Simon Parke  
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Meeow!

CHAPTER 21

In the last episode, Rex got back from the Winter Fayre in some distress; Patricia dropped in on the bald doctor; Inky walked Jane home, and Rex felt there was a time for everything under the sun. But would he soon be under the table – and without a sermon for tomorrow?

And so the lights go out in Misty Longings after a very busy day.

“The day thou gavest Lord has ended,” said Jane to herself, as she checked on Cadbury. The girl slept as sound as a bell in her spare room. She had come to stay after the assault by Alky, and didn’t seem to want to go home.

“Can I stay forever?” she’d said to Jane one morning.

Jane sat with her for a while, stroking her head. Was this really the girl who watched for armies that didn’t exist? She looked peaceful now; so calm and content. Here was the true Cadbury, the original Cadbury – or ‘the emerald bird” as Dr Hafiz described her. No more the rocking girl by the Well – but a rather beautiful young lady at rest.

A car drove late down Long Lane, its headlights cutting through the frosty dark. Jane listened for a while to the owlish hoots outside, before hearing the familiar flap of wings, as Peter set off for the valley. She got up from Cadbury’s bed, and left the door ajar. She was only half way down the stairs, when she stopped. There was an intruder in Rose Cottage.

“It looks like the day thou gavest hasn’t quite ended after all,” she said to herself, as she listened on the stairs for the tell-tale sounds.

*

Meanwhile, David was feeding the birds.

Yes, it was near midnight on a freezing December night, but wasn’t that just the point?

“If I was a bird, that’s exactly when I’d be looking for help,” David said to himself.

Of course, he had been Nest Box Warden in the village for a long time, but had recently let things slip. Not only had he been remiss in keeping others up to the mark – he hadn’t even kept himself up the mark. He’d need to hone his carpentry skills, to get his boxes into shape again; but in the meantime, he could at least ensure a good supply of food for his feathered friends.

In his more active days, it was he who had persuaded the Parish Council to adopt the ‘Build a Bird Box” campaign, which aimed to encourage everyone in the village to have at least one box in their garden.

“There’s a nesting crisis across the land,” he had said.

“Perhaps the word ‘crisis” is slightly over-egging the pudding,” Alky had said.

“Not if you’re a tit!” said David passionately.

“I beg your pardon?” said Alky indignantly.

“Tits, robins, wrens, nut hatches – these birds are in danger.”

“I have a particularly friendly robin in my garden,” Dr Hafiz had said.

“Even house sparrows are threatened,” continued David. ‘It’s the changing landscape.”

“The landscape hasn’t changed here for 500 years, dear boy,” said Alky.

“Not on the surface, maybe. But things have changed. Holes in houses have been filled, woods and hedges trimmed or cleared. Of course things aren’t as bad here as elsewhere – but all the more reason for us to be a beacon to others, and a haven for small wild birds. It could be a new string to our bow in Misty Longings! ‘Misty Longings – world famous bird sanctuary!’”

He could be quite an orator, David, back in the days.

And so it was that the ‘Build a Bird Box” campaign had begun in Misty Longings. Wonderful! And though in time, ‘Buy a Bird Box” became the truer slogan, the scheme had become quite the talk on the street for a while. Fliers went through every door, and David discovered carpentry skills he didn’t know he had, creating boxes for any interested villagers. It gave him great pleasure to walk past a garden and see one of his boxes there. Even Mrs Pump had taken one:

“Well, I wouldn’t want any homelessness in my garden,” she’d said.

“You’re right,” he said. ‘Everyone deserves a home.”

“We must just make sure the bigger birds don’t come and evict the smaller ones,” she had added.

“Good point,” said David. ‘I’ll remind people about that. We must have a bias to the vulnerable in Misty Longings.”

“Those were the days, my friend; we thought they’d never end,” sang David now, as he recalled those times. For despair makes you selfish, and as his life had collapsed, so had kind thoughts towards birds. As Nest Box Warden, he had let things drift; become slack in his duties. His own garden had been vacated by all birds except one particularly small wren who came and looked at him accusingly sometimes through his kitchen window. He called the bird Jo-Jo:

“Go to another garden, Jo-Jo,” he had said in his more desperate days. ‘There’s nothing for you here anymore.”

It was only since meeting The Kid by the hole that something inside him was re-kindled; and which explained why he now stood now in his garden at midnight, feeding the birds. Jo-Jo was as surprised as he was delighted, hopping along the branch to reach the sunflower seeds:

“Yes, Jo-Jo, different days, different days. We must see what we can do,” said David.

