Archive | February, 2016

THE REFUGEE

27 Feb

It had been a long crawl across the rift and through the mountain passes before, wretchedly swimming across a salt-sea bay, cold and wet and shivering ,the old man staggering went.
He was Digwig and he was feeling older than his years, much older for his journey had already sapped most of his strength. But age wasn’t a saviour when the wars had broken out and he just had to flee, to find a home for his family where peace would reign supreme and death and destruction become a thing of the past. Back home, where once trees had flourished in majesty only to be struck down by man’s need for the materials to forge weapons, was a chaos beyond description. Back home was insanity.
He had looked about him and felt only despair. Things were worse than bad and the foe was wixked beyond his concept of wickedness.
So he had set out, determined to find a better place and better things. His kin deserved that, his woman and his babies. He was a refugee looking desperately for a refuge.
He had been in these wilds for an age already. Vast swathes of the planet had yet to be inhabited by man – though they would be, in the fullness of time. But the future is always a closed book until its pages are opened, and this particular future still lay a long way in the future. So in Digwig’s time vast areas of land were untouched by humanity – for the time being.
The trouble with Digwig’s homeland had to do with wars. Battles for possession, for food, for even a scrap of virtual wasteland, were never far away. One day the weaponry would be more damaging than slings and bows, but slings and bows can lead to a dreadful amount of destruction and create a frightening score of death if carefully handled by a vicious foe. And Digwig had seen too much of vicious foes.
By now, though, he was weary almost to the point of death.
Weeks had passed as he struggled along, crawling and clawing in almost impassable terrain, and he was constantly aware of the painful gnawing of hunger in his stomach. Sometimes he had to exist purely on the remnants of fallen leaves, blown to him on a chance wind, chewing them until whatever sustenance they contained oozed into his mouth. Other times he was more fortunate, managing to snare this or that half-starved creature of the wild before it, too, passed beyond the land of the living, brought down by its own starvation. But little proved to be better than nothing, and he was still alive.
He had seen only one person on his journey, and he had looked, dreaming of companionship on his hard road. It was an old woman who was madder than any mad person he had known and who had squawked obscenities at him as he had passed her tumbledown lean-to hovel. When it had become clear that in her raging mind her obscenities were likely to be enacted as deeds of the flesh – she started pulling the disgusting skins she was wrapped in from her body – he had scurried even faster off. Hunger might have slowed him, but fear of that woman’s wretched flesh and what she dreamed of in her grisly mind spurred him on.
He knew he might die any day when he passed a score of whitened, bleached bones. What they’d been in life he could only try to guess though amongst them was a skull that might well have been human. The thought of what had brought them to a blasted end in so lost a place, an inhospitable mixture of sparse scrub and desert, made him shiver, gave his imagination scope for the grimmest of thoughts.
And so he plodded on, ever weaker, ever more desperate for a peaceful haven. Maybe somewhere the sun shone daily and good folks, bellies full and generosity in their hearts, lived peaceful lives and were ready to be giving when a dying stranger entered their midst. Maybe even willing to lend him the land for a home, so that he could regain his strength before returning to the dread battlefield of his ruined homeland and fetch his kin.
Digwig was on his very last legs when he reached Saint Holi, and it was the place he had dreamed of. Spirals of smoke crawled lazily into the sky from fires that warmed the smiling folk as they sat around after dark and told stories to each other, stories that held the children and women in rapt awe. He could see them as he stood on the very verge of this unexpected paradise. Digwig had never seen anything as beautiful.
He paused at the very entrance to Saint Holi. There was a gate, a simple enough affair – but it was a gate and as such he respected it as belonging to someone else and signifying something. So he paused there and made small noises, needing to attract the attention of someone.
And someone did notice him.
A man with a fine set of muscles rippling as he walked came up to the gate and stared at Digwig. Digwig might have stared back, but his long journey had sapped almost everything from him, and his shoulders drooped. A grey mist seemed to descend over his vision as the man spoke in a language he couldn’t understand.
“A terrorist, eh?” snarled the man, “a migrant from far away, a despicable creature ready to rape our women and molest our children? Is that what you are? Be off with you or I’ll set the hounds on you!”
Digwig had no idea what the words meant, but he knew that tone of voice all right, and he turned, wretchedly, to leave.
He walked less than a dozen paces and the grey mist became black and in that instant he knew no more, nor ever would, as he slumped, lifeless and exhausted, to the stony land beyond the gate.
The man from Saint Holi stared contemptuously at him for a moment, then turned and sautered off.
“A bloody migrant,” he explained, “dead probably. Serve him right! Serve him bloody right!”
© Peter Rogerson 27.02.16

