Mother of all Deals
Origination date: 18th June 2004
This is the twelfth of twenty two episodes in Willie's life in the motor trade. At this point in time he's about twenty five and is rapidly rising in the privately owned small group of garages in which he works. His unhappy marriage is on the rocks, his loins permanently agitated, his sense of humour ever present and only matched by the air of panic that seems to surround everything he does...
Now read on
May 1984 and the rain kept falling. Early spring had been full of promise but had failed to deliver any really consistent good weather and Willie had found the constantly glowering clouds depressing. Now busier than ever with Toyota’s a plenty going out to all and sundry his little empire had grown to include a full-time salesman, three mechanics, a parts manager –with no-one to manage, a cleaning bay, some site cleaners and a petrol forecourt that seemed more of a headache than it was worth. Every day brought him onto a new learning curve and he longed to be steering by something more precise than the seat of his pants. In short, he was busy. Very, very busy. His salesman was therefore, of necessity, highly experienced and freshly poached from the local Datsun/Nissan dealer and the arms of Octav Botnar. Willie had known him for years and they’d always got on well together. This had tremendous advantages. For one thing he knew how to sell cars and hold his own with pretty much any type of customer, secondly, he was mature and therefore much more reliable than the juniors Willie was used to; - he could be left to ‘get on with it’ and, finally, he brought his own long-standing customers willing to pay over the odds to stay in the caring arms of Roger Pickle.
In general therefore, Willie left Roger to get on with things, only really getting involved when the place was teeming with ‘punters’ and even then trying to restrict it to just dealing with the part-exchanges and closing the deals and it was exactly in this mode that Roger begged Willie’s help one afternoon with a difficult part exchange.
“It’s out here” Roger boomed as he led the way through the rain. They rounded the corner of the building and, parked in the MOT bay was the biggest Chrysler pick-up Willie had ever seen.
“Must be twenty five feet long” Willie muttered
“And about half that in width” Roger added.
Together they assessed the vehicle, Willie even resorting to scribbling notes on a pad he always kept about him. Scratch here, dent there, tear in the upholstery, then they climbed up into the cab, Willie in the driver’s seat on the left hand side and Roger on the traffic side, turned the key and listened to that lazy five and half litre V8 whiz into muscle-bound life.
Willie continued with his notes, ‘fuel gauge not working, indicator running fast –probably a bulb’ and so on.
“All this fuss for fifty-five miles an hour.” Roger said.
“Doesn’t bear thinking about.” Willie agreed.
Gingerly, and very slowly, Willie nudged the ‘thing’ out into the tiny road that came to the back of the garage and headed out of the village.
“I’ll make this a quick one” said Willie as it leaned around every bend
“Good.” Said Roger his seat in the way of the traffic and his eyes shut tight.
A few moments later they returned, notes in hand to sit down with the customer, a fireman, and take as many details as they could possibly get.
“We’ll need to get it underwritten.”
“Underwritten?” the customer queried.
“Yes, describe it to a specialist and get them to pre-buy the vehicle against my description.”
“Shall we give you a ring in a couple of days?”
And so the fireman returned to his depot and Willie got on the phone. Nobody seemed to want it. It was just too much for even the specialists to want to own. Only one showed any glimmer of interest and even then, only if they could place it with someone they thought might want it prior to buying it. The dilemma was a common one. On the one hand there was pressure from all sides to do deals and on the other there was the need for caution and to protect the garage from possible trouble spots. Roger fell in the former camp, wanting his commision, Willie too felt the need for the numbers but also had to adopt that longer view. All were therefore agreed that waiting was the best course.
“I’ll go back to the stronger ones tomorrow and see what I can do.”
When he arrived the next morning he was therefore a little surprised that the last dealer he’d called had phoned back and left a message on the answer-phone. Roger had that look of expectant dog as he watched through the glass around Willie’s office as the latter picked up the phone and started to speak,. From his desk in the showroom he couldn’t hear the words but judged from the tone and the look on Willie’s face that it wasn’t all bad news. He saw the receiver going down and moved to the door, tapped and opened it.
“In a minute. Can you get on to your man and see of we can borrow his pick up truck for the day.”
“Sure. But why?”
“If we can take it up there and do business with their man they’ll just take a turn on the deal.”
And that is exactly how it was set-up. They would borrow the vehicle, take it to a car trading site just off the M11, draw the cash (£2,200) from the customer, pay the site owner fifty quid for his trouble and come back by train. Simple.
“Shall I go?” Asked Roger.
“Mmmmm.” Willie seemed deep in thought. On the one hand he was very busy, on the other, he knew that if this went wrong and the garage ended up in the crapper he’d be the one who got it in the neck. Even more important, he quite fancied a day out.
“No, I’d better. Just in case, and all that.”
“Yeah” said Roger at least twenty years older than Willie “experience and all that”
I’ll probably call in and see my Uncle Freddie while I’m up that way so I’ll take a couple of days leave and go and see him.
To Claire that night he cleared the way.
“You’ll just have to expect me when you see me. He’s got no phone and the nearest telephone box is miles away.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
It is fundamental rule of the motor trade that what can go wrong will go wrong and so Willie was surprised that all of the elements that needed to be pulled together in this massively complicated deal seemed to come together quite nicely. True there was some argy bargy about the date that the vehicle could be ‘spared’ and marrying that with the availability of the customer at the other end, then there was getting the customer at Willie/Roger’s end to understand that he would not be getting his vehicle back and that once it was gone, the deal was done. But it did all come together and it was with a sense of some surprise that Willie found himself climbing the steps into the huge pick-up at nine thirty one morning for his epic journey.
