself as a catch, just this once, on her special day.
Her mother ushered a nervous Simon into the tiny parlour before retiring with unnecessarily theatrical discretion. Penelope stood up. There was a moment’s silence
Then, without warning, Penelope felt her colon relax. As she struggled, poker-faced, to control it, she gave vent to a loud, lengthy and keening fart, owing more to Wagner perhaps than Purcell. They both stood transfixed as the noise reverberated around them, rattling the clock casing. Towser, being locked in the kitchen, was too far away plausibly to be blamed.
Monday, 12 December 2011
“Oh Christ,” Sir Brendan Cluster, the Cabinet Secretary, ran a hand over his patrician face in desolation. “The Germans at Calais. Europe supine beneath the jackboot. And now this.”
Cluster lit a Players Navy Cut, exhaled streams of smoke down his nose and brought years of experience to bear on the problem, “Firstly, can he actually play the ukulele? He may just find it all too much for him.”
“He’s taught himself,”Ford-Roberts admitted, “Badly.”
“And when is he planning to perform?”
Ford-Roberts spilled out the awful truth, “He’s going to do the full ‘I can promise you nothing but blood, toil tears and sweat’ right up to the big finish, then up with the ukulele and ‘If you can see what I can see when I’m cleaning windows.’.”
He froze for a moment as the Cabinet Secretary appeared to be trying to control some kind of seizure. “He says it’ll lighten the mood, sir.”
Cluster exploded, “Do you think the Americans are going to overcome their innate isolationism and the vested interests of generations to bail out a fat man with a cigar singing comic songs with a ukulele?! Will the Russians die obligingly in their millions because of what Winnie claims he saw when he was cleaning windows?”
“Everybody likes a good laugh, sir,” Ford-Robbers offered feebly.
“He’s your responsibility, Ford-Roberts,” Sir Bertrand replied icily, “Unless you’d prefer immediate reassignment to a one-man submarine in the Arctic circle.”
Ford-Roberts returned to the Prime Minister’s private drawing room, found the new ukulele and stamped it into matchwood.The PM was too busy to notice. Britain was saved.
Wednesday, 30 November 2011
“It’s quite out of the question, Potts,” she had said that morning. “I’m sure you understand.”
Mrs Potts, their irreplaceable cook and housekeeper, had requested the evening off. Her son had been posted overseas suddenly. She had just this one night to say goodbye.
But the Bensons were coming for dinner, and the Oordes; prominent members of the community and not to be put off with some cold collation. Mrs Makepeace was adamant.
That evening, about ten minutes after the consommé, Colonel Makepeace found himself charging through the French windows towards his rhododendrons, Mrs Oorde having wedged her fat self in the downstairs convenience and his wife having commandeered the upstairs bathroom.
Mrs Benson had given up begging Mrs Oorde to evacuate quickly (in every sense) and had scrambled frantically into the herb garden. Colonel Makepeace could see the moon glinting on her diamond earrings, amongst rosemary and thyme. She appeared to be thrashing her head from side to side.
Above his own imprecations, he heard Commander Benson and Sir Reginald Oorde, ensconced in the gardenias nearest the house, exhorting the Almighty in their extremis.
Deirdre Makepeace held on to the toilet seat for dear life. Realising her current discomfort was nothing to the social ostracism that awaited her, her groans echoed about the upstairs landing.
Mrs Potts hummed a little tune as she cycled down the lane, towards her son’s farewell do in the King’s Head. She’d left the rest of the meal on hotplates on the sideboard. They’d just have to fend for themselves.
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
“Come now. Consistency is a principle valued only by forgers and serial killers.”
“It just wouldn’t be fair to other patrons, sir, would it?”
“Exceptional people require exceptional service. Why do you feel this questionable need to be fair to the rest of humanity?”
“Why, sir, do you feel the need to eat in this restaurant wearing neither trousers nor underpants?”
“Simple. I wish to dine al fresco.”
