Chapter 1: An unexpected visit
The man, in spite of his stature, moved with the grace and the economy of movement of a cat. Even though this spring day was relatively warm, he wore a black jacket and slacks and a black shirt with a starched roman collar. He was a good 183 cm tall, possibly a little more, with broad square shoulders and hands the size of ping-pong paddles. Altogether, he looked like a defensive linesman; a tank, like they say back home.
He had left his car on the outskirts of the village and was coming down the main road on foot. While walking, his arms were still and slightly outstretched, his eyes shot from left to right and back to the left, as if on the look-out for a trap or an ambush. Coming up even with the small Presbyterian church, he stopped and did a full 360, looking all about. With an unconscious, almost automatic gesture, he brought his hand to his right eye and his fingers traced the long, ugly scar just above his eyebrow. He hesitated an instant more and then walked up to the white clapboarded structure. Climbing the steps, he tried the door but was totally unsurprised to find it locked.
Standing in front of the door, he heard the sound of a shovel striking a rock coming from behind the church and made his way down the wheelchair ramp, sidestepped the handrail and walked down the length of the church towards the back. At the corner of the building, he froze – there, in front of him, was a sort of community garden with beds encircled by heavily creosoted two-by-eights. The sound he had heard had been made by a couple in their late sixties who were working one of the beds without a single stitch of clothing between them. He was slowly backing up out of sight when the man looked up.
“Yes? May I help you,” he asked.
“Excuse me,” said the man in the roman collar. “I did not want to disturb you.”
“No, no ... come closer. You are not disturbing us in the least.”
“But ... you’re ... your...”
“Our outfits? We are labouring in the garden of the Lord in the outfits he granted us.” He started to laugh. “Besides which, these outfits are way easier to clean than anything else we might wear.” The old man handed his shovel to his wife, wiped his hands on his buttocks and came closer, his hand stretched out to greet his visitor.
“Good afternoon. My name is James Athelstone, I’m the pastor here and this is my wife, Sarah.”
“Er ... hello,” said the man while shaking the pastor’s hand. “My name is Richard Poirier, I’m the new parish priest at St. Ignatius.”
“Really? Excellent. I’m really pleased to meet you. If you would give me five minutes to clean up a bit, we could settle much more comfortably in the presbytery.”
While Sarah picked up the empty flowerpots and placed in the garden cart to haul them all to the shed, Reverend Athelstone gathered up pick and shovel and carried these off to the shed as well. He was in the process of rinsing himself off in the outdoor shower when a young lady barged in from around the church and stopped in front of him.
“Reverend...” she started to say but he interrupted her.
“Tut, tut, Missy, where are your manners? Aelwen, I would like you to meet Father Richard Poirier. Father, this is Miss Aelwen Owen. I guess that, technically, she would be one of your parishioners.”
While Reverend Athelstone was making the presentations, Father Poirier looked over the nineteen year old young lady. She was tall and thin with flaming red hair and freckles all over her face, her throat and her arms. She was wearing a pair of skin-tight stretch jeans and a tee-shirt three sizes too large with, on the front, the logo of a circle with a red diagonal covering a drawing of a naked bottom and the words ‘Happiness is no tan lines’. What surprised him most of all however, is that the girl was neither surprised nor shocked to see that the Reverend was totally naked.
“Excuse me, Father. I meant no disrespect.”
Father Poirier waved the apology aside. “Good afternoon ... Aelwen? A rather unusual name, isn’t it?”
“I should think so,” laughed the girl. “You’ll never guess how much I was teased about it when I was young. It’s supposed to mean ‘fair browed’. My parents always said that they wanted to give me a traditional Welsh name but, personally, I’m convinced they were tripping on ‘The Lord of the Rings’ when I was born,” she explained with a smile.
While the two were talking, Reverend Athelstone finished his shower and dried himself off. “Now, Missy, what was it that was so urgent?”