At first his progress was slow – more endless rain - but he found that he did get used to the extraordinary size of the crate he was driving and he even found some pleasure in ‘smoking’ the old thing up to the smoke but it was at the Blackwall tunnel that gave Willie his first real fright and, on leaving it that he got his second.
For those who don’t know this stunning piece of English engineering it is worth pausing and explaining that four lanes of tightly packed un-separated vehicles race towards each other at break-neck speed in narrow corridors delimited only by white lines drawn so close together as to make any lack of complete confidence result in endless terrifying encounters.
In a normal car this would have been bad enough but in two and a half tons of baked bean tin with an over-sexed engine and a sweating driver things were not easy. Lorries seemed to be racing past Willie at an astonishing rate, as though their speed increased by fifty percent as soon as they made the darkness of the tunnel; as though their entire purpose was to intimidate everyone around them; as though they were furious at being in this tube of death and more than anxious to get out; as though the whole world had gone mad. Added to this was Willie’s major problem – not knowing where the headlight-switch was - and suddenly Willie wished that he could be somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Of course that was only the first event that made his hackles rise. Just as he glimpsed the light at the end of the tunnel he realised the real meaning of the expression. The natural illumination that was pushing its fingers towards him seemed to make the lanes broaden and take away some of the pressure that was causing his pores to leak. The pace became calmer, the lorries less frantic and pressing. It was then that the vehicle coughed, spluttered and then cut out altogether.
Desperately rummaging for the hazard lights Willie started to see the main events and questions of his life flashing before him. Had he really been through all that misery at school just to end it here in the exit of a hole? Why did Mandy Jane say ‘not on your nellie’ in the entrance to the metal work classroom after the school disco ten years earlier thus setting back the cleansing of his testosterone by several months. And when his older brother had found an eleven-year old Willie Floggit playing with himself in the bath and had told him that “when you get to big school you’re supposed to do that in the changing rooms after games” did he know just how much trauma he was to cause his sibling in future years?
All these important things paraded past his thinking processes as the vehicle slowed, all of the drivers behind realising that something was up, started flashing their lights, hooting their horns and Willie spotted something akin to a lay-by ahead. All power steering and brake assistance now gone, the flashers finally on, Willie struggled the vehicle into the respite and pulled up on the steering wheel, thrusting down with his adrenalin filled leg on the brake pedal until the truck came to a halt.
Willie pushed the gear lever into neutral and started to crank the engine, fairly quickly the rate of turning slowed and the lights dimmed. Then he noticed the fuel gauge.
If Lady Luck smiles most often on the un-lucky it can surely only be because she gets so many opportunities and as the evening drew its cold cloak around the scene she duly sent some Willie’s way. Or so it appeared.
A large open backed truck, screeched to a halt ahead of Willie and, staring death in face slammed into reverse gear and raced back towards him, tyres smoking in the frantic start and stop of the death defying action. It was a heavy breakdown truck.
A skinny, rather dirty-faced fellow got out of the passenger door and walked back towards Willie.
“Fuel I think.”
“Well you can’t stay here. Where are you headed?”
“A garage just at the beginning of the M11.”
“I’m going that way. Why don’t I hitch you up and take you there?”
“Oh,” he seemed to look to the cloud laden skies for a figure “a tenner?”
“Okay.” Willie fished in his pocket, ten pounds was a lot of money but this was a desperate situation. “I’ll need a receipt.”
“No problem, I’ll write one out when we get there ‘need to get this thing off the road now though.” A lorry roared past hooting loudly “And we need to be quick about it.”
He went back to his truck and operated the rear boom which slowly winched down to the road, then he reversed the truck back until it was a little in front of the pick-up. He attached a cable to the front.
“You get in and steer it up.” Willie did as he’d been bid and slowly the truck was pulled up until the front wheels rested securely in the cradles made for them and were strapped in place.
The rescue driver came back to the window.
“I’ve got a passenger with me I’m afraid so you’ll have to stay in there.”
“Oh. Do you know where we’re going?” he was already walking away ‘Carling Black Label’ thought Willie
“Yeah I do. We’ll be there in about forty minutes, It’s just after the first motorway junction. Relax. Have a kip.”
A moment later they were off. Willie was a bit alarmed at first, being in the driver’s seat and having no control, facing up towards the sky with the back of the towing truck as his only real view and unable to see the obstacles that caused their train to speed up, then to slow down, then to stop or to crawl. Unable to appreciate the cause of the honking of the truck horn that seemed to happen every few minutes and unable to see the driver either directly due to the crane mechanism that was between them or indirectly via mirrors, since they were beyond his line of sight. But gradually tiredness, perhaps through the stress of it all, or the lights that were flashing all around him he did close his eyes and, yes, he did kip.
It was the screaming of a police siren that woke him. He had no idea how long he’d been asleep and the inside of the cab was dark. The police car roared past in the outside lane as Willie’s little convoy pottered along the slow lane.
‘Dual carriageway’ thought Willie ‘must be close to the motorway.’ Then he saw a blue sign up ahead. ‘Ah, we’re on the motorway.’