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
The room was full of money and influence and opportunity. Hampton was prepared for any eventuality except for a former Secretary of State sitting in his allotted space, crumbling bread rolls into his lap in senile abstraction. The diners sitting either side of the misplaced political heavyweight refused to meet Hampton’s imploring eyes. Any social aberration here could destroy careers and fortunes.
“Mr Secretary,” Hampton began cautiously.
“Chustsom zoup,” the eminent dotard cut him with a peremptory flick of a skeletal hand. His voice retained the heavy Mittel-European cadence of all those famous newsreels.
“I’m not a waiter, sir!” Anxiety broke over Hampton in waves.
The Secretary glared at Hampton through his trademark heavy horn-rimmed spectacles, “Zoup, you moron!” he barked in a surprisingly loud voice.
The Gala dinner turned in itswell-heeled totality to see what solecism had taken place. Hampton scurried away to the kitchen to find a bowl of soup.There was no other option. The old man had bombed large portions of Asia back into the Stone Age; Heaven knew what connections and occult power he still possessed.
Monday, 24 October 2011
“Careful, careful,” said a commanding voice, and he knew that someone was coming closer and he wasn’t alone. He stilled his mind.
“I think there’s something here, sir,” said another, “Yes, there’s definitely something.”
Rescue! He couldn’t prevent himself; the agonies of hope coursed through him. He tried to make a noise, but somehow none came. He felt of the earth, only light and the presence of other men could break him from this mud and clay, could transform him into flesh and laughter once more.
Then a chink of light opened in the great darkness above, and in flooded a human presence with the simple words, “My God, we’ve found one.”
“Go easy,” cried the commanding voice, “He’ll be in a hell of a state.”
He lay back, while he heard them working patiently and painstakingly above him, trying to prepare himself for life on the surface, back in the haunts of men, and the demand of appetites and survival. When amidst all his preparations, they suddenly uncovered him.
He smiled up at them as they clustered round him. They smiled down at him, welcoming, caring, affirming his life.
“A hunter,” cried one, “Look at the arrows, and those pelts beside him.”
He said nothing, but looked up at them fondly, his heart bursting with gratitude. They’d been three thousand years, but they’d finally come to get him out.
Monday, 10 October 2011
Pretty as a picture, Effie had worked Cable Street since she could remember. And, for all her tender age, she was making a fine job of it. She had her own room above the pawn shop where she’d take her regulars. A safe alleyway to accommodate passing trade. Some small savings. Her daily gin intake stopped just short of lethal. Even Jack the Ripper had passed her by, preferring older, tougher meat for his arcane purposes. The other girls, when they were disposed to be kind, said Effie led a charmed life. She had an angel on her shoulder.
Perhaps it was that which first attracted the attention of the Reverend Esmond Petty who accompanied by his devoted cousin Lady Miranda Cossington, was on one of his regular trawls of the East End looking for vulnerable girls to take under his protective wing.
He straightway approached Effie and declared, “My dear child, your salvation is at hand.”
“Got years in me yet,” Effie protested, mistaking his offer of ecumenical support for some kind of medical diagnosis.
“We’re here to help you,” cooed Lady Miranda, “We wish to lead you to Paradise.”
Effie regarded them sceptically. She wasn’t taking them both back to her room; they might make off with her savings. “Alright, a florin for a stand-up in the alley. Three bob if the lady needs attention too.”
“Gracious!” exclaimed the clergyman, “It’s your soul we wish to embrace.”
“My soul’s my own,” replied Effie, outraged. “Not for sale to the likes of you.”
“Think we’re wasting our time here,” Petty confided quietly in his cousin.
Lady Miranda smiled wanly and rummaged in her handbag. She produced a florin and handed it to her cousin. “Go on, Esmond,” she muttered, “You might at least get a shag out of it.”
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
Chester made a reasonable living out of their embarrassment, a bottle of cheap wine, a lung kebab, a plug of black tobacco. And so he kept to his glowering routine.
He was nonplussed when one day an attractive young woman sat down deliberately beside him and produced two separate lunch bags. She handed one to him, saying “There you are. Prawn salad, tiramisu, iced tea and a candy. Bon appétit.”
