Wednesday, March 25, 2020

As We Know It - Chapters 22 and 23

Chapter 22

After lunch, Jesus suggested that perhaps a walk might help them all to clear their heads a little. The other two agreed - Hamish, because he fancied a walk and it was a beautiful afternoon. Sarah, because she hadn't quite decided if it was OK to fight with Jesus yet. With Bible Jesus she'd always felt alright about disagreeing with the trivial Bible commandments she disapproved of (stoning women, condemning sodomy etc etc) but that it was best to go with him on the big stuff (being nice to people and avoiding incurring plague like conditions on ones family). Jesus thought going for a walk might help him to come up with the all important "Second Idea" now that his first one had failed to get off the ground.

He had also found that, despite the tooth brushing, the peanut butter had made his mouth feel rather sticky and he was not sure about spitting now that people were using carpets left, right and centre. It was all so different. After two thousand years of feeding off the happiness of human souls, it was quite a feeling to have peanut butter lodged in the roof of your mouth. Not altogether unpleasant but he certainly didn't want to hawk up a large gobbit and upset Sarah if the carpet turned out to be less absorbent than it looked. The last time he'd been on earth they'd just used rugs in strategic places which made it a lot easier to cover up spit based misdemeanours. He thought it a little unwise that a society that had invented such a sticky edible substance should then have covered the floor so painstakingly with fluff.

They piled on their coats and headed out the front door. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Sarah was just working up the courage to ask Jesus what they sat on when the weather was like this, when Hamish took her hand and lead them in the direction of the stream. She was so enjoying this renewed affection and physical contact with him that she didn't even notice Jesus nodding upwards in the direction of the weak autumn sun.

Iris Shoe watched the trio head up towards the stream from the comfort of her sitting room window. The ribbon of warmth from the sun through the pane warmed her face nicely and she smiled at the sight of Jesus leading the young couple up towards the stile.  Colin had always thought Jesus would be ginger and it comforted her to know that there hadn't been a disappointment waiting for him when he'd had to go. She stroked Duncan's buttons absent mindedly and wondered if Colin was missing her the same way she missed him. She knew you weren't supposed to be sad when people died because they'd gone to a better place, but the fact remained you had not gone to a better place. You were in the same place with the same troubles, more responsibilities and without the most familiar face in the world to snore you to sleep at night. Iris couldn't help but think that if God really wanted people to be monogamous then he'd sort out entries and exits so it was all a bit neater. All this hanging about missing people seemed a little unfair. Really, she thought, if the men were going to die first most of them, then God really ought to make mortgages more of a female thing to get your head round. Perhaps she'd bring it up with Jesus if he popped round.

"Are you planning to visit people in the village, on their own?" Asked Sarah. Hamish had surged forward, leaving her hand solo again. She didn't really mind, he looked quite happy in his own way; hitting hedges with a stick and scowling at the undergrowth.

"I’ll pop in to see the Vicar tomorrow. Poor thing, I rather regret us getting off on such a sore foot. I would have gone today but I expect he needs a little resting period to cool off - I don’t suppose he was expecting me to be quite so familiar with Madonna’s back catalogue."

“No,” Sarah agreed, “though I don’t know quite why he went on to do Papa Don’t Preach as well. He’s not usually like that.”

“He said they were thematically linked. And I’m sure he’s not. I’ll see him tomorrow and we’ll sort out a time I can meet the rest of your delightful neighbours. Some kind of sermon I think - it’s expected of me, isn’t it?”

"I don't know if we know quite what to expect of you, to be honest."

"You sound tired?"

"I... Yes, I suppose I am. Things were a little strained before this "apocalypse"... and it's not really been easy since."

"Sorry." Said Jesus.

"It's not your fault."

"Well, it is really. I paused the world."

"Right, yes. I suppose so. Really, if you think about it, everything's your fault isn't it?"

Jesus smiled, "Exactly. So next time you feel 'stressed' just try imagining how I feel."

"Yes." Sarah's face followed Jesus' into an easy smile and she relaxed again. "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you stop the world?"

