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The Bishop of Barington - whose name was Robert Stephens - had not been having a good day...
However, in this case for once his day wasn't halfway down the pan already at halfway past two in the afternoon on account of the ever-inventive moral morasses into which his parishioners were continually (as well as willingly, adventurously, and he suspected altogether on-purposely) flinging themselves. It wasn't because divorces were up, or because attendance was down, nor even because in either instance ever-growing hordes of queers clamoured at his office door daily, demanding to be allowed to openly engage in both.
That it was happening on the premises of the already crumbling austere dreck he’d been sworn to oversee - which overseers' duties had once involved keeping anything like queers well away, at least until it was time for choir practice - today bothered him not one whit, and anyway even on a bad day would have bothered him far less than the fact that he was being encouraged to condone it all with a sincere smile and open arms - and it wasn't even that development peeving him today. Not was it in consideration of the cuddly-wuddly new pro-diversity Anglicanism which had appeared seemingly overnight - replacing the one that once condoned cardigans rather than condoms to protect people from the ravages of sex, and compelled its prelates and laymen alike to encourage the utmost conformity with a menacingly arched eyebrow and that variety of supercilious classism which thrives best in a bloodless rut of bake sales, garden fetes, and strawberry teas.
It wasn't even because the world he’d once known - the selfsame world he’d been repeatedly assured as a boy would last forever - had gone up the spout seemingly all of a sudden and forgotten to take him with it, leaving him stranded here with the flotsam - or was he jetsam? - as if by some great cosmic hosepipe ban. No, for the first time in a long time it wasn't any part of his vocation giving his cassock a discomfiting twist, but rather his avocation...
You see, owing to a flare-up of the gout he’d suffered during his lunch he'd not only failed to appreciate a rather fine toad-in-the-hole - made with fried bread and chased with a rather finer half pint of port - he'd shot seven over par and in doing so lost fifty quid to Rabbi Cohen on the back nine of the Barington Country Club.
Yet only a quarter of a century earlier such a thing would have been impossible; not because the Bishop had been a better golfer then, but because the Rabbi wouldn’t have been allowed on the property to play, thanks to the abundance of Christian sentiment then afoot in the country (and especially in its clubhouses) towards those Hebraically inclined, melanin-gifted, light in the loafers, or otherwise disquieting enough to the Establishment (of which he was a proud and dutiful member) to be discouraged from participating in society in the strongest possible terms.
Returning to his office that afternoon - to a job which had once seemed like a calling, but which lately seemed more like it was yelling at him - Stephens saw one of his most plodding vicars (whose name he could never make himself remember) seated in the outer office next to a pretty if plump bit of nice he was sure he’d never seen before (since he’d have remembered her if he'd had, his taste rather running to pretty if plump, despite his coarse if brittle wife). Another woman - a shrill, rather nattering, Women's Institute type whose name he’d never bothered to learn to save himself the trouble of forgetting it, although she was one of his wife's best friends - sat across from the vicar (what was his bloody name?) looking about four times better and five years younger than the last time he’d seen her, six days ago in church.
Another man sat next to her, intently picking pills of lint from a wool blazer which disconcertingly seemed to be made entirely of that fluffy mouse-gray stuff he’d often seen in the wastepaper basket next to his fishing gear, which itself was kept next to the clothes drying whatsit of which his wife seemed so inordinately proud, so much time did she spend with it.
Evidently, according to their various body languages - in and of themselves a veritable United Nations of postures and poses, communicating as readily as the expression on his secretary’s face that it hadn’t exactly been a friendly one before he’d gotten there - the bishop’s arrival had cut short a conversation, one whose mood wasn't likely to improve with his cooperation either. In fact, no one’s face wore a ‘glad to see you’ look this afternoon, including his own, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the conversation - or his day - at all.
‘I’ll be with you in a moment,’ he mumbled in what he hoped was a friendly, though not overly friendly, way - a technique he’d picked up in the several years he served as a vicar in Epsom, which had been a punishment for something he’d done in Kew, which had nevertheless been so memorable it would have been worth several years in Hackney. Shifting his golf bag from his arthritic right shoulder to his ‘never quite right since he separated it thirty years ago in the National Service’ left shoulder, no sooner had his hand groped at the comforting brass door knob than Miss Reed’s voice bagpiped up.
‘I dinna think ye’ll be wanting to go in there, sir,’ she said, her every syllable seemingly as freighted with meaning as it was drenched in brogue; it was the kind of voice that put him in mind of his other avocation - a decanter of which was waiting in his desk on the other side of this door. And truth be told, he didn’t want to go in there either, except in pursuit of that decanter (or, more accurately, its contents); on a day like this - when the sun was high in the sky and the air was warm and sweet as a lassie's breath on his neck - he’d rather be anywhere than going in there, but since in there was the nearest mouthful (or five) of Scotch he did, in fact, want to go in there just for a moment, and said so, rather too emphatically.
Actually, all he said was ‘Nonsense’. Still, his ‘nonsense’ carried more weight than Dara O’Briain combined, especially where Miss Reed was concerned. Without any further consideration he gave the knob the kind of good Tory twist any knob deserved (or indeed, was capable of) opened the door, and went into his office anyway; for emphasis, after he'd transited it, he even gave the door a wee slam.
Once on its other side - its cool, dark, friendly side - he grumbled a few indistinct curses before (or perhaps in anticipation of) slinging the golf bag off his shoulder and onto the floor, where it landed with a gratifying clatter, which clatter mainly gratified him because he knew Miss Reed had heard it, and was now eagerly perched on the edge of her ergonomic chair, fairly tingling to come in after him and pick it up. He rested a moment with his sun-scorched forehead against the cool maple veneer of his office door before lumbering across the gloomy room to the armoire wherein was stocked gin, vodka, and rum (both light and dark), in addition to brandy, port, claret, sherry, and the current object of his affections - an artisanal Scotch he’d picked up on his last trip to St. Andrew’s.
Pouring four fingers of the coppery liquor into a heavy tumbler he briefly considered putting the glassful back in the cabinet and taking the bottle to his desk; unlike a Cabinet minister, though, he was able to restrain himself and therefore swallowed the contents of the glass whole before replicating it and crossing to his desk. There he removed his jacket and shoes, taking little sips as he did, more like kisses than sips; then he swung his tired legs up onto the desk and reclined back into the comforting embrace of his leather wingback swivel chair, hoping to rest for a moment before the hullabaloo - which was once again heating up in his outer office - went supernova in here as well. It was through half-closed eyes - through the Scottish liquid and the Irish glass which contained it and past his own English feet - that he then noticed five tall blue men seated on the sofa opposite him.
‘Sweet Jesus,’ he said.
To which one of the aliens replied (utterly without cheek): ‘That’s what we’ve been led to believe.' He raised a paperback novel, flipped a few pages then scanned a few lines, and read: 'I believe it's called 'intercession'...' Here he lowered his book jerkily while raising his face fluidly, and aimed his grey eyes lambently, even limpidly, at the still-startled cleric. 'We were hoping you could speak to him for us. Put in a good word, y’know?’ All of it impeccably posh, save for the final word, which had a dangerously American ring to it.
Not bothering to take another sip but rather setting the glass down, he likewise lowered his feet until they came to rest on the thick Turkey rug spread beneath his desk; then he pressed the button on his phone that he well knew connected it to a similar one on his secretary’s desk. ‘I guess you can send everyone in now,’ is all he said before his face sank into his hands and his two handsful of face sank onto a desktop blotter stained with what anyone but him would have admitted was tears.
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