They drew closer to the sign, ‘J8’ was clearly in view in spite of the dimness of the view that Willie got.
‘No’ thought Willie ‘He’s missed the turning.’
He started to press the horn but the sidelights had now drained the battery completely. He stamped on the brakes and, although it slowed them a little, the rear brakes were not the most effective on the vehicle and they soon started to overheat and smell. Then brake fade set in and they became almost useless. Besides, without servo assistance the pressure required to have any effect at all couldn’t be sustained. Willie started to bang on the windows at the passing cars but no one saw him, and if they did they took no notice.
More open pored panic swept through his system as he perused his options. And then the traffic slowed. ‘As soon as it stops I’ll leap out’ he thought. But then it speeded up again. In the end he realised there was absolutely nothing he could do.
An hour later the Siamese trucks pulled off the motorway. J12, signpost Grantchester and a little lane and a steady twenty miles an hour. The roads grew straight and Romanesque. The convoy slowed then stopped. Willie breathed deeply as the skinny guy got out of the truck and came back. Willie wondered what was going to happen next. Murder perhaps; either him or them. But then he noticed in the moonlight the size of the second guy getting out of the truck in front and realised that it wouldn’t be them being topped and very likely would be him.
“Sorry mate I forgot you were there.”
“Yeah. We got talking and I suppose we’re so used to having something up behind us that we just didn’t notice.”
“Where are we?”
“How far from London?”
“About seventy miles.”
“Yeah. We’d better take you back.”
“If you would please.”
“No problem” Said the bigger one.
“Of course, there’s the petrol.” The skinny one said
“And the time.” The other added.
“Yeah, and there’s two of us. So double time I s’pose.”
“Tell you what, call it a hundred quid and we’ll turn around and go straight back.”
“A hundred quid. I can’t, you can’t……. this is robbery.”
“Steady now.” They both took a half step forwards.
“Alright. Perhaps that’s too strong a word but you must be able to see my point of view.”
“Look we helped you out. If we hadn’t stopped you’d still be there.”
“Probably be dead by now.”
“What price life eh?”
“Look I can’t possibly pay you a hundred pounds.”
The larger one started to undo the straps of the vehicle and the skinny one to operate the winch that lowered the ramp.
“Fifty.” Pleaded Willie.
They continued un-strapping and lowering.
“Tell you what. We’ll come by in the morning and if you’re still here we’ll see what we can do for fifty.”
“It’ll depend on the work load of course.”
The skinny one walked past Willie, opened the door of the pick-up, pulled up the handbrake.
“Okay.” The truck pulled forward and the pick-up stayed still. The truck stopped and the skinny one pulled on the winch and wound up the wheel supports, locked them in place and walked forwards to their truck.
“But you can’t leave me here.”
“Like I said earlier no room I’m afraid. See you in the morning.” He climbed into the cab of the truck waved a goodbye through the window and sputtered off into the darkness.
“Gin and orange” roared Willie, then adding “tart.”
The lights grew dim as the truck disappeared in the distance.
It is often only in times of absolute crisis that the true mettle of a man can be properly measured and judged for its relative strength. In this moment Willie felt the cold sweeping through him, sat on the bumper of the pick-up and shouted at the top of his voice
And then he started to laugh. Not loudly at first but soon enough a roaring belly-laugh that warmed him from top to bottom and left him eventually in tears. Of course as the laughter died the tears remained and he sat, a dejected figure sobbing.
“Am I to be a Villeneuve or a Nelson?” He asked aloud “A Pitt or an Addington.” And found his thoughts remembering the words of his rugby coach. “When everything’s against you do the unexpected, if you’re being attacked everyone will expect you to defend. That’s exactly why it’s at that moment; attacking is your best option.”
He stood. His eyes now more accustomed to the darkness and studied the horizon searching for lights or other signs of life. Naturally, there was none. He moved to the back of the vehicle and looked again. He thought that he could see something in the distance glinting now and then, as though being covered and revealed by the movement of trees in the gentle breeze.
“Yes” he laughed “lights”
He locked the vehicle and set of at a brisk pace heading directly for them.
Of course, heading for lights in a straight line was the only choice open to him; the slightest bend in the road might, after all, obscure them to his sight and leave him hopelessly lost. However, this direct line took him straight across the middle of a field, a very muddy field and, although it was a moonlit night, the clouds scudding across the spring horizon rendered the night mostly completely dark. Shadows and shapes loomed everywhere, brambles tore at his clothes and his brogues were soaking and covered in mud. The field dipped slightly and, momentarily he lost contact with the light. He started to run so that he could regain the line of sight but then fell sloppily into a damp, muddy ditch. He picked himself up and carried on.
“In the face of the enemy we march harder than ever.” He kept repeating aloud as though rallying the troops.
His progress was modest at best and slow would be a more accurate term. A hole that burrowed at his stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Not an uncommon occurrence but with everything that had happened, one he regretted. Fields passed like milestones at the wayside and, eventually he arrived at the tall imposing iron gates that lay between him and the source of the light.
Taking a deep breath he opened the latch and swung one of them open just enough to slip through. Before him lay an ashlar fronted house with tall, small-paned windows beneath stone lintels, and crenellated rooftop above. A pair of heavy looking, iron studded oak doors confronted him atop a wide flight of eight steps. ‘Looks like Dracula’s castle’ he thought as he stepped up, reached for the wrought iron bell pull and tugged. Almost immediately the door swung open, as though someone had been watching his progress up the drive. The figure stood back into the shadows behind the door.
