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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Preist

Category: Short Story

So what do you want to know about me?  What do you want to know about anyone for that matter?
I guess first things first, the lexical mundanity of appellation.  My name is Dimitri Singleton.  I’m a priest in an Anglican crematory chapel just outside of London.  I don’t believe in God though.  Never have.  I just believe in the function of counselling in a supercharged world gone mad.  And of course, the cover that it gives me.  It’s amazing the power of the old black and white dog collar.
Now, I’ll tell you from the start that you’re not going to like me.  I might even disgust you - I will.  I’m the first to admit that my methods are extreme.  But you’ll be hard pressed to disagree, in your gut, with what I do.  In fact, by the end of this, you might even have urges to join me.  We’ll see.  But first, let me begin my story—
It was a dreary, overcast Saturday afternoon on the eve of winter and I’d just finished up a service for the family of a middle-aged woman who’d passed away.  It was a typically sombre affair as they all are, but there was something unusually bitter about the daughter that bothered me.  She was the one who’d arranged the service over the phone.  Her name was Suzie Bridge-Lewis.
I approached her while she sat alone and she twisted the corner of a tear-soaked tissue, grinding her teeth like my mum used to do.  Suzie looked like she needed to be woken up from a bad dream too—
“I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Lewis,” I said respectfully.  She was especially pale-skinned, like she had no blood coursing through her; and her black hair highlighted the fact.
“She shouldn’t have died,” she snapped.  “It was no accident.  He killed her.”
Sometimes these things just swoop down and land at your feet. 
“Come here child,” I said.  I don’t really want to talk like that but you must understand, the role of a priest has certain expectations to adhere to. 
She started to cry so I gave her a firm hug.  Yes – a job with benefits!  I’m terrible I know; but the veil I wear is a lonely one and I take every moment of comfort that I can get.
“Let’s go into the back room and talk in private,” I suggested.
“Okay,” she agreed.  “Sure.”
We went into my private quarters and sat down on a squeaky leather couch that had been donated to the church by one of those do-gooder types with more money than sense.  I mean, like a couch is going to help anyone.  Why don’t they just donate the money to an orphanage or something?
I offered her a drink but she must have been immersed on her own thoughts because she never answered.  I was more than a little intrigued to know her story.
“Mum was a lovely woman – she always took good care of me,” she said. 
I placed a glass of water on the table in front of her anyway and she drank some, gulping it down.
“I heard them arguing, mum and Lawrence – that’s my step-dad.  A few hours later she was dead at the bottom of the stairs.  I heard some of what they were saying.” Suzie was shaking at that point.  Seeing that kind of physical reaction really got me focussed.
“And what were they arguing about?” I asked, in my best passive-counsellor tone.  Suzie sipped some more of the water and began to compose herself.  She looked me straight in the eyes for the first time and I have to admit, it caught me by surprise— Her eyes were big, soft, cerulean blue – strikingly beautiful; I had to look down at the table to refocus my thoughts.  I don’t usually get ruffled like that.
“Lawrence had a place in the countryside where he worked.  We never went up there – he said it was his private workspace; but mum went there that day to surprise him with a gift, a potted plant to brighten the place up.  She must have found something terrible.  I think, maybe… I know it sounds crazy, buy I think he killed someone.  That’s what it sounded like mum was accusing him of anyway.”
I took a deep breath while I considered what to do.  “Do you know how serious this is… what you’re saying?”
“I know how it sounds.  The police questioned Lawrence but they suspected nothing.  They think that mum fell down the stairs.  He’s out there right now as we speak, in the chapel.  He knows that I know, I’m sure he does.  I can feel it.”
Those big blue eyes again.
“Come on.  Let’s get out of here,” I said.