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THE MINGELLA BOY

24 Feb

There was a chill in the air as Michael Spokes wandered down the lane towards Kathy’s house. It was the height of summer and the chill seemed out of place, but he hardly thought of that. His mind, instead, was wonderfully preoccupied by thoughts of Kathy.
Kathy was his girl, his very own loving property. He knew that she was, and what’s more he knew that she knew it too. He’d told her so many times and even though she had sometimes creased her face with that little frown that he found so endearing when he said it he knew she understood. She just had to.
He sighed and hardly shivered at all despite the chill.
Kathy was one of those gorgeous lasses that only get born once in a generation. She had the smoothest most unblemished skin, the longest, gorgeously fragrant, hair that was neither dark nor blonde but something enticingly between the two, the bluest eyes, the most perfect of legs that seemed to go on for ever, the pertest of bosoms – and the finest of tastes when it came to the things she chose to wear.
“You’ll have to wear that tiny plaid skirt,” he had said not so long ago, and although she had said it was too short for comfort (folks can see my undies from behind when I bend down) in the end he had worn her down and she had worn it despite worrying about the visibility of her knickers, just to please him.
Then, on another occasion he had extolled the wonders of a particularly pungent perfume, had said how it made him feel horny just to sniff it and she really must plaster it all over herself, and she had grudgingly said something along the lines that if he really insisted, but plastering it was one step too far and she’d read it might be carcinogenic, and he’d sniffed and muttered something about selfish women, and had grudgingly accepted what she offered. But he had liked that smell.
So she was his girl, all right.
Why, only last week he had become almost uncontrollable with a wild lust that suffused his whole body at the very sight of her, and even though she had said it was quite the wrong time of the month and she didn’t want that kind of thing right now, after he had insisted she had acquiesced and he knew it was because she loved him. Anyway, what did the time of the month have to do with it? He had told her it was an old wife’s thing, like saying making love on the Sabbath was wrong, or on Fridays or any of the other days the medieval church had decided was ungodly for lovers.
Yes, she was his girl and he was going to make everything all right with her. Not that anything was particularly wrong, but he wanted to be really, deeply loved, and maybe he wasn’t, just yet.
He had a bunch of flowers for her, and not a cheap bunch from the garage but a really decent bunch from the garden centre on his way to her home. He’d just bought them on the spur of a romantic moment – flowers were the sort of thing you need fresh, aren’t they? And women love them, don’t they? Oh, she might have once told him that flowers should be attached to the roots that they grew from because they were living plants and mutilating them by cutting them was quite inappropriate in her opinion, but that was garbage really, wasn’t it? She’d love this bunch because it was so … so pretty. And what’s more he could smell the fragrance of the bright blooms wafting at him as he walked along, the perfume of lovely flowers on the chill breeze.
But it was to be more than flowers.
She’d be wearing that gorgeous little skirt with its sexy pleats and bright tartan pattern, all red and warming and inviting, and she’d smell of that special perfume she wore, again all inviting, and her hair would be long and clean and fragrant, and she’d smile at him and before you could say Jack Robinson he’d have a hard-on and she’d giggle and tell him not to be greedy, he’d have to wait and she’d put the kettle on…
So he had a diamond ring. A bright and shining thing, beautiful and made of the feelings in his heart. She’d love it even though she’d said she never wore jewellery because it was either tacky and cheap or genuine and much to expensive to wear in public. But what did she know about such things?
Her home, when he arrived there, had a sudden bleak look to it as if something secret had been going on.
He hoped that Mingella boy hadn’t been calling on her. She’d get rid of him all right, she knew that he, Michael, was due to call and anyway the Mingella boy was a pest. He fancied her, but no chance. Not with his, Michael’s, girl. They were a pair, as intertwined as any two people could be and she would be wearing … she would be fragrant with …
He knocked the door and the Mingella boy opened it.
“You’re too bloody late,” he said, dully, “so fuck off…”
Nobody spoke to Michael Spokes like that! It was a no-no, as forbidden as farting at the queen or putting two fingers up at the pope. You didn’t do it. Nobody did!
He put the flowers on the ground by his feet and clenched his fists.
“She knew you were coming,” growled the Mingella boy. “She was expecting you. That’s why she did it. That’s why she killed herself, with tablets…”
And suddenly Michael Stokes could feel the cool breeze as it flooded out of his girl’s home. Out of Kathy’s front door. That’s what it was, blowing at him as he’d walked along. He might have known…

