The moment I turn down your street There’s no one that I wish to meet So step aside or feel my wrath ‘Cause I’m a walking psychopath. I don’t care how you feel today If so-and-so has moved away Or that you think the neighbour’s gay Because he took up macramé. I’ll knock your pots then slam the gate And feed that dog of yours I hate A Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup To make the ugly mutt shut up. As for your kid, if he’s on hand And asks me for a rubber band He’ll get one right between the eyes Then several more until he cries. And what’s the deal with Amazon? Do you buy for the Pentagon? Is it too much to take a bus And shop just like the rest of us? Just one more thing: if you complain You won’t hear from your gran again When we hear something we don’t like My friends and me, that’s when we strike.
Because I’m not like most men For I’m your local postman
Father Marc assumed his usual seat in the front pew of St Jude Church and unfastened his collar. Each evening after mass the old Jesuit liked to collect his thoughts for several minutes before extinguishing the candles and clearing the altar. His church had a cheery interior by day but sunset draped a grey cowl over the building which he didn’t like, entombing everyone and everything inside. Now peering into the shadowy recesses around him, he decided he’d turn on more lights for evening mass, even in summer.
In a grotto to the left of the altar stood a life-sized statue of The Virgin Mary, illuminated by several rows of red offertory candles. Earlier in the day an elderly parishioner had brought in a dozen crimson roses from her garden and asked if she might lay them at the statue’s feet. In the flickering candlelight the carefully arranged blossoms created a dramatic effect against the white linen which he now believed merited closer inspection. Genuflecting before the altar, he followed the raised marble railing which led to the grotto.
Father Marc gingerly lowered himself onto the wooden prayer kneeler before The Virgin. He could remain thus only briefly before his knees locked and he leaned forward to transfer some of his body weight onto the wooden book rest. The solitary figure studied the statue’s expression and thought she looked more melancholy than he remembered, while The Virgin’s gaze never wavered from the front entrance to the church. Reaching over the rows of offertory candles, Father Marc selected one of the roses to enjoy its scent but discovered it had none. Disappointed, he replaced it and began counting the number of offertory candles lit that day by the hopeful.
Nineteen… no, twenty. Will there be $20 in the donations box, I wonder? I doubt those three little monkeys threw in anything.
A deep, sinister chuckle rose from within the shadows behind him at this last remark. Father Marc tensed and the hair stood up on his arms; he was not alone. For a moment he thought he’d unknowingly locked in a straggler but dismissed the idea just as quickly. Every instinct told him this was not a believer. The laugh was not human.
“Let me blow those out for you, Father,” came the low, menacing snarl. “You know me… I prefer to work in the dark.”
This time the guttural growl came from much closer yet he’d heard no footsteps. His blood froze and his knees were now on fire as he tried to stand without success. Bracing his arms against the book rest, he looked to The Virgin for guidance but her gaze was fixed upon what was now approaching.
Help me, Blessed Virgin. What has come into my church?
“She can’t hear you, you fool!” the voice snapped angrily. “But I’m listening to your every thought.” It then softened in tone but couldn’t conceal an underlying rage. “Don’t be afraid. I’ve journeyed a long way to find you.”
In one final effort Father Marc managed to get to his feet and turned around but saw no one. The church appeared empty but he knew this was not the case because every nerve in his body screamed he was in mortal danger. Whatever was hiding was playing a game. Waiting. Watching.
“I need to make a confession,” the voice whined mockingly. “I’m about to revert to my old ways and you wouldn’t want that, now would you? Won’t you come in and join me? I really don’t want to have to come out there and get you,” it hissed.
At that moment the light above the confessional door lit up, giving the cleric a start. It was in there waiting for him. Father Marc took a tentative step towards the confessional then stopped. As a Jesuit he’d been trained not to fear evil and although every instinct was telling him to flee this was not an option. Whatever had entered his church had no right being there and he grew angry, not only at this act of defilement but its sheer audacity. As his anger grew, so did his resolve. All the years of training now took over and he advanced slowly forward.