*

I pulled away in my 1981 sky-blue Ford Cortina with Suzie in the passenger seat.  Don’t laugh now – it’s a classic.
“Nice car,” said Suzie.  “Ever think of getting something more modern?”
“I like this one: it’s a special edition Cortina 80.  It runs just fine—” I said.  “It was my mother’s.”
“You have friendly eyes.  I feel like we’ve met before,” she said.
It began to drizzle with rain so I turned on the windscreen wipers. 
“Maybe we have.” I knew we had.  I’d known it ever since she’d entered the chapel. “Didn’t you tell the police about Lawrence’s private place?  Didn’t they go up there?” I asked.
“They had a look.  But they said that perhaps my grief was twisting my judgement.  They had no reason to suspect Lawrence, no motive.  Lawrence signed a prenup when he married mum, you see.  They found nothing.  He’s a model citizen - well respected in the community and all that.  He’s a photographer for the local newspaper; does lots of charity events too.  Bastard.”
“Take me to your father’s place so I can have a look around,” I said.  “See if we can find anything.”
“He’s NOT my father—” She said it so defensively and with such conviction.  I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
“Sorry,” I said.
“No, I’m sorry.” Suzie put her hand on my arm as I changed gear.  “But we can’t go up there.  He might follow us.  He’s dangerous.”
“It’ll be okay.  Trust me.”
“But…”
This time, I looked her straight in the eyes.  “Suzie.  Trust me.”
She looked down and nodded tentatively.  “Take the next left,” she said.
We drove in silence for a few minutes before Suzie broke it— “If you don’t mind me asking, why are you helping me anyway? You don’t even know me.  I mean, I know you’re a priest and all that but….  well… I don’t know.”
“For one thing, my mum died too – when I was ten.  She was raped and killed.”  It was like someone else was saying it and I was just sat there observing.
“I’m sorry.  That’s awful.”
The rain was getting heavier.  I paused for a moment and concentrated on the wet road.  “I was playing in the back yard at the time.  When I came in for dinner, she was…” I thought about it every day and it felt strange to say it out loud for once.  My mother had paid the ultimate price for what I consider to be a government sympathetic towards criminals.  It had said in the newspaper that the young rapist had been convicted twice and ‘rehabilitated’ before brutally murdering her.  I would never make the mistake of showing mercy like that.  Although I’m a priest, I do not believe in forgiveness for ones sins.  An eye for an eye is more my kind of philosophy. 
“It wasn’t your fault,” said Suzie and this time held my hand.  “You were just a boy.”  I was happy to distract her from her own problems for a few minutes so I went on.  Besides, it actually felt good to talk about it. 
“I don’t know why I told you that.  I never told anyone before.  You are just so… easy to talk to.” I felt bare and exposed.  It was not a feeling I was familiar with but I was starting to like it.  “Please don’t tell anyone.  It’s private.”
“Sure.  It’s our secret.  Don’t worry,” she said without hesitation and I believed her.  It was then I decided to come clean and tell her why she felt like we’d met before.  I wouldn’t normally take such a risk – but there was just something about her.  I felt she could be trusted.  So I just out and said it—
“We have met before.” 
Although I was aiming for casual it came out more blurted than slow and steady.  I glanced at Suzie to check her reaction but it was unreadable, so I went on. 
“It was about a year ago…”

*

“Get off me,” she’d shouted, but it was only like a whisper in the meteorological symphony that was roaring.  I’d only heard her because I’d been tracking them.  I ran as fast as I could, my legs strong, my mind focussed. 
“Don’t you touch me there you— get off,” she’d said as I got within hearing distance.
It was dark and rain lashed down hard on the cold, cement alleyway.  The attacker had grunted and slapped her and her feisty disposition seemed to evaporate just when she’d needed it most. 
They hadn’t seen me and this was my weapon, sharp and precise.
The booming thunderstorm drowned out the sound of my footsteps as I approached them and I grabbed the attacker from behind— The handkerchief I’d doused with chloroform easily rendered him unconscious in a couple of seconds.  Suzie held her blouse protectively with both hands, but she was not crying or hysterical like the others.  She was a tough one all right.
“Thank you—” was all she said, before she ran away into the night.
“You’re welcome,” I said, knowing the howling winds must have swept away my words before they even got close to her.
The attacker lay slumped face down in the alleyway and I lifted up his head.  He had scraggly long dark hair and loose gravel stuck to his face: the negative of a starry night.
“Okay then.  Let’s get to work,” I said to myself, and it was a job I knew I would enjoy.

*

I finished recounting the events of a year ago, well - most of it, and anxiously waited for her reaction.
“So that was you.” Suzie looked down into her lap, taking it all in.  “It’s just up here, on the left,” she said without looking up.  I pulled into the driveway of a solitary country house and the gravel path made crunching sounds, much like bones in a cremulator.
“Okay then.  Let’s take a look around,” I said, still unsure about her reaction to what I’d just told her.
“You look better without a beard,” was all she said.
We got out of the car and went around to the rear of the house to try to find a way in.  I easily forced the back door open with my shoulder— It’s not the first time I’ve done that sort of thing, in fact, you could say I’m something of a veteran.
We started looking around the place.  It was cold and damp, unclean – unkempt.
“Lawrence always said not to come up here so he could develop his photos without any distractions.  There must be a darkroom somewhere.  Maybe in the basement,” said Suzie.  I led the way.
We went down some stairs and found a dungeon – at least, that’s how it felt.  No windows, cold stone, and one single exposed light bulb to illuminate the room.  It was otherwise empty.  “Nothing here,” I said, disappointed.  Finding evidence was always the hardest part. 
And then I heard that sound of crunching bones again—
“Someone’s coming, a car, quick, get out.  Go!”

