24 Feb


But I don’t know any desert!” wailed Imageous, close to tears despite his advanced age. Life had become so confusing he could barely understand anything any more, not that he’d ever had a truly firm grasp on the things happening around him.

Don’t you worry about that,” soothed Bertie’s Mother. “I’ll get changed when breakfast’s over and think about taking you. That’s all right with you, Alphonse, isn’t it?”

That it is, if you think you can do it, old gal!” chortled Alphonse, his long chin wispy beard fluttering with the enthusiasm of his speech.

I can do it as you well know,” she said, rather severely, thought Imageous. “Now come on and eat your eggs before they go cold!”

After a while Imageous’s curiosity got the better of him and he looked Bertie’s Mother straight in the face which, as you will probably imagine, took a great deal of courage and a prayer that his underwear would hold strong.

Where is the desert, and what is it, Enid? He asked, rather timorously, but that was the first time he’d addressed the retired prostitute by name and his heart cringed as he uttered it. What if she disapproved of him daring to give voice to her given name? Indeed, what if she squashed him with a disapproving sneer and carried on munching her bacon?

Or if she was truly angered by his insolence, might she not spit her hot tea at him?

But she merely smiled at him, a radiant, pure-as-the-driven-snow sort of smile, one loaded with understanding and sweetness, one that made his heart beat all the quicker.

A desert, dear boy, is a desolate area on Earth where very little can grow on account of there being little else but sand and no rainfall. They’re not very hospitable places and not the sort of environment where a person might choose to live for long without adequate supplies being guaranteed on a regular basis, and even then you can take it from me life would be wretched! And the Blasted Desert is worse than any other, for it is Blasted. Let me tell you how.”

Please, Mother,” put in Bertie.

Hush, sweet one,” said Enid somewhat severely, and Bertie looked crestfallen at the admonition.

Let me continue,” she said, and smiled suddenly so warmly at Imageous that he thought his underwear might actually burst, which might be more than embarrassing, so he tried thinking of the Father Superior, who had never stirred him beyond total boredom.

There is an island in the south seas that was green and pleasant when the world was quieter and more peaceful place in the years after it seemed that fascism had been beaten at the cost of many, many lives. The sadness is, such a philosophy is on the rise again, probably because greedy men don’t have enough compassion in their hearts. My friends, it is not a very fair world that we inhabit, for the very people who would condemn women like myself because we earn a crust lying on our backs and smiling at our clients believe that it’s only right and proper to wage war and dream of mass deaths. Indeed, they wage war almost continuously somewhere on the planet, and it’s never the warmongers who suffer but the young men, and these days young women, they send into battle!”

She sighed, and looked sad, and a tear oozed out of the corner of her right eye.

You mentioned a green and pleasant island, Mother,” coaxed Bertie.

So I did. And it was green and pleasant, with all manner of creatures living full lives upon it until some scientists thought it might be an excellent place for them to start testing their nuclear arsenal. There’s nothing that kind of man likes better than a huge bang, and the politicians of all shades, from deep blue to darkest red, like better than the thought of ultimate destruction. They love it, and will find any excuse to unleash it in war. And these days it’s getting easier because the truth is no longer the truth. These days the truth is what the political classes want it to be and if they say black is white then there are enough ordinary people prepared to believe them that black actually becomes white.”

What’s that got to do with the green and pleasant island, Mother?”

They blasted it. The scientists testing their noisy bang devices, tearing the island and everything on it to pieces totally destroyed it, leaving nothing behind but a desert. A blasted desert. And that is where, Imageous, your gigantic black bird says you must go. To the blasted desert all alone in the southern seas.”

But … but won’t it be radioactive?” asked Bertie. “Won’t anyone who goes there have their DNA battered by the stuff in the air and the stuff on the ground? By the sand itself?”

Of course,” smiled Enid, “which is why you must go there, Imageous. Either that, or go back whence you came, to the Monastery.”

Which is burnt to the ground,” sighed Bertie. “And that must surely make it almost as bad as your exploded island?”

The second time the bird came it said the Desert was within…” muttered Imageous, frowning. “That doesn’t sound as if it’s on an island anywhere, does it?”

Alphonse laughed fairly heartily, and coughed. Enid frowned at him and he winked back at her. “It meant that inside you was the grey wasteland of life in a religious institution,” he explained. “At least, that’s how I work it out after learning a thing or two about the place where you lived … I’ll bet your life there was grey. Even Bertie said his was, and he was here almost as often as he was there. Made quite a getaway every week didn’t you, old fellow?”

The bird was telling you to leave it because if you stayed you’d be burnt to ashes along with the bricks, mortar and timbers of the place,” put in Bertie. “That had nothing to do with atom bomb test sites or stuff like that.”

We’d best start our journey right away!” announced Enid, her minute dress riding up to her waist as she stood up and Imageous’ underwear having a second battle against his hormones.

How, Mother?” asked Bertie.

There’s only one way: we’ll fly!” laughed Enid. “I have a helicopter parked out the back and a pilot’s licence that says I can fly it. And as good fortune would have it, it’s all fuelled up and ready to go!”

You can’t fly all the way to the southern ocean in a helicopter!” protested Alphonse.

Of course not, silly! We’re only going a few miles. We’re going to call on the good Brother Imageous’s mother in Swanspottle where the fair had been set up and I happen to know she’s waiting for us! That’s where we’ll find another sort of blasted desert!”


© Peter Rogerson 09.02.17


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