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neil goldberg
geraldine postel
bertie marshall
tom rayfiel
amra brooks
sergio bessa
lisa kereszi
leopoldo grautoff
reveiws

thomas rayfiel




Summer came early to the Seven Dials Road. It crouched, not the limitless blue of an empty sky but a tightly patterned thick rippled white of clouds, the underbelly of a tiger, brushing against steeples and telegraph poles, suffocating the inhabitants. Sound travelled with difficulty, seemed to fall short of its goal. People gasped. The canal stopped flowing, merely rose and fell, tidal, not effluent. Birds labored through the heavy air on bent, swollen wings. In parts of the city like this, hope was abandoned utterly. The pretense of decency, in dress, in cleanliness, in simple behavior, was dropped. Daily, the papers were filled with stories of unthinkable mutilations, acts of abandonment, the collapse of structures. Elsewhere, the more fortunate were making plans to get away. But for the residents of Seven Dials, grouse hunting, gay picnics, the knock and smatter of county cricket, were distant as Salvation, or so they thought, the Reverend Belcher sighed, feeling the stench of another hot sickly morning wash over him as he emerged from the rectory. But perhaps it was not so. Here, after all, the Bible lived in a way it could not in the gold and green precincts of the great country houses. Here were Poverty and Evil and Damnation. He came face to face with them every day. And so, conversely, there was Hope. A few more points of the sermon he went over in his head. If only there would be someone to hear them, besides the usual dregs of humanity who had managed to get themselves up at eight o'clock on a Sunday morning, more in expectation of the charitable free meal offered after than any lesson he preached. But of course it was exactly to these people he must speak, he reminded himself. A thin, timid man, whose limp brown hair was already going gray and whose glasses could not be restrained from sliding down to the tip of his long nose, he found courage in mortification, breathing in deeply the foul air as if it contained some hint, some clue to the ultimate nature of things. He wished his own salvation more than anything, which was a sin, he acknowledged, and so the path he had chosen to take was that of saving others. He thought of himself as one holding a door open, saying "After you, after you," over and over again, an ever-attentive host ushering people into a house which he himself would never see! Not until the last guest was safely inside, and since that would never happen... Religion was a form of divine politeness to him. All this was complicated by his being in love with a prostitute, but he must not dwell on that now. He was on his way to conduct a service. He was in a state of Grace. He had just taken a bath.

"Good morning, Reverend."

"Good morning, Mrs. Satherswaite."

Always these well-intentioned women with buckteeth or some other deformity, remnants from when the parish was a thriving town of workers. Widows and old maids now formed the backbone of his congregation, and yet he loathed them. Always presenting him with a pot or a plate, holding it carefully with two hands and raised on high, elevated like the Host, a cold supper for the bachelor cleric. They must have a rota, he realized after a time, for he was never burdened with two of these offerings simultaneously. Treated like a pet who must be fed. The most difficult part was disposing of the awful stew or pie without hurting anyone's feelings. If the untried remains were identified by Mrs. Hatchitt, the rectory's formidable housekeeper, he was sure she would broadcast far and wide the Reverend's unchristianlike attitude.

"So good of you," he murmured, tipping open the lid, pretending to smell what looked like congealed bacon floating on a sea of overcooked carrots.