Simon Parke  
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The Queen of Misty Longings

CHAPTER 5

You will remember that in the last chapter, David and Rex contemplated the hole, Mrs Pump checked up on Lord Jo’s supper arrangements, and then met the Kid by the ruins. Rex turned detective with Cadbury, before Mrs Pump was rather rude on behalf of all atheists. Billy was no nearer help, but at least Patricia got her invitation round to Lord Jo’s. By chance!

We discover things rather active, for the morning was well underway in Misty Longings.

There remained a silver mist in the outlying fields, but horses from the riding school clip-clopped down the High Street; the school bus disappeared off towards Lesser Needing, and the door of the Post Office had opened on the dot at nine.

‘Being Post Mistress is a job on which you must stamp your authority,’ Algernon had once said rather amusingly, and Mrs Post smiled to herself as she recalled the conversation. But with customers queuing, there was no time for too much smiling. Another busy day beckoned, and recent events concerning the hole had given everything a new twist. It was not often that a large hole appeared in the High Street, unless there was a war going on – and there’d been nothing about one on the traffic news.

‘The authorities are looking into it,’ said David, as he purchased some 2nd class stamps. ‘Rex told me.’

‘Well, that’s a relief,’ said Mrs Post, who was a little exercised over the matter. ‘Do we know who exactly?’

Mrs Post was greatly reassured that the hole was being looked into. It was good to know the authorities were involved. Authority was important in keeping the baying dogs of anarchy at bay, and must always be respected. She did not, however, wish to see the hole, thank you very much! Why would she wish to see the hole? She just wished it sorted. So who was looking into it?

‘The Hole Department, no doubt,’ said David drily.

‘The whole department?’ said Mrs Post, encouraged. ‘Plenty of expertise there then.’

‘Every hole presents unique difficulties, in my experience,’ said David.

‘Oh, everything’s always such a problem with you, David. Mark my word – it’ll be sorted in no time, you depressed little man,’ said Mrs Post, closing the matter down, as people do when they feel uncomfortable. ‘The authorities are on the case. Sorted! End of story! Next customer please!’

Well, that was certainly telling David!

*

Yes, of course Misty Longings was a wonderful village to live in. There wasn’t a prettier village in the world. But people there could still get on your nerves, and David often found himself on Mrs Post’s. Mrs Post thought he should pull himself together:

‘Why doesn’t he just pull himself together?’ she thought to herself, and she wasn’t alone. ‘And why call the café ‘Café Disappointment?’ Who would want to go to a place called that? We should be putting our best foot forward – not getting all morose!’

And with that thought, Mrs Post got down to sorting out Mr Hogback’s road tax, just as Reality Jane reached the end of Long Lane. Long Lane was a rather twisty and winding affair, and did not proceed as the crow would fly. Anglo-Saxons, like the Romans, had built straight roads; roads like plumb lines. Clearly they hadn’t built Long Lane, which advanced like a snake with stomach ache – an endless series of corners, bends and convolutions. There was one famous bend which after a good half mile of walking, left you not 50 yards from where you had been previously! Ye Gods! Hardly the march of progress!

But Jane didn’t mind, for the march of human progress was a rather fragile concept, and this morning, there was absolutely no hurry. Indeed, there was rarely hurry, for hurry was a most grievous thing, in Jane’s estimation. Hurry made you a stupid person, though it was hard to say without sounding pompous and advice-laden like a vicar.

‘No offence, Rex,’ said Jane under her breath.

In six weeks time, the verges of Long Lane would be carpeted with snow drops – white, bright and brilliant. They presently sat beneath her feet in the cold soil, waiting their moment. ‘Buried heaven,’ thought Jane.

For now, however, only damp bramble showed its face above ground as Jane strode on – a different sort of heaven. Fifty-seven years old, but she’d been a walker all her life, and a resident of Misty Longings for all but three of those years. And here’s a thing – she’d always noticed things. In the past two minutes, for instance, she had noticed a slight pain in her left leg, the orange-tinted sky and a vague sense of unhappiness passing through her. Why the sadness? She wasn’t presently sure. Sadness was often a hard mood to trace, but perhaps it was the gym. She was passing the proposed site for the new gymnasium in the village – the gymnasium that would now never be, after last week’s Parish Council vote. Oh dear! She remembered the event and how people had spoken and behaved:

‘What sort of a village do we want to be?’ former nurse Mrs Pump had asked.

‘What sort of people do we wish to attract?’ Mrs Post had asked.

And then Inky had spoken up: ‘I was wondering if there was any country in the world, that doesn’t have a gym with wall bars?’ said Inky, recently elected to represent the youth. ‘Faskinating!’

‘Why is he here?’ Mrs Pump had wondered, and Rex had shifted uncomfortably in his seat, for it had been his idea to encourage youth involvement. He couldn’t articulate why exactly, but definitely had the idea from somewhere that it was the sort of thing vicars did.

*

Patricia had wanted the gym, of course, because she really cared about people less fortunate than herself – people like Billy, for instance. He was desperate for the gym. But Patricia also understood why a traditional village of such natural beauty must say ‘no’ to a gym. It would, sadly, attract people from the wrong side of the tracks; people like Billy with too much aggression – a human trait not welcome here!

So after the meeting, in which the idea was firmly rejected, Patricia found herself keen to build bridges with both sides. She spoke both to Jane who had supported the gym, and Mrs Pump and Mrs Post who had opposed it. She hoped she was a meeting place between the warring parties – and a friend and confidante to each.

