Friday, March 20, 2020
As We Know It - Chapters 9 and 10
Hamish looked in the mirror yet again, he wasn’t sure whether he was checking the tilt of his stetson, the creases in his chequered shirt, or for the presence of his sanity. He saw his own face looking back at him, he knew it was his face because it was asking him the same question he’d been thinking for the past 3 hours...
“Am I really dressed as a cowboy to go to the village Line Dance night which is doubling as a leaving party for myself and my would-be fiancee who are leaving in the morning to go and look for Jesus because it’s been two weeks since the apocalypse and we are worried that either Jesus has got a bit lost on his way to us, or that we are missing a clue someone has placed handily on the outskirts of the county?”
He must have said it out loud because he felt light headed from lack of breath and Sarah poked her head around the bedroom door.
“Did you say something?”
“No. Well, yes I did. But it doesn’t matter.” He tried smiling at her but she frowned quizzically back.
“What did you say?” Like a dog with a bone, if by bone you meant leg covered in meat attached to my ass, he thought.
“Do you think I should shave?” It wasn’t very convincing, he had to admit, but neither of them particularly wanted to get into another argument so close to having to go out and meet the general public. It was the most comforting part of their relationship: the ability to form a united front against any invader. No matter what the conflict behind the front door had been, once they hit the rest of the world they were a team. If the cracks ever began to form in their ability to tow the party line then he knew it’d be time to just walk away.
“No, like you with a bit of stubble.” she tried a smile for him. He ignored it, studying his reflection carefully to cover his avoidance of her flirtation.
“I was just wondering, if we’re going to be away for long... am I going to want a big old beard?”
“I’ve never seen you with a beard.”
“Maybe I won’t shave then. It’ll be protection against the elements.”
“Alright Bear Grylls...” she giggled.
“I wonder what he’s doing now?”
“Bear Grylls. You’d have thought he’d be President by now. President Grylls of the Apocalypse. I thought all of that crowd would be Kings if the end of the world came. Of course, I sort of thought there’d be a lot more flooding so I assumed Cracknell might be getting on well. And that swimmer - the American one.”
“Maybe he is and we just don’t know about it yet. He might be giving Jesus a piggy back here as we speak.”
Was she joking? It was hard to tell. Hamish decided to smile quietly at her and then carry on putting things on the bed ready for packing. Why he wasn’t just putting them straight into the waiting bag he didn’t know, it just seemed like correct packing protocol to pile everything somewhere you could look at it first. Just in case.
Was she joking? This is what you could never tell with Sarah. It’s what he’d still not managed to grasp even after all their time together. How could she be joking about Bear Grylls giving Jesus a piggy back whilst at the same time balling up hiking socks for their entirely serious trip out to find him?
It was his own fault and he knew it, it’d taken him a long time to fall her but he’d let himself eventually and ever since then he knew it was hopeless to pretend any different. She’d been fascinating since the start, since he’d first watched her realising nothing was as set in stone as she’d been led to believe. She’d been brought up believing in God, doom and the whole shebang by parents who’d got off the train in the 1950s and, after looking around, decided that was as far as evolution needed to go. Anything that happened after that decade was merely put there to have lips pursed at. Sundays were for church and thinking about church in gloomy rooms. Other days were for achieving all that needed achieving in order for Sunday to be kept free. Seeing Sarah blindly bumping into University and noticing that some of the thoughts she’d been smuggling about under her hair were shared by other people her own age had been a straight mixture of fascination and frustration.
He’d always admired her ability to be curious and questioning without ever treading on other people - regardless of whether they were present or just figuratively drawn in to the discussion. Hamish had always had a tendency to bluster into an argument and parade his own beliefs with a touch of humour, all too often he felt crass and offensive. Sarah seemed to manage to stay opinionated whilst at the same time learning.
So, was she joking? Was she actually going on this ridiculous quest just to pacify these people when, deep down, she had made up her mind it was only an empty gesture? Or was she actually looking for Jesus?
He wondered which would confuse him more: that the woman he loved was capable of wasting her time to such an extent just so people would think well of her, or that the woman he loved believed in an invisible and regionally specific God?
Religion had always been such a no brainer for him... he knew the righteous believed themselves lucky, but had no one ever sat down and thought, “Well thank goodness I, a law abiding Christian, was born in England with all these other Christians because it would be really awkward to have to tell my family I’m moving to Iran because I believe in Allah, actually.” In some ways he envied people who had everything decided for them because of what they believed. Sarah had helped him see that, for a lot of people, religion wasn’t a decision based on logic - it was a belief that you couldn’t change any more than your sexuality. She said asking a true Christian to see that, logically there couldn’t be a God, was like asking a homosexual to understand that they logically couldn’t fancy someone of the same gender. It just didn’t work like that.
They’d talked for hours over the differences between believing in a deity complete with that special connection, and the following of tedious scripture down to the ancient line. Sarah said that logic just couldn’t change a belief. Knowing someone was dying wouldn’t stop you loving them - even if it was the logical evolutionary reaction.
