Simon Parke  
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A holey day

CHAPTER 26

In the last episode, Inky left home, Lord Jo lay in his hospital bed and pondered the village’s problems; The Kid, Jane and Dr Hafiz stood in silence for a very long time, Rose Cottage died, and Inky and Cadbury wondered: what now?

The attendance at church is always good the day after the Winter Fayre, because everyone wants to know how much money the tombola made, and whether the book stall beat the plants, and where the raffle figured in the final countdown – these are ancient rivalries and not to be taken lightly.

Attendance is especially good when there was also a plague-like bat attack the day before.

‘It’s like stepping onto a film set!’ said one old lady, who hadn’t been to church for at least ten years. ‘I just wanted say I’d been here. The bats came from up there, you say? Could you take a photo of me, with the bat loft in the background?’

And finally, in the promotion of church attendance, there is much to be said for a well-travelled village rumour finally, and painfully, being confirmed:

‘And apparently it is a wig.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes – after yesterday, there’s absolutely no doubt at all.’

‘So the ‘Persian rug’ is no more?’

‘I’d imagine so. Well, after all this, who could take it seriously?’

‘Who ever did? It was always more orange than his own hair.’

‘Well, that was the joke of it! He was Johnny All-Colours!’

Rex was delighted with the turn-out.

‘Sometimes my own flock shames me!’ he declared to himself as he put on his robes. ‘I do believe they wish to prepare their souls for the great Christian festival of Christmas!’

He still didn’t know what he would say in his sermon, but that could wait. There were three hymns and a reading before that, which gave him plenty of time. Over-preparation can sometimes kill even the best material.

*

Jane was not at church on this particular morning, because she was standing in her garden in a state of shock. She had been there for some time, unable to move, as her eyes surveyed the desolation.

There was little left of her home; and the death of Cadbury spoke only to her of her deep carelessness concerning the lives of others. She had invited the girl into her home; and then forgotten about her. Suddenly, the previous night appeared nothing more than madness. Following the cat to the hole. Had she been mad? And the discovery made there. What was she to make of it all?

All she did know was that she had returned to her beloved home burnt down, and the death of someone whose life had barely begun.

And worst of all, of the two, she feared she was sadder for the loss of the house.

*

If any were doubting the wisdom of attending morning worship, then they stopped doubting during the first hymn. For who should arrive at the beginning of the second verse but Dr Hafiz himself – and he was bald! Bald as a coot. Heads turned, and like a small stream in the summer, the singing almost dried up completely, requiring Rex to sound heartier than ever:

‘Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by,’ etc. etc.

Dr Hafiz was hardly a regular at St Bede’s, but made occasional friendly appearances, and certainly seemed quite unperturbed today. He smiled hopefully as he looked for a spare seat, and was greeted by offers from almost everyone there.

‘Over here, Doctor!’

‘No, over here!’

‘Room for a small one next to me, Dr Hafiz!’

In the end, he chose the company of a man who as far as he could tell, was the only member of the congregation still singing.

With Doctor Hafiz settled, Mrs Pump then stepped forward to read the Old Testament lesson for the last Sunday before Christmas – traditionally given by the one who ran the tea stall at the Fayre.

‘Perhaps she should give up half way through,’ said Alky, with a wicked smile.

‘Why?’ asked Mrs Post.

‘Well, she appeared to give up the tea stall half way through. I wonder why?’

The reading itself concerned a very pleasant and noble woman called Ruth, who as most in the pews quietly noted, was quite unlike Mrs Pump.

*

The congregation was contemplating the forthcoming sermon, as Rex made his way to the pulpit – and with some consternation. ‘He’s got no notes,’ whispered one to the other, and the news spread fast around the pews.

‘Unless they are in his pocket,’ said one.

‘They are never in his pocket. He’s got no notes which means he’s going to ramble on for bloody ages.’

The sense of resentment was almost tangible.

‘Yes, I have no notes,’ said Rex, for once answering a question that everyone was asking. ‘But hopefully that won’t delay your day too much. It was not the best of nights for me, as one of you here knows.’

Mrs Post studied her feet with remarkable powers of focus.

‘In fact, I ended up talking with the gravestones outside, which is usually a sign of some desperation. But I have to say that it was there, when I felt like a fox at the end of the run with the hounds approaching, that a word came into my mind, and I pass it onto you now. I won’t pretend it’s got anything to do with the reading, but it has got something to do with my awful life.’