He stared at her uncomprehendingly.
“There’s a towelette in there and a plastic fork and spoon,” she added, “Better keep the cutlery for another time.”
With that she ignored him, and ate her lunch, looking idly about her as the other regulars came and went. Chester ate the prawn salad in silence, and the tiramisu. He drank the iced tea and ate the chocolate truffle though he’d never liked them. He made what he felt was an appreciative grunt, but she ignored this.
Finally, she got up, brushed down her dress and walked primly away. Chester watched her in amazement, daring to hope that perhaps this was the start of a regular thing.
Ten minutes after she’d left, the agonising stomach cramps began.
Monday, 19 September 2011
Belvedere sat on his battered suitcase and pondered his next move. The address of his recently deceased mother’s best friend had been folded safe and secure amongst his few pounds, and he hadn’t the faintest idea now of where he was expected.
Two urchins of indeterminate gender offered to conduct him to a nearby hotel. They mistook his shyness for resistance, and attempted further blandishments. Sex with either of them. With both. With himself while they watched, on his own while they sat in the bar downstairs. He sat, silent and crimson with embarrassment, until they walked off hissing abuse.
Eventually a station official wandered over to point out Belvedere could not sit there all night, clogging up the place. Didn’t he have a home to go to?
Belvedere acknowledged that he had but the address had been in his long gone wallet. He’d had another home in the country, until his mother’s recent demise. Currently, his home was Kings Cross.
Alarmed at this, the official took him into a staff room and gave him a cup of tea.
They put him on the milk train back to where he’d come from, in the care of the guard in the mail van. In truth, none of them knew whether it was the right thing to do, but they pretended it was for the best anyway.
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Но с течением времени он стал достаточно большим, чтобы держать вещи, важные вещи, как лучший плоскогубцами или горшки клей, который так часто скрылся. Его специальностью было найти гвозди, шурупы или скобы, которые упали на землю и потерял себя среди щепы и пыли. С раскаты полового созревания, она была его задача провести первый рабочий макет до футбольных полей, и удерживать топливо, а дядя Андрей готовил машину на его запуск стойкой.
Thursday, 11 August 2011
Everyone knew Chloe was superstitious. Everybody knew she crossed herself if a black cat crossed her path, and prayed fervidly each year to be delivered from ghouls and hobgoblins on Halloween. Everyone knew she took the five minute walk down the towpath to River Cottage and climbed in over back wall, if her mother had grounded her, which she did with monotonous regularity. But only Caroline and Babs believed that if Andrea leapt out of the shrubbery lining the towpath wailing and waving her arms under the voluminous sheet, that Chloe would wee herself and thus provide them all with a good laugh and a talking point for months if not years ahead.
So, that night Andrea crouched in the riverside shrubbery, shivering and forlorn, while Sissy and Babs stayed snug in the pub, making sure Chloe took the usual way home and “didn’t ruin everything”.
“What have we here?” asked a quiet but unsettling voice, and Andrea knew a man was standing over her. He seemed strangely tense.
“Whoooo,” she mumbled awkwardly. Madness to think he might himself be terrified of the paranormal, but it seemed her only hope. “Whooooo.”
“It’s a girlie,” he came to a weirdly delighted conclusion. “And what’s more, it’s gift wrapped.”
The evening wasn’t a total failure for Caroline and Babs, or even Chloe. Of course, the prank didn’t take place, but they were the first to discover the crime scene. And got themselves on local television news.
Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Then he would bedeck his church with their donations. Monstrous marrows and cabbages, boxes of juicy apples, piles of pears, punnets of strawberries, gargantuan loaves of bread, whole cheeses, even cascades of grapes and flagons of elder wine. They would hold a service of thanksgiving followed by tea on the vicarage lawn, while the Reverend Panderby supervised his curate, Mullens, in the storing of the choicest items in his outsize pantry. The residue went to the Cottage Hospital in a returnable basket.
One year, after the service the Reverend Panderby and Mullens returned to carry off the cornucopia of local produce, to find the church empty. Everything edible had been stripped away. And a note left which read, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’
“Witchcraft! Blasphemy!” wheezed the Reverend Panderby as Mullens hastened him away.