"I didn't stop it, I've paused it." He corrected.

"Ok, why did you pause it?" She conceded.

"You hesitated."

Sarah sucked in a breath that she thought might topple her. Her head swam. "I what? Oh, so it was that? Wait... You stopped it because of me? I mean, sometimes you think the world must revolve around you but... Well, I feel bloody silly now it does. Because... wait, what? Because I hesitated? Oh, this is so embarrassing." A universe wide game of Just a Minute was a little too much for Sarah to get her head around right at that moment.

"You hesitated. When he asked you... you hesitated. And, I'm sorry, but we're all human, except me, and I just snapped. Thought it was about time I got involved."

"But I was definitely going to say yes. I love Hamish, with literally everything I have. I was going to say yes."

"Of course you were, you were going to say yes after you finished hesitating. Then there were going to be any number of problems while your conscience tried to apologise to Hamish for your family and to your family for you loving Hamish."

"I would never apologise for Hamish, he has nothing to apologise for."

"That's not what I said... listen," he was going to say child, and then remembered he thought vicars tended to sound a bit patronising when they called grown adults children. You get a job where you wear a dress all day and hang about in a cold, old building lighting candles and suddenly you think you're superior to the people who are keeping civilisation turning. "Listen to what I said - you'd be apologising to your family for the fact that you chose Hamish. I'm not going to have this sort of thing. I thought I'd make you a test case. If we can't sort this out and solve you two then I'm afraid it's time for some big changes."

Sarah surmised it must be the years of granary bread that had stopped her from having a stroke when Jesus told her the fate of the world rested on her shoulders. She stood stock still, trying to make at least one of her thoughts slow down enough to read it.

"So..." she tried.

"Yes?" Replied Jesus.

"So... what do I have to do? I was going to marry him anyway. I wanted to marry him, I want to marry him. More than anything. I was going to do it."

"But it should never have been an issue. So, I've put you in a little time out - something a little more low key than last time I was here - I told Him coming back as a baby was going to be tricky but he said it'd make it easier to blend in. You're in a bit of a time out, and if we can straighten this mess out then I'm happy to turn everything back on again."

"How do we straighten things out? Should we get married now?"

"No, not without your father's blessing."


"Should be here by next week."

"Oh fucking hell." Said Sarah.

"Christ, you swear like a trooper." Replied Jesus, hoping he'd got the phrase right.

Chapter 23

The following day dawned. There was probably weather above it, but not a soul in Norton Fitzwarren noticed as they prepared feverishly for what today's meeting would bring. Jesus was to be officially announced as arrived and the villagers were eager to know what was coming next. When were they meeting Him? The Apocalypse Committee were meeting when the church bell rang but already a few villagers were hanging around outside the hall hoping to hear a few details prematurely to pass on.

As Hamish walked up to the Village Hall for the meeting, he wondered what the villagers could possibly have left to argue about, seeing as all the food prep was long since sorted. He didn't doubt for a second that they would find something to squabble over - he just wondered in what direction the arguments would go. His fears ranged from the mildly embarrassing, to the completely humiliating, to the ones where he half imagined he'd have to bundle Jesus out of the village to stop him turning Arky on them all in retribution for their suggestions.

As they settled into their seats, Mr Baxter leant over to him from the next chair.

"I'll say it now, I am absolutely not being in charge of costumes." He said gruffly, and Hamish's worst fears were confirmed. He slumped back into his seat and prepared to take in the spectacle.

"Nervous too?" Llewellyn Ford, an elderly man sitting on the other side of Hamish nudged him as he settled back into the chair.

"Oh, well, you never know what's going to happen in these meetings do you?" said Hamish.

"No, I'm trying to think of a good way to tell Jesus I never supported gay marriage anyway. I'm not burning in hell for that decision." replied Llewellyn, proving Hamish's point in the most picturesque nutshell imaginable.

"I'm not sure he's anti it to be honest," Hamish navigated the potential minefield with care, "He seems pretty relaxed."

