4 Aug

It was like a hint of death in Cold Barrow Fen.
Pretty had been there before, on the wing, fluttering in time with the scudding clouds, but it had never been as macabre as this. The fragrance had been different, rotting stuff maybe, but rotting vegetation and not the oozing juices of rotting flesh from this or that creature that had given up the ghost too soon.. But now it was flesh all right, decomposing rapidly as the breath of Cold Barrow Fen touched it. Pretty didn’t like it, and fluttered off.
But he couldn’t flutter for too far. Something drew him back.
Maybe it was the hope that his love might come, a bright and orange Monarch from his clan, that she might flutter up to him, eyes beseeching, needing him. He was old, he knew that, and age makes all things whither.
Age crumbles gossamer, breaks the substance of fragile wings, stills vital juices as they course through a gentle thorax, brings the spark of life close to a sombre ending.
Pretty paused mid-flutter. A sudden scented wind took him, and as like as not he knew no more.
And down below him, not so far for a butterfly to fall as the spark of life is being squeezed out of him, staggered Father Ragan Priestly. Or what was left of his spirit.
Father Ragan Priestly was broken hearted.
Bishop “Dimwit” O’Toole had sent him to the fenland cottage where he’d been brought up as a child, proving that his nickname had been well earned because cottages like that, never much to talk about compared to palaces, soon surrendered to the moist airs that washed from the not-so-distant North Sea and began to return whence they came, to the wild Earth and wilder spheres. It might have been a cosy home way back, but now it was giving up its ghost.
Timbers had moved. Windows had cracked and then fallen out, the deep well had become clogged, and mischievous winds had whistled everywhere through its empty rooms. Even ancient roof slates had shifted, leaving gaps for all manner of weathers to creep in. It was no place to send a sickly Father, but “Dimwit” had done it.
“You’ll find succour and strength there, my son,” he had said, his assumed Irish brogue a mischief lie along with his absurd faith. Norfolk born and bred, he’d never even paddled in the Irish sea let alone crossed it to the land he claimed to be his own. His life had been a lie, an easy one to tell in all truth because the big one, his faith, had slipped easily enough from his lips far too many times.
So Father Raglan Priestly found himself miles from his parish and in a wild and wet place where everything stank and corruption and decay was the lay of the land.
“It’s uninhabitable,” he’d told “Dimwit” on his mobile telephone. “No man could live here and survive! There’s damp everywhere, goodness knows what creatures have eaten through the timbers and as I talk are snuggling under the very floors and up in the rafters, and when I sit on any chair in any room the seat of my pants get wet with mould and corruption and any disease that flesh is heir to!”
“I spent my boyhood there and it never harmed me!” snapped his Bishop. “The air will cleanse your lungs, my boy! You’ll live to thank me, take my word for it! Just you pile some logs in the hearth and set a flame to them! I know it for what it is … our own piece of Heaven on Earth…” And he hung up. He didn’t want to know. His boyhood home, where he’d yearned over many young years for a friend but found none, was a paradise in his mind and therefore beyond criticism. And to him things don’t change. There’s no such thing as decay.
“The man’s turned loony,” he muttered to himself, and attacked his whisky decanter with a new determination.
Meanwhile Father Raglan Priestly coughed long and loud and wrapped himself in his own thin coat and struggled with dripping mildewed logs and matches that wouldn’t strike before going out into the mists and bitter winds for relief from the damp and cold.
And it was while he was out in that desolate place that things went wrong.
He saw the butterfly out of the corner of one eye and reached out to grab it, but missed. But as the fluttering creature escaped his outreached hand he caught a glimpse of its compound eyes. And in them, in both of them, he saw enough real truth to still his heart and send him, like a crumpled old sack, to lie terminally in the mire to add with almost indecent haste to the fragrant flesh decomposing all around.
And somehow Pretty sucked a little strength from his departed soul and fluttered aimlessly on.
© Peter Rogerson 03.08.16


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