The Police could find no evidence of larceny. The vehicles necessary to effect such a theft would have been seen and weren’t. Panderby raged at them all.
But it was only when filling in the insurance claim that Mullens suggested the affair might come under the category of Act of God that the Vicar succumbed to his final apoplexy.
A fine sheath of corn and a mound of fruit are etched into his tombstone.
Saturday, 2 July 2011
Concealment was no easy matter; Potts had an ample figure which protruded beneath the floor length velvet drapes now drawn across the window. And Hipkiss, having received permission to take his helmet off, was still finding it difficult to fold himself into the wardrobe, hung with expensive Parisian frocks and exotically scented with Lady Lobelia Carson’s perfumes. What his wife was going to say, he shuddered to think.
The drapes rose and fell with Potts stertorous breathing and his voice was muffled as he spoke, “Mind the language, Hipkiss, You’re working with the Yard now.”
The Yard in the form of Inspector Cutler and Detective Sergeant Walsh was endeavouring to hide itself behind an enormous bouquet of roses set in a free-standing Chinese vase of Imperial dimensions. It was never going to work so Walsh yielded to rank and disconsolately crammed himself under the king-size bed.
“Right, absolute silence,” commanded Inspector Cutler. “Nobody moves a muscle till he’s in and opened the safe.”
And they waited. And waited.
Until Lady Lobelia Carson staggered through the door clinging on to a young airman and a bottle of champagne. Giggling and tottering she pulled off her clothes and then dragged him down on the carpet with her.
“But the bed...” he protested.
“Too far away,” she replied and fell hungrily upon him.
At one point in the proceedings she was down on all fours when, opening her eyes, she caught sight of Sergeant Walsh’s baleful stare from under the bed.
“Oh, bugger,” she sighed, maintaining a firm grip on the carpet. “I knew I’d forgotten something.”
Saturday, 14 May 2011
Day after endless day, the Duke had balanced precariously on a stuffed horse, wearing an elaborate periwig, burnished breast plate over a white topcoat with gold lace facings, a scarlet sash, knee boots, and belt with pistols. He’d refused to maintain his heavy cavalryman’s sword in the charge position so the artist had to make do with him pointing commandingly at the enemy forces, somewhere out of the studio window. His plumed hat bore down more heavily on him with every sitting. He was damned hot and damned uncomfortable.
The painting commemorated a pivotal moment in his and nation’s history. And the Duke was naturally anxious to check on its progress. He hoped the dauber hadn’t made him look fat. His mistress had described his tendency to resemble a prizewinning pig when confronted with something contrary to his will. He’d permitted the observation because of the rapacity of her appetites and the depravity of her services. But if this artist fellow had captured that side of him, he was going to feel some Ducal steel through his kidney.
With a martial snort, he slid off his mount and stomped over to the artist, snatching from him the cloth he always threw over his easel should anyone approach.
“I insist on seeing my likeness,” he bellowed as the painter blanched.
The Duke stared directly at his portrait and lost the power of speech.
“I preferred you without clothes,” the artist tried to explain. “In the Classic mode.”
The Duke, crimson with fury, could only point and splutter at the image that so offended him.
“But look, your Grace,” the artist made one last effort to deflect the Ducal anger. “I have given you an impressive pair of testicles.”
Thursday, 5 May 2011
“I’ve got some paraffin in the van,” offered Janie, her hair corkscrewing out either side of her potato like features.
“Will he come if we use artificial aids?” Glenda sounded anxious. She didn’t want to miss Asmodeus after all this waiting.
“We don’t get that fire going, we’ll end up in bloody casualty,” pronounced big Cherie from the fish shop. “Hypo-bloody-whotsit, more than likely.”
“I’m not ending up in A & E with me bum out,” said Agnes, breathing heavily through her mouth like a drowning chow. “Fetch that paraffin, Janie. Sharpish.”