"I'm not taking any chances," said Llewellyn stubbornly. "If it says it in the Bible then I'm going with it in front of Jesus. I've been reading up on the rules and stuff. There's a lot I think even The Vicar's been getting wrong."

"I guess there's a lot we've all been getting wrong..."

Llewellyn leant forward conspiratorially "If you want to get in on it I've got a list drawn up of people that need stoning? It's pretty much..." he glanced around the room, "Yep, every woman in here."

The apocalypse had really changed some people.

Given that Llewellyn's daughter Karen was sitting a few seats down from Hamish applying mascara and discussing her unfinished thesis on “The Female Orgasm Throughout History” with Angela Norman, he hoped Llewellyn was joking. He wasn’t certain enough to be reassured though and he took small solace that Sarah was not here yet and so could potentially be spared a slow and lingering death from Llewellyn’s over arm.

“I think I might remain a liberal for now.” said Hamish uncomfortably and tried to signal the end of the conversation by leaning back in his chair and smiling over at Karen. She was blissfully unaware of her father’s murderous, if not morally charged, intentions and smiled back before returning to her chat with Angela Norman. Purgatory appeared to have started early for Hamish as Mr Baxter leant over from the left and started up again,

“I mean, will he be expecting dresses?”

“Did you RSVP stating a dress?” Hamish attempted levity and felt it crash back down around his shoulders under Mr Baxter’s withering stare.

“Well, in the Bible they were always wearing stuff like that. I just assumed that’s what he’d be expecting now.”
“Only ‘cause that’s what they all wore in the Bible!” Mrs White’s head turned sharply round from the row in front and bustled into the conversation heartily. “It was hotter back then, so they had to.”

“I thought the world was heating up, not cooling down?” Mr Baxter said, puzzled.

“It is,” said Mrs White uncertainly, “Only, it… um, has sort of double dipped. It was hot, then it got cold, now it’s getting hotter again.”

“Because of the cars?”

“Yes. And the factories.”

Whilst the conversation certainly seemed to be settling the minds of the two villagers, Hamish was loathe to let it continue any longer than this in case Jesus caught wind of it and decided to smite them all on the grounds that idiocy should not be allowed to breed under any circumstances.

“Actually,” he joined in using a carefully placed tone somewhere between how you would speak to a very drunk man and an aggressive horse. “The Bible is set in the Middle East, and so it is generally hotter there all the time. Was then, is now. And so the clothes that they wore reflected the different climate.”

Llewellyn Ford looked like he might throw up all over Hamish’s shoes. “THE BIBLE WAS NOT “SET” ANYWHERE YOUNG MAN.” Several heads turned in their direction as Llewellyn’s voice trembled with furious vibrato, “THE BIBLE HAPPENED. IT WAS A SERIES OF OCCURRENCES NOT A STORY TELLING EXERCISE. IT WAS NOT SET.”

“I apologise,” proffered Hamish, “My mistake, it was a poor choice of words. Of course it was not ‘set’ at any time… I just meant, the action took place.”

“ACTION…” Boomed Llewellyn, but was interrupted by the arrival of Sarah to the table already containing The Vicar and The Vicar’s rise to his feet. The meeting had begun.

“Welcome to this very special gathering of the Apocalypse Committee, and a warm welcome to those villagers who have decided to also join us on this momentous day. As many of you will have doubtless already heard, Sarah and Hamish have returned from their expedition… with Jesus Christ. Sarah and Hamish have found Jesus.”

The room was tense, hanging on The Vicar’s every word. He continued;

“So far Jesus has been staying with Sarah and Hamish who have very kindly agreed to put him up…”

Martin Young scoffed.

“Something the matter Martin?” asked The Vicar.

“Well, I hardly think they had much say in it, did they? If Jesus asks you if he can stay then you let him stay - it’s a no brainer. What’s their option? Hell. It’s not exactly a subtle choice, is it?”

“Er, right… Thank you. I shall assume then, that if Jesus tires of Sarah and Hamish’s spare bedroom he will be most welcome at the Young household.” said The Vicar sternly.