Billy was a friend and confidante to no one, however – and had reacted badly when Patricia told him of the vote. He went mad, actually. No, really! Patricia did her best to calm him down. ‘Billy – face yourself! Face what you have become!’

‘After you!’ Billy had said, with needless venom. Who knows what he was suggesting? What – that Patricia didn’t face herself? But that was ridiculous. And anyway – why turn on Patricia, for God’s sake? It is always those who help who get hurt.

And then, of course, it all got very nasty, and although it was quite the last thing she wanted to do, Patricia had been forced to call the police: ‘It was quite the last thing I wanted to do,’ said Patricia, after the police left. She had talked about it in the mobile library with Rex.

‘He is a troubled young man,’ said Rex. ‘Most wilful! We must all pray for him.’

‘There must be more we can do than just pray, Father Rex.’

‘Prayer moves mountains,’ said Rex confidently, and then felt a little bit hollow, as he’d never moved a molehill, let alone a normal hill or something larger.

‘Some people want him to leave the village,’ said Patricia. ‘But I just don’t think that’s the answer.’

‘You never know, Patricia. Perhaps it would help him,’ said Rex, who didn’t really want him going mental in the church, where there were some irreplaceable artefacts. ‘No one could have done more for him than you, Patricia. No one on earth. But there comes a time – ‘

*

Perhaps that was it! As he lay in the dark, Billy remembered being told about the gym. It was that Patricia. She had told him about the gym, about how they weren’t going to build it, and about how he had to understand, and not be angry, because anger didn’t get anyone anywhere. And he remembered: he remembered that as she spoke, a switch had clicked inside his brain, and then he’d grabbed the knife to kill the people who said ‘no’, who didn’t want him to play; didn’t want him to live.

‘One day I will kill them all,’ he thought to himself in the darkness. ‘If I survive this, which I won’t, I will kill them all.’

Oh dear. The last thing anyone wants is for Misty Longings, the most beautiful village in England, to become the scene of a large number of murders.

*

‘What do you mean – there’s a hole in the High Street?’ said Lord Jo.

‘The authorities are onto it,’ said Mrs Post.

‘I damn well hope they are! I don’t want a hole in the centre of my village!’

He had only rung to enquire after a parcel, and now he was getting it in the ear, about a hole – a hole in the same cobbled high street, that drew visitors from around the globe, before they went on to Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare wrote his plays. Or was born. One of the two.

‘What size hole is it?’ asked Lord Jo, getting back to less literary matters.

‘Normal size,’ said Mrs Post. ‘Pretty normal; it’s a normal hole. Nothing the authorities can’t handle. And the whole department’s working on it apparently.’

‘The Hole Department?’

‘So plenty of shared knowledge and expertise.’

What Hole Department? The woman was an idiot, and didn’t know what she was talking about, but at least she could be useful. ‘Oh, do us a favour, will you, Mrs Post?’ asked Lord Jo.

Mrs Post would willingly do Lord Jo a favour. Although he was obviously not a real Lord, and a lesser figure in her estimation for that, he was still a man of some authority in the village, and authority should be honoured and obeyed.

‘Certainly, Lord Jo. What would you like me to do?’

‘Just tell Mrs Pump there’s a slight change of plan; that there are two of us for supper tonight.’

‘Interesting,’ thought Mrs Post, as she put down the phone. She had no interest in local gossip, none at all, but she could still imagine how interesting this news would be if she did.

*

Inky drew alongside Cadbury, who was sitting with Dr Hafiz by the village well. Inky now had a new intriguing question – much more intriguing than his question about the gym and the wall bars, which he had posed in the meeting about the gymnasium. And Dr Hafiz was just the right man to ask, because he always listened to what you said.

‘I have a question, Dr Hafiz.’

‘Then the world is our oyster, Inky.’

‘When does a hole become a space, and therefore something to be celebrated?’ asked Inky.

‘Good question,’ said Dr Hafiz, scratching his bearded cheek. ‘No, really – a very good question.’

‘You’re so clever, Inky!’ said Cadbury. ‘To think of a question like that! I don’t know why you talk to me.’

‘Perhaps you’re the clever one, Cadbury!’ said Inky.

‘Me? The clever one?’

‘I think you’re much cleverer than me!’

‘I’ll never be cleverer than you, Inky,’ said Cadbury.

Blushing like the Summer Fayre’s prize winning beetroot, Inky rode quickly away. She had called him clever! He was so happy, that he didn’t know where to put himself, and so just rode around like a lunatic for a while.

‘Tell me, Cadbury,’ said Dr Hafiz as Inky disappeared into the distance: ‘this army that’s coming.’

‘Yes?’ said Cadbury.

‘When it arrives, will it be a good army or a bad one?’

‘Oh, bad, I think – very bad,’ said Cadbury, nodding hard.

‘Really?’

‘Oh definitely bad – and quite gruesome in fact.’

‘But why so? Have you seen the army?’

‘I’ve seen it in my head.’

‘Ah yes – but have you seen it outside your head?’

‘I haven’t seen the army outside my head as such, Dr Hafiz.’

‘Then how do you know it’s bad? It could be good.’

‘How can an army be good? They rape and pillage people.’

‘Just think. They might make you queen!’

‘Make me queen?’

‘Seems highly likely to me. Especially if they are a good army, which they probably are.’

‘Why would anyone want to make me queen?!’

‘I would make you queen if I was them. I’d do it immediately. We must all hope they come soon!’

Cadbury had never imagined that she could be a queen, and suddenly felt rather excited about the approaching army.

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