“Good evening” Willie ventured “I wondered if I might….”
“Please enter.” It was a woman’s voice.
Willie stepped forward and hesitated at the threshold.
“use your telephone.”
“There are no telephones. Please enter.” The voice was flat and devoid of expression.
Willie stepped fully inside and the figure, bathed in dark robes shut the door behind him. Now, fully in the soft light of the room Willie turned and saw a nun.
“Guests must meet the Mother before being admitted.”
“Ah, of course.”
“This way please.”
“I didn’t mean to impose upon you.”
“It’s no imposition. All are welcome with the sisters of light.”
“We turn no one away no matter what their state.”
“Yes, sorry about the messy clothes.”
“And the smell. Only just noticed it myself.”
“matter” finished Willie.
He followed the figure as she glided along cold stone corridors to a door at the end where she stopped and knocked. She waited a moment and then opened the door.
The room was large and almost totally devoid of furniture. Just a heavy oak table in the middle with a diminutive figure seated facing away from them. Another nun stood a little way off and to one side. Her hands clasped in front of her. Without turning the seated figure fussed at the papers in front of her and said
“Do we have a guest Sister?”
“Yes Mother Amy.” The other nun moved forward, her hand outstretched
“Sister, will do.”
“Willie Floggit, Sister.”
“Welcome to the Sisters of the Golden Light, Mr Floggit.”
“And how did you come by us?” said the nun facing away from him.
“I saw the light.”
“That’s why most come here.”
“Well, er, no, not that sort of light. It was a light in the window I should think.”
“All light is light Mr Floggit.” She stood, paused and then turned facing Willie for the first time. She stepped forward and walked around him.
“You’re welcome of course. But you’ll have to change. The sisters can wash your things overnight and we can deal with the smell with a bath.”
“We’ll talk more when you’re cleaned and changed.” Then she turned to the sister who had opened the door to Willie “Take him to the baths Sister Agnes, and draw a deep one. I’ll be along presently.”
The Bathing room was as cold as the rest of the place and the line of steel baths each had one tap. Sister Agnes started the tap running.
“And the hot water?” Willie commented “Do you put that in afterwards?”
“There is no hot water. God keeps us warm.”
“Right. And for those of us not used to heavenly heat?”
“God always provides.”
You can put your things here” she said motioning to a stool next to the bath she was running.
“Well, I’m a little shy.”
“There is no room for shyness here, we are all children of the light. All God’s creatures.”
The door swung open and mother Amy and her ‘oppo’ entered.
“Phew.” Said Willie under his breath.
“Not undressed yet Mr Floggit?”
“Er, no Mother, I was waiting for some… privacy. To be alone.”
“No one is alone in the sight of God, Mr Floggit.”
“But” he nodded at Sister Agnes, “she’s a girl.”
“And you’re a man.”
He bent and removed his shoes, then his socks, stood to peel off his jacket, tie, shirt then turned and unbuckled his trousers, unzipped, pushed them down with a definite movement, draped them over the stool and then paused, his thumbs in the elastic of his final fig leaf of modesty.
He pushed them down and off. Then turned and covered his nethers with his clasped hands.
“Sister Agnes will assist. Now, in you get.”
Willie stepped forward, trying to arrange himself so that, bits, were not on display but in getting into the bath something must have slipped into view.
“My, we are a big boy.” The Mother said.
Willie stepped gingerly into the freezing bath. The all-engulfing temperature brought the North Atlantic to mind. ‘Poor bastards in the Titanic’ he thought ‘what a way to go.’ All modesty quickly abandoned him as the sheet of icy water slipped around his teeth-chattering form and, wasting no time he quickly washed. Making as if to get out Mother Amy gazed.
“All areas Mr Floggit.”
Grasping the soap he dipped it into the water and swished around the areas he’d rather be keeping to himself.
“May I get out now mother?” She nodded “Yes.”
Willie quickly rose his arms wrapped around his upper torso, then dipping to the lower part in a pretence at modesty, then giving up and wrapping himself again. The mother nodded to to Sister Agnes.
“A towel for Mr Floggit please sister.”
Sister Agnes was staring at those parts of Willie normally reserved for ladies in the bedroom.
“Yes, not such a big boy now is he Sister?”
Willie looked down. His shock was evident on his face.
“Towel please Sister.”
“Yes Mother Amy.”
Without moving her eyes from Willie’s display the novice moved across the room, bumped into another bath, cursed quietly, removed her eyes, guided herself, then reverted her eyes, grasped the towel and returned navigating by that which not so much hung but rather, popped from Willie’s lower body. As though in a trance she handed him the towel then clasped her hands across her open mouth.
“I don’t think our Sister has seen dangly bits before Mr Floggit. You’ll forgive her interest, I’m sure.”
Willie was shivering Parkinson like as he took the diminutive piece of cloth, more like a face flannel than a towel, and started to rub the life back into his ice ravaged body. The Sister’s gaze was fixed as he stepped out of the bath and rubbed frantically. A habit was produced and, not caring about the nature of the garment Willie slipped it over his head. It stretched down to a little beneath his knees and a little above his ankles.
