13 Oct

A new chapter that adds to our understanding of the two main characters of “The Sinner”

Tea was over and Bernard took his elderly visitor back into the front room to sit in more comfort. He was enjoying her company even though she was a woman and he’d long distrusted women.

“I guess we’ve got quite a lot to catch up on,” he said.

“All of our lives, almost,” agreed Susan.

“I wish we could have got to know each other back in our teens, but things were awkward. For me more than you, I suppose,” sighed Bernard.

“The thing that stopped me knocking your door and asking if you could come out to play or maybe even just stand and talk was you mother…” began Susan.

“The thing?” asked Bernard, “why thing?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be offensive and I know she’s got to be long dead, but we kids on the street were scared stiff of her. Stories went around, wild stories, that she was a witch with a broomstick and that she cast spells on anyone who got in her way. I was in my teens when we moved in next door to you but even I, at that age, believed it!”

“And that rumour kept you away?”

“I know there are no such thing as old fashioned, magical, Satanic witches, but I still find myself wondering when I think of her,” said Susan thoughtfully. “For a start, what happened to your father? He was there one day and then he was gone. Yet he seemed hale and hearty and there were no notices about a funeral.”

“He was hale and hearty,” nodded Bernard, “but the time came when he’d had enough of her and her crazy ways. You’re right ” It does seem that she was like a witch looking back, but at the time she was a little bit more normal than that.”

“Really? Was normal that abnormal?” shivered Susan.

“Cast your mind back! There were still some people who believed every word that’s printed in the Bible. I know my mother did, and it was probably that blind belief that twisted her until she seemed crazy,” explained Bernard. “I’ve only got to put it into perspective recently, and I’ve decided that to be fair to her she was no worse than lots of other people who believed the cruel nonsense in scriptures. We had a religious education teacher who really punished a boy, with a cane, for saying Adam and Eve couldn’t be a true story, and such punishment was allowed back then.”

“How terrible! But I hadn’t looked at it like that,” murmured Susan.

“Anyway, my father got fed up with her and packed his belongings and left the day after I left school,” said Bernard. “He said he’s had enough of having to balance the worst excesses of a mad woman and enough was, for him, very much enough. Now that I was no longer a child ” I was coming up to sixteen, I’d done my “O” levels and was ready to go out into the world, and he felt he no longer had to be around to protect me, I suppose. He went to back live with my grandparents … and they’d had nothing to do with us since a row they had with mum … mother when I was still quite little. I can still hear the noise mother made, shouting and screaming at them until they left, though I was too little to know what it was about, and I still don’t.”

“And your dad stayed around until you were just about a man yourself?” asked Susan.

“He felt it was his duty. He was a man of great honour, you know, and he did his best to balance my mother’s weirdness with secret common sense of his own. And it had to be secret, from her, or she would have used it against him. Can you imagine that? Using ordinary common sense as a weapon? But she did that, all the time. I think she must have been a little bit mad.”

“We all thought she was a lot mad,” nodded Susan. “Anyway, wild horses would never have let me knock your door.”

“When dad left and I went to college to study religion of all things she was left on her own,” sighed Bernard. “I gather that nobody wanted to have anything to do with her, not even the church until she joined a group intent on saving wildlife in Africa. Mum … mother wasn’t so keen on elephants or stopping men with guns from killing them but she did like the idea of little African children being taught all about her God and his nasty ways. And they were nasty, you know, the way she believed in them, the utter conviction she had that her own gender was the root of all evil.”

“It’s hard to see a woman having ideas like that,” said Susan. “After all, couldn’t she see that all the worse things in life are caused by men!”

“Just a minute….”

“No, Bernard. Just think about it. Wars have been fought for ever and unless you believe in an ancient race of Amazons then they’ve all been at the behest of men … and the men who declare them aren’t the young men who die fighting them, either!”

“OK. I’ll accept that.”

“Let me tell you a bit about my father, Bernard. Everyone thought he was a really good man, kind, generous to a fault and spreading happiness wherever he went. But they didn’t see him sneaking into my bedroom at night…”

“He what?”

“At night, when I was asleep, he sneaked into my bedroom … he touched me, Bernard. He wasn’t the good egg people thought he was! Oh, he wasn’t as bad as some men can be and he never actually hurt me. He never tried to … penetrate … me. But I didn’t like it.”

“I never knew…”

“Nobody did. You’re the first person I’ve ever told. I didn’t even tell my husband and he wouldn’t have guessed because I was still a virgin when I married him. As I said, daddy wasn’t terribly bad, but what he did at night was wrong.”

“He would go to Hell then, as mum … mother would say,” muttered Bernard.

“Heaven or Hell … they’re fictions, aren’t they? Stories told by witch doctors and priests in order to control their flock, if you don’t mind mixed metaphors!”

“I’ll tell you something some time…”

“You mean you might want to talk to me again? You might want us to become friends?”

“I’ve never had a girlfriend,” sighed Bernard.

“And you think of me like that? As a girlfriend? At our ages!””

“I don’t know.” Bernard looked confused and it troubled the woman.

“You didn’t tell me the rest of the story of your father,” said Susan, changing the subject because of the way Bernard looked.

“Oh, he died. Everyone dies, don’t they? But he died a few years after he left mum… mother. He started going about with another woman, though he never divorced my mother. I don’t think he dared! She would have put up such a battle even though she didn’t want him around once he’d gone. The other woman, a beautiful coloured lady, was older than him, but I think he loved her in a way that he could never have loved my mother.”

“I’m sorry, Bernard.”

“Hey! If he’d lived he’d be about a hundred by now! As I said, everyone dies. We have our little season, Susan, and then it’s all over. And I’ve wasted mine. All of it, every day and every minute. You know what I ended up doing when the church didn’t want me? I failed my exams, you know, probably because I got what the college taught me mixed up with my mother’s confused ideas.”

“No. You never said.”

“The town library. I worked in there, in the back room where they stick labels into new books and check through old ones to see if they need replacing. I had a room all of my own ” it was my own domain. The rest of the staff barely knew I was there, but they were all women and I didn’t want them to notice me.”

“That’s sad, Bernard. I’m so sorry because I’ve always thought … even during the decades when I might have forgotten you … I’ve always thought there was something really nice about you. And I never forgot the good-looking lonely boy who lived next door.”

“I didn’t know that I was lonely.” he murmured, blushing. “Or good-looking!”

“And your mother… what happened to her?” asked Susan.

“Oh, her. The one and only time she went to Africa she contracted malaria and died. You see, she didn’t believe in medicines. She thought her God would look after her and protect her. And I suppose he did. I suppose he took the first opportunity and pulled her towards him, for she and God were very, very similar, I suppose.”

“You think so?” asked Susan.

“Maybe. You see, they both try to project good but they’re both, in equal measures, the devil! They’re both totally and unforgivably evil, for that’s the flipsides of their metaphoric coins!”

© Peter Rogerson 13.10.16


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