Blessed Mother, stay with your poor servant.
“It’s only you I want for now, Father,” the voice threatened. “I’ll deal with her later.”
Father Marc was no longer listening to the demon behind the door. Whispering the Act of Contrition, he was imagining what God looked like. He hoped his creator would be forgiving and reward him for what he was about to face in his name. The priest also wondered where God was at this very moment. Was he watching events here on Earth? Was this a test? Was the plan to intercede at the last moment and then reward him for his faith? His mind now racing, he hadn’t noticed that the sun had now set, plunging the church into total darkness except for the candlelit grotto and the ominous light above the confessional door.
His knees no longer hurt and he’d regained control over his breathing. The only sound was the loose change in his pocket which rattled with every step. He tried to visualise the demon that lay in wait for him and how best to fight it, fully aware the odds did not favour an old man. Martyrdom seemed inevitable and the priest accepted his fate as many others had before him, while his mind continued to release thousands of memories, one of which was a prayer his grandfather had taught him:
Aronhiate, onne aonstaniouas taitenr
“You don’t know which gods to call upon, do you?” the fiend tormented him. “How pleased do you think they’ll be to learn you’ve been playing them off against each other all these years? If you’re afraid now, wait until they get hold of you…”
When Father Marc arrived at the confessional the light above the door went out. Maintaining his composure, he pulled a plastic lighter from his shirt pocket and flicked it. He listened for any type of sound coming from inside the confessional but the church was shrouded in silence as if every living thing was hiding and holding its breath. His left temple ached and his stomach was turning.
God have mercy on my soul.
He reached for the door handle but his right hand stopped short and hovered above it, shaking, while the small flame from his lighter continually rose and fell, threatening to abandon him at any moment. Scarcely breathing, he silently closed his grip on the door handle and was about to turn it when he had a revelation.
It’s behind me.
Before he could turn around Father Marc was set upon. The old cleric was seized from behind and hurled across the church, landing in a broken heap beside the grotto. Disoriented and bleeding badly, he was again raised off the ground and slammed face down into the prayer kneeler before The Virgin. He clung onto the book rest with the last of his strength, realising this was where his enemy wanted him. Daring to open his eyes, he tried to focus but all he could make out was a pool of blood at the feet of The Virgin where the roses had once been.
“We need to talk, old man,” rasped the voice, its breathing now heavy and laboured. “It’s coming and I know you feel it too which explains that prayer.”
Father Marc couldn’t speak but he knew his thoughts were no longer his own. He also knew these were to be his last moments on Earth, a prospect which now filled him with joy because he was ready to meet his god.
You thought it was me, that’s why you came here.
“Yes, I now know you were only a diversion, a fatal mistake on your part.”
We all have roles to play and I’ve played mine.
“I’m getting closer each time, Father.”
Time is against you. It’s started and you can’t stop it. No one can.
“I can make one night last a thousand years,” the demon reminded the Jesuit, “or have you forgotten that?”
Raging it had wasted time pursuing the wrong quarry, the fiend had nonetheless gleaned vital information in its race to find answers, but it didn’t like being mocked and Father Marc would pay dearly for his defiance. All promises of mercy were now forgotten as the demon snapped the priest’s head back, breaking his neck, before bearing down for the final, frenzied attack upon Mary’s poor servant.
The new teacher entered the classroom and took her seat, greeting no one. Perpetua Tightwaters was having a bad day but her deportment made it impossible for the students to tell because she held only one expression in her armoury: disapproval. A fierce-looking woman with grey-blue eyes which devoured their prey whole, she could scan an entire school assembly at a glance over horn-rimmed glasses designed to gore enemies at close range. Thick, silvery hair which still held its lustre was meticulously hoovered up into a tidy bun, giving her the air of a grande dame of the Bolshoi who had long since exited the stage, but not the company. A smooth complexion required only a light touch from a modest palate; it was only her mauve lipstick which strayed into the adventurous, considered redundant by many because her lips were permanently pursed until they parted to issue a summons, reprimand or decree.
Perpetua Tightwaters loved crosswords, hated skateboarders, still bought her meat from the local butcher, donated to the Red Cross by direct debit, considered pet ownership overrated, knew her brother-in-law had a drinking problem before he did and stopped listening to Engelbert Humperdinck the day the singer made a joke about the Queen Mother during a live interview on Radio 4.
Alert and self-assured, she made few demands of others and expected the same courtesy in return, preferring discretion at all costs. During her morning commute into the city, Perpetua remained vigilant lest she should drop her guard for even a moment and, in doing so, make eye contact with a fellow commuter just bursting to talk about his gifted toddler’s progress at Junior Montessori. She had nothing against the public, she simply regarded them much as she did junior royals: odd-jobbers whose pivotal role might one day involve organ donation. In an increasingly unrecognisable world where meat was murder, Drag Queen Storytime had replaced Show & Tell and a pope had wavered ever so slightly on the question of married clergy, Perpetua Tightwaters chose to anchor herself in work, God and country for everyone’s sake.
In her opinion, social distancing wasn’t overkill.
After work I thought I’d venture into Manchester to check out the city’s annual Mardi Gras shenanigans. Caught up in the spirit of goodwill, I ditched the 4×4 and opted instead for public transport to help save the Himalayan Poop Bat which, I’ve been reliably informed by my 16 year old niece, is hunted to make Poop Soup. This led to my boarding a bus only recently decommissioned by the Pyong Yang Transit Authority and shipped to Britain by sampan in the dead of night. Now glancing down the aisle at the human roadkill sprawled across each seat, I decided to remain standing and endeavoured to engage the driver in lively banter. This, however, proved a non-starter because life had kicked him in the nuts not once, but several times that shift, reducing him to a series of unintelligible expletives and questionable hand gestures. Backing away slowly, I retreated upstairs where I was immediately overwhelmed by an aroma you won’t find in any Laura Ashley candle.
Unexpectedly offloaded at the corner of Kidnap and Tetanus, I happened upon an old timer in a doorway balancing a few coins in his outstretched hand. Well, behind every face there’s a story so I asked him to start from the beginning. What unravelled was a sorry yarn indeed and at its end my raconteur summed up his lot, “I have a wooden crate for a seat, I have to beg to use the toilet, people brush past me as if I’m invisible, I can’t afford to buy myself a hot drink because a brew around here costs £5 and, worst of all, I have no idea where I’ll end up tomorrow. Do you have any idea what that’s like?”
“Yes,” I commiserated, “I’ve flown Ryanair.”
I then cut through the Gay Village where I had a deep and meaningful conversation with a 7ft woman. Thelma Mahogany Jr initially stopped me to ask for a light and yes, I will admit that for a brief moment I was outside of my comfort zone, however I would like to state for the record that it had nothing to do with her station in life and everything to do with the knife down each leg-warmer. I’ll talk to anyone and, as luck would have it, it turned out Thelma just happened to be going wherever I was.
As we strolled through The Village I marvelled at the outrageously extravagant decor adorning every building and asked her to pass on my compliments to the Mardi Gras Committee.
“Oh, those aren’t Mardi Gras decorations,” Thelma corrected me.
“They’re not?” I queried, taking a closer look. “Then what are they?”
“Isn’t your neighbourhood decorated all year round?”
“Then what’s your street like?” she looked puzzled. “Is it just blank space everywhere?”
“Uh, I guess so,” I murmured, now giving it some thought.
“That’s a bit of a waste, don’t you think? Why not jazz it up? Honey, you gotta live a little!”
The lady had a point. And while I might not have gone in for the winged butt-plugs, I was starting to come around to the idea of a themed neighbourhood, in principle.
And our Thelma has dreams. She informed me that she is, among other things, an artiste who will soon be appearing at The Manhole in her one-woman show, a tribute to women of colour, past and present, entitled From Motown To Ho-Town. The production sounds very edgy because in the opening number she appears onstage as a black Elizabeth I, head-butting Pilgrims while twirling fire batons pre-soaked in poppers the night before. Other members of the cast include three Shih Tzus on hoverboards, an ABBA tribute act from Korea and Thelma’s own mother who will be throwing Bibles at the audience during the interval. As for the big finale, a final homage to those who went before her, Miss Mahogany Jr will lip-sync to her self-penned, glitch-hop track Ain’t No Hairdo High Enough.
You’re all invited.
Note From Management: All performances will be matinees only until Thelma’s tag comes off
“Oh my God!” Alison covered her mouth. “Are you dying? Can I get you something? A glass of water?”
“No, I’m not dying, but if I were I hope to God there’d be more on offer than tap water.”
“Save it for your nurse,” Alison fired back. “You scared me just then.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry. No, I’ve decided I want to leave money to a good cause.”
“Do you consider anyone present a good cause?” Dave ventured, taking a quick inventory of my lounge.
“Don’t worry, you’re all getting something but I want to leave a legacy, something worthwhile.”
“Oh great,” Laverne looked at the others. “I’m getting his Margaret Atwood Anthology while a bunch of rotten schoolkids are gonna score an iPad.”
“No, I’ve been looking into it and I think I’d like to help save the rhino.”
“Since about three o’clock because it’s taken me all morning to think of a good cause.”
“Why rhinos?” Dave was curious.
“I did a project on them in school and got an A+ on it, so I guess I’m saying thanks in my own little way.”
“And which rhinos are we talking about in particular?” Laverne cast her line.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean which rhinos? Javan, Sumatran, black, white… and I think there’s a fifth. You guys?”
“It says here there’s a great, one-horned rhino,” Alison was scrolling through her phone.
I smelled an ambush.
“The white rhino. I’m saving white ones.”
“What do you have against the black ones?”
“According to the statistics, there are a lot more white rhinos. Maybe you should help the black ones,” Alison scrolled further. “Oh, wait… the black ones have been making a comeback. That’s good.”
“Actually, it’s the black rhinos you hear about in the news all the time. You don’t really hear much about the white rhino anymore,” Dave joined in. “And are they even white or is that just from rolling around in the dust because they actually look sorta grey.”
“There are thousands of white rhinos and less than one-hundred of the Javan and Sumatran ones,” Laverne was also on her phone. “Actually, those last two don’t even have horns, just bumps. And they’re a lot smaller than the African ones. Are they still rhinos if they no longer look like rhinos?”
“Maybe they’re hybrids. Fifty percent rhino, fifty percent… I dunno… hippo. Someone will have DNA-tested their lineage.”
“Maybe they no longer think of themselves as rhinos. Maybe they identify as something completely different.”
I could feel it all slipping away from me.
“Maybe they were shipped to Asia,” Alison suggested, “although why would you transport rhinos anywhere? Saying that, if they were relocated back to Africa they’d be disadvantaged compared to the ones with horns.”
“The other rhinos would probably attack them,” Laverne turned to me. “Is that what you want? Rhino gang wars?”
“I’m not following your logic,” I replied, “but do go on.”
“You want to donate money to the white rhino who outnumber all the others combined-“
“-yeah, but hold on… proportionally, all the others are doing better than the white ones now,” Alison interrupted her. “And did you know that the northern white rhino is down to its last two?”
“In the whole world?” Dave checked he’d heard correctly.
“Yep, there are only two females left. “
“Then it’s the females we ought to be helping; they’re the ones producing the next generation,” Laverne decided. “We don’t even need the males, just a cup of their you-know-what. What are you doing to help these two females?”
“They’ll be in captive breeding programs,” I suggested, tentatively. “They’ll breed them with the other whites.”
“Why not the black ones?” came the riposte. “They’re the ones being shot left, right and centre. It’s not the white ones being killed, is it?”
“And what if the females don’t want to breed? Don’t they have a say in it? Why is it up to the males?” Alison queried.
Update: I’ll be leaving everything to the goldfish.