Thursday 13 September 2018

It is Better to Give than to Receive

By Dawn Knox

tea laced with brandy (a pickled onion if possible)

“Why are there so many apologies tonight?” Reverend Wilbur Forbes-Snell asked the three members of the Parochial Church Council who’d arrived at the vicarage for the meeting.

Mrs Myers, the churchwarden, who was also secretary, looked at the list of people who would not be joining them, “I believe there’s a gripping episode of East Enders on tonight,” she said.

“Saints preserve us!” said Wilbur, “such lack of dedication! I shall have words next Sunday.” 

“It’s lucky some of us have dedication to spare,” said Mrs Bakewell with a smug smile, “and some of us have such wonderful news, nothing could’ve kept us away, eh, Reverend?” 

“Look at her batting her eyelashes at the vicar,” whispered Mrs Myers to the other church warden, Mr Chubb. 

“Indeed! It’s disgraceful. She’s so obvious! No wonder they call her Bakewell Tart,” he said, leaning towards Mrs Myers and speaking out of the corner of his mouth. 

“Look at her pouting. Honestly!” whispered Mrs Myers.

“She looks like a trout,” replied Mr Chubb speaking from behind his hand.

“Right,” said Wilbur, “Let’s begin.”

 “Sorry I’m late,” said Mr Sykes, the organist, who rushed into the room holding a handkerchief to his nose and sat down next to Mrs Bakewell, “I’ve got a terrible cold.” 

She pulled her chair away and glared at him, “Kindly keep your germs to yourself.” 

“Right,” said Wilbur, “I think we can accept the minutes of the last meeting, so perhaps we can turn to item one on our agenda.”

“Oh, yes, let’s,” said Mrs Bakewell, rubbing her hands together. 

Wilbur beamed, “One of Mrs Bakewell’s Premium Bonds has won a large prize and she’s very generously offered to donate a sum of five thousand pounds to All Saints’ Church.” 

The two churchwardens and organist gasped. Mrs Bakewell blushed and looked down modestly while Wilbur beamed at everyone. 

“And now, we have the happy task of deciding what the money should be spent on,” said Wilbur, “my suggestion would be silver candlesticks for the altar—” 

“Oh,” said Mrs Bakewell with a frown, “I was thinking more of a stained-glass window.” 

“You can’t put new windows in willy-nilly,” said Mr Sykes, “All Saints’ is an ancient building.”

“I wasn’t suggesting we do anything willy-nilly,” said Mrs Bakewell with a sniff, “there’s a plain glass window in the porch which could do with some colour.”

“But the window doesn’t need replacing,” said Mr Sykes, “I vote we use the money to carry out some urgently-needed repairs to the organ.” 

“But no one will be able to see what the money – my money – has been spent on,” said Mrs Bakewell.

“Let’s have something everyone can enjoy,” said Mrs Myers. 

“Stained-glass can be enjoyed by everyone,” said Mrs Bakewell.

“Everyone adores the organ,” said Mr Sykes.

“I don’t,” said Mr Chubb, “I find it depressing. And I don’t think the choir like it either because they always sing faster than the organ so they can get the whole thing over with.” 

“Nonsense,” said Wilbur, holding his hands up for silence, “now, let’s not fall out over this wonderfully generous donation. If I could direct your thoughts back to silver candlesticks… I’m sure everyone would enjoy those.”

“I wouldn’t,” said Mrs Myers, “there’s enough silver in the church and it’s hard to clean. It takes me hours to polish what we’ve got.”

“Quite right,” said Mr Sykes, “We’ve got enough silver.”

“How would you know? I don’t ever see you cleaning the church,” said Mrs Myers.

“Dust upsets the delicate skin on my hands. I have to keep them healthy to play the organ.”

“It might be nice to have a week without any organ music,” said Mr Chubb wistfully. 

“You are a Philistine, Mr Chubb. I receive nothing but praise for my playing and that’s why I vote we spend the money on the organ.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the organ,” said Mrs Myers, “I think it’s the organist that needs replacing.” 

“Ladies and gentlemen, please!” said Wilbur raising his hands for silence, “well, we’ve heard what Mrs Bakewell and Mr Sykes want. What do the churchwardens think we should spend the money on?”

Mrs Myers paused from taking the minutes, “I’d suggest we replace the notice board and repaint the church hall.”

“I repainted the church hall last year,” said Mr Sykes, glaring at her, “and I’ll have you know, my hands blew up like balloons after being in contact with that paint!”

“Well, you should have concentrated more on putting it on the wood than your hands. You made a very dismal job of it, if I may say so.”

“No, you may not say so. I didn’t see you climbing ladders to do any painting.”

“You know I suffer from verdigris,” Mrs Myers said crossly. 

“I think you’ll find it’s vertigo you suffer from,” said Mrs Bakewell, sniggering.  “Verdigris is that green stuff that covers copper, isn’t it, reverend?” 

“Supercilious cow!” whispered Mrs Myers to Mr Chubb who pressed his knuckles to his mouth to stifle a giggle. He was renowned for his inappropriately-timed, high-pitched laughter which had earned him a ban from public services such as baptisms, weddings and funerals.  