© Peter Rogerson 24.02.16

THE SILENCE OF TIME

22 Feb

The forest was big and silent. The birds had clamped their own beaks shut, or so it seemed – or gone away altogether, which was a scary thing to contemplate, especially for one who has lived his life in the place.
Misner Modie was troubled. He knew this forest like the back of his hand. He had counted every branch and twig. He had sunned in every clearing, lying with his back propped against every cosy stump left by a time-weary tree, and listened to every song from every songbird, joining in sometimes, with his own hoary baritone.
It had never been silent like this before and it boded ill. He knew that it did. Misner was in touch with everything that was beautiful and natural, and what he was feeling with his every nerve right now was neither of those things.
It was ugly and gnarled.
It was as if time had decided, all on its own and without any kind of consultation with Misner, to draw a veil on things.
That was unkind! Why, hadn’t he walked these verdant pathways and plunged between brambly growths for all the years of his life, loving every moment of it all? So why had things turned so bad, so silent, and why did everything suddenly seem to terrifyingly big?
“Cooey!” sang a voice. “Cooey Mr Misner Nature! I have come to be with you!”
Nobody had ever spoken to him before! Not in a voice like this and not in any voice! It wasn’t a song-thrush’s love song and it wasn’t a nightingale’s romantic warble! It was crafted into words and it was sweet like … like … he could think of nothing as sweet as this.
So he spun round to see what manner of creature had called him Mr Nature, had cooeyed at him with a treble laugh in its voice.
And when he saw who it was it took his breath away!
He knew, instantly, that it was the love of his life. He had never loved more than leaf or twig before, but he knew in a single moment that he would have to share every coming moment in all of his life with the speaker. For it was obviously and gloriously as female as any speaker could be.
And it giggled when it saw the expression on his face.
“Who … what … who are you?” he stammered, and the elfin figure in front of him, with a beaming face and the whitest teeth he had ever seen, and gloriously long hair that cascaded like a living river past its shoulders and half way down its back, and everything, each tiny exciting detail, designed by fair nature to excite the cockles of a Misner’s heart, giggled again.
“I am Faerie,” she sang, “and I am here to take you away with me, back to where the birds still sing, where the forest is alive with music and melody and where I live…”
“But …but I live here, in the forest…” stammered Misner. “I walk the paths between the trees, I sing with the birds, I hop and skip and dance with the fair rabbit folk… I don’t want to go anywhere else…”
“Not even with me?” sighed Faerie, “to lie with me during long winter nights when the frost is hoary in the big wide world and we are snug in Paradise, my head on your manly chest, you heart singing its rhythm in time with my own…”
He looked at her closely, and sighed.
“Who are you really, Faerie?” he asked, suddenly guessing why the birds had ceased their song and everything was so still and silent … and big.
“I am me,” she said, simply, “and me is Death … welcome to my world…”
© Peter Rogerson 22.02.16

