Monday, March 30, 2020

As We Know It - Chapters 31 & 32

Chapter 31

"Your parents are arriving today!" Pronounced Jesus gaily when he emerged from the spare room on Day 21 of the Great Apocalypse. There was no concrete record of when it had officially been upgraded from a regular Apocalypse to a great one but somehow it had slipped into village vernacular. If there was another one in the future then they could always swap to calling this the first one, it was funny how repetition devalued an event somewhat.

”Oh, right. I'm ever so glad they're safe." said Sarah.

"Looking forward to seeing them?" asked Jesus lightly.

"Yes. Very much. Obviously I wish it was under better circumstances, but, it'll be nice to air some things."

"And, when we've done this," interjected Hamish, thoughtfully, "Everything will go back to normal, 
will it? The world will un pause?"

"Can’t see why not!" Jesus evaded eye contact and busied himself with the marmite and peanut butter. He'd taken to mixing peanut butter with other things in an effort to reduce the stickiness of it without losing the enjoyment.

"What are you not telling us?" Hamish persisted.

"Well, obviously I can't tell you that. If I tell you what I’m not telling you then it’s just something I’m telling you so you still wouldn’t know what I’m not telling you. No one can ever know that.” Jesus looked delighted with himself. Hamish frowned and Jesus relented slightly, “I just need to see where you get to on your own."

"So, it could all still go up in flames?" Sarah sounded nervous.

"No, I wouldn't use fire. I'd think of something much more deitane than that." said Jesus, swirling the brown mixture onto some granary. He was feeling low level anxiety about having dishonestly told them he had any plans to end the world. Of course he had no intention of doing anything of the sort, but he was finding the overhanging threat very useful in getting them to take it all seriously. Never underestimate the power of a good impending peril.

"Deitane?" frowned Hamish.

"I don't like to say 'humane'," explained Jesus, "I think it gives the human race credit where they've not necessarily earned it."

"Right." Sarah was struggling to get her head around the events to come. "So, Mum & Dad arrive, we chat to them - Lord knows how I'm going to start that conversation..."

"You're right, he does." said Jesus through an unsatisfying mouthful - not as good as jam and peanut butter, it turned out.
"What? Oh, sorry. Blasphemy. Um, so we have a chat with Mum & Dad, get them to understand how I feel about Hamish and how this could never be wrong, and then we agree to get married with their blessing, and the world goes back to normal?”

"Something along those lines." Jesus was grinning from ear to ear. He also had peanut butter gobbits covering similar regions so he looked a lot less smug than he might otherwise have done.

"I'll go and pick out a dress." Sarah disappeared upstairs leaving Hamish staring at Jesus from the kitchen table while the Son of God scowled at his crusts and sighed heavily as he folded one into his mouth.

Jesus felt content. It was all going to be OK.

Chapter 32

Frank and Katherine hovered on the doorstep for a second before Frank struck out an arm and knocked sharply. Waiting was making him feel anxious, and anxiety was not an emotion he had ever bothered taking nonsense from. The knock sounded loud in both their ears and they waited silently for the padding of footsteps on the other side of the door.

Katherine was pleased to see it looked like a very presentable house and the garden was well looked after. That must be Hamish’s doing, she realised, remembering Sarah had about as much time for gardening as she did for clothes shopping and people who set fire to live animals.

They had waited 8 seconds (as long as it’s physically possible for a British person to wait before they have to consider a second knock thus experiencing the wave of panic associated with possibly being perceived as rude) when they heard footsteps on the other side of the door. Katherine felt relieved; her arm had urgently wanted to knock but the fear that someone was already en route to the door and might have to mutter under their breath for her to hold some horses was very real in her mind. She felt confident in herself that if she could refrain from knocking twice, she could cope with anything. Frank felt relieved; footsteps meant Sarah was probably fine. Footsteps were good.

Jesus, Sarah and Hamish had been in the garden when the knock came. The sun was shining brightly on the grass and they’d decided to relax outside while waiting for Frank and Katherine to arrive. It all felt really very civilised.