Witchcraft had a lot to recommend it, if the weather was clement. You got out of the house. You communed with demons. You did things the Women’s Institute would scarcely countenance. Like to see that lot jumping naked over a fire, or yielding themselves up to the barbarous phallus of Satan. But the Dales could be as unforgiving as Lucifer, if you didn’t afford them sufficient respect.
Janie arrived with a plastic bottle which she sprinkled over the brushwood mound. Agnes flicked her lighter, the brush ignited and both witches jumped back immediately with their hair and hands on fire.
The rest of the coven watched them run around screaming and flapping uselessly at themselves.
“Is that supposed to happen?” asked Glenda.
“Just showing off,” said another.
And while Agnes and Janie combusted across the Dales, the coven called it a night and went home.
Friday, 22 April 2011
Every day she pottered about her borders, fussed about her shrubs, descaled her tiny sputtering fountain and deftly negotiated her rockery. Her days, though uneventful, were a balm to her ageing soul. It was her nights that had become a torment. No sooner had she pulled the quilt up to her chin and switched out the light than the grunting began.
Urgent primal grunts they were, accompanied by scrubbings and rustlings. Hedgehogs, it had to be hedgehogs, fornicating amongst her primula. She tried to ignore them. She hummed school hymns, snatches of Gilbert and Sullivan, but to no avail. The nocturnal grunts bored into her head.
After two weeks of sleepless nights, she was a nervous wreck. Even pruning her rose standards offered her no solace. Something had to be done.
That night, after turning out the bedside light, she slipped out of the side door with a torch and a spray-can of oven cleaner. Cruel, she knew, but if they wouldn’t desist they were getting a blast. It was either them or her.
Crouched beneath her bedroom window, his hands oddly employed inside his trousers, she found Mr. Pratchett from down the road.
“Do you mind awfully?” he said. “Only I’ve been barred from the swimming baths.”
Friday, 15 April 2011
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
It was always the same with amateurs. They had even less patience than talent. They couldn’t abide the noise they made, and grew angry at their own incompetence. And then they blamed Jeremy for putting them through it.
The fiddles scraped, the horns bellowed and farted, the woodwind shrieked, the percussion clattered and banged, the harpist, who should have been sitting it out, caught her fingers in her own strings and caterwauled with pain. Somewhere Beethoven was spinning in his grave. Jeremy stolidly slapped out the beat with his stick, looking stern and purposeful for a few bars before segueing insincerely into cheery and optimistic grins. Nobody believed him, on either side of the podium.
True, he hadn’t made the Philharmonic; his compositions mouldered unfinished in the box room; his wife no longer asked him how his day had gone. But, he was conductor and director of the Cincinnati Senior Citizens’ Orchestra and, surely, he was worthy of some respect. He was bringing music into these geriatric morons’ lives, wasn’t he?
Finally, he could take it no longer. He threw his baton to the ground and pounded on the podium with his fists, “Enough, enough, you tone-deaf cretins!” he screamed. “Pigs in the abattoir are more tuneful than you are!”
They looked up at him, askance, as with one more wild-eyed shriek, he rushed from the hall.
Then, cautiously at first and then with increasing vigour, they began to pick out “I’m just wild about Harry.”
Friday, 11 March 2011
“Go back, please,” urged St Peter, “You have so much yet to give the world. Soon enough it will find itself bereft of your unparallel generosity of spirit, your acute sensitivity and towering intellect. But that time is not now. Too many people depend on you. And more will come to benefit from your wisdom, your guidance and your drive. Too many hearts will break. Too many lives will fracture. Too little light will be shed where it is needed. No, you must go back. You will be too sadly missed.”
“You mean there’s been some kind of mistake?” Arkwright, a florid man from the North Riding, gave the celestial gatekeeper one of his characteristic beetle-browed glares.
“You’ve been called before your time,” repeated Peter with the patience of a saint. “The world needs you more than we do, presently.”
“I’ve paid for the bloody funeral,” protested Arkwright, looking down askance at his gown and wondering whether Hubbard and Sons, Funeral Directors, Harrogate had cut a few corners on the generous provision he’d made for his send off.
