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MRS. MICHAEL’S MORNING

Mrs. Michael lay flat, splat on her back. She still wore that battered straw hat. A tropical dawn crept gently over the wreckage.

Her mouth fell open with a plop. Fresh air poured down her throat with a snn-n-n-nork! so loud it woke her up. Crusted eyes blinked open. To her astonishment she saw only sky.

How did I get here? Slowly, moment by terrible moment, last night came into focus. Oh, my God.

Mrs. Michael saw the tumble of her possessions as they cascaded down towards her; her telescope glinting bronze in the mud, her clock, one battered favorite chair – all the detritus of her previous life broken, in ruins. It was strangely liberating. She grunted, sat up, tracked her path through the air, noticed a tangle of pillow and jam and realized that was where she touched down.

‘A miracle,’ she whispered.

*

The Madam was not a God-fearing woman; she’d been an enthusiastic participant in as many of the deadly sins as she could possibly manage; Mrs. M could knock off lust, gluttony, greed, and sloth before breakfast – she did very good wrath as well. Despite her confirmed sinner status, in a rare and unexpected moment of clarity her mind came to an inescapable conclusion: God himself had spared her. Quite which God this was escaped her – at that moment, any God would do. Mrs. Michael had been saved for a purpose. –

Now, if she could just work out what it was.

Perhaps a wee guzzle of the communion whisky might help her confusion.

She draped the sheet around her and heaved herself onto her feet. Those awful toenails dug into the soft turf, her pudgy toes felt wet earth beneath them for the first time in years. Everything was fresh, everything new – she felt positively reborn. Madam squelched across the muddy lawn, squished past the broken pool then turned and looked through the door to the bar. All the contents of the back wall lay broken on the floor; glasses, ashtrays, straws, serviettes strewn sodden in a heap. No matter. She wrenched open a secret cupboard door. Eureka! Four bottles stood proudly intact.

She’d found her purpose.

To celebrate the victory Mrs. Michael carefully unscrewed the top of the Glenfiddich. She saw a glass on the lawn, wiped it with her sheet and filled it to the brim.

Chug-a-lug-a-lug a-glug, glug, glug. Phwuaughh! Her eyes watered. Hair of the dog.

Natural alcohol levels re-established, she felt strong enough to face the day; it was time to find a home. She smiled and waddled down the path, a bottle of God’s purpose tucked tight under each arm.

*

There it stood, his own private Lucifer, a miserable thin thing, charged with the blood of the lamb. The priest rolled over onto his stomach hoping Satan would go away and, without even knowing it, began to ease his thighs rhythmically into the mattress, pressing that sin into the hard, unyielding bed. He was sweating, his mind still swimming in that early morning fug. What time is it? Mother of God, I’m late. But that relentless stiffy kept him prone.

He stopped abruptly, two short-sighted eyes blinked open – what am I doing?

Sexual indulgence was not the norm for Father Lathaniel but every now and then some tremendous, unreasoning surge of the loins brought him to his knees, sobbing and praying for forgiveness in the after-glow of all the poor sod had to remind him of love.

See, how easy it is? See how the Devil comes to you even as you sleep? Shame on you.

He rolled over on his back, pushed down with one hand as if to smack the offending member away, but the touch just made him harder, if that were possible, the offending digit sprang even further to attention. No, he thought, leave me alone, Satan, get thee behind me. He slapped at his burden as if it were a naughty child, caught the tip of it as he smacked, cried out, wincing at the sweet pain. This was punishment and redemption collided into one.

He would have broken it off at that moment if he could, but flesh is tougher than fantasy. Something was seeping into him, something stronger than sex. Lathaniel was lost to the Devil in his loins. He gasped and sat up, pulling at his dick with a ferocity borne of a lifetime of repression, pleasuring and punishing that demon all in one stroke.

‘What boss?’ piped a voice from right outside his hut, ‘you talkin’ me?’

It was Jarod, his assistant. The priest went cold. He must have heard his grunts and groans. God. Lathaniel’s face crumpled and he screwed up his eyes, the problem softening in his hand.

‘No, Jarod, just saying a special prayer.’

*

Daniel picked his nose ferociously, thoughtfully foraging for buried treasure. Something was wrong, he felt it. He had only intuition left.

Completely alert, he sat up and coughed. Another day of being forced to wait on these soft, ugly fools, another trip to the volcano, another pick up from the airport, hours of stupid questions, aeons of babble and blah – his lip curled. By the time he was awake he was a tightly coiled bundle of rage. It was his normal condition; he lived to loathe. A tattered grey blanket was pushed aside and he stood up, bending naked under the low thatched ceiling.

A scorpion lived in one dark corner of the hut. It shrank back into the gloom as he approached, waving its poisonous tail. Even the insects steered clear of Daniel when he was in a rage. They knew; if they bit him they would die.

Daniel was the natural enemy of insects, John Frum, Mrs. Michael and tourists. He hated them all, but this one, this Dogster man was his particular nemesis de jour. He didn’t quite know why, instinctively he just knew danger lurked close by. The white man came and so did the guria. These acts were inextricably linked.

He splashed cold water on his face and grabbed a clean shirt from the line, all the time peering down at the rest of the resort. Separate from the others, up high on the edge of a cliff, the hut was his special vantage point; he could see over the thatched roofs of the guest bungalows, down to the beach, along that curve of black sand to the ramshackle hut where the men drank kava, right across to the mission station in the bay beyond.

Daniel didn’t like the missionaries either – actually, there wasn’t anybody much he did like.

Just as well – nobody much liked him.

*

‘Get the shower ready, Jarod!’

Every day, exactly the same; a finely practiced performance – the priest was a man of habit. Had the guria struck at shower time, he would have shaken and showered simultaneously. Nothing must be allowed to interrupt his daily routine. Lathaniel was the last of the old-timers, hanging on determinedly till death forced his hand.

He was an old dog and didn’t like new tricks, lived a solitary life surrounded by strangers, adrift on his listing life-raft of faith. Every move he made was watched, every slip the stuff of legend; he was tolerated, taken advantage of, stolen from and ridiculed. Nobody cared. They just wanted him to hurry up and drink himself to death.

Ignorant pagans; so ungrateful – all he wanted was their immortal soul.

‘Morning, men,’ he said cheerfully to his flock as he walked out the door. Another roar of laughter. The noise had an abandoned, dangerous quality about it that led him to suspect sin. Things seemed faintly out of control this morning, but he couldn’t quite work out why. Another burst of mirth as he stepped onto the three steps and stood for a moment, surveying his domain.

One enormous islander, flanked by his three sons, sat on a log facing the church. The smallest of the three was fast asleep curled up in his father’s lap; the second sat on the sand between dad’s huge legs,like a little pixie peering round two brown stone pillars. The third, a boy of about sixteen was leaning slightly away, arm around another young man of the same age. Both wore grubby T-shirts and shorts, their bare feet and splayed toes dug into the sand. Next to them an older man, head bowed, completely out of it, swaying silently, occasionally looking up at the others and sighing before he slipped back into whatever world he was in. His glassy eyes were repeated around the fire, mirrored across the flames by another group of men. This was their daily ritual, the banding together of the men from the mission to air their grievances, plot their plots, gossip and tell jokes. Every day was a day of little other than sitting around. The men sank into a kava-doze till evening, watching their women work.

Down the steps, across the lawn, behind the canvas sheet of silence. Jarod’s head poked up and he poured water into the bucket with many holes. Lathaniel stood there under his life, forever running out of a leaky bucket. His God could not plug those holes.

*

BREAKFAST

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