"I do hope they find it OK." Sarah had said nervously a few hours before after realising suddenly that Frank and Katherine had never visited the house before.

"Why have they never visited?" Jesus had asked earlier, unwittingly spooning worms out onto the pristine kitchen counter at which he sat.

"I don't know." replied Sarah, "I'd never really noticed they hadn't."

"Had you not?" Hamish said, curtly.

"No!" Said Sarah, surprised by his tone. "Had you noticed? Why didn't you say anything?"

"I just assumed you would have realised your parents had never visited your own house." Hamish's tone was icy and patronising.

"It's not like I haven't seen them," Sarah protested, "We've just always gone to them or met them somewhere else. They've never said, 'No, we refuse to set foot in your house' have they?"

"Well that's half the problem, isn't it?" Hamish retorted, "If they ever voiced their problems then we'd have had it out and we wouldn't be in this mess. But they never bloody do and neither do you and so it's awkward and unspoken. No one ever says anything."

"Alright then, what would you like to say?"

"That your father is a racist and it's the reason you were unsure about marrying me."

"He's not a racist!" Sarah's voice lurched up.

"Ok, he's not a racist; he's just a man who doesn't want his daughter to be with a black man. But not a racist one... unless you just don't think that opinion is racist? Sarah?"

The tension was horrible. Jesus was fighting the urge to ask them to calm down and not do this now; he'd clearly been in England too long as the force was strong enough to keep lowering his bottom jaw in preparation for the words. Sarah had sat conflicted and despairing in the kitchen while Hamish glowered from his vulnerable position by the fridge. He knew that he could push, and keep pushing, and he might get a result but it was unlikely to be the result he wanted it to be.

"I don't know what you want me to say." was Sarah's only response and Hamish felt anger at it. Just anger and disappointment that he had a list of things he'd love to hear come out of her mouth and he knew not a single one of them would make him feel any better.

"We'll talk when they get here." Jesus had finally relented to his troublesome jaw. He wandered out into the garden to enjoy the sunshine. It was really a rather pleasant heat here; not like last time. That had been a little too much at times.

A few hours later the knock at the door finally came and all three of them looked at each other. They felt like naughty children caught up to no good. Sarah moved to go and answer the door but Hamish stood up tall and strode towards the house,

"I'll get it," he said, "It's my house, too."

"That was fucking unnecessary." Sarah muttered under her breath. Privately Jesus agreed but then Sarah swore too and he couldn't quite remember whether that made it alright or twice as bad. He really should have done a bit more revision.

26 awkward minutes had passed since the fearless second knock at the door and Hamish’s swift journey  through the house to settle the Gilmores in the garden. If you believed in divine control, you would have had to assume the remote had been handed to a lethargic apathist with severe paralysis and narcoleptic tendencies. The warmth of the garden was putrefying any urgency to get the ball rolling instead of simmering it gently to a productive bubble. Nobody had baked. That was the core issue with the meeting. There were no baked goods from either party to represent an effort having been made. It is always difficult to get an event off the ground without anything covered in buttercream to get tongues moving.

Katherine and Frank had reacted most interestingly to being introduced to their Lord and saviour. They had quite effectively managed to behave as though they had obviously expected Jesus to be there, and that it would have been more surprising had he missed it. To say they took it in their stride would be an understatement; they crafted a new stride out of supple willow and ushered the news into a custom made resting cot where it sat comfortably, unaffected by the movement of the stride. Frank's immediate internal reaction was that showing surprise at seeing Jesus at what he'd largely assumed to be the end of the world was tantamount to blasphemy.

He and Katherine had felt dimly aware that there was a final feeling to the world for a few weeks now, ever since the air had changed and the new feeling had settled on them. The fact that he and Katherine had felt it simultaneously and without discussion cemented it for them. Their friends and neighbours had been less jumpy about the situation; almost blissful and content to meander about on permanent holiday. Only Frank and Katherine had shown any agitation at the situation and it unnerved them to have been singled out from the others. Which direction were they selected for?