“What you have to offer humanity is beyond price,” soothed the Saint. “You’ve never been wrong in seventy years, have you? They need you.”
“Bloody pencil pushers,” Arkwright huffed, as he turned back and hauled his portly form down into the lower cloud cover. “Need a rocket up their backsides.”
“They’ll only send him back again,” observed the angel Gabriel
“He’s bound for the basement, actually,” Saint Peter explained, ticking Arkwright off the list.
“But if he insists on turning up here, I thought he should climb up twice to hear the news.”
“Isn’t that rather unkind?”
“For the first time in his life, he’s going to put a smile on someone’s face,” replied Saint Peter.
And, yes, how the cherubim chortled.
Thursday, 24 February 2011
She did not believe he was ill. Or rather she did not believe he was this ill.
Walton was a primary school teacher. He tried to induce in his charges the rudiments of literacy, numeracy and a sense of wonder at the world. They’d responded by a sequence of killer viruses.
Walton sighed, which turned into a cough which kick-started his post nasal drip again. His wife opened the door and regarded him coolly as he thrashed around for a clean tissue.
“I’m going to the shops,” she announced.
He waved a hand tragically, rumbling something indistinct through his coagulated airwaves. She ignored this and turned to go. Then, over her shoulder, “I’ve left a soup on the stove for your lunch. You’d better turn it off if I’m not back in twenty minutes. The whole place could go up.”
And then she was gone. Walton was aghast. Did she seriously believe him capable of getting downstairs? And to leave this time bomb ticking underneath him!
Morosely he watched the minutes tick round on his alarm clock. Twenty minutes passed. Then thirty. Consumed with panic and irritation, he dragged himself out of bed, pulled on his slippers and staggered to the door. He fell giddy, nauseous and resentful.
He was half way down the stairs when he felt a massive myocardial infarction in his chest. His sight flared, his body spasmed and as he tumbled down towards the hall carpet and oblivion, he had one final flash of wishful thinking. This would show her.
Wednesday, 16 February 2011
“Dead, quite dead,” murmured Dr Millmoss, updating his notes in turquoise ink which he blotted carefully and then tucked away into his capacious wood and brass filing cabinet. Dr Millmoss, after fifty years in practice, intended to let the cyber-world pass him by.
“Bit of a cough, I grant you,” continued the patient, bending over gingerly to do up his shoelaces. “And perhaps a pound or two over what is considered fashionably healthy.”
“Would you kindly ask the next...” the ancient doctor gave him a vague wave of the hand along with his best professional twinkle over his half moon glasses, and then looked out of the window at the rose bushes in the practice’s garden.
The patient stood up and gripped the front of Millmoss’s desk to steady himself , as a wave of giddiness and, he had to admit, anxiety washed over him, “But ‘dead’, dammit?”
“Oh, yes. Dead as a doornail,”the doctor gave him an avuncular smile. “No pulse, d’you see? No pulse at all. Vital sign, the pulse.”
The patient grabbed his own wrist; his pulse appeared to be racing away. In time with the blood pounding in his temples and echoing in his ears. “What are you talking about? I can feel it!”
The doctor stood up and ushered him condescendingly to the door, “These things are best left to a medical man.”
With that he shut the door, leaving the patient face to face with the doctor’s receptionist, a kindly woman of a certain age.
The man thrust his wrist out towards her, “Dead, he says! No pulse, he says! Feel that!”
“Oh dear,” the receptionist sighed. “Doctor’s left his gloves on again.”
Friday, 4 February 2011
Protesting vigorously, Frederic was bundled first into his breeches and then into a waiting coach, which set off back to the family chateau. He had barely time to retch out his hangover into a soiled petticoat he’d retained in the belief it was his handkerchief, when Frederic was informed that his father, the Marquis, was awaiting both him and the last rites.
Things were at last beginning to look up. Frederic, always an acquisitive lad, had managed to accumulate an impressive array of debts and a variety of social diseases in his short stay in academe. His father’s would not be the only release from worldly cares. He brightened up considerably, clapped the emissary on the back and asked if he had a bottle or two about him, and possibly some cold meats.
