SOUL SEARCHING

CHAPTER NINE

Over the years Judith had acquired a marriage, a separation and a divorce. She never believed in fairytales anyway, and certainly didn't have high hopes that even a virtuoso violinist would really come up to her expectations. She didn't suffer geniuses gladly. As far as she was concerned enough was enough, she was single again now, and most definitely unavailable.

It was ironic that a philistine town like Bogcragston would have a new state-of-the-art theatre built in its centre. However inartistic it was though, this was a place where greed was a virtue and if there was a potential for making a bob or two it would seized upon.

Today the CSO were coming to regale the townsfolk of Bogcragston with some unwanted culture. It was thought that they wouldn't attract the masses so they were merely given the matinée slot. But the musicians welcomed the change of venue and playing somewhere the smog was marginally thinner. And for Judith it was a long overdue homecoming.

Donald had never acquired so much as a marriage let alone a separation or a divorce. It was better never to have loved at all, he repeatedly told himself. Though, without quite knowing how, one thing he had managed to acquire was a ticket for today's performance of Fauré's Requiem.

The junction where the main trade routes met would almost certainly be busy and he'd envisaged watching the sands of time disappearing as he waited at this infamous intersection. In reality the traffic was light so he arrived far too early. Time lost was time lost forever. But, under the circumstances he would have to lose a lot of time forever wandering around the vicinity of Bogcragston's Theatre Royale. "It never rains but it drizzles," he mumbled to himself.

The roads were far busier than Judith had anticipated. She'd had to wait at the major junction into Bogcragston for nearly a minute and she was furious! Finally the lights turned green and the old banger gracelessly lurched into the car park and stopped, just missing the parking space Judith had been aiming for. She leapt out, opened the boot and inadvertently rammed her cello case straight into Donald as he passed by.

"What the heck do you think you're doing?!" Judith demanded.

"What the heck do I think I'm doing?" Donald got back up, shook himself down, and continued with a degree of timidity, "It was you who went into me!"

"Oh, so it's my fault you're standing there, is it?" Judith tutted.

A feeling of déjà vu stopped them both in their tracks for a split second.

"Look," Judith said, "I'm late . . ." She picked up her cello and headed off towards the stage door.

The orchestra ceased and the choir hushed. Silence. Solemnity. The wisdom of the crowd was always going to be dubious but they clapped anyway, almost as though they didn't really know how to cope with the quiet.

Those on stage slightly outnumbered those in the audience. The former shuffled out in their throngs from one end of the theatre, and the latter in their droves from the other.

All the cars herded together as they entered the one-way system, dispersing gradually at each junction thereafter. Neither Judith nor Donald really knew Bogcragston very well anymore, and they tried to leave the mayhem as quickly as they could, heading towards Omnidowns and Pobblestrum respectively. A quarter of an hour later they both found themselves at the traffic lights just outside the theatre.

Donald felt happier finding himself back where he started, albeit facing the other direction. The lights had just turned green and he was on his way again, and this time he would manage to get out of town!

"OK, I've got myself back to square one," Judith sighed with relief. She fumbled about trying to find a map and looked up again just a little too late to react to the lights ahead changing to red. There was no way she could have stopped in time, not at the speed she was going. So she accelerated instead, and hoped. A strategy which had always served her well in the past.

The sounds of tyres screeching, metal crunching and glass breaking all stopped more abruptly than you might imagine. Certainly more so than they imagined. It was all over so quickly. Judith got out of the car and made a beeline for Donald.

"What the heck do you think you're doing!?" Judith demanded.

"Why is it," Donald finally stood his ground, "every time we cross paths we also have to cross swords? You push your cello into me and it's my fault! You drive your car into mine and it's my fault! What is wrong with you?"

"What's wrong with me? Ha! Come on, let's look at the damage. I just hope you're insured, buddy!"

There were already sirens in the distance as Judith and Donald turned to look at the wreck. Unidentified shattered things littered the road, some of the more jagged items were covered in some sort of red liquid. "We're lucky to have got out of this alive," Donald said in a quiet, shaky voice.

Judith nudged Donald and nodded towards a motionless body slumped over a steering wheel. "I'm not sure we did."

The more they stared, the more they were able to discern. Even if the bodies they were gaping at belonged to other people it would have been a truly gruesome sight. But they didn't, and their stomachs churned.

A couple of storks standing behind them gave a quiet cough to gain their attention. Sidney gave them a bit of an old-fashioned look when they turned around and grumbled, "Brilliant! You two again!"

"Now then, Sidney, remember your Public Relations course. And remember your blood pressure. I'll handle this." Arnold, the more senior stork, looked at Donald and Judith. "A very nice performance, Mizz Matheson," he said calmly, "That last movement particularly, 'In paradisum deducant angeli.' Do you know what it means?"