Behind him, icicles hardened on his gutter, stiletto daggers, caught in the silver village moonlight.

*

The appearance of the bats over the Tilting Tower, had stirred The Kid into life. It was as if they bid her to her work; bid her return to the hole.

“I don’t know what good could come from such a visit,” thought The Kid, ‘but that is what seems to be in my heart.”

It would be a lonely walk – that was for sure. The lights were going out all over Misty Longings, and Mr Freeze most certainly held sway. Fortunately, recent provisions had taken account of clothing needs in winter, and had included a completely scrumptious yellow woollen hat with fur lining. She threw the remains of the bread to the crows, left the soup for the fox from Old Wood, and set off along the river towards the High Street again.

The grass was crisp beneath her feet.

*

Billy had also been disturbed by the bats. Indeed, they had given him the fright of his life, whooshing past him like that.

“What made them do it?” he had asked himself, and decided it was the sudden flame of his cigarette lighter.

“A little bit of fire and they go batty – literally!”

Perhaps that’s where the saying came from; he’d never been to school so he didn’t know. But one thing was for sure – he’d have to be more careful when lighting up in future.

Billy was more disturbed by something else however – his fridge discovery.

Since he had moved into the church loft behind the organ, the vestry fridge and Play group food cupboard had provided him with all he needed. He’d even found a secret stash of home made cider, but had put most of it aside for New Year’s Eve, so he could get really bladdered!

“But New Year blow-out notwithstanding, I am worried about what I found in the fridge,” he said to himself.

People came and went in the church all the time; they brought this; they left that. And so really, he hadn’t thought anything of the figure who brought in the Gloucester cheese, the night before the fayre; spent half an hour turning it into little cubes, and then left them covered in the fridge, with a note saying: ‘Strictly no one to touch these before the Fayre! God is watching you!”

Billy had nabbed a couple, gone to sleep, and then woken in agony. He didn’t link it with the cheese, however, until he saw the events of the next day unfold. He himself saw Lord Jo crumple to the floor; listened as Dr Hafiz carried out his investigation, and suddenly realised that he may know more than was good for him:

“I know the killer. I know how it was done, and when it was done. If I spoke up now, they’d go away for life. Knowledge may be power; but sometimes, knowledge is also dangerous.”

He was not the whistle-blowing type. That was for people who cared, and as far as Billy was concerned, they could all poison each other, until none were left standing; that would suit him fine. But the killer had struck once, and could strike again, if they discovered a witness to their misdemeanours.

“They say the second killing is the easier; and the first was scarcely hard!” thought Billy scarily.

From here on, he must watch his back; and perhaps think about re-locating.

*

Azure led the way up Long Lane, and Jane never really doubted the cat’s wisdom.

It had been most unusual for her to turn up at Rose Cottage with no immediate prospect of food. She did sometimes enjoy the windowsill in the summer, for its own sake, when the sun poured through, and the apple-blossom breeze gently stroked her fur. But to arrive on a night such as this, and then demand immediately to leave, was a most surprising circumstance. And here was the thing – she wouldn’t leave without Jane. With whining meeow’s, Azure gradually drew Jane from the house, going a little way, and then pausing and calling again if Jane stopped. This continued until Jane realised the cat was only happy when Jane was following. This she did:

“Where are we going, Azure? You do know it’s very cold.”

On reaching the High Street, Jane was most surprised to see what looked like the figure of Mrs Post approaching the Vicarage. She hadn’t seen Mrs Post since leaving

her kneeling in a pool of sick at Alky’s. She looked a rather different woman now as she knocked at the Vicarage door.

The bell woke Rex. He hadn’t quite made it to bed, but after extensive cider testing, he had at least managed to stagger into the hall and fall asleep on the first step of the stairs. He would just have a quick nap before some serious sermon preparation. The bell was rung again, and then again. Here was a determined visitor.

“All right, all right!” moaned Rex.

Trained by years of dutiful door-opening, he travelled on automatic, and swung it open with some force.

“Mrs Post!” he declared too brightly.

“You’re drunk!” she said.

“Working late,” he replied.

“You don’t look well.”

“And to be honest, Mrs Post, neither do you. How can I help?”

There was a slight pause.

“Well, I’ve come about a funeral,” said Mrs Post.

“And it can’t wait until tomorrow?”

“Are you turning me away?”

“Just asking a question.”

“A priest in the church, turning me away?!”

“Come in, Mrs Post, come in.”

Jane heard no more of the exchange, for Azure was calling her again – calling her towards the hole.

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