Monday, March 23, 2020
As We Know It - Chapters 17 and 18
Sarah awoke early the next morning after an inconsistent sleep despite her tired legs. She rolled over and looked at Hamish, her hand remaining still where once it might have stroked his face. His eyes began to flick open, sticky and unwilling. She smiled a little and whispered to him;
He coughed a little, blinked some more and opened his eyes properly. "What time is it?”
"No idea… not sure it is one. If it is it feels early. The sun's not up properly yet."
"Yes, of course. I forgot about the clocks."
"I thought I'd go and see The Vicar this morning - let him know what's happened. I suppose we need to have a meeting?"
Hamish sat up straighter and rubbed his forehead to loosen the skin on his face. "Yes, that's a good idea. I suppose the Apocalypse Committee will want to run some menu options past each other."
Sarah laughed out loud - it felt good to laugh at Hamish again. Jesus must be a good influence, she thought.
"You might be right," she squeezed the end of her laughter out with her exhale. "What if they don't believe us that it's him?"
"They'll have to won't they?" Hamish scratched his chest, "Why do we believe that it's him?"
Privately Hamish wasn't entirely sure he had made a point, and if he had, he wasn't certain it was a good one. Sarah swung her legs over the side of the bed and reached for some clothes. Hamish watched her dressing from the bed and decided he needed a little more sleep before he was ready to face the needs of a day like this one.
"I might not come with you... if, if that's ok?" he uttered carefully. Sarah had her back to him but he could see her stiffen and slow in her dressing. "I mean, obviously I will if you want me to?" He offered lamely, "I just fancied a bit more sleep, that's all.”
She stood up and pulled her trousers up fully. She breathed in fully through her nose and turned round to smile at him, wrapping her hair up into a pony tail as she did so. "It's fine," she smiled, "I didn't mean to wake you up at all. You stay there. I'll see you later." She half hesitated, caught momentarily in the unburied familiarity of leaning in to kiss him, but moved on quickly to cover the exposed feeling it left within her.
Leaving Hamish to his well earned rest she padded down the carpeted stairs and in to the kitchen. Habit made her flick the kettle on only to realise her mistake and flick the switch back the other way. First thing tomorrow she was working out a way to make a safe fire indoors at short notice. This tea situation was unbearable. Making do with a glass of water, she sought out her shoes and wondered if it was alright to disturb The Vicar so early. Given the magnitude of the situation it would probably be OK, she thought, but maybe she should take some biscuits just to soften the blow.
Working under the assumption that Jesus was still happily asleep upstairs in the spare room, Sarah pulled on her trainers and scampered out through the front door.
From upstairs Jesus watched through the hall window, he sighed and returned back to the spare bedroom. He had hoped to see them leave together, this might be harder than he had thought.
Sarah continued, unaware of Jesus' gaze, down the little road towards the Rectory and was relieved to see light from The Vicar's fire flickering against the furniture beyond the window. She rapped on the door and stepped back to let him answer it. He looked first surprised and then pleased to see her.
"Sarah! My goodness! Back so soon? And where is Hamish?" Worry flicked across his face, "Not hurt I hope?”
"No, no he is back at home - sleeping in.”
"Oh good, I did wonder what on earth we were thinking of last night in the storm. Would you like to come in for some tea?”
"Yes, please. That would be lovely." Said Sarah honestly and then followed him in for that first, unbeatable cup of tea of the day.
"So..." The Vicar didn't quite know how to vocalise the question he was cradling. He put the cast iron kettle onto the wood burner and turned to face her. With his glasses slipping ever further down his nose and his fingers pressed together in front him, he looked every inch the text book vicar. "You're, er, back very soon..." he left the implication dithering in the air and hoped she would be forthcoming.
"Yes, yes we are." Said Sarah, with as little idea of how to go about answering the question as The Vicar did about posing it. "We, um, well... we found him.”
The Vicar didn’t move. “Hmmm?"
“We found him.” Sarah repeated.
“Found who, dear?”
"We met Jesus. We found him... in the hills. It turned out pretty straightforward. He's at our house now."
"Hmmm?" The kettle was bubbling away strongly behind the paralysed Vicar.
"Shall I pour some water on those tea bags?" offered Sarah, trying to nudge him into some response.
"Hmmm?" The Vicar was a tad broken.
"The tea?" Said Sarah, who by now was beginning to develop the infernal caffeine headache that a lack of tea is always hotly pursued by. "I'll just pour the tea shall I?"
“Not Jesus, Jesus though, is it? Is it? Not actual Jesus. Not a man who is Jesus. Who have you found?” The Vicar was moving again but in a post traumatic stress sort of a way.
“Well, I think it is Jesus Jesus. So does Hamish. Honestly, I think it is him.” She tried to nudge past The Vicar to get to the wood burner and satisfy those dry, dry tea bags with the life giving water.