DEATH MEANS DEATH

17 Feb

Josh Samson knew only one thing though, in truth, for seventy-odd years he’d known a great deal of apparently useless stuff.
For most of those seventy years he’d worked on complex theories concerning life, the hereafter, the spirit world, the likelihood of communicating with the dead and discovering what the unknown consisted of. He’d been on ghost-hunts, often on his own and often really enjoying the spine-tingling emptiness of crumbling buildings in which every creak of settling masonry or warped timbers spoke to him of a soul in agonised torment. He gained a delicious sort of thrill from the notion that the air around him was filled with the silent cries of tortured souls searching for their living loved-ones.
I’m not trying to suggest that all of his wide-ranging theorising was actual knowledge, but it had existed in his head up until moments ago. It was the stuff that goes on in the odd living brain that the gods would scoff at if, indeed, the gods existed.
He’d spent one summer (when his wife, the long-suffering Marlene, thought he’d been on a course in order to better his career) in one particular manor house at the other end of the country, a building that had been left empty for a century or more and which now badly needed some kind of roof or it would tumble down completely. He’d had a meter with him, one he was convinced would indicate the presence of non-living life-forces (though that home-crafted device was only an ammeter connected to a battery via a few odds and ends he thought might amplify the unknown) and he’d spent enraptured hours staring at it twitching.
On one occasion he’d thrilled at the prospect of meeting an apparition face to face and to his unmitigated joy there had been considerable movement in the only sturdy part of the building that seemed safe. There had been hissing noises, tapping and scratching, then dull thumps in the darkness, more than a stray rodent might cause. but his disappointment had been huge when he discovered that it hadn’t been the anticipated poltergeist but the barely-subdued antics of two young lovers with their underclothes in an untidy pile nearby, and he had snorted his anger invisibly in the darkness and thus filled them both with an explosion of fear. They had left in such a hurry that had he required new underpants he might have taken theirs quite freely. He hadn’t.
Josh had never actually seen a ghost, but that didn’t in any way dilute his conviction that there was a vast army of them waiting to be discovered and communicated with. He’d tried seances, small groups of like-minded people gathered together after nightfall and by candlelight, but for ages nothing of any value had happened and eventually someone usually started trying to nudge the spirits into saying something by cheating. Cheats never prospered, but Josh didn’t give up. The spirit world, he told himself, is a law unto itself and he’d better be patient.
Even failure at such events hadn’t discourage him, though, and as he grew older he hit on the one sure-fire way of proving once and for all that he was quite right when it came to the gigantic swirling of the hereafter. He was going to die himself sooner or later, and he would make sure that his own spirit, newly released into eternity, would return as evidence to some other ghost hunter. It was a plan beautiful in its simplicity and, what’s more, it would give him something to look forward to when he died.
After a great deal of thought Josh decided his adult son, who was, some said, as bonkers as his father, should be the receiver of good news clearly communicated by his own spectral self. They were like-minded, as could only be expected bearing in mind their shared genes.
The son, Jess, was in agreement. After all, he had lived in close communion with father Josh for all of his life and had soaked up so much of the older man’s theorising and, let’s face it, eccentric beliefs, that he was raring to have a go at communicating with a father he was both scornful of and in admiration of (in just about equal measures).
They worked out ways and means, and the ammeter with its assortment of electronic components and small battery figured in most of them. Eventually they were prepared with a plan that was beyond reproach. It was bound to work.
Jess would be summoned to his father’s home when it seemed he was on his deathbed, and he would attend to twiddling a knob that was attached to the battery-ammeter device, and at the same time the freshly released spirit of the father would do everything in his power to attract attention to his presence.
Then it was time to wait. They were prepared for the father to die and the wait seemed interminable. Weeks began to pass, weeks neither of them really wanted.
The first time Jess was summoned to the house it was a false alarm. Josh was lying and twitching on his bed, but he recovered. Indeed, he recovered to rude health so firmly and even managed to talk the now elderly Marlene into his bed and frolic in a sedentary sort of way with her.
The second time Jess was summoned to the house it was to find his father almost certainly at the point of death. His breath was rustling like crinkly autumn leaves and his face was grey. There could be no doubt about it. His time was up.
Which brings me to the very first sentence of this narrative, that Josh Samson knew only one thing though, in truth, for seventy-odd years he’d known a great deal of apparently useless stuff.
He knew, in that fraction of a fraction of a second before the synapses and connecting pathways in his brain turned into mush that he was dead. And he knew, scarily, that there was sod all he could do about it.
He knew that death means death.
© Peter Rogerson 17.02.16

