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Tuesday 12th November 1985: 10.00 – 12.00
‘Well — it is like this, Father Rawlings,’ Joseph began.
Father Rawlings was sitting in the chair that Clarissa — Joseph! It is ‘Mrs Rawlings’ to you! — had occupied for such a brief time earlier. The vicar was nowhere near as picturesque as his wife.
His wife. Clarissa. Bending over to pour his, Joseph’s, tea…
I am sorry, moth—
Oh goodness. ‘Erm…. I was wondering,’ he hurried on, desperate to banish both the image and his parent — who could surely not have been transmitting censure at him from her home several hundred miles away; and if she knew that he even considered telepathy to be something that existed she’d have him on his knees for hours, if not days, begging forgiveness from the Lord Almighty for being in commune with the Devil; and oh goodness again, where were his thoughts at the moment? — from his head, ‘whether God speaks to you?’
There was a splutter from the chair, and some of the tea that Father Rawlings had just sipped made a forceful exit; fortunately for all concerned, back into the cup it had come from rather than anywhere else.
The vicar was staring at him with an expression that made him look like a rather surprised owl. ‘I beg your pardon, Joseph?’
Joseph had rehearsed what he was going to say while walking to the vicarage, but now the words seemed to be sticking to the roof of his mouth, and he had to prise them off with his tongue and force them on their way. ‘It is just — I have been hearing a voice, Father Rawlings, and I wondered whether it might be that God is speaking to me. And I — well, I wished to know whether you thought that that might be what it is,’ he finished, his voice trailing away as the words ran out of the necessary power to leave his mouth without dripping straight downwards onto the floor.
There’d been many occasions during the last week when Joseph had felt that his jaw had become divorced from the rest of his face, but now the vicar’s was so low that if he’d stood up he’d have trodden on it.
Joseph hurried on again, ‘It began last Monday at the prayer meeting. Do you remember — the one at which…’
‘Ah, yes. The morning the church was robbed.’
There didn’t seem much else to say. Joseph couldn’t believe that Father Rawlings was still more concerned about the theft of the church’s candlesticks than the fact that one of his congregation had been done to death in front of his, Joseph’s, eyes. For the first time he began to weigh up the possibility that he might just be attending the wrong church.
The trouble was, the only other church in town was the Roman Catholic one that had been the unwitting cause of all the trouble last Monday anyway. And Joseph knew, without any voice whatsoever telling him, that should he walk down that road his mother would not only excommunicate him from the family, but would likely dispatch two or three relatives to teach him the error of his ways using her favourite of his father’s belts; the one with the buckle the size of a small dog.
‘I am sorry, Father Rawlings?’ He was suddenly aware that the vicar was speaking, but the words hadn’t penetrated the terror engendered by the thought of cousins Almasi, Elinah and Hanuni appearing at his flat with the implement that haunted his dreams most nights.
‘I was saying, Joseph, that I’m not sure that God speaks to people in that way these days. Yes, he does give indications as to his will for one. Hints that perhaps, say, they go on a mission to China; or possibly leave all their money to the church in their will…’
The vicar tailed off, a thoughtful look in his eye. He appeared to be salivating as well, but that could, Joseph thought, have just been some of the tea he’d spat out.
‘But a voice,’ Father Rawlings continued, the gleam vanishing. He frowned. ‘An audible voice, you mean?’
‘Yes. An audible voice, Father. Coming to me from —’ Joseph indicated a spot around six inches from his left ear ‘— here.’
The frown grew deeper. ‘Indeed? And has this — ahem — voice spoken to you again since?’
‘Yes, Father. And there is another thing has happened…’
Joseph told the vicar about his unexpected appearance in the middle of the prayer meeting the previous day, and what the voice had said to him there. By the time he’d finished, Father Rawlings’ eyebrows had gone from nearly covering his eyes to attempting to leave his face in the upwardly vertical direction.
‘Well,’ he said, after Joseph had ground to a halt, and his voice sounded as flabbergasted as his expression, ‘I really don’t know what to say, Joseph. Quite extraordinary. I really think that we should pray about this.’
Joseph had been dreading that his talk with Father Rawlings might end this way; in fact, he’d nearly abandoned the whole idea of going to see the vicar, and gone to work instead. (But by then, he’d already telephoned Miss Evans and asked for another day off, and decided he’d feel very foolish turning up at the office after all. Among the other disturbing things in his life at the moment was the fact that it never seemed imperative that he actually go into work; in fact, he suspected it was a relief to both Miss Evans and Mr Proctor when he didn’t, as that meant they didn’t have to cast around for jobs for him to do before finally settling on asking him to rearrange the sparse filing system yet again.)
Any thought of praying was breaking him out into cold sweats at the moment. However — dutifully, he prepared to lower himself into the head-down-hands-together position.
To his astonishment, the vicar stood from his chair and plodded over to the telephone, lifting the receiver to his ear.
The vicar turned to him. ‘Yes, Joseph?’
‘I am sorry, sir. I thought that you said we should pray?’
‘Oh, yes.’ Father Rawlings turned back to the telephone. ‘But not to God. I’m intending to pray to the doctor’s surgery, Joseph. I rather think you might be losing your mind.’