Archive | Malcolm RSS feed for this section

Sins of the father

14 Aug

Raindrops scud across the windscreen, like shoal after shoal of startled cobalt fish, shying away from the strobing lights. They spit and crackle as the wipers fight them, and subside, hissing around the wheels on the wet road. I’m running without sirens, just the growl of the engine as I plough through the puddles. Elderly male, query collapse, off Marlborough Road. A red call, requiring an eight minute response, but no house address at this time of night is never a good sign. Another drunk, peacefully asleep at a bus stop? A frequent flyer, feigning another improbable malady in the hope of a dry trolly bed for a few hours and a swig of hand gel from A&E? Or an empty road, with a crowd of sniggering kids? I plough on through the deluge.

“Did you call for an ambulance?” I peer grudgingly through the rain at the bedraggled youth, clutching an open can of cider and weaving gently.

“It’s the vicar. He won’t get up”. He chews on a filthy sleeve, beckoning me across the road towards the bypass.

“The vicar?” This place hasn’t seen a well-meaning dog collar in a long time; the soup runs don’t make it this far out of town.

“He won’t get up, he won’t talk, didn’t even say anything when old Morrin stole all the smokes from his bag. Just lays there, shaking, and shaking, for hours”. He gnaws, anxiously, avoiding eye contact except the little glances needed to make sure I’m still following. A seizure? I quicken my pace. A couple of hours is a long time to be fitting. We duck into the shelter of the flyover, watched by a snaggle of wary eyes.

“Oi vicar! Vic! Look who the kid has brought you”. I step sideways as a a languid sideswipe lobs a beer bottle across my path. The shards clatter away into the darkness, and elicit a muffled curse from a heap of plastic bags and rag.  Further across, I see a pair of holed shoes, poking out the bottom of a greasy blanket, and the kid tugs wordlessly on my arm.

“Hello there, I’m from the ambulance”. I pull a box closer to preserve what is left of his privacy, and guard against the next salvo from Morrin. “Can you hear me? I need you to open your eyes for me, sir”. As I move closer, I see he isn’t seizing, but sobbing. Not the great, wracking, rolling sobs of cathartic release, but the gentle shuddering of inured despair. A scrunched fist, clenched to his chest. The tears have scrawled tracks through the dust on his face; his eyes, when they drag open, are yellowed, underneath the puffy red.

“Can you tell me what’s happened, sir? Are you injured, at all, or feeling unwell?” He blinks wordless incomprehension.  “I’m Simon. What should I call you? Are you Vic?”. A little shake of the head, through the silent sobs. I try again. “The chap who rang for us, he called you the vicar?”. Another weary shake of the head, and then a croaky whisper.

“I was, once. A long time, now”. The tears roll onward, accompanied by the soft gargling of water in the choked culvert. “Malcolm”. The fist loosens, slightly, and offers me a scrap of damp newspaper from within. I peel the soggy folds apart. Collins, Mary, of Jeremiah Street, passed on last week after a short illness. Fondly remembered by brothers Geoffrey and William. Funeral arrangements on request to Fitch and Sons.

“Mary. You knew her?” Fresh tears bud at the corners of his eyes.

“My Mary”, he whispers, half to himself. “My Mary”. And then, slowly, through the sobs, “She left me. I had my pride, my high ideas, my right and wrong “. The words are mingled with another wave of sobs. “The things I said to her, such hurtful things. My Mary. What did right and wrong matter, without my Mary? I saw too late. I thought I’d win her back. Too late. And now it is”. He lets his eyes slide shut, and lowers his head back onto the concrete. A gust blows in under the flyover, flinging another torrent across our backs.


The Daffodils

13 Aug

The grass was greener on the other side of the fence but only because ever since Haymon built that fence the grass on Malcolm’s side was impossible to keep alive, and so was anything else he tried to grow. Malcolm was on the downward slope. Water seeks its own level but that isn’t necessarily anything profound it’s just gravity and so rain, sprinklers, even morning dew weakened everything that grew, or tried to, on that downslope. There was something about that fence.

So this was the day Malcolm made a new attempt at fortifying the soil. Steer manure in May had no impact. Well, it did make the yard stink, but now with the shift into autumn Malcolm tried enriching the dirt with potting soil from the garden store. At six bucks a square yard he bought as much as would fit into the big red cart, which was two bags more than would fit into the trunk of his car so after this he’d have to go vacuum the back seat.

Heymon had built the fence when he got his goats. He’d hired unskilled laborers from outside the hardware store to do the job. Malcolm came out to see. Haymon stood leaning on his walking stick as he watched one laborer dig the post holes and the other mix the concrete. “Good fences make good neighbors!” he said to Malcolm waving and sounding friendly but not looking away from the digger.

