Simon Parke  
Click here for Abbot Peter Click here for Simon's blog Click here for Simon's books Click here for Simon's consultancy Click here for Simon's retreats
 
      Cover of The Journey Home   Cover of A Vicar Crucified   Cover of Conversations with Leo Tolstoy
 

Just as day is dawning

CHAPTER 1

It is early morning in Misty Longings, the most beautiful village in England. Do you know it? Apple blossom, old church, and winding cowslip lanes; village green, bluebell wood and streets all cobbled and clean – it really is the most perfect village to wake up in. And in a way, you’re doing just that. You’re like a new resident waking up, pulling back the curtains, looking across the thatched roofs, and saying:

‘I sense adventure here in lovely Misty Longings!’

And you could be right.

So shall we meet some of your new neighbours?

Mrs Post runs the Post office and is up with the lark. It’s still dark, and she’s making a cup of tea in her quaint little kitchen, before starting on the many things she always has to do. There is no peace for some, and Mrs Post was definitely one of those! No peace at al – always up and doing!

At the very same time, Reality Jane is making a cup of tea, in the beamed kitchen of Rose Cottage, found at the end of Long Lane. It’s that sort of a village – the sort of village where people are always making cups of tea. Jane looks out into the dark, and basks in the cold light of the big speckled moon. Through her open window, she and smells the dewy grass, and her heart sings. Mrs Post, however, is much too busy for that sort of stuff. Someone has to make sure things are done, and Mrs Post is that someone.

‘Singing hearts are definitely for others,’ she muses. ‘For those who don’t work quite so hard!’

Billy does not drink tea – perhaps that’s why he doesn’t fit into Misty Longings. He wants to fit in – really he does. But it doesn’t seem possible. You must make up your own mind about the whys and the wherefores of all this. For the moment, however, Billy lies on the floor of his dark cell, still bleeding from the night before. It’s chill, damp and black as ink. This is not his normal cell. Where on earth is he?

Perhaps one day, someone will say to Billy, ‘I love you.’

Inky, meanwhile, is mending the puncture in his tyre, by the light of a lamp, and wondering how many tyres there are in the world. It must be a lot, if you think about it. Inky is the butcher’s boy, and would soon be riding his bike at top speed round England’s loveliest village, making deliveries.

‘Nice to meat you!’ he would say, though people didn’t always get it.

Then he had a thought: perhaps since he cycled around England’s loveliest village, he was England’s loveliest cyclist!

He could just tell it was going to be a great day.

*

Patricia looks in her mirror. He has been looking in it quite a while. She doesn’t worship her mirror, or anything mad like that, but it is wise to be presentable. Everything in her home is presentable. Patricia runs her hands through her washed and shiny hair – and sprays a little scent on her neck. She gazes out through the window, across her neat little lawn, towards the manor. It really is a fine building, the Old Manor, with its long drive and Tudor chimneys.

Inside the manor, Lord Jo is asleep in the master bedroom’s big four poster bed. In fact, at the very moment Patricia looks across her lawn, Lord Jo grunts and turns over, still lost to the world. Mrs Pump is ‘doing for him’ downstairs, so there’s no need to stir. Not yet. Mrs Pump is very reliable, and knows the workings of the Manor like it was her own home.

When Lord Jo did stir, the world knew about it. But until then…

*

So really, as you contemplate your first moon-lit dawn in Misty Longings, it’s just another day – though on reflection, perhaps there’s no such thing. I’m not sure there is. How can there be ‘just another day’ when each day is precious, and every hour a prize? Especially in a place like Misty Longings.

Take Cadbury.

‘Take her away!’ some people would say, thinking her a bit nutty.

Fair enough. She is slightly mad. But is it just another day for her? Not at all! We discover her sitting on the bench by the village well.

‘I’m the village idiot,’ she says to herself, ‘so where else could I sit?’

She is rocking herself, forward and back, forward and back, waiting for the armies to come. They could come today – and if they did, what could stop them? They could easily take Deep Longings, the next door village, because no one there was very tall. (She had never met anyone from there who was tall, or with very big muscles.) Misty Longings would then be at the mercy of the rampaging hordes.

Alky bids Cadbury good morning.