There was a stir of interest in the ranks. Vicars didn’t usually talk about their awful lives. They normally talk about other people’s awful lives.

‘So I pass the word on to you this morning, to remember next time you’re talking to the gravestones.’

Was that a little laughter even? If it was, it would certainly be a first in this holy house.

‘‘Transference!’ declared Rex. ‘That’s the word. It’s a psychological word, describing our tendency to form strong attachments to people, whether hateful or seductive, and then live out our childhood fears and fantasies through this figure. It was discovered by Freud, but that doesn’t matter greatly. What does matter is that it is true. I suppose the best thing about it is that if we at least notice it, we are put in touch with our subconscious in some way, which could just be our saving this Christmas. And the saving of others! Anyway, that’s enough from me.’

Talk afterwards was not of Dr Hafiz’s hair, or even of the poor performance of the book stall. Rather, it concerned the sermon without notes, which came in at under four minutes and actually, in some bizarre way, seemed slightly relevant…

*

Inky didn’t want anyone to know where they were, but Cadbury said that they must at least ring Jane, or she’d be worried.

Reluctantly, Inky agreed, and after removing his home number from his phone, did give Jane a call. When she answered, he handed it quickly to Cadbury: ‘Hello Jane.’

‘Who is this?’ asked Jane, now sitting on her garden bench.

‘It’s Cadbury.’

‘Cadbury?’ asked Jane. ‘How on earth? I mean? Where are you?’

‘I’m at the abbey ruins with Inky.’

Inky was furious with this revelation, gesticulating wildly, but Cadbury was not greatly bothered.

‘Why are you at the abbey ruins?’

‘Well, it’s not generally known but this is where the Kid lives. Inky met her here once, and she gave him food and a bed for the night when he really needed help. And then he forgot about her until now; until we both needed a home after the – after the terrible fire.’

‘I’m glad you’re safe,’ said Jane. ‘I’m very, very glad.’

And this was true.

‘Some day you must tell me the story of what happened.’

‘It was nothing to do with me, Jane! Honestly. I just woke up and everything was going mental.’

‘I know it was nothing to do with you, Cadbury. Really, I do. It was to do with the roofers – not you. So don’t you worry. I’ll see you soon. I’m just glad you’re safe with Inky.’

‘And I’m very sorry about your home, Mrs Jane. It was the most beautiful house in the world.’

‘Yes, thank you, my friend. I thought so too.’

Jane put the phone away, and sat again with the desolation. Only more peacefully than before; while in the abbey ruins, Inky ranted on to Cadbury about divulging their whereabouts.

‘I expressly told you not to tell her where we were!’

‘What – and I’m meant to be in your pocket?’

‘It’s my phone!’

‘Whatever,’ said Cadbury, wishing Inky would just grow up a bit.

Cadbury was getting a bit bold!

*

The congregation had not been prepared for the short sermon. But they were even less prepared for what faced them as they left the church. It wasn’t just the cows, though they were bad enough. The High Street was a builder’s yard – full of dumpers, diggers, mixers and tippers preparing to leave the site. It had been a relatively quick job, with no hitches to speak of – and double time for all the men, so everyone was happy.

Well, not everyone. Alky wasn’t happy for a start: ‘What’s going on?’ asked Alky, after seeing Lord Jo masterminding operations.

‘I’ve just filled in the hole,’ he said.

‘I don’t remember us discussing that at the Parish Council.’

‘And I don’t remember the Parish Council doing anything about it!’

‘It was under constant consideration.’

‘Well now you need consider it no more. And we can all get back to normal.’

‘What’s normal?’ asked Alky.

‘Normal is having a decent village we can all be proud of,’ said Lord Jo.’‘Oh – and saying ‘welcome home’ when someone’s been bleedin’ poisoned!’

‘Welcome home,’ said Alky, without much conviction.

*

As they spoke, David had just come inside from attending to the bird table in his garden. He was going to have a Sunday sherry, and then perhaps go for a walk and check on other bird boxes in the village. He put the sherry glass on the table, but before he could find the bottle, the glass had fallen off the table and smashed. Puzzled, he got down his other sherry glass; but on turning his back, this one too fell spinning to the floor. What was this? Poltergeist?

Suddenly, David lurched forward, tripping over a chair, as his home moved a little to the right, and then a little to the left, then down a little, and then left again. He could hear building joints creaking and grinding. A huge crack appeared in the kitchen wall, a hair-line fracture in the ceiling, and there were sudden piles of dust everywhere.

If he went for his walk now, would the house still be here on his return?

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