*

“What’s he doing?” asked Suzie.  We were spying on him from behind some bushes in the overgrown garden.
“He’s disabling our car.”  I could see the fear growing in her eyes.
“Now what?” she whispered.
Lawrence began to approach the house.  He was tall, smartly dressed, and seemed fit for his age of fifty-something.  He had a calm, self-assured aura about him that was somehow unsettling. 
He went in.
“Are you sure he killed your mum?” I asked just to double-check before it was too late.
“I know what I heard, and what happened afterwards…”
For some reason, I just believed her.  There was truth in those eyes.  It was all the evidence I needed.
“Stay here.  I’ll be back,” I said. 
“No… he’ll…”
“I’m just going to talk to him.  Hey, it’ll be okay,” I said pointing to my collar.  “I have God on my side.”
Suzie took a breath, ready to protest, but I left before she could say anything. 
I went around the back of the house and entered as we had before.  I could hear Lawrence in the front room fiddling with something and all of a sudden, music exploded— speakers all around the house, in every corner, blasting out the Sex Pistols version of ‘My Way’ with boosted bass.
…And yes, I’ve had a few, but then again, to few to mention…
I couldn’t hear anything except for the music.  I could no longer be sure of his position.  Clever.  The question was, who was the cat, and who was the mouse?
...But dig, what I have to feel, I’ll see it through, with no devotion…
At least he wouldn’t hear me coming either.  I edged into the hallway and walked right by the closet before I’d even realised it was there.  It was already too late.  It seemed that I was the mouse. 
…Of that, take care and just, be careful along the highway…
Something hit my head from behind; the music stopped, and the world faded away.

*

It was dark – quiet: but I was not alone.  I heard shallow breathing close by and the smell of lavender.  It was Suzie. 
My senses felt heightened, sharper than usual.  It’s the danger – it makes our bodies focus – a survival tool passed down through the ages.  I could see Suzie curled up in the corner.  My hands and feet were bound with rope so I crawled over to her like a caterpillar.
“Wake up, Suzie, wake up.”  What I said for a moment reminded me of that old Buddy Holly song that my mum used to play – over and over.  There are times when everything seems so connected.
Suzie slowly came around, afraid and disoriented.  I tried my best to reassure her.  “It’s okay, I’m here.” Before I could calm her down though, we were suddenly blinded by light as the basement door swung open—
“Good afternoon,” said Lawrence.  He was carrying a wooden chair and some bread.  Suzie struggled and sat against a wall, instinctively protecting half of her vulnerable body.  I did my best to follow, inching my way next to her.  Lawrence sat on the chair opposite us and ripped off a piece of bread.
“Would you care for some?” Lawrence asked, as he began chewing on a piece.  “If you scream princess, I’ll kill your friend.  Okay?”  My blood was boiling.  But I had to wait for my chance.  Not yet.
Suzie, however, was not so patient.  “Bastard,” she said and spat at him.
Lawrence threw the loaf of bread at her—
“Now that’s no way to talk to your father, is it?” said Lawrence.  He took a transparent plastic bag out of his pocket.  The label said Rathbones – it was the bag from the bread.
“How long do you think little Suzie here could hold her breath with this on her head for? Two, three minutes?”
Now that got me struggling.  “Don’t touch her,” I warned, but I was really in no position to do anything about it – not yet anyway.
“You should have left this alone priest… This is the deal.  Give me the information that I want and she gets more time to live.  Okay hero.  Let’s start with your name?” That was funny.  I was used to asking the questions.  I felt eerie shivers at the unexpected role-reversal.
“Dimitri.”
“Full name!”
“Dimitri Singleton”
Lawrence stroked his clean-shaved chin, pondering something.
“You know, that does sound familiar.  Don’t go anywhere now—” Lawrence headed back out of the basement and disappeared.
“It sounds like he’s gone back to the front room.  Quick… slide back the heel of my right shoe – it’s a little stiff but it will open.  Inside you’ll find a small knife,” I said with haste, knowing that it might be our only chance.  “Get it for me.”
Suzie raised her eyebrows, slid back the heel and pulled out the flick-knife.
“Who are you?” she asked in amazement.
“Me— I’m just a well prepared Boy Scout.” 
I urged her on and she handed it to me, back-to-back.  With it, I slowly began cutting the rope that bound my hands. 
“You’re no boy scout” she said, shaking with fear but nonetheless curious.  I thought it best not to say any more; and while I was cutting, for a moment, I thought back to that day in the back yard—