Judith shook her head.

"'May angels lead you to paradise.' Only in reality it's not angels. It's us I'm afraid. I know everyone associates us with delivering babies to the world, but we also return you after you've . . . umm . . . well, not to put too fine a point on it, after you've died."

Judith opened her mouth, but Arnold piped up again, "Please don't ask us to explain the whys and wherefores, we're only storks"

The emergency services had arrived on the scene, and seemingly had been there for some time. The cars were being cut open and more of the corpses revealed. "There's not much dignity in death, is there?" Donald said as he watched one of his bodily arms dropping into a pool of oil. At the same time he flinched as if he could actually feel it.

"That'll wear off," Arnold assured him.

Donald turned to Judith and spoke into the increasingly fragile atmosphere, "Do you still want my insurance details?"

Judith smiled at Donald, "Why don't you just shut up?"

"No, seriously . . ."

"Look," she said, trying, not very well, to make light of what was happening, "how many times have I got to tell you to shut up?"

"No! You shut up."

"Or wha . . ."

"I don't," Emily laughed, over-emphasizing the letter 'T', and sounding out every syllable staccato style, "think-I'm-get-ting-through-to-you. Don't-say-an-oth-er-word!"

"No," Arnold interrupted, "Neither of you say another word!" He briefly glanced at Sidney and out of the side of his beak said, "I see what you mean about these two." He turned back at Judith and Donald, took a deep breath and told them, "We're on a pretty tight schedule. Eternity isn't as long as you think, you know, just a few blinks of an eye. So, please, come with us now."

For the first leg this once in a death-time journey it was almost as if God had replaced the sun with a low-energy light bulb, you couldn't see the sky for the clouds. Engulfed therein for a few seconds before going onwards and upwards, carefully avoiding the flight paths of angels.

Right around the back of heaven there's a large door with a sign above which is rather unclearly marked with the words, 'Goods In'. No one has ever bothered to change the sign, but it should have actually read, 'Good? Sin?' The reason being, this was the place where all the 'used souls' have an assessment on how they used their precious gift of life.

It's the place where everyone stands before the ever knowing God. He smiles patiently as they flounder around trying desperately hard to find excuses for all the rotten things they've said and done, and why they hadn't kept in touch all this time.

Arnold and Sidney descended through a silver lining and landed expertly in front of saintly looking figure wearing a fluorescent jacket over his white robes. The storks released Judith and Donald, and Arnold handed a clipboard to the saint, "Sign here please, governor."

The saint scribbled his name and handed the clipboard back without a word to Arnold. His eyes twinkled as he smiled at Judith and Donald, "I'm Peter . . ." he told them. His voice was deep and strong, but controlled and kind. His face was wise, and his prominent laughter lines showed how comfortable he was with his smile. ". . . although everyone just calls me Pete. If you'd like to come with me, please." As he walked he removed his hard hat to scratch his head. He waved the helmet towards his guests and chortled, "Got to wear these things under the new regulations. You'd think it's a bit late to worry about Health and Safety by the time you get here, wouldn't you? Oh well, you get one die every minute."

"It's enough to try the patience of a saint," Judith pretended she knew what he was talking about.

"No!" Pete chuckled, "It takes a bit more than that."

Everything seemed so ethereal when they arrived, but Pete was reassuringly normal. They moved along effortlessly, bobbing a little through the wispiness at first, but getting into the swing of it as they went along.

A door appeared out of nowhere. That wasn't normal. But, hey, when in heaven. It opened and Pete motioned them through. "Look, you two," he said, "take a seat and talk amongst yourselves. I'll be milling around if you need anything. Please excuse me now though, I've got to see a man about a God." He winked playfully and gave them another of his gleaming smiles before he vanished, wraithlike, into the hazy air.

"It's been a funny sort of day, hasn't it?" Donald said as he reclined into a very easy chair.

"A funny sort of life," Judith reflected.

They recalled the failed meetings of their pasts; the time they sat opposite each other as babies, the period they'd lived next door to each other, the occasion when they'd been walking with their Dalmatians in the same fields. "And it took us so long before we actually met and spoke." Judith contemplated.

"Argued," Donald corrected her.

"Well, all right, argued."

"Yep, it was just shy of a lifetime. Speaking of which, do you remember before we were born?"

Judith nodded thoughtfully.

"And just as that stork carried me off, you said something, didn't you?"

"Oh yes," Judith said in hushed tones as though she'd only just realised that she'd completely failed to convey the single most important message in her life, and beyond.

"What was it? What did you say?"

Judith opened her mouth to answer. But at exactly the same time a holy usher appeared before them. "Judith, God will see you now."









THE END








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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.



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