Aelwen looked lost for an instant. “Er ... Oh, yeah! I met Kenzie a while ago. She was checking out if her apple trees were flowering well this spring. She asked me to tell you that Skinflint had finished putting up his stable and he’d like you to come around and give it your blessing when you have a moment.”
“Very well, thank you. If you see her before I do, please tell her that, in all likelihood, I’ll be by tomorrow afternoon. Say, it should be close to five o’clock, no? Shouldn’t you be on duty this evening?”
“Yes, that’s true. That’s where I was going. I only stopped here because I knew that Sarah had bought some tomato plants at the garden centre. I’ll leave you to it, Reverend, Father. If you stop by the inn, I’ll buy you supper,” said she and started to laugh.
Reverend Athelstone laughed as well and said “Come, off with you, you little minx, get to work,” while Father Poirier looked at them both, completely at a loss.
“I don’t understand.”
“The inn is a bit unusual. It’s built in the style of an English public house of the late eighteenth century. The pub sells mostly what it has brewed itself. The meals are excellent and the kitchen uses locally grown produce and while the choice is somewhat limited, it charges next to nothing. What is special about the inn, however, is that the owner has some rather definite ideas about proper attire; in order to be served, you must be naked.”
The dialogue in this story is in a combination of French and English, much like the way it is spoken in that region of the country. For the ease of English readers, it has been wholly rendered into English.
Chapter 2: The testament
“Er ... say again, please? I’m sure I did not understand you correctly.”
“Oh, yes, you did,” answered the Reverend with a large smile. “Come, I’ll tell you all about it. You will stay for tea ... or would you rather have something else?”
In the meantime, they arrived at the presbytery door and the men stepped aside to let Sarah enter first.
“James, I’ll put the water on the boil and I’ll go upstairs to slip something on. I believe that Father Poirier will feel more comfortable if I do,” said she with a smile in the corner of her eye.
“Oh, no, don’t go to any trouble for my sake. If you’re comfortable the way you are, stay – you are, after all, within your own home.”
Sarah shot him a quick, but piercing, glance and smiled. “No, this time, I’ll get dressed. The next time ... you never know.”
“As for me,” said the Reverend, “if you’ll allow me, I’ll stay the way I am.” He picked up a bath towel, spread it out on his easy chair and sat down. “It had become a habit in Brazil and, in spite of the twenty-five years we spent here, when all the upset arrived two years ago, old habits quickly resurfaced and I find that I can no longer go back.”
“Oh, that is quite the story but let us wait for Sarah to come back down. It’s a story better told over a cup of tea.”
“Exactly,” said Sarah from the doorway. “I was just going to ask what you would like, Father.” She had put on a simple but attractive dress. “We have tea, we have coffee ... as for cold drinks, we have water, obviously, we have orange juice and we have lemonade. Should you care for a beer, I can hop over across the street and pick up a couple of bottles from the inn.”
“No, thank you, tea will be just perfect.” A few seconds later, she came back with a tea service and a small plate of biscuits on a tray. “Do you care for sugar, milk or lemon?”
“Just straight up will be fine, thank you.”
After Sarah had distributed the teacups, everyone settled down on the couches around the coffee table,
“So, tell me, what are you doing here out in the sticks,” asked Reverend Athelstone. “You said that you were the new parish priest at St. Ignatius. The last news I have from that parish is that Father Langostina died last autumn. As a matter of fact, I officiated at his burial at the request of several of the villagers. It was an honor for me to do so but I was surprised that there had been no follow-up from the diocese.”
“Well, to be honest,” said Father Poirier a bit shamefacedly, “we only found out about it recently.”
“Yes. From what I’ve been told, Father Langostina was a bit of an independent sort. He took care of everything himself and, every year, he would send in his balance sheet to the diocese but other than that, he kept strictly to himself.” Father Poirier laughed. “One could say that, just like the pressure-cookers with the same name, that Father Langostina kept a tight lid on things.”
.... There is more of this story ...