Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Downland: part six

Irene Loftus could afford neither stone nor stained glass window to memorialise her son. That he had died at such a young age, thirteen years before, as the war was playing out its final stages and when Germany’s surrender was only two weeks away, seemed a cruelty beyond understanding. Rangoon. Irene was sure it had to be liberated, that it was an important part of ending everything, but it seemed so far away, so loosely connected to the war as she understood it. The Japanese she would never forgive, but God she could forgive; she had never lost her faith. Joseph Loftus had no known grave but Irene knew his name was on the Rangoon Memorial in Taukkyan War Cemetery, 6,000 miles away; and she knew his name was on the Firle war memorial she passed as she walked up to St. Peters church to light a candle for Joseph as she always did on his birthday.

Deep in reverie, reliving those years of change, Ridler had no time to move – to either hat or hiding place - when he heard the latch of the oak door lift and snap. As Irene turned to replace the latch she stared straight at Ridler; his straked skin, the broad dark stripes and serifs half in shadow. She had no understanding of what she was seeing; only that it was a giant, it moved, had a mouth, made sounds, reached out a similarly tainted hand towards her. The whites of the eyes, set in deep, intense contrast to the surrounding ebony stripes, disturbed her most. A baffled, breathless gulp of a scream disturbed the tranquillity. Ridler implored, but she was gone. He heard her quick feet scudding on the gravel as he too left the church; and as the gate onto the village cracked behind her, Ridler straddled the wall at the back of the churchyard and dropped into the estate grounds. He admonished himself as he walked quickly across the open parkland: how foolish to have put himself in that position again, so exposed to ignorance and misunderstanding. He could encounter hostility at the most unexpected of moments without putting himself at the very heart of narrow thinking. At least the woman had been brief and unsophisticated. A year ago, the Writer’s reaction had been the contrary: he had not run from Ridler and his utterances had been anything but brief. That had been his most alarming encounter and he still did not understand it, nor its aftermath.

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