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The emerald bird

CHAPTER 11

In the last episode, Mrs Post was busy in the Post Office, Cadbury was happily recovering in Jane’s spare room, while Patricia was getting most frustrated at calls unanswered or unreturned. Rex was warmed in a cold church, David hit by a power cut, and Billy, surprisingly settled. And what exactly did happen in Misty Longings during the Civil War – to make Cromwell himself come snooping?

We discover David pushed to the very limits of endurance; made desperate by the repeated failure of the hope crop.

‘I wonder if you could help me,’ said David to Patricia as she walked past Café Disappointment. Sadly she couldn’t, because she was on her way to see Lord Jo at the manor – and looking rather glamorous, it should be said. ‘Things just don’t seem to be working out,’ added David, as it became apparent she was not going to stop. ‘Nothing I do works out!’

Certainly David was a needy fellow. Yet in a way, what a stupid name for a café! Café Disappointment? No one chooses disappointment – it’s as simple as that. Here was Patricia’s rather brutal take on it: ‘That man hardly helps himself, does he?’

And tonight, as we know, Patricia had other fish to fry – manor fish! She cared about people in the village, sure, but couldn’t she be allowed one night off, for God’s sake? This was going to be a special evening, and we all need those once in a while. She’d drop David a card tomorrow. She had a nice one of a sunset, both sad and beautiful; it would look very well on his sideboard.

For now, however, she must hurry on.

*

Mrs Post had accepted an invitation to The Palace. ‘Early evening drinks, dear girl,’ Algernon had said over the phone. ‘I’m not up to the whole cooking malarkey, but may rise to some nibbles. Do I tempt you a little?’

He had been most insistent, in his charming way, and Mrs Post had been a somewhat akin to putty in his hands. ‘You’ll make a bad girl of me!’ she found herself saying in a surprisingly flirtatious manner.

‘You were always a bad girl, Mrs Post!’ he had replied.

Algernon had attended Cambridge University in his youth, so was clearly from the top drawer of life. This was not why Mrs Post accepted his invitation; she was quite the opposite of a snob, and liked to work for the poor. That said, it was good that there were people of such quality in the village; there should be more really. (That’s why she’d voted against the gym, which would attract oafs.) It was widely rumoured that Algernon had the ear of people in government. Well, who would not want more folk of that calibre around?!

Mrs Post put away the stamp book, sprayed the counter with bleach, and wiped it clean and clean again. ‘Perhaps I will let my hair down a little tonight?!’ she said to herself.

*

Meanwhile, across the village, Cadbury was asleep in Jane’s spare room. After the marmite soldiers, Dr Hafiz had given her a gentle sedative from his box of magic potions, and she now lay resting, all snug and toasty warm in clean sheets.

‘That was indeed an interesting story she told,’ said the doctor.

‘It raises more questions than it answers,’ said Jane. ‘Events at the home of Mrs Post get murkier and murkier.’

‘And we still don’t know how she came to be cut and bruised in the ditch.’

‘I have my suspicions. But I will need to gather proof.’

‘That’s my girl.’

‘She was attacked by the front door – there’s no question of that.’

‘And we must discover her real name, I think,’ said Dr Hafiz. ‘She is not well served by her current one.’

‘She reminds me of a frightened rabbit.’

‘She reminds me of an emerald bird in a dark cave, seeking the light.’

*

Patricia had seen the light!

Not a religious experience – just the light in the hallway of the manor. For Patricia, this beat a religious experience, as it suggested Lord Jo to be home and waiting. Religious experiences were all very well, and could sometime make for a genuinely lovely morning – but they didn’t find you a husband!

Patricia reflected that it would be very pleasant on a night such as this to sit with Lord Jo in that large and elegant front room, sipping wine by a roaring fire. Or perhaps he would take her to the smaller, more intimate ‘snug’ off the main hall. She wondered if she would feel comfortable there, alone with him and rather isolated. But she then reflected that Lord Jo had always been the complete gentleman with her.

As is it was, she was a little early, so walked round and about for a while, before reaching the front door at 7.00pm precisely. She ran her hands through her hair, and rang the bell.

