Tuesday, 25 January 2011

On Second Thoughts 5

Julien was unlike the rest of the students in the little country seminary. Most of them were strapping farmer’s sons applying themselves to their vocation with an agricultural fervour. Julien, the only son of a widowed teacher, was a delicate lad. Pallid and withdrawn, he cultivated an exclusively interior landscape. Father Bernard, the seminary’s director, was well aware of Julien’s prodigious intellectual gifts, but it was perhaps to offset such an intensity of self reflection, that he allocated the young priest the early morning tasks in the Seminary’s rigorous schedule.

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

On second thoughts 4

Doctor Lipkiss crouched in the rear of the plane while his Special Forces attendants meticulously checked his equipment. They examined every part of his parachute harness and his spare chute. They recalibrated the orientation meters and controls on his wristband tracking device. They ran checks on his helmet and harness cameras, his personal communication system from earpieces to throat mike.

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

On second thoughts 3

Smike had walked the hedgerows since the first days of the Enclosures. He’d avoided the workhouse by his sure-footedness across rooftops at night and his nimble fingers deftly plundering the pockets of gentlefolk at country fairs and other crowded places. He was averse to both paid labour and trouble, preferring to give each a wide berth.

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.