“Well, thank you, Mrs Myers for your suggestion. Now, the only person whose idea we haven’t heard, is Mr Chubb… Mr Chubb?”

But Mr Chubb was giggling uncontrollably and if he had an idea, he was unable to say. 

“If the glass broke in the porch window, we wouldn’t need permission to replace it, would we?” said Mrs Bakewell.

“It isn’t broken,” said Mrs Myers “and unless you take a sledgehammer to it, it isn’t likely to be.”

“I was speaking theoretically. If it accidentally broke, we could replace it, and a stained-glass window would look wonderful. I’ve drawn a design. Look reverend, what d’you think?” Mrs Bakewell slid a sheet of paper towards Wilbur.

“What’s it got on it?” asked Mrs Myers, “Her coat of arms?”

“Is it a big pie?” asked Mr Chubb trying to conceal his laughter by blowing his nose.

“A tart, you mean,” said Mrs Myers.

“How dare you call me that!” said Mrs Bakewell.

“Ladies, ladies! Please!” said Wilbur, “I’m sure Mrs Myers wasn’t calling you a tart, Mrs Bakewell.”
“Takes one to know one,” said Mrs Myers looking down her nose. 

“If we can’t come to a consensus, I think I’m going to have to put my foot down and insist on candlesticks,” said Wilbur.

“And as the benefactor, I’m going to insist on a stained-glass window. I’ve set my heart on it,” said Mrs Bakewell. 

 “This is ridiculous,” said Mr Sykes, “I vote we put it to the vote.”

“How can we vote? We need to narrow the choice down a bit.”

“Well,” said Mr Sykes, “I vote we—”

“Please!” said Mrs Bakewell, “Will somebody shut Votey McVote Face up! I’m sick of his voice! I’m donating the money, so I should have the final word!”

“Mrs Bakewell! Really! There’s no need for name-calling, I’m sure we can settle this amicably,” said Wilbur sliding her cheque under his book in case she tried to snatch it.

Votey McVote Face?” shrieked Mr Sykes, “Well, that’s rich, coming from Bloaty McBloat Face!”
“Mrs Bakewell, Mr Sykes, I’m shocked!” said Wilbur, his hands held up in front of him in an attempt to calm things.

“It looks like Reverend is surrendering,” whispered Mrs Myers to Mr Chubb who exploded into guffaws and left the room with tears rolling down his cheeks.

“How dare you!” said Mrs Bakewell grabbing Mr Sykes’ tie and thrusting the knot upwards until his eyes bulged, “Now shut up!” she said as she sat down. Mr Sykes scrabbled at the knot trying to lower it.

“Mrs Bakewell… please!” squeaked Wilbur. He was close to tears.

“I do apologise, Reverend,” Mrs Bakewell said in silky tones, as she smoothed her hair back in place.
The obstruction to Mr Sykes virus-infested airway set a large sneeze in motion. It was later argued that he hadn’t found his handkerchief in time although Mrs Bakewell claimed he’d done it on purpose when the forceful expulsion of virus-laden air from Mr Sykes nostrils hit the side of Mrs Bakewell’s face.  

Mrs McSquirtle, Wilbur’s housekeeper, poured tea into Wilbur’s favourite cup, placed some shortbread on the saucer and slid it across the table towards him. 

“I’m sure they’ll all be chums again tomorrow,” she said.

Wilbur cradled his head in his hands, “I don’t think so, Mrs McSquirtle. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mrs Bakewell doesn’t press charges for assault after Mrs Myers shoved her. You should’ve seen them pulling each other’s hair. They were like animals - all fur and claws. And then Mr Sykes stepped in to separate them but one of them bit him on the hand. You should have heard the fuss! He called 999 for an ambulance. Goodness knows what he said to the emergency services but when the paramedics arrived, they appeared to believe his hand had been bitten off by a rabid animal. At least the appearance of uniformed men calmed down Mrs Bakewell and Mrs Myers. But Mr Sykes was furious the paramedics treated the ladies’ cuts and scratches more seriously than his bite.”

“I’m sure it’ll all come out in the wash,” said Mrs McSquirtle, “Pickled onion?” she asked, passing him the jar.

He munched silently on an onion for a few minutes, then added “I’m afraid too many harsh words were spoken last night. And Mr Sykes is threatening to sue. I tried to insist the two ladies shook hands before they went home but honestly, Mrs McSquirtle, the language! And they’ve all resigned from the PCC.”

“Oh dear. Well, never mind. I expect they’ll be here tomorrow asking to be reinstated.”

“No, I don’t think so. If you’d seen their faces when they left you wouldn’t think that, and you know what it says in Psalms 109 verse five…”

“Umm, remind me?”

And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.” 

“Well, never mind. I always say it’s darkest just before dawn. Here, Reverend, have another pickled onion. It’ll all be better in the morning.”

She poured a measure of medicinal brandy in his tea and topped up her own.

About the author:

Dawn’s third book ‘Extraordinary’ was published by Chapeltown in October 2017. She has had three other books published as well as stories in various anthologies, including horror and speculative fiction, and romances in women's magazines. Dawn has written a play to commemorate World War One, which has been performed in England, Germany and France.

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