How pleasant, he’d thought, to be able to go about your life never ever wondering whether you were doing the right thing. It must be what playing chess is like when you’re a grand master and you can choose the game you’re going to play instead of shoving pawns in front of your other pieces in a desperate attempt to salvage a rook.
“I guess I will have a shave. Then, if we are gone a long time you’ll still get to see the beard, but, if we’re not, I won’t look too scruffy when we meet Jesus.”
“Sounds sensible.” Replied Sarah.
It did sound sensible. That was the worrying thing.
It was finally here.
To say the music was blaring would be to employ a level of exaggeration rarely heard off the Radio 1 airwaves. The music within the Village Hall was just about loud enough to cover Rufus's whining, and had as much musical integrity as anything likely to be heard over the Radio 1 airwaves. With no electricity for a PA system, the only sort of band that could be cobbled together at such short notice was Lucy Clarke's recorder and Martin Young's untuned guitar. Martin Young seemed to be trying to work out if he was left or right handed, while Lucy Clarke was playing Greensleeves with a runny nose.
There were tables and chairs set at regular intervals towards the back end of the hall, leaving plenty of space for a dance floor. Hamish couldn't help but wonder why no one had thought of also installing crash mats to ensure that any octogenarian dancing that might go awry would only lead to minor injuries. He wasn't sure that the NHS could have dealt with a village full of fractures before the apocalypse, let alone now.
Mrs White was so far the only person to have made it to the dance floor without her bottle being drained by the stares of her fellow AGM members. She was merrily raving away with all guns blazing. If by guns, you meant loose arm skin and bangles made of genuine melamine. Her regular cries of "Come on dear, you only live once!" were falling on deaf ears (some genuinely). Hamish could barely stop himself asking aloud whether surviving the Apocalypse counted as a second life. He was just as sorely tempted to go and join her on the dance floor, to go and dance like the idiot he felt. It was unlikely to actually happen; Hamish hadn't danced in public without the aid of a kilt and a skinful since he was four years old. (It should be noted at this point that Hamish
did not begin drinking at five years old, he merely paused any attempts at dancing between the age of four and the beginning of his drinking years at thirteen.) Maybe doing something as unexpected and ridiculous as a tango with Mrs White would restore the balance of the world and Jesus would turn up just to see a modern miracle before his very own eyes. That would save them a lot of bother with both the planned trip and preparing the buffet for the welcome party.
"Everything alright dear?"
Iris Shoe filled the empty seat beside Sarah and passed her a Vol au Vent in a conspiratorial manner. Sarah looked up and smiled, she liked Iris.
"Fine, thanks. Well, a little nervous. Fine."
"Having a bad time with Hamish?"
Perceptive old bat, Sarah thought, not for the first time in this narrative.
"Well, no, not really. Well, I mean, things are a little strained."
"Yes dear, it's to be expected. Only the toughest relationships make it through the other side of an apocalypse."
"Yes, I think I read that in Elizabeth Taylor's autobiography."
"It's that sense of humour of yours that keeps him around. Make sure he's always laughing and always full of food and you'll not go far wrong." Said Iris, nodding to herself like a friendly dash board dog.
"Well, I'm pretty sure he's laughing at me," said Sarah, glumly "Just not for the right reasons."
"Laughing at you?"
"I find it's best if you don't start 99% of your sentences with 'well', dear."
"Yes Mrs Shoe, it's just I'm a little preoccupied."
"Of course you are dear, we all are. And you and Hamish are shouldered with a big responsibility tomorrow. We're all counting on you. Jesus included."
"That's a funny thought."
"That Jesus is counting on me."
"Jesus is always counting on you dear, to do the right thing and be an upstanding Christian."
"I mean, of course he's counting on me... in theory. But, it's a strange thought that "actual" Jesus, not just concept Jesus could be counting on me. Like, usually if I let him down it's just my own fate that matters. But this time if I let him down, he might starve to death stuck on Exmoor or something. It's altogether a rather more intense sort of way to let someone down in my opinion."
Iris Shoe cocked her head to one side and scanned Sarah's face several times before she replied.
"You think about your faith a lot, don't you?"
"Yes," said Sarah, almost glumly "Yes, I do."
"Then you'll be fine. I'll go and get you another vol au vent." And with that, Iris was up and out of her seat, heading towards a rapidly drying out buffet. Sarah watched her go, wondering if it was old age or a lifelong adherence to a benevolent God that gave you such certainty about life.
The party was in full swing around her. Rufus and Mr Baxter were dancing together, close enough to Mrs White that none of the other eligible bachelors could weigh in, but far enough away that they couldn't be accused of publicly flaunting their passion. Nigel and Beryl were stacking Panda Pop bottles on one end of a trestle table. Nigel was singing along with the version of Rihanna's Umbrella that Martin Young was playing on his A string, while Beryl was singing Bitter Green to Lucy Clarke's performance of London's Burning. The Vicar stood by himself, surveying his flock and smiling a little. In spite of the situation, the entire village really had pulled together and seemed like any other village on the surface. Except, of course, Staplegrove. No one should have to compare themselves to Staplegrove.
The Vicar supposed that someone really ought to do something about a speech, a celebration like this one really felt like it ought to have a speech. He would make a speech... after just one more glass of sherry.