Extreme cold is a curious thing. The body becomes accustomed to it very quickly and does so by pumping extra blood furiously around the all of the extremities. The slightest warmth suddenly becomes very confusing to the system and makes even cold temperatures seem warm; not knowing what to do with all that extra fluid the body sends it where it can. In the case of a member of the Floggit family this could only mean one thing and the Sister’s gaze became one normally associated with feinting as Willie’s nethers grew to stallion-like proportions under the pressure of nature. The garment rose, Willie caught her stare, looked down, then back up.
He pushed down to suppress things as best he could.
“God gave us these things Mr Floggit.” Commented the Mother
“Precisely.” He pushed harder and thought of Tamara – one of the ugliest forecourt attendants it had ever been his misfortune to employ – tattooed, pierced sweaty, plump; nay -fat. ‘Imagine her naked’ he thought or even kissing past that moustache. But nature was in control and things kept bobbing.
“Perhaps, Sister Agnes, you could accompany our guest to my quarters when he’s finished?”
“Of course Mother Amy.” Dreams inhabited that voice.
Left alone, the sister’s gaze became that of a determined train spotter, peering into the distance to see –for the first time- the “Lady Di’ roar past along the rails through his home-town. In this case though, it was at Willie’s still-thrusting, still expanded middle region.
“Goodness Brother Floggit.”
“Call me Willie.”
“Under the circumstances I think that’s unwise.”
She offered him a tortoiseshell implement, which he dragged through his hair.
“Is there a mirror?”
“No I’m afraid not. They’re not allowed.”
“Oh, I see.” He looked at the sister Agnes’ face in front of him. ‘what on earth’ he wondered ‘could have induced such a creature to hide away in this place? What sadness, disillusion or misery could deprive the world of her?’ Eyes, deep-set and alive in blue brightness like the edge of a shimmering sea. Pale, even skin whose unblemished purity spoke of her perfect diet and rigidly disciplined way of life. Whose soft, full, red lips … ‘What am I thinking’.
“Are you alright Brother?”
“Yes, yes.” He shook himself out of his hypnotic reverie.
“We’d best go and see the Mother.”
After the wait outside came the summons. They entered the room.
“Sit down Brother.”
Willie occupied the chair indicated opposite Mother Amy who sat leaning forward at the table, her eager eyes studying his every move.
“Now Brother Willie. It is the custom of all who enter here seeking our support to allow us to care for their possessions whilst they are here.”
“Are you happy for me to empty your pockets or would you like to do so?”
“No, carry on.”
She produced his jacket and trousers from beneath the line of the table. Wallet, small change, keys, address book, cigarettes, lighter, old train ticket and all the detritus he’d collected and then, - horror in Willie’s eyes as he remembered his outside top pocket and the contents- a condom.
The Mother gave no sign of shock.
“You may leave us.” She said imperiously to Sister Agnes who immediately turned and disappeared.
Mother Amy fixed Willie with an intense stare.
“One can always recognise a fellow spirit Brother.”
“Yes. Now I’d like to discuss one particular item in this collection.”
“Yes, I thought you might.”
“This” she said holding up the packet of fags.”
“Oh” Willie said with a relieved gasp.
She proffered the packet, opened.
“If you don’t mind.” He said taking one.
“Not if you don’t.” she said taking one of the king-sized monsters from the packet. “After all we’re all allowed our weaknesses aren’t we?”
She grasped the tobacco stick between the finger and thumb of each hand and snapped the filter off, tidying it neatly back into the packet.
“Yes we shouldn’t smoke.”
“Not the fag; the filter.” She raised the lighter towards Willie “Light?”
The coil of smoke that wafted lighter than air around their heads spread throughout the room, slowly weaving like a damp morning mist, lifting the mood of both partakers. Mother Amy moved her chair away from the table, settled back against the backrest and swung her legs onto the oaken top, one crossed above the other, her plain, black, simple shoes incongruously small in that manly pose.
“Perfect.” She said as she inhaled deeply, then nodded to Willie “simply perfect.”
“How long will you stay, Brother?”
“Well it depends.” He started to tell his story and, interrupted by no more than a look, realised that not a word of it was being believed.
“Now, Brother,” the mother took over “when you were lost in the fens and amongst the drainage ditches of these flat acres that surround us you lifted your eyes to the horizon and something led you here.”
“Well, yes. It was the light.”
“Seeing the light is how most find us. Few leave.”
“Okay. Sister Matilda will be able to sort it out in the morning, I’m sure.”
“Yes, she services and repairs all the vehicles we have. Several cars, some rotavators, a tractor –quite old now- some grass cutters and things. If she can’t fix it, no-one can.”
An hour later Willie was entering the dining hall with Sister Agnes who led him through the tittering on-lookers to a bench against a long low table. At Mother Amy’s entrance into the room all rose as one.
“We welcome Brother Willie, a traveller on a journey no longer than our own, one whose ever-marching feet have allowed him sight of that which guides us all.” She paused “Please stand Brother, let the room see you.” He stood, slightly downward looking and pink-cheeked “A glimpse” she continued “of that which inspires, feeds and provides all things and as we thank God for our bread for our water and for our shelter we think and pray for all travellers on the road to freedom and beauty.” The prayer went on and Willie drifted into a staring dream. In front of him he saw a large bottle of Grouse, a tumbler, a jug of water and Sister Agnes.
