7 Apr

Griselda thought that the knock on her door sounded most foreboding and she didn’t like it.
“What in the name of the Blackboil woman can that be … and who?” she asked herself as she peered through the little spy-hole that allowed her to see a great deal more than most spy-holes permit their users to see. Griselda’s had been modified in the kind of way that only a witch with a cauldron and more than a soupçon of magic in her finger tips can modify spy holes. Through it she could see for miles if she wanted to and if distance wasn’t her objective then she could quite easily focus on the oddities and even the complicated skin conditions of any visitors who knocked.
This time she noted the dog-collar before she noticed anything else, and once she’d taken in the dog collar she lifted her gaze up to an unfamiliar face.
The fact that it was unfamiliar surprised her, shocked her even. She reckoned to know all the clergy for miles around because they all had one thing in common: they detested her for not taking to their varied philosophies but daring to have one of her own. And they’d heard rumours about cauldrons and broomsticks and icky ingredients for this or that concoction, and those rumours were enough for them to despise her more than they despised their concept of Satan.
She opened the door, and scowled.
“Yes?” she snapped in her best satanic voice.
The clergyman smiled a broad benevolent smile back at her “I am the new vicar,” he said in that irritating booming voice that many clergymen have as a consequence of preaching enormously long sermons at a congregation of three.
“Well?” she asked in the same demonic tone.
“I have come,” he boomed, “in order to greet my congregation and explain about the roof…”
“The roof?” she asked, knowing all about the church in Swanspottle’s almost non-existent roof. A whole army of clergymen, starting with the Reverend Percy Sledgeright of some years earlier, had tried to do something about that roof and all had failed miserably. It had now reached the unfortunate stage when the vicar had to consult the weather forecast before deciding whether to hold a church service or not. Numerous were the sermons that had remained unpreached on account of this or that vagary of the weather.
“I’m appealing,” he told her, reducing the decibels in his voice to merely a loud boom.
“You are?” asked Griselda, a light in her eyes bright enough to warn anyone who knew her that something acerbic was on the way. “What might be appealing about you? And you might not know it but you were sloppy getting dressed this morning: your collar’s on back-to-front, and that’s far from appealing to a lady of a certain age and a respect for sartorial elegance!”
Her visitor checked his collar with the smooth fingers of one hand and smiled. “No, it’s perfectly all right,” he told her, “you see, I’m a man of God and it’s supposed to be like this. I’m instigating an appeal to buy the materials to replace the church roof.”
“Couldn’t you pray instead? You know, get your God to interfere with the weather round your broken roof instead of having to raid the pensions of poor old ladies?” asked Griselda, exuding a sudden air of innocence.
“Oh, it doesn’t work that way…” began the vicar. “Praying doesn’t by necessity bring results…”
“It doesn’t?” Nobody could have appeared to be more astounded than Griselda did when she uttered those two words. “What’s the point of it then?” she asked.
“The Lord knows that we might ask for what’s not necessarily good for us,” began the vicar, hesitantly. “After all, a child might pray for sweets and our Lord might not agree with too much sugar… and the same with church roofs… the Lord might consider them too much of a luxury for his buildings to have watertight roofs…”
“From what I know your church hasn’t got a roof at all!” admonished Griselda, “so I presume you mean your lord doesn’t mind the odd bout of weather-induced pneumonia amongst your parishioners? Or the occasional fatality due to colds and flu contracted in a draughty rain storm? Or haven’t you bothered to pray because you know there’s nobody listening and the whole idea of us mortals finding out that it’s all one big confidence trick goes against the grain of your belief system?”
“That’s not fair!” stammered the vicar, his boom melting away as he fought to find a proper answer to the tirade aimed at him by one he saw as just an old lady.
“What isn’t?” asked Griselda, warming to the subject. But the vicar knew he had met his match and decided to make a hasty retreat before the geriatric female in front of him deconverted him from his faith.
“I must bid you good morning,” he mumbled, turning to go. But Griselda was having none of it. This man had disturbed her peace (though she quite often found disturbance of her peace a welcome interruption to the solitude of Swanspottle when normal folks were at work) and needed to have the very seriousness of what he’d done brought home to him.
So she stepped out of her cottage and grabbed him by one shoulder. Her grip was both tenacious and firm as she pulled him to a standstill.
“Just a minute,” she said, severely, “it was you who knocked on my door with the intention of obliging me to part with some of my pension to your new roof fund. And don’t say you didn’t because it’s all you’ve been on about.”
“I wanted to introduce myself…” he said weakly.
“Then let’s do it properly!” decided Griselda. “You wanted to discuss your roof so let’s go and take a peek at it, shall we?”
“It’s above a mile away and you’re not so young as you might be…” he began.
“That’s all right!” she said brightly. “I’ve got transport. Do you mind garden rakes?”
“Garden rakes?” he asked.
“Yes. These.” she said with a decidedly wicked twinkle in her eyes. “Come on! It doesn’t have to be a broomstick… this’ll do!” and she gabbed an elderly garden rake that happened to be leaning against her cottage wall.
He didn’t know how it happened and no matter how hard he tried to remember afterwards he couldn’t work it out, but he found himself perched precariously on the wooden shaft of an old rake as it slowly rose, majestically, into the air and set course for Swanspottle church whilst the old lady who was sitting on it with him screeched loud and long and told him not to wobble so much, or he might fall off.
© Peter Rogerson 07.04.16


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