THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twelve

20 Feb

12. THE THATCHED COTTAGE

When a man’s deep in thought and is beginning to suspect that the many years he’s already lived have been based on something that simply isn’t true, and he’s walking down a road trying to look inconspicuous at the same time, he might tend to slouch.

Brother Imageous was slouching, but the greater part of his mind involved the looking inconspicuous bit. A child had commented on his rather fetching pink attire, and he hadn’t been flattered. The last thing he wanted to do was draw attention to himself. He was beginning to feel very much like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, and found it might just be impossible.

So it came as a shuddering, nerve, tautening shock when a shout behind him called out, in a rather too stentorious voice for his liking: “Brother Imageous! Is that you in pink? Just a mo, I’m coming!”

He didn’t recognise the voice, so he had to look back to see who it was because as far as he was concerned absolutely everyone who knew him by name must surely have perished in the blazing crematorium that was his seventy-year long home. He had walked only a hundred or maybe more yards and he could hear, plain as plain, the crackling and roaring as flames reached everywhere and timbers crashed, smouldering and smoking, down, down, down. He dreaded the possibility that the wild crunching noises might be disturbed by the howl of agony as a soul he knew was consumed in pain by the flames.

It was a man in the burlap robes of the Brotherhood, but brown for the noviciate rather than black for monks, and he knew who it must be.

“Novice Bertie?” he called, his voice corroded by smoke and an overwhelming fear of the unknown.

“The same!” replied Bertie,, jogging up to him. “Quite a bonfire, eh?”

“You what?” he asked, querulously.

“The Monastery. I’ve been expecting something of the sort ever since I was old enough to see what was what! A tinder box, that’s what it was, and one lucky lightning strike… what do you make of it?” almost shouted the other, not quite breathlessly.

“Make of it? I don’t know, what would anyone make of it?” replied Imageous in a dull voice. He was confused, which is hardly surprising bearing in mind the varied past twenty-four hours that life had subjected him to.

Bertie looked at him quizzically. “That shaven look suits you,” he said, almost cheerfully, “you were beginning to look like an old hedge with all the whiskers you had! It’s a shame you had to change out of that rather pretty kilt I found for you, though! But you do look a bit the worse for wear, so it might do you good if you came along with me.”

“With you? Where?” asked an increasingly puzzled Brother Imageous.

“I’ll tell you, but first a bit of family history,” began Bertie.

“If you must.”

“As you know, I was born unexpectedly in a bus shelter in Cheadle one dark and loathsome night, and my mother sought the advice of one of her … clients. Like many women in those dark days she was a prostitute of little renown and very young, but that customer brought her and the wriggling little me to the Monastery miles from Cheadle where I was enrolled as a Novice. That was about thirty years ago, give or take a few, I’m not very good with calendars, and when she was on her own again without me to care for and generally get in the way my mother returned to her chosen profession, and by a series of fortunate decisions and the skill of her high intelligence she soon gained huge respect amongst the menfolk of Cheadle, and found she could charge well for her, what would you call them, services? Anyway, she was asoon wealthy enough to be independent for the remainder of her days.

“So she decided to search for her one and only child, me, and it wasn’t a difficult search because she knew where I was! Having established that, by then, I was approaching manhood she decided to buy a house for herself not too far from the Monastery, and get to know me all over again. That was about ten years ago, and during those ten years I’ve been in touch with her on a regular basis…”

“I’ve never seen a strange woman in the Monastery, not recently anyway…” interrupted Imageous, frowning.

“You’d be surprised how many exits and entrances there are in the Monastery,” chuckled Bertie. “She’s not had to come to me except for the first time! After all, the Monastery has never smelt all that wholesome, and she’s a very wholesome lady…”

“Wholesome? A prostitute?” asked Imageous doubtfully.

“Don’t forget that you, too, are a whore’s son,” said Bertie quickly, “so don’t be judgemental! And if you look at it one way, even ordinary folk with ordinary parents might argue that they’re born to such women if their mothers have married a wealthy man for the convenience of not having to do much with their lives rather than affection for him…”

“I suppose you’re right,” muttered Imageous, not wanting to think of his own lineage too deeply.

“Anyway, here we are, and you can come in, meet my mother and have a change of clothes. You’re roughly my size and shape and I’ve got quite a wardrobe here, for when I go out on the town with Mother. That’s what I call her, by the way. You’d best call her Enid.”

He led the way down a fairly long drive that wound past shrubs and what amounted to a small forest until he could see a cottage, the sort that is painted by artists to adorn chocolate boxes and the like when images of natural beauty are sought because they add value. It had a bouquet of roses cascading round the doorway and its gardens were a profusion of colour with manicured lawns and even a small fountain. The roof was thatched and looked as if it might rightly be considered part of nature itself. The whole place smelt … clean, floral, beautiful, and Imageous couldn’t help sighing when he mentally contrasted this place with where he’d lived for the past seventy years.

“Why on Earth haven’t you stayed here instead of remaining at the Monastery?” asked Imageous.

“Mother wouldn’t have me,” Bertie told him, “she said I could join her full time when I finish my devotions and was no longer known as a Novice. Until then I can visit her as often as I want, but always go back to the Monastery when my visit’s over. It’s been a good system, and I’ve quite enjoyed it. After all, Imageous, you know what I’m like … especially who I choose to sleep with … it would never do if Mother found out about that!”

Imageous was lost. He knew, or suspected, a thing or two about Bertie and his preferences but had always chosen to keep himself to himself and not think about the things that motivated others.

“Come on, Mother will be pleased to see you!” grinned Bertie. “And I could murder a cup of tea!”

“What’s tea?” asked Imageous.

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 05.02.17

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