Shaken out of his dream by a tug from the latter, he sat. A plain unglazed bowl, mug and jug in front of him. Sister Agnes picked it up and proffered it.
Things were looking up. “Yes please.”
Home grown, home made, sweet and warming Willie felt his mood soaring and well-being drift through his every muscle.
At the top table Mother Amy sat next to Mother Dorothy, her second in command, their heads inclined towards each other as they regarded Willie and the delightful Sister Agnes.
“She’s besotted, Mother”
“And so, I believe, is he.”
“But what do we know about him?”
“Everything that God has chosen to tell us.” The Mother No2 looked at her superior.
“I admire your faith Mother. But where will he sleep. The rules forbid that he be alone.”
“Why In Sister Agnes’ room of course.”
“But wouldn’t that be playing with fire? I mean just look at them, staring at each other. Think of the temptation Mother. It wouldn’t be fair.”
“Temptation is the cement in the wall of our faith sister dear. Without it we can never withstand the raging winds that attack from without.”
“Of course Mother.”
The food was simple and all grown within the squalid, flat acres of the nunnery, the meade was as alcoholic as any home brew and was now all gone, most of it into the solo brother, who felt his head relaxing with the buzz of the high octane intake.
One of the Sisters produced a small nylon strung guitar and the sisters started to sing as she plucked inadequately at the cat-gut.
“Kumbiah my lord, kumbiah. Mmmmm oh, Kumbiah.”
And then at the end, Willie’s silence now noticed, the guitar was handed to him
“And is there something our traveller would like to perform? Perhaps a poem, or a song?” Asked one of the Mothers from the dais.
Willie thought, then remembered.
“Well, since you ask” he said and took the proffered, battered instrument.
Somewhere from the depths of his teenage years he remembered that Jake Thackray song; Sister Josephine and, unable to expunge it without performance, duly started plucking.
“Oh, Sister Josephine, What do all the Policemen mean,
Coming to the convent in a big limousine,
After Sister Josephine…”
The verses stumbled - with a few misses and some repeats to cover forgotten lyrics, - but the basics were there and the humour was right but not a titter interrupted the silence of the dining hall. Only his voice, and his mead induced giggles. They didn’t even laugh after the
“No-longer will her snores ring through chapel during prayers
Nor her lustful moaning fill the stilly night.
No more empty bottles of alter wine come clanking from her cell,
No longer will the cloister toilet seat stand upright.”
But at the end they applauded and he bowed. The guitar was removed at the nod from Mother Amy and he regained his seat.
Then there were the prayers in a cold chapel afterwards; an hour or more of devotion and silence interrupted by occasional common words uttered among all of those in the room and incomprehensible to Willie. And in that common act Willie reflected upon his day, wondering at how all that had taken place had led him here, to this island of peace in a tumultuous ocean of storms and pirates, and now kneeling next to - the perfect - Sister Agnes he found himself thanking someone, possibly God, for all that had taken place. And then amid the confusion of his waking moments, as the ruffle of habit and rosary and the tug of Sister Agnes’ hand on his arm told that it was time to retire.
A few moments later Willie and Sister Agnes stepped into her tiny cell like room, a cot bed against each wall.
“We’re not allowed to be alone, so my normal companion is in with the sisters next door.”
“I see.” Willie looked about the dimly lit room. “Um,” he offered his hands out in a shrug “which is yours?”
“It doesn’t matter. Will you wash first?”
“Wash.” He looked around and noticed the basin against the far wall. “Yes, of course.” He made his way towards it and stopped.
“You’ll need to disrobe.”
“Disrobe. Yes. Of course.” He looked at her as intently as he felt he could get away with.
“I’ve, I’ve, I’ve, um, I’ve had a bath. Not sure I should risk catching a cold and all that. Er, you go ahead.” He stepped back from the basin and sat on the edge of his saggy cot.
“As you wish.” She stepped forward, as though she had been waiting for this moment like one about to go on stage and, in a single movement removed her habit. Naked, but for some rather baggy knickers Willie had no time to avert his gaze from her nervous paleness and took in the slender beauty of her tiny frame.
“Bollocks.” He muttered, then with all the self-control he could muster turned away and faced the other wall.
“Don’t be embarrassed Brother.”
“It’s not good form to stare.”
“In the world.”
“Oh, out there.”
“Yes out there in that place you live in. Do you know many girls?”
“A few.” He tried to put all thoughts of Claire, his wife, out of his mind. “You know how it is. Girls and chaps.” Then added “Ah, perhaps you don’t.”
“No, I don’t.” She turned away from her washing and faced into the room. “I have no idea.” She stepped forward. Willie felt the movement but remained motionless. Facing the wall with a fixed stare.
“Yes Sister Agnes?”
“How do I compare?”
“You. Well you, you’re, well you’re pure, er, perfect.”
“But what about the way I look. My body?” Willie coughed.
“Well, you compare very well. Sort of, well, very good.”
“How can you know that if you don’t look?”
“I did. I saw earlier.”
“Please turn Brother. Please turn and look at me.”
Willie thought long and very hard, then slowly turned to look at the young tender novice. He made no pretence this time just looked her all the up and then all the way down.
“Oh God, I mean goodness.”
“You’re beautiful. And, I know it is a terrible tautologys but one that is totally justified, you’re absolutely beautiful.”
“Do you mean that?”