“That’s a very good point!” barked Llewellyn.

“What is?” asked The Vicar, feeling the control of the meeting slipping away from him with every second.

“Does he not mind staying under the roof of a couple fornicating out of wedlock?”

“We haven’t actually done it while he’s been staying there.” said Hamish mildly and the meeting flew into uproar. Only Sarah laughed. She caught Hamish’s eye and they shared a quiet moment there in amongst the tediums and vitriols of the villagers’ burgeoning debates.

The Vicar banged on the table and slowly teased the attention of the villagers back on to his address. “Jesus is nothing but grateful for the place to stay and the kind hospitality of Sarah and Hamish. I think we all have a lot of learning to do over the next few days as you get to meet him.”

“I’ve already met him.” said Iris Shoe smugly.

“Yes, we’re all very aware of that.” snipped Mrs White, still exceedingly put out by having been bested by her arch-rival.

“I met him the first minute he got to the village, on the road that I live on. He’s ever so charming.” said Iris in a relaxed, luxurious voice; enjoying every creamy moment of superiority. “He has hands just like my Colin.”

“I’m sure he was just delighted to be interrupted on his way home from such an ordeal.” Mrs White sneered.

“What ordeal?” asked Mr Baxter, “What on earth happened to Jesus?”

“It’s not necessarily what on earth, Mr Baxter, it’s what between Heaven and earth. It can’t be easy getting all the way from heaven to earth, can it? And the last thing you want when you get here is some woman standing in the middle of the road blocking your path to a decent cup of tea.”

“I offered him tea!” snapped an outraged Mrs Shoe.

“I thought Heaven was in our hearts?” asked a confused Karen Ford, “I didn’t feel him come busting out of my heart.”

“I might have done,” said Nigel from the village shop, “What night did he say he arrived? ‘Cause I had some awful chest pains the night after the line dance. That could have been him.”

“That, was heart burn from all the fizzy you drank at the line dance and you know it was.” Grumped Beryl from the village shop, clearly still unimpressed with Nigel’s sugar induced rendition of Cotton Eyed Joe complete with dance moves.

A brief silence fell and The Vicar remembered that he was supposed to be chairing the meeting. 

“Er, right! So, what I wanted to do today was to inform you all that Jesus would like to give a formal public address to meet you all. We thought tomorrow might be good, to give you all time to prepare…”

“Prepare what?” asked Llewellyn suspiciously.

“Er, yourselves.” answered The Vicar.

“Is this it?!” Shrieked Beryl, “Is this Judgement Day?!”

“Tomorrow.” corrected Martin Young, “Tomorrow would be Judgement Day. Today would be Judgement Eve.” he turned to The Vicar, “Is tomorrow Judgement Day?”
Beryl whimpered.

“Nothing at all has been mentioned about judging anyone, in fact, Jesus seems very keen for you all to like him and judge him well. He is preparing a speech of introduction tomorrow and will hopefully have some answers for us all about the next steps during this difficult time and how he intends to proceed from here.”

“What’s he like?” asked Angela Norman from beside Karen Ford.
The Vicar said nothing. The Vicar had nothing prepared to answer them quick enough. Sarah saw him falter and jumped in,

“He’s everything you expect him to be.” she smiled, the congregation relaxed. The Vicar recovered and said a silent prayer of thanks to Sarah, before wondering whether Jesus had heard him. That would be an awkward prayer to explain.

“So, if you would like to attend Jesus’ address please meet back here tomorrow at around noon. If it is cloudy, or you are struggling with sun times still, listen out for the bell ringing and the meeting will begin promptly after it has rung twelve times. Any questions?”

Remarkably, no one had any questions at all and the villagers were dismissed to go back to their houses and await the following day’s revelations. Hamish waited behind for Sarah and they walked back to their Christ-filled house in silence, both reliving that brief moment of togetherness in Hamish’s joke.

The Vicar locked up the Village Hall and wished he felt happier. Why was this so hard? He hoped sleep would come quickly that night, although he expected it would not. It was the ultimate Christmas Eve.

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