What would it cost to submit a little? Whom would it scandalize? Couldn’t it approximate truth as well as any tongue?
In an afterthought visit one day, when people were already leaving, adjusting their faces, she fell upon a huddle of the devout under a new notice near the entrance, Mr Aske awkward among them, his face keyed with distress (pressed into service). She loitered, her fingers appraising an assortment of fluorescent beads she couldn’t imagine anybody wanting and tried to listen (throughout all these parts the people are so wild). The problem seemed to be the current pastor. She didn’t care for the clergy and didn’t much notice them; they seemed to come and go in rapid succession, each one tweaking at the arrangements of his predecessor. At a distance, this latest incumbent had seemed typical of the tribe but something had provoked them (many and sundry new inventions), an ongoing business that had passed her fleeting interest by, and had finally driven the
counsel of this small commonwealth of the back pews to slap up their poster, extolling Latin and Tradition. Their own man, shoving a box of redundant equipment into a cupboard (they lay before him their grievances), would invariably conclude all attempts at exhortation (rabble-rousing) and lamentation that the lack of incense would prevent their unspoken prayers from rising (shameful insurrection and unnatural rebellion) with a long-suffering mantra stressing ac-tive-par-ti-ci-pa-tion. And when a gasp escaped even gentle Mr Aske (he saw rebellion as a desperate last resort) at the sight of a small gong being relegated to the box, the padre hissed that the sanctuary bell was a twelfth-century innovation.
It was not long after that she spied Mr Aske limping slightly up the hill, only marginally faster than usual, his canvas shopping bag bulging into the unmistakeable curve of the sanctuary gong.
Over the weeks, taking an age over the beads in the lobby, enhancing suspicions that she was either devout or mad and harmless, she’d pick up rumours of beacons lit in northern villages, where sidelined priests dressed long and black and pelted across the ridings, to be met, fed, watered and escorted by ladies who covered their heads with lace. Because who dare change what’s timeless, toss aside the years of how we always did it this way, if it was true then and it’s not true now what can ever stay true, and the hangings and drawings and quarterings we shall never forget, suffering suffering suffering, and the king’s good servant but. And if they weren’t there to watch and to check the altar’s choreography, the turn here and the response just there, the bow and sweep of the hands just right, then who was to know if all was real or – worse – invalid, knowing what they saw, and seeing what they knew. The Old Ways were ageless and timeless and would surely do their work;