THE TERRORIST

15 Feb

The January sales were over and the February sales just starting when I bumped into Philomena.
I’d heard all about her, of course. She’d been spread across the tabloids like butter gets spread across toast and her face had dominated news programmes on the television like Homer dominates the Simpsons. In other words, for a few wretched days she was everywhere until, like any sort of fame, she ended up nowhere. There’s nobody more useless than yesterday’s face, and that’s what she had become.
“Why, hi there, Philomena!” I greeted her. “Long time no see, eh?”
She didn’t recognise me, I could see that straight away. But then, why should she? I’ve never been newsworthy unless you count a day or two in my late teens when I tripped and fell in the shopping mall and got plastered on the local press with my nose bleeding and the headline “Tomorrow’s Hoodlum Today”. But I wasn’t ever going to be any day’s hoodlum and the news headline went away and was replaced next time some other poor fool tripped and fell. So I had no particular claim to fame, and anyway that trip had been twenty years or more ago. Shows you how time flies, eh?
“Do I know you?” she asked, querulously.
“I saw you. On the news,” I told her, smiling.
“Oh that crud!” she spat at me. “I was everyone’s favourite spittoon for a couple of days and that’s no mistake.”
“I thought you were marvellous!” I told her. “You were fighting everyman’s battles! In the face of a corrupt Government and it’s lap-dog financiers you blazed a mighty light!”
She grabbed hold of me by a shoulder and shook it. “Now you be careful!” she hissed, “there are eyes and ears everywhere, you know, and not every spy-operator is asleep at his console!”
I knew she was right, but didn’t care. Like most people I was fed up with the total surveillance that was keeping us safe and secure from terrorism. I’d long suspected there could be no possible reason to have sound and vision detectors in my toilet, with a little red light that flickered as a took a shit.
“But you were so brave, saying what you said,” I told her. “I wish I’d have been half as brave and supported you.”
“It didn’t feel brave at the time,” she grunted. “After all, I couldn’t afford to lose the money.”
I hadn’t heard about any money being involved. After all, what had a possible nuclear attack by a Christian Fundamentalist got to do with money? The weaponry needed paying for, I supposed, but the stuff cost almost nothing on the interweb. And there were instructions everywhere, even on the Government sites. Why, I’ll bet I could have made a small thermonuclear device if I’d had the inclination, which I hadn’t.
“I dropped my purse,” she reminded me. Or thought she was reminding me, but that bit hadn’t hit the news either.
I must have looked blank.
“On the ground, on the street,” she added. “My mistake was bending down to pick it up, but I needed my money more than the toe-rag who was watching me did!”
“Toe-rag?” I asked, confused. There had been no toe-rag on any of the newscasts, and the papers hadn’t mentioned one either.
