It’s the first of January 2014.
Gary is up first. He doesn’t need to be or to be up as early as this: six thirty. His first plan of action is to make two poached eggs on toast for Tracey; then to wash up. This is all part of Gary’s tactics in trying to get a routine going now that he doesn’t have to get up to go to work anymore.
Tracey has her own way of going. She makes homemade bread and prepares evening meals for them both; only vegetarian meals. It’s going to be vegetable goulash tonight. She likes to have her favourite LP by the Zenders playing in the background while she does her jobs. Yes, they still have their old record player that Gary bought for her in the seventies. While Tracey was preparing the goulash, Gary had a wash and a shave. Then he hovered about Tracey as he usually did, getting under her feet, until lunch time. Lunch was butter-nut squash soup, bread and pâté surprise sandwiches. The surprise being that there wasn’t any pâté in the sandwiches. That was just one of Tracey and Gary’s little jokes that gave them such a chuckle.
After lunch both of them sat to watch television. The programme was one of those, escape, career change ones about a couple who’d had enough of it all and wanted to drop everything and go somewhere else. Gary and Tracey couldn’t understand the point really. They’d never wanted to change anything about their lives. Because the point of the programmes like that didn’t mean anything to her, Tracey always treated the watching of them as one of her relaxing times. God knows she needed them because, as right now, Gary couldn’t settle for long, breaking, no, shattering Tracey’s planned relaxation by suggesting they go for a New Year’s Day walk. Tracey knew that Gary wouldn’t be satisfied until she’d agreed to get up from her programme. So, she did. They togged up and went.
Not long into their walk Tracey and Gary met Freda Longmire, her sister and brother-in-law on the top path to the church. Freda noticed Gary’s boots but agreed that they gave good support. Then they exchanged goodbyes. Gary and Tracey continued on their way. Knowing they would pass the churchyard, Gary checked the church door to see that it was securely locked. It was. They’d had a gripping drama last week. Gary was a hero. He’d gone to the church to fulfil his cleaning rota obligation. It was his turn that day. As he came close to the church door, which should have been locked, he heard a loud, persistent banging noise. Thinking it was someone doing some maintenance work in the church, he went in smiling; expecting to greet whoever was doing the work. There’d been a lot of fundraising to pay for repairs. Now, at last, it was happening. What a happy thing. But that wasn’t it.
Finding the door unexpectedly somehow stiff and jammed, Gary pushed hard and it gave way to let him in. He was about to joke about it as he went in, to whoever was doing the building work when he pulled up short at what he saw. He could have believed what he saw if it had made sense to him. But, there was a man standing, about to again, smash a long handled sledge hammer into an already sizeable hole at the side of the church’s, now defunct, never used, donation box in that thirteenth century church’s wall. Gary was not silly enough to think it any sense to react in an outraged high temper. The man had that sledgehammer for one thing. The other thing might be was that the man might be deranged, a reasonable assumption as people don’t normally attack church walls with a sledgehammer; do they? Rob a church. That sought of thing. Any of that would suggest that there could be danger here for Gary if he didn’t handle it right.
Gary surprised himself. He had a sudden flash of inspiration that would let him and this man relax until Gary could see one or think of a way to get the man into a situation where Gary could get help with him. Gary was gobsmacked when this man himself provided, in a sense, a doorway.
“Oh, hello” the man said “I was passing by the church when I heard a lot of banging. By the time I got in to see what was going on, whoever it was had run away. I found this hammer here. It looks like they were trying to get into the safe.” The sun suddenly shone in Gary’s heart at that. He immediately knew how to play it next.
“Wow”, he said, “That was lucky. Thank you. You could have been hurt.”
“Oh, that’s alright” offered the perpetrator, “I’ll be off then.”
Now Gary was panicking slightly. How was he going to keep the man here so that the police could see him? Oh, yes. “It was a brilliant thing you just did. Stopping them like that. Our church wall would have been in a horrendous state if you hadn’t disturbed them. Don’t rush off. The vicar’s wife is in the vicarage. I know she’d like to thank you for what you’ve done. Give you a cup of tea; something to eat. She’s just here. The vicarage is just by the church gate.” Gary could feel this opportunity slipping away from him. The man only had to say no. Gary wasn’t sure that he knew what to do then if he did. Mercy!
This man who looked like he didn’t have a place of abode; like a wanderer then said, “Well, yes. Okay. I’d like that.” Gary was elated. He told himself not to show it too much in case the man got suspicious and found a reason to change his mind and flee. But he was over the moon at this blessed turn of events. So, now, this is where they were: waiting at the vicarage door while Gary knocked and rang the bell hoping, quite desperately, that indeed, the vicar’s wife was there for him. It seemed ages before anyone came to the door in answer to Gary’s knock and ring. His mild panic began to surface again. But it was alright. Mary, the vicars’ wife was in. Added to that, so was the vicar. He was standing in their hall while his wife opened the door.
Gary felt that he had to set up the scenario as quickly as possible and in a way so that he could convey the true story while telling the story the man gave him. So to reassure the man, that his lie hadn’t been discovered and he wouldn’t then panic and run away before the police could get there. Gary made sure that he spoke first. “Hello, Mrs Broad. Sorry to bother you but this man here came into the church just in time to stop burglars smashing the church wall around the safe.” Gary hoped that by telling that incredible story; the way he paused and emphasised certain words while telling it would give the vicar and his wife a heads to consider that it wasn’t the true story. It was convenient of the man to have stepped a little to stand closer to the doorway than Gary. In effect, the man had blind-sighted himself to what Gary was doing. This was only slightly so though; as Gary was fully aware. It was enough though to allow Gary to intermittently pantomime holding an imaginary phone up to his ear while saying the word, police, silently and slowly to convey the urgent and important requirement of his vicarage conspirators that they phone the police as soon as possible.
Gary was reassured that his covert message had been understood when he saw the vicar go out of sight further into the house. “So,” said Gary as a prompt for keeping everybody’s conspiracies going, “I’ve said to our friend here that you’d give him a cup of tea for helping us, Mrs Board.” Gary leant forward to suggest going forward into the vicarage while he said that. He was glad to see that the vicar’s wife understood what he was meaning by that; invited him and the man inside. It had happened quickly. The vicar picked a safe moment when the man wasn’t paying attention to him, to pointedly nod to Gary that it was done. The police were on their way to them. The vicar was obviously content with the way things stood then because he said, “Thanks, Gary. We’ll have a nice cup of tea with our new friend. You don’t need to stay. See you tonight at choir practice.”
Gary acted, because he couldn’t actually say the question out loud without the man hearing him; will you be alright? Are you sure?” Again, pointedly, the vicar nodded his affirmation that they would be alright. This allowed Gary to leave them and go to do what he meant to do before all of this happened: to take his turn at cleaning their church. Time was getting on by then.
And, of course, that was then; but not now. Now, after checking the church door this week later Gary rejoined Tracey for their walk as the church door was okay this time he’d decided to checked it. Their walk took them down past the paper mill near their church; through fields; some them with new saplings growing in them. This was Forestry Commission land. Tracey spotted that all of the saplings had labels on them. Those labels told her that the little trees were Sweet Chestnuts, Bird Cherries; Wild Cherries and Chestnuts.
(c) Adrian Regis 2014