"Hamish thinks it is Jesus Jesus?"
"Yes." Said Sarah, smarting slightly that Hamish's confirmation would mean more than hers.
"Jesus is here... in the village? Now?" The Vicar was comprehending at last. Sarah feared if his eyes opened any wider they would just roll limply out of their sockets.
"Yes," said Sarah gently, "He's asleep in my spare room. Or, he was when I left him."
"And, it's actually him? You're sure it's actually him?"
"Yes. I am sure. I don't know why or how, but I am totally sure he's Him."
The Vicar visibly swelled with pride and excitement and jittered across the room in a flurry of uncontrollable limbs.
"We need to leave! Come on! We need to go to him!" He cried, pulling on a pair of boots and holding the door open. Sarah barely had time to pull the kettle off the wood burner and look longingly at the tea bags before she was whisked out of the front door and off towards her house.
The Vicar stood on the doorstep to Sarah and Hamish’s house and sucked the cool morning air into his tingling chest. It worked its way methodically through his veins and provided a gently calming touch to his nerves.
“He’s really nice.” said Sarah, from his side. It made The Vicar smile and he scuffed the floor and bowed his head.
“I don’t know why I’m so nervous,” he half giggled, “It’s not like I don’t know him. I just thought that by the time I ever met him I’d be dead and so it wouldn’t really matter either way.”
“You didn’t think we were really going to find him on the expedition?”
The Vicar didn’t have to answer her. He gave her a look that illustrated beautifully the hairline fracture in reality that his expectations were fluctuating in and out of since the apocalypse. Finding Jesus had rocked their world more than the end of it.
“Shall we go in?” She squeezed his hand and pushed the front door open without waiting for a response. The Vicar was dithery on a good day, let alone a day when he was about to have an appraisal with the CEO.
After an hour Sarah realised that it was not going to get less awkward. Up until now she had been blaming the lack of tea; that glorious brown social lubricant that provided sips where there were no words, and a warm cozy feeling where there had been uneasiness. She had been a fool, a mad fool to introduce Jesus and The Vicar without any kind of caffeinated buffer to chivvy them along into the friend zone.
They'd got off on the resoundingly incorrect foot when The Vicar's first move upon clapping eyes on Jesus had been to walk forward and stroke his face to check it was real while muttering "It can't be. Your're meant to be You not you."
Currently, Jesus and The Vicar were sitting on either side of the living room smiling awkwardly at one another while Hamish told a story about being a child in Scotland. No one was listening to Hamish, and Hamish had recently stopped being certain that this story had actually happened to him and wasn’t the plot of a film he’d seen once.
Jesus and The Vicar hadn’t particularly argued, it had just been so very, very stilted. Conversation had grated like the unoiled cogs of a heavy clock. They’d scraped along, grinding out pleasantries and skirting round conversation starters as if edging across a rapidly defrosting lake. Sarah had assumed they would have more in common than this… surely kindling a cosy chat between them should have been as easy as lighting a fuse and watching the fireworks sparkle?
Maybe she and Hamish should go out and leave them to it?
“Er, Hamish? Sorry to interrupt. Do you think we should pop round and check that Mrs Shoe is alright today?” She blinked furiously at Hamish, hoping they could both learn a sort of eyelash Morse Code quickly enough that Jesus and The Vicar wouldn’t notice.
“Oh, yes. Yes, we really ought to. She might be… very sad. Shall we go now?” Always together in the face of adversity. Her heart leapt.
“Don’t you dare!” The Vicar panicked.
They all looked at him. Jesus smiled and crossed one leg over the other.
“I mean,” The Vicar blustered on, “Don’t you dare go without me! If one of my sheep is in need, I must go to it… her. I don’t think of the villagers as sheep, Jesus. Of course, merely an expression isn’t it?”
Jesus’ smile remained and he was grateful to his face for keeping it there while he decided what to say. Magnanimity seemed like the best option; get them both out of this swiftly. “Of course you must go,” he said, “If…”
“No.” Said Sarah and then stopped sharply, realising she was just full frontally arguing with Jesus Christ. “I thought you might want to stay here, Vicar? There must be a lot you and Jesus would love to talk about without us ignoramus’ around? Mrs Shoe will be fine with just us.”
“Yes.” The Vicar said, his mouth drying out, “Right. I have a lot to say to Jesus.”
“Can’t wait to hear it.” Said Jesus as Sarah and Hamish gathered their coats and disappeared out through the front door.
“Is it always this awkward?” asked The Vicar.
“No, not really. You must be special!” said Jesus.
Jesus thinks I’m special, thought The Vicar, and then wondered what kind of special he might mean.
“So, the end of the world then?” tried The Vicar, lamely.
“Possibly.” Said Jesus.
“Oh, right. We’ve still got a chance then?”
“What do we have to do?”
