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Vitae Lampada - What We Wrote Today

But there—Belinda had had the same small shoulders and wispy, tea coloured hair that frazzled when the weather was damp. They both got wind from hardboiled eggs, had a weakness for TV adaptations of Agatha Christie, and turned at the same instant to kiss each other during the chorus of “Nights in White Satin”. It didn't necessarily mean anything.
At the time, of course, he thought it qualified him. Whether Mrs. Hoffman did...well, the problem was it used to bother him, how frequently she wanted counsel. Not for the time it took; the part of his job that might be called teasing out tangles in people's lives was central, the really motivating bit. Every six weeks or so Grace would come sit in his conservatory and speak her question like a memory verse but prefaced by the end of her teather. “I don't know, Dr. Knipe, how I am supposed to deal with this,” or somesuch. He had to coax for more. Only when he'd assured her there was nothing she must tell him and nothing she couldn't, would she drip feed him details in her sonorous voice. She'd halt mid sentence if Belinda came in with tea.
Throughout her telling she looked out at the garden, never at him. When finished she would sigh, and the creased, concentrated expression would relax. Her hands would make a final gesture before they folded themselves over the crest of her stomach; he came to understand this was his signal, that it was his turn to speak. She always nodded at his suggestions. Was it agreement? You see, it was the pose she struck with her ankles and knees together, her back and neck straight, her face serene and her gaze fixed. Like she engaged in some private discipline--like a buddha. It didn't occur to him that the impression might constitute any intuitive leap. He was the pastor and thus he did the helping.
All this happened in the two years leading up to the end. And when it came, the face he prayed not to see was Mrs. Hoffman's.
He reached the corner of Hounds Road and Bridgford Road. He had to stop there, just grab the collar on every emotion that wanted to charge out in the street unsupervised. This was home, heart, heaven—the words just stepped forward like volunteers. This was Trent Bridge: the old stone wall, the Dixon Gates, the faces of Larwood and Voce gazing down from the pub sign. He was surprised, how long he had to remain still to contain himself. The drivers going by gave him annoyed looks; they expected him to cross. He wished he could. How did a place go beyond itself, so that when taken away, and brought back after a long time, you knew you had reconnected with a fundamental?
He advanced on the entrance slowly. He felt his heel touch the ground first and roll his shoe along to his toes. He ignored a car that honked. He crept to the window of the new ticket office and grinned at the woman inside. Then he tipped back his head to follow the outline of the structure, how it attached itself to the ground, instead of listening for the request to enter his PIN number. He paused near the entrance, tidying his wallet, so he could listen to the stewards' talk on the other side.
“I were at the Oval in '64.”
“When he took his three hundred?”
“Must have been tremendous, that.”
The day he met Mrs. Hoffman here was not to be forgotten either. In 1997 the professor lost his tenure. The allegations were never proved, but Grace went through a needy spell where her usual sessions weren't enough. There was a week where the only time he had free was the first day of a round fifteen match between Nottinghamshire and Somerset, and he hadn't seen a live game all summer. But she sounded so anguished on the phone he told her to meet him at the gates and bought her a ticket.
The woman who came wasn't anyone he knew. She wore a hat; not that Grace had any concept of casual dress, but her millenry came in shapes and shades to suit every occasion. Why then did she chose broad brimmed watermelon straw trimmed with a blousy silk flower? And this talk, which started when she shook his hand and didn't finish until they found seats: Fleuretta was going to spend Christmas with her aunt Sophie and cousins in Basseterre. She would see moko-jumbies in the masquerade and taste the best cook up the world ever knew, maybe learn to dive. He had questions, but didn't need to ask. She anticipated every one, and he couldn't get a word in.
The wicker basket she brought was stuffed with cold chicken, potato salad, patties, dill pickles, a black, spongy fruit cake and macaroons. She offered it with an ebullience to undermine the worst appetite. Mouth full, mind full – he looked for his rightful indignance, because she seized and held the initiative when he ought to be in charge.


January 2015



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