Pastoral by Andre Alexis

Book: Pastoral by Andre Alexis Read Free Book Online
Authors: Andre Alexis
father died at sixty-three, as did his father, as did his father
before him. Ten generations of Williams men have died within weeks of turning
sixty-three. I’ve had a good life. I’m not unhappy and I haven’t left anyone behind me to die like this.
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ I know all that, said Heath. But maybe death isn’t as predictable as you think.
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ Every year winter comes and every year we’re shocked when it snows and people forget to put on their snow tires and
someone falls through the ice. No one knows the exact hour of winter, but it
always comes somewhere round the same time.
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ Hmm, said Heath.
    Â Â Â Â Â They had been having this same argument for years. Lowther was convinced he
could feel death’s approach, while Heath was dubious anything clear could be known where death
was concerned. Each had been influenced by the other’s position, but only a little. There was now in Lowther’s mind a small doubt, a niggling sense that, after all, humans cannot know about
these things. So, how could he be certain when his end would come? Meanwhile,
over time, Heath had begun almost to accept that Lowther knew what he was
talking about. He had begun to accept that the collection of atoms called
Lowther Williams would dissipate and decay in Lowther’s sixty-fourth year. In fact, it was for this reason Heath hadn’t minded deceiving Father Pennant. Though the holographic moths and their trip
switches had cost him a fortune, it had been something for the two friends to
do together, something very like the pranks they had pulled when they were
twelve but with a higher purpose: Lowther, convinced he would die soon, wanted
to know – to truly know – the man who would administer his last rites, who would pray over him, who would
shepherd him into the next world. Heath didn’t understand why this was important. He himself didn’t care who or what was around when his own spirit left its casing. He didn’t believe in a ‘next world.’ But it mattered to Lowther – his closest friend – and so it mattered to him.
    Â Â Â Â Â The day outside Heath’s kitchen window hemmed and hawed: a lawn mower here, a passing car there,
barely a moment’s silence. There were wispy clouds and the air was warm. For a moment, the
outside smelled of toast and honey, while inside there was the odour of bleach
and coffee.
    Â Â Â Â Â Lowther too was thinking of the days spent with Heath when they were boys, of
the things they had done as children. Hard to believe Heath’s mother had ever forgiven them for the time when they’d caused her hair to fall out. But she had forgiven them and had spoken of it
with amusement until her dying day. But that is the kind of woman Mrs. Lambert
was. She could no more have held such a thing against them than they could have
done anything but regret it afterwards. And that is what he wanted to know
about Father Pennant: what kind  of man was he? The incident with the moths had been a success. It had brought
something out of Father Pennant: his discretion and tact. Good qualities, both.
But Lowther wanted to know a little more. He wanted to catch a glimpse of
something more deeply hidden. He wanted to know the far corners of Father
Pennant’s being because, in the end, he needed to know that Father Pennant was the right
shepherd for him.
    Â Â Â Â Â In Lowther’s imagining, his own death – for which he was wholly prepared – took place in a room with an accommodating bed, a sun-brightened window, the
sky blue, the last voice heard that of a good man who appreciated the
accomplishment of death. As he listened to the clinkety-clink the cup made as
Heath put it down on a saucer, Lowther tried to imagine Father Pennant at
Petersen’s gravel pit. Would Father Pennant catch Mayor Fox at the

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