“I can’t tell you that. Sorry. It’s best if you don’t know.”
“Right.” The Vicar was not used to being left out of Jesus’ matters. “I suppose you’ll be wanting to meet the villagers? Check that I’ve kept them in line?”
“Yes, I thought perhaps we could have some sort of meeting? I would dearly love to address them.”
The Vicar felt a surge of usefulness replace the numbness in his legs with vitality once again, “Absolutely. That would be great. I shall call a meeting with them first, just to, prepare them for your words. Perhaps you would like your meeting to be the day after tomorrow?”
“That sounds great.” said Jesus, and conversation resembled the Sahara once again. The two men looked around the room, both wondering why they didn’t have a word to say to one another. The still, apocalyptic air turned to sand as they sat in the silence waiting for inspiration.
“Have you borrowed Hamish’s trousers?” asked The Vicar suddenly.
“Yes.” said Jesus, “He’s very kind.”
“What were you wearing when you arrived?” asked The Vicar, wondering why on earth his brain had supplied that as a topic for conversation, and further still why his mouth had allowed him to utter it aloud.
“Er, just different clothes really. Nothing special.”
“Do you wear clothes in heaven?” asked The Vicar. Stop. Just stop. Screamed his brain.
“I am not so much a body as a concept in heaven.” Replied a bemused Jesus, sincerely hoping that this admission would lead The Vicar down a conversational passageway much more suited to two minds such as theirs.
“Pity!” said The Vicar, and immediately decided to try and separate himself from his tongue using small nibbles at the base until it was totally detached. “I mean, sorry, I just mean… pity. It’s a very nice body you have. Such a clever trick. Very tall. You’re tall. I wonder where you get that from. That's all I mean. Tallness! You do know what you look like? Well, I suppose you look like you. But, other than that... comparatively, compared to... other people. You know? Where does it come from! My goodness! From Mary. Perhaps Mary looked a lot like you? I am NOT saying your mother looked like a man. Why do you look like that?”
Jesus opened his mouth to reply but found he had absolutely no idea where to take the conversation from there. The Vicar’s verbal diarrhea was turning Vesuvius to their Pompeii.
“Did you even look like this last time? You couldn’t have, could you? No.” continued The Vicar, and Jesus unwittingly groaned out loud and had to mask it as a stomach rumble.
“Excuse me?” he asked.
“What did you look like last time? Physically? I mean, genetically did Mary and Joseph have any influence at all?”
“Well, Joseph certainly didn’t. The, er, the Virgin birth and all that?” Jesus offered.
The tiny Vicar in The Vicar’s mind that usually controlled his functions, woke up at this point and wept at the situation the real Vicar had wandered into. Rather than taking up the reins and steering them clear, the tiny Vicar closed his eyes again and decided it was not his mess.
“Of course! Of course! The Virgin birth. I know it well. Yes. It’s in all the songs. Poor Mary, I always thought it must have been pretty tough getting people to believe that. She had a rough old ride.” The Vicar halted, “By ‘rough old ride’ I mean, you know, in terms of what she went through. I don’t mean… Oh God.” The colour had drained from The Vicar’s face completely. He stared at Jesus, completely distrustful of his tongue to say anything resembling adult conversation.
Jesus wanted to comfort The Vicar and make it easy on him, he wondered which direction he could lead him in that would put him at ease.
“And which one of them is your favourite of the songs?” he settled on.
“Two Princes by Spin Doctors.” said The Vicar without missing a beat.
“I meant… er, which hymn…?”
“Of course you did! I was joking.” The Vicar was experiencing a level of hysteria normally only witnessed in girls of a pubescent age in close proximity to a stage supporting singers of pop songs containing exceptionally well judged key changes. “My favourite hymn is…” the tiny Vicar in his brain was feigning continued slumber as The Vicar desperately tried to nudge him into action to rescue him from this quagmire of idiocy. Where had all the names of hymns suddenly hidden he wondered? Was there one about a stable? How familiar was Jesus with the full canon of hymns anyway? Perhaps… The Vicar chose his words carefully, speaking slowly and maintaining full eye contact with Jesus. “My favourite hymn is Like a Virgin.”
Jesus stared back at The Vicar. “Isn’t that by Madonna?”
“There… is…” The Vicar’s tongue felt like a dead hippo he’d once seen in a documentary; swollen and bobbing uselessly around like an inflated flesh cartoon. “...another… version. We sing it in church all the time.”
And so it was that Sarah and Hamish came back into the lounge to find The Vicar ploughing through the most solemn, painful, earnest and heartbreaking version of Madonna’s Like a Virgin they had ever heard. Hamish offered to take The Vicar home and Sarah vowed that when the apocalypse was over she would found a research paper into the effects of tea on diplomacy and whether or not it had significantly contributed to Britain being such a key player in modern politics.