“Brother, if I asked you one more small favour, something that only you could do for me, something that may never happen again in my life, what would you say?”
“Naturally I’d try and help.”
“Well would you just lie with me?”
“Lie with you?”
“You know. In bed, together.”
“Yes, yes I know what you mean. Um, is that allowed?”
“I’ve not read any rules that say it isn’t.”
“Well, I’d love to help. Um, here?” He motioned to his cot.
She sat next to him, took his hands and held them in hers in her lap.
“You have no idea of the way in which I feel I am growing, by being here touching a man in this way. To be as God created me in here with you.”
“I’m not sure you can have any idea about how I’m growing either.”
“Would you touch my breast?”
“Well, if you insist.” She drew his hands up to herself and spread them over her pertness. Her eyes closed and her head tilted away from him, nostrils flared slightly.
“And when we lie together” she pushed him back into the cot “will we do that jig?”
“The baby jig. The dance that makes babies, that makes men lose their minds and women lose their status?”
Slowly, his arms encircled her tiny naked waist, pulling her, in the interests of education, onto something bigger than usual. Her sigh was everywhere.
“Brother Floggit. No, Brother Willie” she added grinding back against him.
“Oh Brother” she paused then added “Willie.”
He felt his head spinning with that lust that always lurked not too far beneath his surface The one that always threatened to rise at a moments notice and subside only slowly after the glow of perspiration had been achieved. Then his mind raced through the rooms of the nunnery, to Mother Amy’s room, past the jug of meade and the open-armed welcome, across the cold floors that underwrote the austere honest loneliness of the Sisters of the Holy Light, of their simple food and plain speaking. He could almost smell the purity in her hair.
“Sister Agnes.” His voice troubled.
“Yes?” Hers’ breathless and quiet.
“I’m sorry.” He found his body tensing and stiffening away from her naked form.
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s not something I can do.”
“Oh” her voice fell as though a body off a cliff… “Is it me?” She asked urgently. “I’m not beautiful enough.” Her voice filled with unknowing and wonder.
“It isn’t that. Heavens above” he moved away and looked at the whole of her “look at you. You’re simply, well perfect.”
“What is it then?”
“It’s just that I’m not the person who should be doing this…”
“No-one else will.”
“But that’s not the point. It just shouldn’t be… mustn’t be me.”
“Why not you.”
“I can’t do it with something, someone so pure and so perfect.” He kissed her gently on the lips, rose from the bed and moved to the cot on the other side of the room. Then he turned re-crossed to her side, picked up the blanket and covered her with it.
He settled in his cot, pulled the covers around his chin and felt like crying.
“Bollocks” he whispered inaudibly.
“I think I might love you.”
“Bollocks.” He whispered again.
The night that should have belonged to Sister Agnes’ movement into an outside world, a real environment, into the plunder of Mars versus Venus was spent with each eyeing the other in the pale moonlight and wondering about what might have been. Slowly the spring celebration of birds emerged to wake the pair from their erratic slumber, their fingers ironing their eyelids into openness.
“Brother Floggit?” Agnes said as she stood at the basin, once more nearly naked, washing her curves.
“Yes Sister Agnes?”
“There was a little ice about last night and I nearly slipped. You caught my arm.”
“Yes, yes, I probably did.” Willie reflected on his miserable night adding “and I think it was probably the most stupid thing I have ever done.”
“And thank you for that as well.”
An hour after breakfast found Willie, Mother Amy and Sister Matilda all packed into a tiny 2CV with torn roof and bald tyres, heading down the road to the place where Willie thought the pick up should have been. Keeping up the momentum of his disastrous trip however the spot was bare.
“Are you sure it was here?”
“Yes, absolutely certain.”
Mother Amy surveyed the horizon with an Admiral’s glare.
“The Smith’s I think Matilda.” She said pointing to a ragbag of buildings on the horizon.
The little 2CV swayed around the corners as Sister Matilda -whose understanding of a throttle was clearly based on her experience with farm machinery - thrust her foot to the floor in each gear and revved the little sewing machine to its maximum. Gaining top gear allowed her to swoop round each bend with a fierce lean on the outside.
“Trust in God, Brother Willie” Mother Amy kept saying as Willie hid his eyes behind his hands, the bends moving his swaying form from side to side.
“But God isn’t driving, Mother.”
They approached the farm. A painted steel gate and a dog barking, with caravans, wrecked machinery and rubbish everywhere greeted them.
“Follow me Brother Willie.”
“No, I should go first Mother; that’s a big dog.”
“No dog is bigger than faith Brother.”
“It won’t seem that way when they’re biting you.”
“Watch, brother. Watch.”
Mother Amy left the car and Willie; Nun’s habit far too small on his rugby player’s frame, naked hairy ankles clearly visible beneath; and Sister Matilda got out and did exactly that. The old lady hitched up her habit around her- French knickers dangling into sight- tossed her filter-less cigarette into the gutter, ground it out with a heavy, determined foot, mounted the gate, swinging her legs over it to one side and dropped into the yard on the other. The dogs, heavy-set Doberman’s growled and stood their ground as she walked through. She waived her hand at them. They growled louder, their red lips slobbering across their teeth as they surveyed supper.
A voice boomed from behind. A pair of dog’s arse’s, waggled, paused, then sat in perfect time. Synchronised sitting. Buttocks meeting tarmac. Growls diminishing into whimpers.