*

I feel hungry.  Why doesn’t she call me for dinner?  Why don’t I smell the sizzling of bacon or the sweet aroma of baked beans in tomato sauce like she’d promised?  Why doesn’t she call to me to change out of my Boy Scout uniform before dinner?
Something feels wrong.  I push the back door in and the food lies unopened on the kitchen table.  Further inside, the hallway is cool and breezy.  The front door is open—  “Mum,” I call out but I am alone.  Into the living room.  The irony that she should be there.  Dead.  My mother.  Blood caressing her gentle hair.
I touch her, still warm.  Her panties ripped and clinging around one ankle.  I cover her with a blanket from behind the sofa.  I don’t know what else to do.  I’m not hungry anymore - I won’t be for some time. My hands are covered in blood so I wipe them on myself, staining my crisp uniform and my innocence.
I don’t eat bacon or baked beans anymore…  Only she knew just how I liked them.  Besides, now it just smells of tragedy and tastes of loneliness; and who wants that inside of them?

*

As I was cutting the rope, I envisaged Lawrence having the same macabre fate as Suzie’s attacker.  This helped me to focus and concentrate on the task ahead. 
Lawrence came back in—
“Well isn’t that something?” Lawrence said.  He had a wide grin on his face.  “Little Dimitri Singleton, the poor orphan boy.  Do you miss mummy?”
I felt numb.  It was the last thing I’d expected him to say. Lawrence held up a tattered old newspaper clipping in front of me.  It was a picture of my mother - pretty, the face of an angel, the one I’d taken myself in the local park where we used to play and throw bread to the ducks.  The headline read, “Local Woman Brutally Raped and Murdered.”  It hit me with nuclear force.
“Oh— she was very pretty wasn’t she?” said Lawrence.  “I’ll never forget her.  She was one of my first you see.” I had to let something out.  I vented uncontrolled rage—
“Bastard! You? It was you?” I was out of my mind, unable to string together a coherent sentence as I struggled to escape from the bondage of the ropes.  Then suddenly, I remembered Suzie and knew that I must deal with it later - that I must stay in control for her.  I started to cut the rope again, tried to focus my anger – to channel it in the right way.
“Our first romance never made the papers.  She let that one go.  Very forgiving woman your mother was.” Lawrence seemed to have much more to say.  He was enjoying himself.  I managed to block it out and regained some semblance of self-control.  I concentrated on sawing the rope - it felt about halfway there—
“Once she realised she was pregnant, she dropped all the charges you see.  Are you listening my boy, or are you having impure thoughts about your little step-sister here?” 
My boy.  Him?  My father.  I couldn’t believe it.  Some things are just unreal – it’s like you’re watching a drama on TV – disconnected from it all.  I was seven years old again holding my mother in a sofa blanket.  I started repeating a mantra in my head to calm down as the rage began welling up inside me again.  Deal with it later…  But then, just for a split second, I lost it—
“You’re garbage,” I blurted out.  It seemed kind of a ridiculous thing to say, almost childish, but somehow the words seemed to empower me, more than they should. 
“Oh— that’s my boy alright.  Just the little fighter aren’t we?”
At last, and not a second too soon, I finished cutting through the final strands of rope; but I had to wait for the right moment - my feet were still bound and Lawrence was too far away.
“Since I gave you life boy, I think it’s only right that I take it too.  Don’t you think it poetic?” Lawrence started to drag Suzie across the floor into the middle of the room.  “But first, I want to show you what I did to your mother all those years ago.  I’ll demonstrate on your stepsister here, all right?  You can try it after I show you if you like and I’ll take a few photos - one little happy family.  Isn’t this nice?”
He turned his back to me.  It was time to act.  I got up and with one hop; I got behind Lawrence and attempted to stab him in the back— However, he started to turn just as I made my swing and it went into his shoulder, making a revolting, goopy, popping sound.  It wasn’t good enough; but he was surprised and that was the advantage I needed.  I pulled it back out and tried again.  Lawrence recovered and landed a punch square on my jaw before I could react, sending me flat on my back.  I dropped my knife and sat up, and it was then that Lawrence pulled out a pistol from his back pocket and pointed it right in my face—
“Now, now… that’s no way to treat your—“
Without thinking, I punched Lawrence hard in the groin and a shot went off— Blood trickled down into my collar and I felt the wound.  The bullet had passed through several layers of skin on my neck but it didn’t cut deep enough to be a problem.  It was just a flesh wound—
Lawrence dropped the pistol, immobilized by the pain in his testicles and I picked up the gun and began taking the rope from my feet.
“Let’s take a ride,” I said.