*

‘Hello,’ said the voice on the end of the phone.

‘It’s me again,’ said David.

‘Have you rung before?’ asked the listener.

‘Several times,’ said David.

‘And do you want to tell me your name?’ asked the help line volunteer.

‘Why would that help?’

‘It gives me something to call you.’

‘Then call me a failure, because that’s what I am; I’m a disappointment.’

‘And why are you ringing me now?’

David paused. Why was he ringing now? What was he doing? ‘I just want to be heard; I just want someone out there to know.’

‘What do you want them to know?’

‘My discomfort.’

‘Are you in pain?’

‘But no one comes even when I scream. No one comes to hold me. Is that too much to ask?’

*

Having rung the bell, Patricia waited for a response. She’d have white wine with the meal, but a gin and tonic to start things off.

Inside the Manor, however, things were not set fair for a night of conviviality. The complete gentleman, Lord Jo, was feeling neither complete nor a gentleman. He sat brooding in the dark kitchen, thinking about all that had happened. Jane had said he should go to hospital, but he’d never even considered it. Have doctors aged twenty-one telling him what to do? Those medical types with their white coats and superior air – they didn’t know they were born!

And then have Jane tell him what to do??! There was that bloody woman advising him, when it was she who had caused all the trouble! What a f***ing nerve! Throwing a stone at a car was a highly dangerous and illegal act. Not that she had seemed bothered: ‘I threw a stone at a car travelling way too fast down a country lane, with the driver on the phone and about to kill a girl. So the exact grounds for your objection are?’

He could say nothing in reply. Instead, he had nursed the car home and sat in darkness ever since, cursing the hole which had made him divert from his usual route. That hole was beginning to get on his nerves; everyone was beginning to get on his nerves. What was wrong with this place? Ever since the hole had appeared…

The bell rang, and he ignored it. His phone rang, and he switched it off. The next person to bother him would regret it. And Jane would regret it – some day soon.

*

The church darkness was lit by a steady candle, waxy and glowing; yet felt none the warmer for that. Rex would stop praying for everyone now, because you can’t pray when you’re cold; it’s very hard to do anything when you’re cold, other than wish for warmth or death. As Oates said, driven mad by the beauty and pain of the big White South: ‘I’m going out now – I may be gone for some time.’

But here in Misty Longings, God would forgive Rex for giving in to the cold, because God was nicer than he was – and also because there was nothing to forgive.

‘Just because I feel guilty, doesn’t mean I am guilty,’ thought Rex. ‘As I know from my pastoral experience, our feelings of guilt are conditioned more by nurture than nature. Oh, the contortions of the human mind!’

Rex did not claim to be an expert in all that brain stuff; and felt the world unduly complicated by Freud. But fair play to the psychologists – it wasn’t all bunkum.

So Rex would forgive himself; but he would not forgive anyone else. He didn’t shout it from the roof tops, but it was a quiet fact that everything lodged inside him. Just because you’re cheerful and bubbly with your flock, it doesn’t mean you’ve forgiven any of the hurtful things they’ve said and done down the years – a not inconsiderable list, even in a village as beautiful as Misty Longings. This was one of the reasons he liked God as much as he did; God really did seem to forgive and forget.

‘A clean slate is offered to us each day,’ he would sometimes say from the pulpit.

Or was that just another delusion? This was the trouble, you see. Once you start going beneath the surface, you end up in Onion Land – peeling away layer after layer and crying a lot.

And then suddenly, SMASH! Capital letters for a horrifying moment. A vase flew down from above, exploding at Rex’s feet! What was happening? His heart was beating fast and loud, like an up tempo big bass drum. Boom! Boom! Boom! And then a cat screeched a terrible scream, flew in terror across the nave, disappeared down the centre aisle, and away into the gloom.

Rex was a shaken man. No time for meditations on forgiveness now. What was happening in his church? He had never been scared before in this sanctuary, but he was scared now.

‘Is there anybody there?’ he asked.

He wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear an answer.

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Picture postcard of The Village

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