THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter fifteen

23 Feb

15. RICHES BEYOND THE DREAMS OF AVARICE

Alphonse Mulberry, lover of Bertie’s mother Enid (usually known as Mother) and eminent surgeon at Brumpton General Hospital, besides sporting unusual facial hair, was dressed in his pyjamas, a heart-warming floral design with pink shorts, even though he was sitting with a plate filled with fried breakfast in front of him. The casual reader might think that this author has a preoccupation with pink things, but he must report things the way they were and Alphonse’s pyjama shorts were pink. A really pretty shade of pink, to be precise.

“Did anyone hear that noise in the night?” he asked. “It sounded like a cross between a sparrowhawk on heat and an enraged bull.”

“I thought it was a dream until I found black feathers on the floor of your room when I popped in to shut the window,” frowned Mother. She was almost (but certainly not quite) dressed in a Burberry-patterned miniskirt (more like a pelmet than a real garment) and a diminutive blouse that contrived to reveal both upper and lower curves of her adequate bosom. “It’s a bit cold this time of the morning to have windows too open,” she added, fluttering her eyelashes at Imageous.

If you wore more clothes it wouldn’t seem so cool, he thought, perfectly accurately, though he did find her appearance ridiculously appealing despite his advanced years and vows of celibacy.

“It was a huge black bird with a message,” said Bertie, wincing when one of his mother’s nipples popped out of hiding. “At least, Brother Imageous said it was a message though it looked like a blank sheet of paper to me.”

“It was a message,” acknowledged Imageous, uncomfortably adjusting his trousers.

“But I couldn’t see it,” growled Bertie, not his usual cheerful self that morning, “not a jot, not a punctuation mark, not even a colon!”

“What did it say?” asked Alphonse. “I have a certain expertise in written messages from our feathered friends,” he added. “When I was a lad I got plenty of little billet-doux from nightingales and thrushes,” he added, his eyes suddenly closed as if he was transporting himself back to happier times when rapture had been the order of the day.

“What’s a billet-doux?” asked Imageous, aware of his sad lack of education, having been taught everything he knew at the Monastery since he was three and thus having had his vocabulary somewhat limited by the monks’ lack of belief in anything but an invisible deity and their own minimal comfort.

“A billet-doux’s a love-letter,” enthused Mother (or Enid, as Imageous had been told he should call her, though he hadn’t dared to address her directly yet). “I used to get plenty of billet-doux during my working years! There was a time when I was young and pretty…”

You are pretty still, thought Imageous.

“…when men by the score would send me little messages, describing my flesh and what it did to them in the most glowing terms. Oh, those were the days! I could make a hundred pounds an hour and work a twelve hour day on my own terms whenever I liked, and I liked it most days… it was worth it for the glowing reports in those billet-doux, though I was always a bit of a slave to sensation!”

You must have been quite a naughty woman, thought Imageous, and “naughty woman…” he said aloud.

She looked at him, and her eyes were twinkling.

“I can’t expect a refugee from that Monastery to understand,” she said, “though years ago, when it was fulfilling its purpose, most of the Monks would have understood better than even me! But yes, I guess some thought I was a naughty woman and the truth is I didn’t feel at all naughty. I just felt comfortable.”

“What do you mean, fulfilling its purpose?” asked Bertie.

“It was a refuge for so-called fallen women,” sighed Mother. “Oh mercy me! I’ve heard tails that would make any whore blush! There were some monks there, the naughty boys, they liked their comforts all right, but it didn’t help the ladies earn their crust – though they did get loads of divine forgiveness! If they wanted it, that is. Your Mother used to go,” she said, looking directly at Imageous. “She always liked the idea of being forgiven, though I’m sure she didn’t really think she needed it.”

“M-my mother?” stammered Imageous, whose own mother had left him with the monks when he had been three in order for her to get on with prostituting herself in comfort and without a snotty-nosed child in tow. He imagined she had never been as successful as Bertie’s Mother had apparently been, which made him proud because he had a feeling there might be something a little tacky about extreme wealth being garnered by a woman who spent most of her life on her back.

“Oh, yes, your mother,” sighed Enid. “She was a one, she was! She believed in two things – earning a crust and being forgiven for any sins that earning a crust might involve her in committing! But her name became a bye-word for fascinating experimentation, did Mrs Crotchet, or Fanny to her friends, of which she lad legions! She worked until she could have bought the bank she deposited her many crusts in and still had money to spare, and then she retired to join a travelling fair, where she still works on the hook-a-duck game. And she still looks quite stunning!”

“She’s … wealthy?” asked Imageous, his stammer becoming almost threatening to the transfer of sense and meaning.

“She’s got millions,” confirmed Bertie’s Mother. “She was a credit to the profession. She had a client list even I would have envied … headmasters of most of the elite public schools and their upper-crust religious teachers, lawyers and judges – so many judges she would never have been convicted of anything if she’d been arraigned at court, half a dozen senior policemen (which meant she was never actually accused of anything) and a few members of the Royal Family. You can see, dear Imageous, how you might have got in the way? She’s almost ninety now but still on the hook-a-duck stall at the fair she chose to work for, and she hasn/t lost her looks!”

“She’s still alive?” really stammered Imageous.

Enid nodded. “That she is, and proud as punch of you! But tell me about the black feathers I found on your bedroom floor…?”

“It was a confounded gigantic bird,” sighed Bertie.

“I’ve s-seen it be-before,” put in Imageous. “I-it leaves m-me a m-message every now and th-then.”

“A message?” asked Alphonse, sitting up keenly until his pink pyjama shorts became so stretched that they split with a loud farting sound.

Imageous nodded, not happy to commit himself to further stammering.

“What did it say?” asked Alphonse, so eagerly his bits and pieces popped out of the tear in his shorts and Enid’s eyes opened extra wide.

“I remember it word for word,” said Imageous, “and it was in capital letters. It said THE DESERT IS IN FRONT OR BEHIND, YOU CHOOSE.”

“Then you must go!” gabbled Alphonse, “and I’ll tell you now, young man! You must go to the Desert where you’ll find the answer to all your questions!”

…TO BE CONTINUED

© Peter Rogerson 08.02.17

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