Having been led directly to Jesus, while their peers were still back at home learning to live without reality television, had settled their minds and they were trying their best to act as though there was no doubt in their souls they were meant for this and had been preparing for it. Katherine was overjoyed to see that Jesus did indeed look like Ashley from Gone With The Wind, and she hoped this meant that heaven also looked as it did in her mind; like the contents of Habitat strewn about a mackerel sky. Frank liked the way Jesus tied his tie, but felt a little old in his presence and decided he thought God would be much more up his alley.

Once sufficient pleasantries had been exchanged they began to shuffle their feet for something to do and Hamish suggested a tour of the house. Sarah felt cross with herself that she suspected him of getting at her parents for not having seen it before. Her loyalties were pulled in all directions and stretched so thin she feared with much more pressure she'd rip and be flung too forcefully in a direction not of her choosing. The tour was stilted at best.

Sarah wished she could be showing her first home off to her mother under slightly better circumstances. She’d always thought the guest bedroom was rather nicely decorated and kept, however, showing it off under the pressure of “This is the room in which I’ve been housing the Son of God.” suddenly took the shine off Sarah’s perfect coving. Mothers never find it easy to praise their daughters’ homes, it is exceptionally hard to do so when lurking in any un-dusted corner could be the reason for the assumed end of the world.

Jesus was wishing he could exchange some of his immaculate inner moral compass for a bit of social know how; he didn’t know how to get them chatting and neither of Sarah’s parents could quite bring themselves to look him in the eye. Their brisk formality was intimidating. Jesus thought it interesting how a species could remain so similar over the course of an evolution, and yet be so wildly different from one generation to the next.

The tour ended rather lamely with them all peering at the cupboard under the stairs. Jesus tried a Harry Potter joke but neither Katherine or Frank had read the books. Hamish smiled and Sarah shook her head affectionately; Katherine wondered how the books didn't fall through the clouds. Sarah had offered to start a fire and make some tea but Katherine and Frank trotted out 'Oh, no, don't go to that trouble... water is fine.' despite both desperately wanting tea, and so the party had been sped back out to the garden with water in hand for a sit down. 

Now they were sitting round the bird table; Hamish sulking and unsure how to behave, Sarah trying to be overly nice and fix all problems using impeccable hospitality, Katherine and Frank largely monosyllabic in as positive a way as single utterances can allow.

“Hamish made this bird table!” Sarah chirped.

“It’s very nice.” Said Frank, really focusing his compliment on the joint work rather than the hand carved robin decorations around the edge of the bowl.

“Does it go someway to making up for the fact that Hamish is black?” asked Jesus.

I really do believe if the world could have stopped more, it would have. It turned out to be a superb turn of events that there had been no baking from either party; had anyone been chewing on a slice of Black Forest at the moment Jesus spoke it would surely have spelled the first fatality of the entire crisis as they inevitable choked on a cherry and beat Jesus to his own doorstep.

Sarah turned to stare wide eyed at Jesus, part baffled part marvelling. Hamish thought Heaven must be a nightmare if this was the way they dealt with things; British people would be clamouring for hell within minutes of the first argument. He hadn’t thought it possible to be quite so perfectly blunt in such quaint surroundings - he’d always thought something about privet hedges must keep it in check.

“I’m sorry?” Said Frank.

“Well, that’s a good start. Sarah? How are you feeling?”

“Er…” Sarah started.

“What did you just say?” Frank asked Jesus, rewinding the conversation back over in his head.

“I asked Sarah if she was starting to feel more reconciled with Hamish now you had apologised.” Jesus was positively delighted with how things were progressing. An apology within the first few minutes? He felt like a strong contender for some kind of chat show host.

“What do I need to apologise for? Sarah?” Frank’s voice was grave and low. Sarah instantly felt sick and curiously guilty. It was a mixture of emotions she closely associated with having recently stolen something from the kitchen.

“Er, well, I’m not saying you necessarily have to apologise for it…” Hamish shot her a look. “I mean, I think you do, if what we think you think is correct.”