Now a year later Malcolm liked the goats, even talked with them sometimes. He wanted to bring life back to the dead patch and use the story to prove his principle that even after loss another spring can come. He imagined the congregation rapt with spiritual awe, he hoped for wet eyes from Melissa Maier who always had some warm comment to make about the wisdom she got from him every Sunday. But no matter how much he focused on theme over content in this story, the fact was his grass was always dead and nothing would grow within twelve feet of that fence.

After watering the refreshed soil, cleaning out the car, putting away the tools, washing up, making dinner and watching a little TV while crafting out his sermon for the next day, he fell asleep dreaming of Iris, his wife, gone five years now, and the daffodils she’d planted out there in that yard he hadn’t seen since she’d passed away. He so loved how they just popped up every spring – happy yellow surprises over their thirty years in that house.

He was awakened at dawn by the gentle bleating of the goats. Out the window a low fog clung to the ground where he’d dug. Maybe now the soil would recover and something green would grow.

The sermon was about hope, and he made his message about the peace that can come with resignation and the fact that sometimes that’s all you get – but if you accept it, it can be enough for a time being to keep your spirits up.

He got the usual handshakes and thanks after church, and varying comments of appreciation or quandary. Melissa Maier, as always, shook his hand and placed a second hand on top embracing the handshake to say thank you, making eye contact for a slight spell. There was no evidence of sweet tears of epiphany in her eyes, but he held on a little longer this time, noticing that her earrings had little daffodils on them.


12 Aug

Today could be the first day of the rest of my life! Silly you, it IS the first day of the rest of your life, how about making it special? OK, let’s start with a great breakfast. Shopping for a lovely brunch. Checking what’s up today… nothing much, so how about a photo challenge in the city. Today will be… pink! Let’s make a photo series on “pink”.

Too excited about the photo challenge to take the time to prepare breakfast, rushing to the bakery to pick up something to eat on the way. Cakes with pink icing. Challenging to take the picture through the glass window with artificial light. A bit awkward to get the camera out in the bakery… the baker seems to be interested. She’s good with pastries but her shop looks a bit old-fashioned, she feels it’s getting dusty and would find it fun to re-hype it. Starting with the windows. If I’ve got some ideas about redoing her whole place? Me? Euuuh sure, we could think of something together, maybe? He can surely come up with some ideas, but he’s not a pro… She’s into DIY, not into hiring fancy designers; she’d rather trust people she gets a good feeling with. Feeling? Today shapes up like a very interesting day. OK, so how about that: I take a couple of pictures, try to arrange a poster and we could meet later today to discuss how to revamp the place? 18h to give her some time after closing the boutique.

Can’t believe it, I’ve got a date! I had a crush on the baker since she moved in this shop, used to be a terrible place and she turned it into his favorite Sunday morning rendez-vous. He had thought of engaging a conversation, a while back, when he felt like seeing people again, after… Mary’s death. Still hurts so much to say these words. But that was years ago and now this pain feels like an old friend, he’s carrying it everywhere, all the time, but it somehow got into a peaceful spot. Nostalgia and good memories, his broken heart healed a bit, although he can still feel the stitches that put the pieces back together.

And now he was excited like a teenager, about his date with the baker! Hold on, is she even single? Somehow, he does not know anything about her life… never dared asking or chatting. Felt silly when thinking of trying to. Guess he’ll soon find out, if they were going to be friends… So now, taking pictures, thinking of a theme for the bakery. Fairy tale-ish pink? Nah, too much sugar kills the sugar. Old fashioned boutique? Nah, she’d look older than she could, he can’t have her transformed in “happy grandma”. Vintage? Vintage was cool, a good seller; she was probably a very sexy girl in the 70s, that gave a touch of naughtiness to the style, and orange cakes could work pretty well in this country. Let’s work on vintage. Pink, we said was the theme of the day, let’s mix pink, orange, brown and yellow. No too bad!

And so the day flew by, on a stream of creative ideas. Came 18h, he went to pick up the baker with a set of print outs. His heart fluttering. But not quite sure. Not sure what she was about. Although she mentioned feelings. No, she said feeling, a good feeling, maybe it’s nothing at all… Turning the last corner to the bakery’s street. And there she is, wearing a lovely dress, some hints of makeup… and the prettiest smile he had seen in ages. Yes, it’s a date!!

To Serve and Protect

6 Aug


The sound of the metal detector never made me jump, though I can’t the same for the civilians who set the damned things off. It’s seven in the morning and my “Grande” house blend has already worn off. Crap.

I’ve always preferred the major airports: nothing but businessmen travelling for the fiftieth time this month, or carbon-copy families making connecting flights to Disney. Low-maintenance. I can just stand there and watch, stupidly daydreaming that these people just see me and ignore the “LT SWALLOW” embroidered onto the chest of my uniform. Camouflage doesn’t make you invisible in a sterile airport security line, and the rifle in my hands definitely doesn’t help.

