Pastoral

Pastoral by Andre Alexis Page B

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Authors: Andre Alexis
water walk charming, he was now frankly
frightened by it.
    Â Â Â Â Â As the man approached, Father Pennant recognized George Fox, the mayor of
Barrow. Mr. Fox was not speaking English, nor was he paying the least attention
to Father Pennant. He looked only before him, enraptured, speaking in tongues:
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ Mose hsaou ne eeaui aoe meu ne loox an matu uie matu og easui …
    Â Â Â Â Â Hearing these sounds and believing that Fox was possessed, Father Pennant fell
to his knees and began to pray. He was in the presence of the diabolical. He
knew it. He closed his eyes and said his prayers as loudly as he dared. He was
not a timorous man, far from it, but he was terrified to be in the presence of
Satan.
    Â Â Â Â Â He felt a hand on his shoulder and the touch was like fire, despite his wet
clothes.
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ Father Pennant? Are you all right?
    Â Â Â Â Â Opening his eyes, Father Pennant saw George Fox looking down at him. Fox had a
broad face in which his small, brown eyes were set. His forehead was speckled
by freckles. He was mostly bald and his breath was abominable, like sour milk
and rotting chicken skin. Above Fox, the sun ignited a small cloud.
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ Get thee behind me, Satan, said Father Pennant. I cannot be tempted.
    Â Â Â Â Â Mr. Fox stood up straight, immediately defensive.
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ That’s pretty unfair, he said. I’m a politician, so maybe you’ve heard people say some bad things about me. But I’m as God-fearing as the next man. I may not be Catholic, but that doesn’t give you the right to insult me.
    Â Â Â Â Â Mayor Fox walked away with all the outrage he could muster – very little, as it happened, because he was a generous and warm-hearted man.
Not that Father Pennant noticed the mayor’s attempt at outrage. He was too busy praying, reciting the psalm he loved best
( As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O
Lord … ) over and over, until he felt calm enough to stand. Only then did he look up
and take stock of the situation. He was alone, shoeless, wet, his clothes
covered with grit. It seemed to him that he had seen the devil disguised as
Mayor Fox. And Satan, unlike the gypsy moths, was  a mystery, as miraculous as loaves and fishes, water and wine. Father Pennant
had encountered the Lord of the Flies, and his faith, which had wavered of
late, was fully restored.
    Â Â Â Â Â He shivered as he walked the miles back to town, his feet punished by the
stones at the side of the road.
    Â Â Â Â Â That evening Father Pennant was still too upset to do his duties, too shaken to
prepare a sermon for the next day or to visit the old people at Maud Chapman’s Home for the Aged. He sat at the dining table, as if turned to lead. Lowther
had prepared a lamb roast with roasted potatoes and sweet corn. For dessert he
had made a sticky toffee pudding. The pudding had sat out, aromatically
blooming in the rectory as soon as it was taken from the oven. Father Pennant,
who loved sticky toffee pudding, put his spoon in the pudding, tasted a morsel
and dispassionately said
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ Thank you, Lowther. It’s good.
    before putting his spoon down and looking away.
    Â Â Â Â Â Lowther was, of course, interested in the priest’s behaviour, but he sat in silence until Father Pennant said
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ Do you believe in evil, Lowther?
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ I believe men do unspeakable things, Father. I don’t know about evil.
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ Evil is the other side of the sacred, said Father Pennant. If there’s no evil, there can’t be anything sacred either. I know that. I know it is God’s will that evil exist, but I wish it were different.
    Â Â Â Â Â â€“ I can see you’re upset, said

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