“It wasn’t reported,” she sighed. “All the newshounds were bothered with was what I might have been bending down to do on a busy street with kids around. I mean, look at me! I’m sixty-seven and there’s no way a glimpse of my frillies is going to turn anyone on. But that’s not how they saw it.”
“The papers said you were a terrorist,” I mumbled, thinking I must be talking to the wrong Philomena, though it’s not a common name and her badge was spelt quite correctly, and anyway I knew that haggard face.
“I was picking up my purse,” she insisted, “and the tow-rag was an undercover cop with a hidden badge. He hauled me in front of the nearest beak, and the papers then the telly got wind of it. I never picked that purse of mine up, I never had a chance the way they man-handled me, which is why I’m broke now. It had all my credits in it, every bloody one! And spookily enough the cop resigned soon after because, he said, he’d inherited a goodly number of credits from a dead aunt. The bastard!”
“He was a crook?” I asked, confused.
“They’re all crooks,” she declared. “Anyway, they made out I was about to blow the town to Kingdom Come. I must have spent a fortune on bomb materials, they said, because if I hadn’t where had all my cash gone? It was in my purse, I said, the one the copper pinched… No, they said, you were distracting him by flashing your frillies, bending down all pornographic as you were, but he was one better than you and collared you…”
I tried to look sympathetic, but the story was becoming preposterous.
“I told ’em they were mistaken,” she continued, “I told ’em straight, I did, that the copper pinched my purse. That’s where my credits were: in my purse! And they said why weren’t they in the bank where all decent folks keep their cash and when I said I didn’t trust banks, that they were always in trouble with giant losses and what’s more, they paid their workers too much, bonus after bonus … it was then they decided I must be a terrorist and that was that. I was everywhere, news, dozens of news channels, all showing me bending and flashing my frillies … I didn’t know so many pictures were taken of us going about our solemn duties, bending down and stuff…”
“It takes a bit of believing…” I told her. “I mean, all the news said was you were a leader of the Christian Fundamentalists and tasked by the Pope to blow up the town centre as a protest against something or other, they weren’t sure what… It’s why people hissed at you, and spat and stuff! But I was on your side because that same day I’d been robbed. My money was all pinched, even though it was in the bank. They were very sympathetic and refunded a small percentage because, they said, it was partly their fault, but I hated them for it… I wanted them sorting out, I did!”
She sighed. “You shouldn’t have said that,” she whispered, “because there are ears everywhere and some swine’ll be playing what you told me back and most likely saying you’re a risk to decent society, hating banks like you do…
“They’ll say as banks are the rock on which everything is built and those who hate them must hate all of society, and ought to be culled.
“And chances are, they’ll cull you. Soon. Very soon.”
© Peter Rogerson 15.02.16