Rubbing his hands breezily Frederic bustled into his father’s sickroom, the curtains drawn, the old man lying gaunt and still in the half-light.
“Still hanging on, father?” cried the son. “Do hurry up.”
“This world can be a harsh and difficult place,” wheezed his father. “Even so, I could not in all conscience leave it to your tender mercies.”
He produced an ancient flintlock pistol from beneath the bedclothes and put a ball straight through Frederic’s forehead.
“A man has certain obligations,” the marquis murmured to the emissary before joining his son, albeit temporarily, on his journey to the hereafter.
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Every day at five, Julien would tiptoe past his snoring classmates down to the kitchen, where he would set fresh logs upon the banked embers within the massive stove. Then he would cross the yard to feed the chickens and break the ice on the horse trough, which served both the Seminary’s mule and any passing traffic from the village.
Following that, his most agreeable duty was to make his way inside the village bakery to fill his basket with crisply crusted baguettes hot from the oven. The warmth from the ovens, the aroma and Therese’s dazzling smile would carry him through to Matins in a benign haze that bordered on the mystical.
Therese, the baker’s daughter, was petite and full-figured with hair continually unpinning itself around her face. She wore an apron over her chemise to tend the ovens, but that hardly concealed the film of sweat that glistened on her fair skin. She always greeted Julien with an open-hearted grin and a twinkle of the eye, as she helped him load the cumbersome basket for his oafish brothers in the Lord.
Julien has his own place now in Nantes. His patisseries are the talk of the region.
Father Bernard believes God moves in mysterious ways.
Monday, 17 January 2011
In about ten minutes Doctor Lipkiss, flanked by the attendants, was going to jump out of the airframe and freefall his way into the forbidden wastes below, pulling up around four hundred meters from the ground to open his chute. . He would land, hopefully intact, and march quick time across to prefixed coordinates, where he would take a number of rock, earth and water samples, for his colleagues back home to analyse.
A keen sportsman, Lipkiss had volunteered for this operation after a number of samples gathered by military personnel had been found to be contaminated at source and therefore useless. “I could do better, myself,” he had exclaimed in the lab. And three months later the authorities had held him to it.
It had seemed like a great adventure at that stage. Not even his wife’s stricken anxiety (he couldn’t keep it secret from her) could dissuade him. Pride, both national and personal, had carried him through.
Until now. He out peered into the night, and envisaged his legs shattering on the uprushing rock, his spinal column puncturing the roof of his skull. He envisaged himself dragged crippled and defenceless into sound-proofed torture chambers where even the truth would not save him.
“I’m not sure this is a good idea, guys,” he tried to sound laconic on his throat mike.
They kicked him out into the freezing airstream. After all, every geek they took out said that.
Monday, 10 January 2011
So it was with mixed emotions that he encountered the recumbent figure of a parson, sprawled by the wayside one glorious summer afternoon. As Smike bent over the near lifeless form, the portly cleric looked up at him with a gasp of relief.
“I’ve been thrown by my mare,” the old man smiled ruefully; with the face of an elderly cherub. “But if you were to bear the news to the rectory at Sedgley but three miles hence, they will send out a cart with the apothecary to succour me.” He managed, grimacing with pain, to slip a hand into a waistcoat pocket and extract a sovereign, “And this might in part recompense you for your trouble.”
Smike looked down at the sovereign, the easiest money he’d ever earn. He imagined arriving at the rectory in Sedgley, being praised for his charitable intentions, fed and furnished with a glass or two. For once he’d be a welcome guest.
Smike held the old parson’s hand, smiled benignly and then deftly cut his throat. After a few gurgling moments the reverend gentleman was reunited with his Maker. Smike was able to ease his earthly remains through a gap in the hedgerow into the meadow beyond. There, he pulled on his dusty frockcoat, his breeches and gaiters, his dog collar and his broad-brimmed hat. He picked up his breviary and his handkerchief. And returned the way he’d come.
People asked too many awkward questions of welcome guests.