THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-five

9 Mar


There was an uncomfortable silence on the Jumbo-jet whilst the elderly Digory sobbed quietly to himself and scratched his genitals when he thought his even older mother might not notice. But she did. She was quite used to the behaviour of men even though it was a good half century since she’d last charged for her more feminine services.

After a while she nudged him and smiled fetchingly. At least he thought it was fetchingly, though to her it was a bit of a grimace.

“I spoke of your daddy,” she said after a while, and he nodded, looking at her through pale eyes and wondering what she was going to tell him now. A stray feather, black as the bird she’d morphed into, still clung to one eyebrow and he thought it put her into some kind of perspective. Not even she was perfect.

“I thought I’d take the time it takes us to get to the southern ocean, called the Pacific if you didn’t already know…”

“I know nothing about such things,” he mumbled at her, “my education was limited to a few stories about a war in Heaven and twelve volumes of prayers…”

“Then I’d best fill you in, Digory,” she said with the sort of look that advised him to keep quiet until questions would be allowed later.

He nodded again, and she took this as total unremitting agreement.

“You were born during the war,” she began, and he wanted to ask what war but daren’t.

“It was a terrible time and I was yet to make a name for myself. There were shortages of everything and a girl in my trade … I’d already started my career as a whore … has certain needs to keep herself respectable. I mean, the right shade of lipstick was just about unattainable, and as for nylons and knickers … I hate to tell you the lengths I had to go to, and I was really only a slip of a lass.

“Then I met a special man. He was quite high up in the American Government even though he wasn’t much older than me, but what was particularly special about him was all the money he could get his hands on. And what was even better was the fact that he not only liked my services … don’t be shocked, Digory, even back then a girl had to do the best she could with the raw materials at hand, so to speak, and my raw materials were my looks and my intelligence. With the combination of those, natural gifts from the gods, qualities that were mine from birth, I could fly as high as I wanted, and fly I did!”

“Like this, in an airyplane?” Digory dared to ask.

“No, silly, but metaphorically. He had the money, I had the looks, but the bad thing was he was already married to a scheming bitch who he’d never loved but had sadly got pregnant. And he told me she only changed her undies once a week! Can you imagine that! By the end of the week they must have reeked!”

Digory remained silent when he remembered the leather codpiece that he’d been obliged to wear at the Monastery, and the infrequency with which that had been changed.

“Anyway, back during the war I got pregnant. By him, and with you, to tell the truth. I was usually so careful to make sure nothing like that ever happened, but it was a couple of decades before the pill was invented and other forms of contraception weren’t so easily found even though John-boy (that was … and is … his name) was usually good at providing them. But there was one occasion when neither of us had the relevant article.”

Digory had no idea about what the relevant article might be. He had only the vaguest knowledge that there was any such thing as contraception and an even vaguer idea about contraceptive methods. His life had been a simple affair and the only times anything remotely gender-related had entered into it he had been totally on his own, and becoming increasingly ashamed.

But his mother carried on, unaware of the ignorance that was tripping him up.

“After you were born I did my best to look after you but when the war ended and things started very slowly to get somewhere near normal I just couldn’t cope. I had John-boy around still, at least once a week even though he spent most of the time he was with me moaning about his wife. During the war she had been in America because she thought it too dangerous to be in a country where bombs rained down day and night, but when hostilities were over she joined him in London and he had to be careful or she’d have found out about me, and the divorce she’d insist on would have cost him a great deal of money. He could afford it all right, but didn’t want to. Anyway, to cut a long story short I took you to the monastery to be looked after just in case he had to divorce the bitch and wanted to marry me.”

What’s a divorce, wondered Digory, as an ignorant ex-monk might. But he carried on listening without seeking enlightenment because he really believed that it would go into one of his ears and out of the other.

Fanny carried on.

“Anyway, time passed and your father’s job in England came to an end and he returned to America with his bitch. I was sorry to see him go, strangely more sorry to see him go than I was to see his wallet go! But life must go on and I carried on bravely, making a few pennies on the way. That’s where the island we’re going to comes into my story. It was used for some kind of atomic testing while me and a very dear friend were there when the blast of a test caught him and … it was dreadful, but one moment he was alive and the next he was very dead. Somehow I survived but had suddenly become half woman, half bird! Anyway, I heard again from your father much later, and he told me his time was up and he was dying. And I took him to my island with all his medical pariphernalia where he could die in comfort and he started asking about you, which is when I told him I would fetch you.

“And that’s it, really. End of story, except to tell you the dad you will meet is a hundred years old, frail and American. Think of it: even without an NHS he’s lived to be old enough to get a telegram from the queen if he were a Brit!”

“I don’t understand…” croaked Digory.

“What don’t you understand, dear?” asked Fanny.

“Just about all of it,” he confessed. “Look: I’ve lived my life isolated from the world chanting nonsense to a god who probably never existed and I know very little about anything!”

“That’s what the religious freaks do,” sighed his mother, “they keep you in ignorance when they can and replace what you should get to know, what we all call common sense, with rubbish of their own. I should have known better when I took you there all those years ago, but I didn’t. I was only a slip of a lass, and almost as ignorant as you.”

Digory looked at her, and sighed.

She sighed, too.

© Peter Rogerson 18.02.17


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