“I don’t follow…” Said Katherine, looking from Hamish to Jesus with a painfully confused look on her face.

“Dad,” Sarah began slowly, “This whole ‘paused world’ is because of us.”

“You and Hamish?” asked Katherine, her eyes flitting suspiciously to Hamish.

“Yes. And you two.”

“Us? How are we involved?” Katherine was shrill and panicked.

“Calm down mum, don’t worry.” Sarah tried.

“Don’t worry? You’ve just told me I somehow caused the end of the world without knowing and yet I shouldn’t worry? Of course it’s my fault, it’s always my fault isn’t it? I should have known it’d be the parents’ fault.” Katherine was reaching the hysterical point that she always managed to locate at family events, stressful situations and weekends.

“I’m not saying it’s your fault, mum, listen to what I’m saying. The world, er, paused, when Hamish proposed to me…”


“Mum! No, we’re not exactly engaged…”

“How can you not be exactly engaged?”

“Alright then, we’re not engaged.” Sarah hated saying it.

“You said no? Why?” 

Hamish felt oddly buoyed by Katherine’s dismay and outrage at the news. She seemed genuinely surprised and upset. That had to be a good sign.

“I didn’t say no!” Said Sarah quickly, she turned to look at Hamish and repeated herself, “I didn’t say no. I didn’t say anything. I hesitated and then the end of the world happened and we’ve been a little busy.”

Katherine stopped to digest this information for a moment. Frank cleared his throat.

“Why did you hesitate?” he asked. Sarah slumped, unsure exactly how to phrase it.

“I paused because, because I was unsure how you would react to me marrying Hamish. Because… because I didn’t think you would be happy. Because I think you disapprove a little bit of our relationship, and, I, we think it is because you don’t like me in a relationship with a black man.”

The garden was silent. The still air seemed to cease to exist; time lay prostrate where it had been since the apoclaypse and gave up any hope of ever existing again in the future; the family sat stock still. Nothing rustled, nothing squirmed, nothing dared fill its lungs.

“Must we air our dirty laundry in front of Jesus?” asked Katherine quietly.

“Where on earth did you get the idea we have any problem with Hamish’s skin colour?” Frank’s tone was even and menacing.

“I… well, I don’t know. You…” Sarah began, crumbling under her father’s grim voice.

“You say things like ‘my kind’ and you make questioning comments about my background. You give off an air of not being sure about me and you make it uncomfortably clear that you are not 100% about Sarah and I.” Hamish met Frank's tone with certainty and cordial delivery.

Frank thought for a long time; considering his hands and occasionally nodding slightly to himself and ficking air out across his teeth. “I see.” he nodded conclusively, “I see how you have come to that assumption." He looked up into Hamish's face, "Hamish, I apologise unreservedly that you’ve considered me such a flagrant racist in the time that we’ve known each other. I’m disappointed you would think that of me and upset that I haven't had the courage to discuss my feelings earlier and clarify the situation. I'm not sure what I think, that you were willing to put up with that kind of behaviour from the parents of the one you love; I'm not sure if that's bravery or other. I, well, Katherine and I, do have reservations about your compatibility. But it has nothing,” Frank’s eyes rested on Sarah’s on the word ‘nothing’ hammering home his anger and disappointment, “to do with your colour or race. We consider ourselves to be living under the faith of God and the teachings of the Christian church and we see no place in that life for racism or small mindedness concerning colour. My concern has been, and remains, how someone of faith constructs a life and an afterlife with someone who has turned their back on God. I don’t want my daughter to marry an atheist. That’s my problem; your lack of faith. I cannot possibly see how a marriage between you could work when you have such a fundamental difference.”

Sarah was speechless. Hamish sat, stunned in his chair; cross with himself and thrown off balance by Frank’s speech. It may have been the longest he’d ever heard Frank speak in one sitting.

From behind the hedge a small voice could be heard saying, “Well I didn’t expect that.” and a much older, more Mrs Shoe like voice shushed it immediately.

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