*

I’ve collected a vast array of tools and devices over the years – saws, hatchets, clips, tubes… even some knitting needles.  Anything can be used to extract information if you have a good imagination; and I’ve always been blessed in that department.
As he started to regain consciousness, Lawrence, as they all do, began to struggle.  I’d put him on a metallic hospital trolley and handcuffed his hands and feet to the trolley’s railings.  I’d also tightly secured his waist with a long belt that I’d fixed around him and underneath the trolley.  It was a technique that I’d used many times before.
“How many?” I asked, wasting no time.  I just wanted to get it over with – to finally get some closure.  I was tired, too tired to really enjoy it.  It’s funny, I’ve waited most of my life for retribution and all I wanted to do was sleep.
“What the…?” Lawrence said, dazed and confused.  He blinked hard.
I stayed calm and business-like and continued with my routine line of questioning.  I’d done it many times before so it made it easier; but it had never been so personal – so visceral.  “How many have you killed?”
Lawrence struggled so I put some duct tape on his mouth and went to work with some wire cutters.  His nostrils flared, forcing out jets of air as the pain overwhelmed him—
When I was finished with the cutters, I removed the tape from his mouth and spoke in my most authoritative tone; “I will not ask you again,” I said.  He blathered and cursed so I lifted the wire cutters again as a warning.
“Okay, okay.  You want to know how many.  I’ll tell you.” Lawrence hyperventilated.  “Eighteen.  And none of them were as good as your mummy!”
Big mistake.  I used another tool of choice and Lawrence pretty much answered any question I wanted after that.  They usually did, sooner or later—
Lawrence wasn’t very special; in fact he was one of the weaker ones.  He confessed to all of his sins and vowed to reform his wicked ways so I slit his throat with a Stanley knife to be sure he never harmed anyone ever again.  It was the only real cure for such cancers – remission was too high-risk; I’d known that for a long time.  Doing it brought me an overwhelming sense of relief and a breath that had been trapped inside me for over twenty-seven years was suddenly released—  You can’t buy that kind of catharsis.
I began to dispose of the body in the usual way.  Lawrence, my biological father, was put into a corrugated cardboard box and placed into the retort of the crematorium.  After that I began the incineration, which usually takes around two hours.  I had to be up early the next day for another funeral service and cremation, so I made sure that everything was clean and ready, and that all my tools were safely put away.  It was more of a habit than anything - a routine that had developed over time. 
After Lawrence had been vaporized and discharged forever through the exhaust system, I swept out the bone fragments from the retort and put them into the cremulator to be pulverized into a fine powder.  With the crematorium cleaned up and the chapel spotless, I drove home with Lawrence’s ashes sealed in a small black garbage bag, ready for the morning collection. 
Suzie was waiting at the house just like I’d told her to.  She is a tough one all right.  I pulled onto the smooth tarmac driveway and got out with the bag containing Lawrence’s ashes and slung it in the garbage bin, squashing it down with the lid as the air inside fought against me before being punctured and deflating feebly.
Inside, Suzie was sitting on the sofa, cradling a hot cup of coffee.
“It’s done,” I said.
“Right,” was all that she said with a hint of admiration, taking a sip from the cup.  I made you a sandwich, she said, gesturing at the coffee table.
I took a bite.  “Bacon – just the way I like it,” I said and smiled.
And that is the story of how I met my wife, Suzie – and the only one who really knows what I do.
Well, some of it anyway.  We all have our secrets.

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Old Comments

  • I don’t think I’ll ever look at a priest the same way again! There’s a lot of good imagery in this, but I think my favourite image is “loose gravel stuck to his face: the negative of a starry night” - very original, and it’s always nice to have a bit of beautiful, nature-themed imagery before a would-be rapist gets murdered by a priest.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  07:20 AM
  • “and it’s always nice to have a bit of beautiful, nature-themed imagery before a would-be rapist gets murdered by a priest.”

    Ok. LOL. And the real kind. That one busted me up. Sounds like someone saying, you know, I don’t mind gourmet food, B-U-T, the chilled monkey brains and cow tongue ruined me for the rest of my life. I’m good now. Great effort on the piece and excellent comment. Keep commenting Cora, you’re on your way to more winnings. And keep writing and voting Jay. You are too.

    Posted by deminizer  on  08/31  at  09:49 PM
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  • Your style pulled me in immediately, and your unusual premise was enough to keep me engaged all the way through.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/13  at  06:00 PM
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