THE RED HOUSE

11 Feb

The Holy Father Gray of the Corpus Hallelujah Monastery was a satisfied man. He knew how good life can be because he (with the assistance of a great number of ancestors going back to the Middle Ages) knew a thing or two about living.
It had started with the celibacy thing.
It had been someone in a pointy hat somewhere across the mighty seas who had first mooted celibacy. Some bright spark with an eye on God had suggested that carnal relationships between the genders must quite clearly be sinful because it was a distraction from more worthy activities, like praising and praying. So dictums had been scattered along with the worthless winds and holy men of God had been suddenly obliged to stop visiting the fair sex at the dead of night and instead turn their attentions to more worthy matters – or each other.
Each other had frequently turned out to be a favourite option.
Except, of course, at the Corpus Hallelujah Monastery where a long forgotten Holy Father had seen the folly of such an order and had established (with the able assistance of a dedicated group of Ladies of the Night) the Red House at the end of a verdant wandering path that led a short walk from the Monastery.
At first, of course, it had been nothing like a house. A shack would be a more appropriate description, a sturdy enough and weather-proof shack with accommodation for enough comely wenches to keep the monks at the monastery happy. But times had moved on since then and by the time the Holy Father Gray was in the monastery the Red House was a substantial brick and stone building equipped with an astounding number of bedrooms.
The nett result of the establishment of the Red House down the ages and contrary to pointy-hatted belief was in actual fact a reduction in sin. After all, what red-blooded monk was likely to offend the statutes of the Monastery if punishment was going to be along the lines of banishment for a period of time from the Red House? It was unthinkable! So would-be sinners thought twice and failed to sin. Prayers were said at precisely the right times. Their God was praised and beseeched and even slobbered on (in effigy) bang on the moment. And the Brethren took their turns to visit the Red House. That’s how it had been for centuries, and that’s how it still was.
There was, of course, mused the Holy Father Gray, a proper order in things, and he being at the top of the hierarchical pyramid, had first dibs. And first dibs meant quite a lot to both him and Busty Toplice, who was both busty and regularly topless. Busty had a heart of gold and she worshipped the Holy Father with much the same fervour as he worshipped his God.
And along with the worshipping came a shrewd understanding of what he most liked in life.
Like shimmeringly diaphanous garments on her luscious body. Like brief little frocks and skirts that prescribed interesting shapes when she twirled. Like splendidly laundered underwear that he could rub against his face, and sigh as he did so. And because those were the garments that the Holy Father liked to see then those were the garments she chose to wear when he visited.
Then there were other things, like cosmetics. He wasn’t so keen on obvious “war-paint”, as he called the more rampant make-up some of the ladies of the Red House chose to wear, and so she wore a tasteful minimum when he was due to pay her a visit. A little smudge of lipstick, maybe, and a dab of powder to deaden the shiny bits. And no more than that. Busty knew how to look both good and desirable because she fully understood that desirability lay more in the dreams of her man than what she daubed on her skin.
And because of her understanding visits were remarkably frequent. Like getting on for daily.
He would make his way down the prettiest of paths that led towards the Red House and slip in through a side door, where Busty, clad in things that both concealed the woman beneath and yet at the same time left very little to the imagination, would, smiling, greet him.
They would start with a little light conversation and a glass or two of wine before she would take him by one hand and take him to her own magnificently-appointed boudoir. Then she would help him out of whatever it was he was wearing and when he was naked run him a bath in her en-suite luxury bathroom.
It was the bath, he lied to himself, that took him to the Red House as frequently as he went. Back at the monastery hot water impregnated with fragrant bubbles was unknown. Indeed, the hottest water available was cold and made for unpleasant bathing, and the soap was more designed to accompany a scrubbing brush than be rubbed on fragile human skin.
But it was not the care with which she bathed his more intimate creases and dangly bits that he confessed to in prayers later, back in his cell, when he was alone with bis God. That care was best forgotten just in case it constituted a sin, which in his mind it just might. Yet he would have been mortally offended if she left it off the menu. It excited him, made him gasp and even sometimes moan, which made subsequent praying considerably more intense.
Which all goes to explain why he hardly ever sinned. The Red House would be there tomorrow but he was slowly wondering if his God still would…
So much, perhaps, for sin.
© Peter Rogerson 11.02.16