Of course, today I’m unfortunately at the shitty airport: a small regional one across the river with those once-in-a-blue-moon travelers. They’re the ones who pack Costco-sized bottles of shampoos and gift-wrapped knife sets; next thing I know, I get to be the one on guard, waiting for the thirty-year-old mother of three to stop juggling her kids and blow this place up with her huge aerosol bug spray, because obviously the trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania was just a ploy.

Here I am, back against the wall, after the non-crisis ended. I smell coffee. I look over to the right, eyeing everyone in line as they tap their feet impatiently. I finally see him: the grey-haired man wearing a three-piece suit, holding the gorgeous cup o’ joe, and I feel sad knowing that not only was I caffeine-deprived, but he would be, too. Textbook blue-moon flyer. You can’t bring liquids through security, old man, I want to tell him. He’s next in line, so there’s no point. I’ll just enjoy the aroma and pray that some caffeine gets into my veins.

As expected, he has to toss his coffee. Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep! I should have known he would set off the machine. Thank God he doesn’t have any luggage. Time to get to work: watching the TSA agent’s back as he pats down this old guy. This is not my idea of a good time. The agent’s stopping and asking the man, “Mister Caldwell, what do you have in your right pant pocket?” Great, now the agent is looking at me because Caldwell is stammering. He’s even sweating. What the hell? “Malcom Caldwell, what is in your pocket?” The agent is looking at me harder than before. That’s my cue.

As I’m patting the guy’s pocket, I’m feeling eyes all over me. This is probably the most excitement these small-town folks have gotten in ages. It’s a box. Fuck. If I got pulled over here because of a pill box, I’m going to retire right now. I’m pulling out the small, black, velvet box and look at Mister Caldwell, his eyes filling with tears and his mouth trying to smile.

“I’m… I’m going to Buffalo. I’m getting married.”

Following a Star

6 Aug

I was sitting directly in front of my feeble rotating fan when the doorbell rang. It was one of those hot July days where you can feel each drop of sweat coming out of your pores and your clothes stick to your skin.

“Coming,” I called out.

I sat for another few seconds lifting my pits to catch the vague breeze, then got up and went to the screen door.

“Hey,” I said.

On my porch stood a tired-looking man wearing a sweat-stained golf shirt, holding a bunch of creased fliers on pink paper.

“Hi!” he said, with a somewhat forced smile.

I held open the door, “How can I help you?”

“My name’s Pastor Malcolm. I’m from the New Hope church up the street? We’re having a bake sale tomorrow! And You’re Invited!” he said, as if I were a special guest. He held out a damp flier toward me.

I took the flier and glanced at it. “I’m Kristina. I’m the neighborhood psychic,” I replied, smiling too broadly. I always bristled in the presence of organized religion, and that reply usually put them off.

His face, at first stunned, broke into a disarming smile. He asked, “So, how do you predict this bake sale will do?”

I paused and glanced upwards, as if beseeching some spirit, and replied, “Lemonade would be a better idea.”

He laughed.

I found myself saying, “Speaking of which, want some?” and holding the screen door open further.

And so it began. I invited Malcolm in for a cold drink and the small relief of my rattling fan. Despite our skepticism about each other’s professions,  we discovered we had a lot in common. Both of our jobs entailed listening to people’s troubles and providing hope. It meant we had to bear the searing criticism of non-believers and believers alike. We shared the heartbreak and folly of our “followers”. We talked about our own struggles with authenticity when struggling with our own faith in what we did. We talked about loneliness. We’d both lost people. We’d both grieved.

“Screw ’em all,” I said, attempting to sound cavalier and bold. (I felt a strange sense of indulgence swearing in front of this pastor.)

He gave me a wan smile. One that let me know he didn’t have that luxury. That he could only bless. Only be kind.

“The thing is, Kristina,” Malcolm said, twisting his cotton handkerchief into a tight spiral, “I don’t know if it’s right. My congregation… I don’t know… Sometimes, I hate my job.”

“Do you really want to know what I think?” I asked.

“You don’t understand,” he groaned. “They all knew Marissa. They all loved her. They all … She was… the perfect pastor’s wife.”

I shook my head. “So what you’re telling me is that you think you don’t have the right to love again?” I put my hand on his and said, “You do. Surely your God thinks so too.”

He looked back at me, his eyes filled with tears, and his thumb brushed my finger. He got up abruptly, “I have to go.”

When he reached the door he looked back at me, and I said, louder than intended, “Come back any time, when you want to talk about … a bake sale.”

The Fall of Man

6 Aug

Thrusting down the receiver of the sturdy but ageing telephone, The Reverend Malcolm Manswade struck up his pen and prepared to write another sermon on Eve and how she brought about the fall of man.

prompt: Malcolm

6 Aug

Use one or all the elements of the prompt. It’s completely up to you!

  • Name: Malcolm (60)
  • Profession: Clergyman
  • Wish: To remarry (He is a widower)
  • Location: His hometown

If you have any questions about Character Project, contact me.

See upcoming prompts here.

Last prompt: stories about Kristina.

%d bloggers like this: