Friday, 1 August 2003

SHORT STORY: Steps of Faith

David stood and listened to the slow dripping of water in the toilet cistern, steeling himself to take those few familiar steps, which he felt would also take him completely into the unknown.  At his back was the door that led into the domestic part of the house and in front of him was the one that parishioners supposedly called at to visit his father in the ‘working’ part of the house.  The lobby was gloomy with a few unused coats on the pegs, a grey plastic chair, and a bucket of assorted junk – a bicycle pump, an old umbrella, that sort of stuff.
In actual fact it was rare that anyone would call to see the vicar at home and the supposed home – work divide was actually suffused on both sides with what David saw as his Father’s vague disillusionment.  Sometimes it was worse, when a thick blanket of depression would descend and at those times wherever you were in the house, even the sunny front bedrooms with views past the orchard over the paddock, you could feel the darkness insinuating itself out from the desk in the study.
It hadn’t been like that recently.  But David knew that it was up to him nevertheless.  No one else saw both sides of the story.  This wasn’t the first time he had stood here and even now he was almost paralysed by dread.  What if he was wrong?  What if his Dad just looked at him blankly and without comprehension?  Or worse, what if he responded with anger?  But David knew he wouldn’t.  He believed in the power of God’s love.  Love that could melt through ice, break through prison walls, bring the light of truth that was irresistible in its beauty.  He believed that his Dad knew this too.  Why else would he have taken his path in life?  And even though he had fallen short of his own message and become a shadow of the truth he still ostensibly proclaimed, David knew that his own willingness to step forward would change all that – it simply had to.  No longer would he be afraid to talk to his Father and share his deepest faith and feelings.  No longer would his mother suffer in her faithful misery.  All the chains would be broken and the implications would ripple out into the whole of God’s wonderful world. 
The cistern had stopped dripping now.  He could hear the rustling of papers from behind that door and said another prayer for courage.  Yet the strange enormity of those few steps kept his feet rooted to the ground.
                                                        * * *                                                  
Richard sat staring at the blank sheet of paper.  Several previous attempts were screwed up in the bin beside him.  He had never much enjoyed writing for the parish magazine but as time had gone on it seemed to get harder and harder.  Having been round the liturgical loop in this parish more times than he liked to recall, he felt he had used up all his fire – such as it had been.  Maybe not fire, but at least some of his work had been witty and clever, plays on words that were original to him, as far as he could remember.  But now he wondered how on earth he could write something about Christian Hope.  His attempts so far had been perfectly respectable – and he tried to assure himself that he could find worse in many a similar publication – but somehow the words just seemed pointless, more so, in fact, the more he tried to convey some kind of joy or enthusiasm in them.  Enthusiasm!  What did he know about that?  Once upon a time, maybe.  But then Theological College, a hard Curacy, endless bureaucracy and admin, quibbles over flower rosters, third world wars over clearing out bits of junk.  He couldn’t remember exactly when it was that he had finally given in, but given in he certainly had. 
He picked up the creamy white envelope with the flourish of Jonathan’s handwriting filling up more of the front than was really necessary.  He had already dealt with the rest of his post – the letter from the archdeacon querying the details of the faculty application for the new handrail outside the church porch, the …  Oh whatever he had forgotten already – some of them only half opened before being thrown aside in weariness.  But this one he treasured, it was supposed to be the reward for finishing his article, but what the heck.
Jonathan had been the best thing his wife and he had ever done together – along with his twin brother David of course.  They were both good looking and sporty.  David was reliable, strong minded in his own way, but never actually rocking the boat.  Jonathan on the other hand – well he was no angel, no doubt about that (Richard without realising it was smiling half a smile) but there was something about him that meant forgiveness was irrelevant, it was life, life that Richard envied but admired even more.  In his darkest moments it was a vicarious sense of being involved with Jonathan’s life that gave him enough consolation to keep going.


Dear Dad

I am writing this at night.  In a few hours time we will make the final preparations for attack.  By the time you read this it will be all over. 
I hope everyone is well at home.  Don’t let the B’s grind you down!
There has been a huge sense of expectation all day long – a sense that we are approaching a boundary that most of us have never been beyond before.  Now things are quieter and I have to confess to a feeling of dread.  I hate to admit it, but I even feel a bit homesick.  I know that if I was there though I would only want to be back here with the rest of them.
After dark I went for a walk out behind the lines.  The sky is clear with no moon and just the faintest breath of wind.  The stars are absolutely incredible.  Do you remember the first time you showed us the pole star?  I’ll never forget.  You told us it was further away than we could imagine, and that God was even further away but at the same time closer than breathing.  I don’t really know what to write – you know I don’t believe all that stuff about God but I still feel the truth of what you said.  I don’t know if that makes any sense.
Anyway, give my love to Mum and to David and tell them I’ll write more soon.
Lots of love,

Richard drifted from rereading the letter to gazing out of the window.  He could see the harvest dust blowing in the wind and knew that the air outside would be dry and choking.  A single butterfly appeared outside the closed window and meandered across, seeming to hesitate for a moment before disappearing from view.  He suddenly felt the rise of a sickening fear and snatching up the letter again he shot a glance at the double picture above the fireplace.  Immediately he heard (or did he imagine) a repeated crack of rifle fire.
He looked across with blank eyes to realise it was a knock at the study door.
“Hello?  David …. Come in.  What is it?”

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