‘Good morning, young Miss! Though what you are doing here at this hour, I cannot fathom.’

‘I’m always here at this hour.’

‘Only the godless are up at this hour, dear girl!’

Alky doffed his cap, and made his meandering way home from a place he couldn’t remember. Where had he been the previous night? He had definitely been somewhere, yet couldn’t remember where! Alky couldn’t even remember what he drank to forget!

Cadbury wondered if she was godless, like Alky said. She thought she probably was.

Meanwhile, Rex knelt alone in the chill church, with its red carpet aisles. Quietly, he remembered everyone in prayer. He remembered everyone, everyday. He looked to the north, and prayed for all who lived there. He looked to the east, and prayed for all who lived there. He looked to the south, and prayed for all who lived there. And looked to the west, and prayed for all who lived there. He remembered everyone, everywhere, but couldn’t so easily remember himself. Perhaps he’d remember one day, who he was, and that sort of thing.

And rather changing the subject, perhaps one day the bread delivery would come! Yes, that is what David hoped, though really, hoping was entirely stupid and only led to disappointment. David sat in the Café waiting for the bread van. He’d been waiting half an hour, but in a way, he’d always been waiting; waiting all his life:

‘Soon the sun will rise on this village,’ he thought to himself. ‘But when will it rise on me?’

*

The church bell had just struck six, when the Kid discovered the hole. Indeed, she almost fell into it. Yikes! There wasn’t usually a hole in the beautiful High Street of Misty Longings. But there was a hole there now. How very surprising! And it wasn’t a small hole. It was a big hole – all dark and cavernous, and way too enormous to be ‘a hole in the road’ sort of hole.

The Kid knelt and gently felt its rough edges, all ripped and painful to touch. She felt sad for the road to have such a hole in its side; and sad for the village to have such a hole in the High street. Wasn’t the High street the centre of village life? It was as though Misty Longings now had a whole in its heart.

But perhaps she could help. The Kid really thought she could.

‘Stand back, stupid girl!’

The Kid looked up in fear. It was Alky. Algernon Key on his way home to The Palace – a cottage found on the edge of the village. It wasn’t a palace, really – but it amused him to call it thus.

‘Such foolishness!’ he said, waving his stick at the Kid. ‘Stand back from the hole, stupid girl, stand back!’

Terrified, the Kid stood up, saw the stick-waving figure approaching, and ran. She ran away. She felt banished again, always banished, and kept running until she was breathless. She ran across the village green, where they played cricket in the summer. Willow against leather. How English! Oh, and watch your head when Lord Jo’s batting! He’d been the village star in the Sunday League last season, scoring a brisk 81 against the cream of Much Needing’s pace attack.

But it was winter now as The Kid ran down to the river, and along towards the abbey ruins. She did not belong in the village; this she knew. She should not have come. Why did she still come?

‘Well, well, well!’ said Alky to himself, as he reached the gaping sore in the road. ‘I don’t think this hole was here yesterday! Though who knows? Who really knows? And more importantly, who really cares? Not I! Not Algernon Key!’

He carefully made his way round the hole, tut-tutting with his elegant walking stick. It was definitely time for bed. A small drink, perhaps, a medicinal one, just to settle his nerves, and then bed.

*

At about this time, Mrs Post left her home, walked down Nightingale Lane, turned left into the High Street, left down the side alley, and stopped. Turning the key, she entered the Post office through the back door. It was a chill and quiet. She looked through the security grill, into the still shadows beyond. They wouldn’t be still shadows for long! Soon, all sots of people would be standing in line with their needs, queries – and forms they couldn’t fathom.

‘Just sign there, there and there’ Mrs Post would say. What was the point of explaining?

But for now, there was only the half light of dawn; and some sorting to be done.

Mrs Post liked sorting things. Dr Hafiz said that sometimes, she should rest, because life was a playground as well as a school, but how could she rest? There was much too much to do.

‘Things don’t sort themselves in this village!’ she thought to herself, with an amused smile. ‘Not even in the most beautiful village in England.’

And this was true in a way. And not true in a way. As events surrounding the hole in the heart of the village were to prove.

More of The Village

 

 
 

Picture postcard of The Village

More of The Village