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Vitae Lampada - First part of Chapter One

Ninety minutes before start of play, Jon parked in his usual place. The first thing he noticed, getting out the car, was stillness. And the angst of stillness, as if the world were guest at some cosmic party, and suddenly realised it was talking louder than anyone else in the room. He used to know a council employee, who told him noise reduction in Nottingham was thirty-two percent by the second day of an average weekend. However they measured it, this was more. It weighed in momentous and pending like the pause before a starting pistol, with a gravity of commemorative silence. There was no traffic. No one walked in the park or along Central Avenue or went in the Co-op. It lasted maybe fifteen seconds.
Jon observed it with his door open and his hand rested on his floppy hat on the bonnet. He felt responsible. Under the nail, his right pinkie was bruised and the cuticle ragged. The skin had been between his teeth all the way down Trevor Road, though that was no worry. The street hadn't changed in eight years. Then he got to Tudor Square, where the shopfronts were new brick and double glazed, the pavements curvier. He tore his finger away to take the steering wheel in both hands, negotiate a convolution of mini roundabouts that diverted him past the police station, all the time wondering if this really, really was a good idea. But the meeting was set. So he, like the silence, was nervous but resolved. It fit his situation so perfectly he moved his lips to shape the word ‘yes’.
A cyclist appeared from the Park Avenue direction and whizzed through the car park. She braked at the bottle banks, wrestled a bag of glass from her pannier and started to smash each piece. Jon put on his hat and sunglasses and went round to open the boot. Inside, his binoculars had escaped the backpack and slid into a corner. He put them back, and checked the bag again for his pen and spare pen, Playfair annual and scorebook. He pulled out his jacket, then looked up at the sky. Chubby clouds with clean white tops, a few of which travelled nose to tail like bumper cars: these the weatherman said would be as bad as it got. It wouldn't rain, but the wind might get up. Trent Bridge was a draughty ground but even given that, it was very warm.
Jon dropped his head and found himself face to face with the cyclist.
“Sorry, afternoon! Listen to me, I always get my times mixed up.”
For two reasons he didn't answer. Firstly, she was smiling that kind of smile.
“I couldn't help notice how you were looking up to heaven.”
His accumulated experience of facial expressions led him to a theory that true joy created the beginnings of a laugh, a grin that exposed all top teeth and often a ridge of bottom ones. Contentment would turn up the mouth at both sides, might or might not open it. The person who was not happy, but needed to convince him or herself that they were, would smile with top teeth well forward of a defensively curled lower lip. And they would open their eyes too wide, as if pleading.
The second reason he held his tongue was that he was sure he knew her.
“Maybe you'd like to join our celebration,” she suggested. Reaching into her pannier again she pulled out a sheet of A5, painfully red, and held it up. His fingers caught the corner to keep it steady and a name, Fleuretta Hoffman, transmitted with the touch. Did any signal pass to her?
“We meet every third Sunday at 6:30pm. It's different. We're full of the Spirit; we just pray and sing and hopefully bring a little heaven down.”
He pretended to read the leaflet. Her face, part of the unfocussed background, still had not registered his identity.
“No preaching,” she added, “no long, boring sermons.”
He couldn't help it. He gave her a hard stare and got a reaction; her eyebrows twitched.
“But if you like sermons, you can always go to our morning service. That's at 10:30 in the same place. It's not far—do you know this area?”
Jon nodded.
“It's the junction of Musters and Patrick Road,” she pointed. “Honestly, I think you'd like it. You look like a very spiritually minded man.”
“I'm going to the cricket,” he finally said.
There, she made the connection, not by sight but by hearing. She blinked; she blinked a lot. She took back her leaflet and crushed the paper round her handlebar. Now he felt sorry for bringing back the past and embarassing her, but at least he knew all those long, boring sermons hadn't been entirely wasted.
“Well,” a frog got her throat, “maybe next time.” She mounted the bike, turned, and rode away fast. No memories would catch her going that speed. They were left with him, as he took his pack and locked the car and set off in the same direction.
Then it came again, the quiet, white padding over the city. Or perhaps it only fell on him, because he didn't register his own footsteps until he was almost at the ground. It put the encounter with Fleuretta between parentheses of soundlessness, framed, so it was difficult not to ask what purposes had combined to create the perception.
For that matter, what had combined to make Fleuretta? He remembered her father drank grappa. On each of the three times they met the professor wanted it stated early on that the species most closely related to humans was not the chimpanzee but the bonobo, a smaller chimpanzee. Had it been genetic research, then, that made him holiday in St. Kitts and inject his dry rationalism into a vivacious local named Grace? And as if that weren't contrast enough, he stood six foot six and she five foot one. He went grey early and never filled his clothes, while his wife grew round.
But there—Belinda had the same small shoulders and wispy, tea coloured hair that frazzled in damp. Maybe they both had a weakness for TV adaptations of Agatha Christie, and did turn at the same time to kiss each other during the chorus of “Nights in White Satin”. It didn't necessarily mean anything.


January 2015



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