A man, who looked exactly like his dogs, dark and heavy set, with aggressive shoulders and blood-searching teeth approached.
“What can I do for you?”
“We’ve come for the pick-up truck.”
“What pick-up truck?”
“The one you kindly rescued from the side of the road for us.”
“You’ve got the wrong people madam. We’ve rescued no pick-up truck.”
“Mr Smith. We not only bless people, but we also curse them. Our prayers are, regrettably not so well developed as our curses, nor as effective but we persist with the prayers but we love the curses. Now which is it to be. A curse or a prayer?”
He looked at his shoes.
“A prayer Mother, A prayer. The pick-up’s over here.”
Willie and Sister Matilda clambered over the gate, slowed passed the dogs, caught the other two up as they rounded the corner of the yard and stopped, Willie’s jaw on the floor and the Sister stifling a giggle.
The Smith’s latest chicken coop may have been made of steel and been ‘rescued’ from the side of the road but that fact did not affect the aim of the chickens, which was singularly fantastic. From near or far, they had hopped up and splattered absolutely every inch of paint.
“Stain it forever that will.” Mother Amy muttered.
“No, nothing a little water and some elbow grease won’t cure. Ah, and a prayer Mother.” Commented Mr Smith.
“Never mind that now. We’d like our property returned to us please.”
“Your property Mother? I had no idea. To be sure, I would have brought it straight round to the Nunnery had I the slightest inkling that it was yours.”
“Well now you do know, so when can I expect you to return it to us?”
“Straight away Mother. Straight away.”
“Good.” She turned to Willie and the sister. “Come. Time to go I think.”
In the 2CV, leaning around a corner and hanging on as though absailing without a harness Willie caught Mother Amy’s eye.
“Spit it out.”
“The thing that’s bothering you.”
“Oh, it’s nothing.”
“Brother. No need to spare my blushes. Spit it out man.”
“Well, it’s just that I thought heard you say that it was your truck.”
“Well that’s not strictly true. You see it’s not even mine.”
“Well it certainly isn’t yours but it certainly will be mine after you sell it to me.”
“Yes brother. It’ll do no end of good for my image.”
“And we can take things around in it.”
“Yes, well we don’t carry many things but if we need to, well, we can.”
“And the price Mother?”
“God will set the price Brother.”
A pause as a particularly sharp bend was negotiated at full speed.
“How what Brother?”
“How will God set the price?”
“He will answer my prayers. I shall pray for the right price and it will come to me.”
“Right. Um, and, er, if the price isn’t right for me?”
“That’s not possible.”
“Of course not Brother dear. God wouldn’t bother giving me a price that wasn’t alright with you now would he? That would never do. How could that ever be described as the ‘right price’?”
“Yes. Yes, I see.” Brows knitted.
The day was drawing to a close by the time they arrived back at the Nunnery. Evening chill spreading its fingers around Willie’s barely protected withers, nursing goose-bumps into life and reminding him of the evening ahead and of the warmth of Sister Agnes.
“Brother Floggit.” Mother Amy said as they clasped their bowls of nettle tea “God has given me guidance.”
“You need to get home.”
“So a part-exchange deal is in order.”
“The De cheveaux.”
“Exactly. Worth a hundred and fifty pounds in your world, I think.”
“Yes, about that.”
“So if I give you that and two thousand and fifty pounds you should be about right.”
“We’ll have a cigarette to celebrate our bit of business.”
They lit up and Willie wondered whether God was into all manner of trading or just car dealing.
Suppered, fully meaded, eyes heavy with the tiredness of honest labour Willie and Sister Agnes retired to their temptation and resisted whilst cuddling each other to sleep. Lithe limbs near hairy calves, innocence and guilt entwined in a delicious, night-long embrace, habit against creeping habit, hand on soft, long hair, calming the unrequited passion in them both.
“I’ll be leaving in the morning.”
“I don’t actually want to go.”
“Is it me or Mother Amy you don’t want to leave?”
“Probably both but this is everything I’ve dreamed of and longed for. It’s happiness.”
“Longing to be exactly where you are.”
“Yes. It is isn’t it?”
In the morning they stole a kiss and watched the other dress. A sort of ‘closing the drawer’ process to say goodbye and put the moments away, like summer clothes going into storage in September.
Mother Amy gave him his clothes and let him dress himself in private, the constriction of his undergarments an oppressive reminder of the nature of his lot, the knot of the tie binding him into his role.
“No need to count it.” She said, handing him a bundle of five pound notes.”
He climbed into the car, wiped his eyes and set off, the figure of Sister Agnes diminishing in his rear-view mirror.
“Go with God and God with you.” He heard the mother shout “Remember, you saw the light and followed it.”
‘I must tell Claire about all of this’ he thought ‘even if it finishes everything’.
Six and a half hours later Willie rolled onto the drive in front of his house. Claire came out to greet him.
“How was Uncle Freddie?”
Telling the truth; he’d be sad but honest: a better person.
But somehow he knew that he would never tell. The inclination defeated by the adventure and the faint hope that things might work out, by the knowledge of Sister Agnes’ unavailability and the longing for a quiet life. The decision was made and as the words emerged he knew he was trapped.
“What’s that?” Pointing to the car.
“I took it in part-exchange.”
“Could you park it round the corner.”
“Somewhere round the corner. Where no-one can see it.”
“Yes. yes of course.”