THE FIRE ENGINE

8 Feb

It doesn’t seem to matter how old I get,” grumbled Maurice, “I still find myself haunted by Alice.”
“You should have worked her out of your system decades ago,” hissed Monica. “For heaven’s sake, you married me a half a century ago and even back then it worried me that you were hopelessly obsessed with her.”
“Her perfume,” sighed Maurice. “Her fragrance … the way it filled the air, the way it swept over me…”
“I tried the same stuff and it didn’t seem to do much for you,” sniffed Monica.
“It was more than the perfume, it was all of her…” breathed Maurice
“But she soon left you in the lurch, smell or no smell” reminded Monica. “There you were like anyone’s fool sitting on that cracked pew at the front of the church waiting … and waiting, and waiting and waiting, and she never came!”
“We were getting married!” said Maurice sadly. “We’d walked out together, Alice and me. Every Sunday, down that lane that led into the Vale, past the crumbling old mills and across country, going the long way through sunny days, taking in the fresh air of our bright lives together! And we’d hold hands…”
“You never hold my hands!”
“I used to. Don’t be unfair. But we’re not young any more.”
“Age has nothing to do with it!” sniffed Monica. “It’s as if you hated me.”
“Anyway, I was not much more than a kid, and neither was she. Yet we did things together, things we wouldn’t have wanted our parents to know anything about.”
“You mean you stole her virginity?” There was a hint of spite in Monica’s voice, spite tinged with regret. But then the greater part of a lifetime had passed by and this man of hers was still occasionally obsessed by Alice despite the great chasm of years.
“We never did that!” protested Maurice. “It was the sixties and lasses were still obsessed by saving it for marriage. And lads, too. The last thing we wanted was a baby, not back then, not in those ultra-conservative days! But we did other stuff. Like young folks do. And it was still stuff that would have appalled our parents.”
“So what was it about Alice that you can’t shake off even though you’re supposed to love me?” she asked, bitterly.
“I waited and waited in the church. It was quiet at first so you might have heard a golden ring drop onto the stone floor if someone was careless enough to drop one, then it got to people humming in conversation, and I knew what they were saying … she’s left him, in the lurch, he’s not good enough for her, she’s had second thoughts, the poor lad thought he had everything and he’s got nothing… I wanted the ground to open up, the stone flags of the cold church to slide to one side and let me drop down, down, down into the underworld…”
“Because she didn’t come?”Monica knew the story, knew it so well, and in a way her elderly heart still bled for Maurice, even after half a century and even though she hated the very memory of Alice.
“I was sitting there I knew something was very, very wrong…” he sighed. “But you know all this, don’t you?”
“You don’t have to…” murmured Monica, trying to sound understanding but failing. “I know the memories still hurt you, and I don’t blame you for having them … Alice was special to you, I’ve always known that and I guess I’ve always known I’d be playing second fiddle if I married you, but I did. I wed you because I loved you, Maurice, and I still do. Don’t you forget that in your ramblings about what didn’t happen…”
“She was dead, Monica!”
Suddenly he was weeping. Suddenly his memories became converted into salty tears and he was shedding them, almost howling like he had when, as a child, he’d been beaten for something he hadn’t done.
“She’d always wanted to ride to church in that carriage,” he sobbed, “horse-drawn and romantic … and there she was in her bridal gown, pure white, pure like she was, and with her veil just so, a small bouquet in her hands, her face … I didn’t see it back then, how could I, being in church and sitting on that pew as I was but I can still picture it … her face all pink and her smile like the smile of an angel… and the horse bolted when that fire engine hurtled past like a red and ringing demon, bolted, scared for its own life, and the carriage was turned over and she fell, my Alice fell, dead, mutilated in that instant, beyond life…”
“I was sorry then and I still am,” sighed Monica. “I was with her, remember? In that gilded carriage? I was a bridesmaid, don’t forget, but I barely had a scratch, but she was killed outright and along with the driver. And her father: he was there too. He died days afterwards…”
“I know, and you’re so kind. But somehow Alice is still with me. She has been on and off ever since…”
“Come on. Let’s do what we haven’t done in years and go for a quiet drink,” suggested Monica. “It’s good that you still remember her. It means her living was worth while even though her life was cut so terribly short.”
“No,” he said, suddenly. “Her father, before he died, said something I’ll never forget…”
“I know,” she said, suddenly sharply. “And you should … forget it, I mean, he was raving, it didn’t make any sense, not then and not now … “
“Go with the girl… that’s what he said. Go with the girl…”
“I know. He wanted you to wed Alice. Alice who died. He was raving, you know he was, he didn’t know she was dead…”
“No Monica, it was you. He meant I was to court you and marry you. As punishment.”
She paled. “Punishment?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yes,” he choked, “as punishment for me daring to love an angel. So he sent me you, a daughter of the devil, as a torment, to hate….”
© Peter Rogerson 08.02.16