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Ian, meeting the curate
Now you've met Ian, here he is in a short chapter from The Falcon.
The Jaguar was a relic, but well-preserved, and racing green in that soft vibrancy of old photographs. The man who climbed out of it was its antithesis. The Jaguar was a slim, rattly thing, seeming to vibrate even when he engine was switched off, but the man was broad, thick, all heft, and the car creaked and bucked as he got out of it. He wore a lurid Hawaiian shirt covered in pineapples, cargo shorts and flip flops over which huge knuckly toes protruded. He took a few goes to close the door of the jag, which was creaky and — it seemed — finicky — then stood leaning against the car, grinning. Again, Ian felt the flicker of old photographs: young men grinning by their cars, the car that marked out the passage to true manhood, the manhood of freedom that unraveled with the graunch of the tyres on tarmac.
“Alright?” the man said.
Ian said hello, at little more tersely than he’d meant. Truth told, he had been fretful all morning, cleaning in a frenzy, his fingers now stinging and chemical-dry. The man standing by the ancient Jaguar was the curate he’d known Bishop Frank was going to send, though he had held it off as long as he could, taking advantage of Frank’s penchant for distraction the moment anybody turned the conversation to Frank’s achievements. Frank was, like all true egotists, utterly convinced of his own humility. But ultimately too many reports reached Frank of ‘strain’, ‘workload’ and ‘well-being’ from — Ian assumed — his parishioners, though he’d done his level best to convince them otherwise. You need a little help, lad, Frank had said, just a little.
And so, Frank had sent the curate, who was now grinning at him from beside this ridiculous car.
Ian must have been looking at the car more intently than he’d realised, because the curate said, “This is Lesley.”
“Lesley. The car.” The curate patted the bonnet. “I called her Lesley.”
Ian felt his throat tighten. “Why?”
The curate chuckled. “You know, you’re not the first person to ask me that. And I don’t know. It just came to me. I saw her and I thought, You’re Lesley. And she’s done me right so far, as old as she is.” He nudged the front tyre affectionately.
“Lesley was my mother’s name.”
“Oh, aye? Well, then.”
The two men looked at each other a moment. Ian took in his square head, the big blue eyes, the cropped shock of fashionable hair, short back and sides. Everything about the man seemed to say Rugby. His hands in particular were huge; Ian imagined them, momentarily, clutching his entire head before crushing it like a watermelon.
The curate stuck out his hand, breaking the silence. “I’m Neil,” he said. His accent was unmistakably Yorkshire, warm and friendly, and so disarming that Ian felt even more on his guard than before he’d met the man.
Ian took Neil’s hand. It was warm and made his feel small and effeminate.
“What’s the plan, then?” Neil said, walking around to the boot and wrenching it open. Like the rest of the car, it responded with creaks and groans.
“Aye. Getting my stuff in, getting acquainted, acclimated. All that jazz.”
“I’ve a room ready for you.”
“Grand.” Neil now had closed the boot and was standing next to Ian, holding a big old grey suitcase.
“You have more, I assume?” Ian said, motioning towards the suitcase.
“Ha. No, not me. Travel light. Always have done, you see.”
Ian led the curate into the Presbytery hallway and straight up the stairs. He stopped at the entrance to the smallest bedroom — a box room, really. It was furnished in spartan fashion, which is to say that it wasn’t really furnished at all, save for a cot-like bed and small chest of drawers that gave the room the feel of a monk’s cell or a barracks.
“This me, is it?”
“Yes. This is your room. The bathroom is just over there,” Ian said, pointing down the landing. “It’s next to my room.” Ian noticed then that he had left his own bedroom door open, and recoiled slightly. The curate could see into the room, which was the master bedroom, and its plush, silken bedspread and wide windows. The contrast between the two rooms upset him in a way he wasn’t quite sure how to parse; he also hated the idea of anyone seeing inside the privacy of his bedroom. If the curate thought anything of any of this, he didn’t say: he was already unpacking, lifting a few huge pairs of boxer shorts out of the suitcase and chucking them into the top drawer.
“I’m sure you’ll be right at home soon,” Ian said.
“Oh aye,” not breaking from his unpacking.
“I’ll leave you to it, then.”
“Grand. Oh — any chance of a brew? Gasping.”
The big blue eyes rested on Ian, seemed to take him in. Ian pulled his own away from them, noticing for the first time the bottom end of a tattoo on the curate’s upper right arm. The bottom of a crucifix.
“Brew? Tea, you mean?”
“Ha, yup. No rush, though. I’ll be down in no time.”
Ian made the tea, deciding to leave it on the kitchen counter. The curate had said he’d come to get it; sure enough, after a few minutes, he could hear the huge feet rumbling down the stairs. Ian by this point was drinking his own tea in the living room, flipping absently through a book on Salvador Dali, one of several art-related books he kept on the coffee table. Light blared through the windows, though Ian felt strangely cold.
The big man appeared in the doorway, almost filling the space like an action figure in its box. “Brew?”
“It’s in the kitchen.”
The curate bustled past.
He called from the kitchen: “Where abouts?”
“On the side?”
More stomping. Then: “Nope, can’t see it.”
“By the kettle.”
“God, you know what, I just can’t see it.”
Ian waited, listening to the ways in which the big man seemed to be reshaping the very fabric of this whole house already. He clutched his mug.
Then: a clatter and smash from the kitchen.”
“Bollocks! Ah, Neil, you clumsy, you clumsy bastard!” This last was delivered with a roaring chuckle. “Oh, you’ve done it again, haven’t you. Crash bang wallop. What are you like. What. Are. You. Like!”
Ian stared at the silence, and the silence stared back. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. “Everything all right in there?”
“Oh, aye. This cup’s a big worse for wear, though. And … have you got a mop. God, this bloody brew’s good everywhere!”
The man was howling with laughter. Ian couldn’t reconcile the situation with the reaction, frozen to his seat in a state of pure cognitive dissonance. Then, it clicked and he jumped up.
“How did you … I mean, how did you even …?”
The kettle had been upended, somehow; the shattered mug lay in pieces; the floor and walls were coloured in Pollock-like spatters of tea. In the midst of it all, a huge man was on his knees, scooping tiny fragments of mug into his huge hands, shaking with laughter. The kitchen seemed to laugh with him, and Ian felt betrayed by it, furious with it, in fact.
Later, once all had been cleaned up and the laughter had subsided, Ian and the curate sat in the living room. Neil noticed the open Dali book and pointed to the blue painting.
Ian looked. It was Room of Chaos.
He looked at the curate and allowed himself the privilege of a dramatic pause. “Chaos,” he said.