Ashes to Ashes. 

Whilst enjoying the local walks here with the dog I’ve been doing some writing. Below the image you’ll see what I’ve written to go after the opening that I posted earlier. 

Please remember this is the first draft and no editing has been done on the section below. 

The next morning James rolled out of bed bright and early. As he dressed for his morning run he thought about how much of his life the army had had influence over.  It was almost impossible for him to stay in bed now beyond 6:30am, he smiled as he tied his laces and collected his phone from the dressing table. 
Ten minutes later he was at the front door making his final preparations. Ear buds in, choosing the ‘Pray As You Go’ podcast for the day and pocketing his phone he closed the door behind himself as the podcast began: The sound of a tolling bell filled his head as he started to jog,  turning right out of his front door and away from the small church school that neighboured his home, he ran past the church of St. Joseph’s, his church, and down the lane as the choir of the podcast began to sing and a voice intoned; “The choir sing; ‘Christ, light of the world, whoever follows you will have the light of life.’” James let his mind focus on the introduction to the meditation as his body covered the familiar route of his run. 

As the podcast finished James was on his second lap of the park. The old gardens of the long extinct Manor House were now a haven for college students to practice their football or frisbee skills, a chance for young families to feed the ducks around the pond in the corner or play on the play equipment whilst dog owners threw balls for their pets to fetch or simple let the dogs introduce themselves and race around together. James loved this park. It was a true community space, including the small skate park tucked off to one side, and around all of it was a tarmac path along which he now ran. 

He finished the second lap without further acoustic accompaniment, allowing himself time to think further about what had been the thought for the day then he paused for a while, turning to the music player on his phone to start his running play list. This time running hard round the 1.5km circuit, with Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones powering him round. 
He arrived back at the vicarage satisfied and sweaty as the first parents arrived to drop off their children at St. Joseph’s School. Nodding a greeting he unlocked the front door and entered, heading upstairs to undress and enter the shower. 

He breakfasted in the kitchen, watching the parents gather and waving to a few who looked through the window to see him. It was as the children were let into school that James’ phone rang. 
“Hello, can I help you?” 

“Good morning Father, it’s Sarah here.”

“Morning Sarah, did you get any sleep last night? How were things after the funeral?”

“Yes, some sleep – there feels like an ending of sorts, not that I want an ending but I know Daniel is at peace. Thank you for you kind words. I’ve rung to ask a favour of you.”

“If I can, of course I’ll help”

James could hear a deep breath being taken;

“The police have asked me to do another plea for information. They think they are closing in and another statement would really help.”

“Wow, are you feeling up to it?”

“That’s why I rang. Would you stand with me for support?”

“Of course! There’s no favour there. I’ll support you in whatever way I can.”

“Thank you, they want to do it this afternoon. I thought we could do it in front of the church and the school if that’s okay with you?”

“No problem at all,” James softly said; “just, not at school pick-up time. Two would be best if they can agree to that.”

With audible relief Sarah said; “I’ll check with the liaison officer and get back to you. Thank you Father.”

“No need to thank me Sarah, God bless you, speak to you later.”

James replaced the phone and shook his head. What an amazingly strong woman, he thought. God give her strength today. How hard it must be to look into the soulless lens of a camera and talk about the death of her son. Such a tragic waste of life, who would do such an act. They had to be caught, brought to justice and hopefully enable some healing to be brought to that strong yet delicate soul.
James’ thoughts throughout the morning were with Sarah. He made a short visit to the school next door to go through assembly dates with the head teacher and to inform her of the planned TV camera in the church later that day. Yet all the time he was on the premises he was thinking back the few short years since Daniel walked these corridors, sat in the classrooms and played with the other children in the playground. Whooping and screaming with the abandonment of youth – those sounds that often drifted into James’ study as he caught up on administration or wrote sermons.

Janko Delić almost growled at the young waitress as she set down another load of dirty dishes, plates and cutlery. Sadly, the look he gave her was enough for her to scurry away out of his reach and back to serve in the truckers stop he worked in just North of Zenika. It wasn’t the girls fault that he was in such a mood. It was the past haunting him. 

It was only three months since his release from prison. Yes he’d shot those diplomats and soldiers but only in self defence. If they hadn’t been coming to scope out his village then he would just have left them. Maybe if they had done something about the monsters of the Bosnik army who had ravaged Gostilj and killed almost everyone then he might have been more open to see what they wanted. That had been nearly twenty years ago but the loss of his wife and daughter in those raids and then the shooting of his son had left deep, deep wounds within Janko. Wounds that festered during his incarceration and had darkened his heart against almost all of the human race. Even innocent waitresses that were only doing their job in collecting plates for him to wash.

But today the wounds hurt more, today the hatred was almost overflowing. It was the fault of the manager of the truck stop. He insisted on having rolling news on the small TV that sat on a bracket just to the side of where Janko washed dishes. It could have played the nausea of modern music, at least he could ignore that, but no. It had to be the rolling news and four times in the last hour he’d seen the face of the man who had taken away eighteen years of his life and his only son. 

The devil was wearing another uniform now. No longer a soldier but a so called priest. Piously walking ahead of a small coffin the news had tried to show him as wholesome and upstanding yet Janko knew the truth. He’d recognised the eyes, less sunken than the first time he’d seen them, the face more coloured than that fateful day. Janko didn’t need the text across the bottom of the screen to name this man. It was a name that had scratched at his wounds, a name that had been poison to his soul. Jim Pooley. “Govna!” he muttered with feeling and scrubbed another plate, almost breaking it as he slammed it onto the draining board next to him. He would see revenge for his son, Stefan would be avenged. He scrubbed harder as a solitary tear mixed with the soapy water in front of him.

It was 1:30pm. They were gathered in the large living room of the Vicarage: James, Sarah, Rachel – the Police Family Liaison Officer, a senior police officer – Superintendent James thought, and then the TV cameraman, Paul. They were finishing their cups of tea and deciding how the appeal would be organised.
“I’ll start by outlining ongoing investigations before handing over to Sarah to read the prepared statement,” the senior officer said. 

“I am right” thought James; “a diamond below a crown on the shoulder is a Superintendent isn’t it?”

He looked across at Sarah, at the way she was cradling the cup in her hands, the tea untouched. She felt his gaze upon her and looked across. James gave her a slight nod of his head, keeping his eyes locked on hers. She understood the unspoken question and smiled briefly at him before lowering her head and seemingly studying the unmoving surface of the tea before her.
James couldn’t begin to imagine how hard today would be for her, on top of yesterday. What a twenty four hours it will have been for her and how strong she had appeared – that didn’t really fool James, he knew her heart was broken into pieces but the strength with which she continued to simply stand upright was outstanding.

His thoughts were pierced when Sarah spoke; “Could I have a few minutes please?” with her head still bowed no-one heard her properly and Paul continued talking about the sun being behind him or something.

“Sorry Sarah, did you say something?” James’ voice broke across the technical details.

This time she looked up; “Could I have a few minutes please? I’d like us to pray.”

If the situation hadn’t been so serious James would have laughed at the look of panic that broke across the faces of the Superintendent and Paul . The Liaison Officer just smiled.
“I think that would be a good idea for us Sarah. Of course, not everyone may be comfortable with praying,” James looked around, giving them a way out; “if anyone would like to go into the dining room and wait there then I’ll be happy to pray with you.”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll go – I need to check one or two things anyway.” Paul removed himself; “and I’ll just make sure we have all the details sorted.” The Superintendent also stood and left the room.
“A quick exit by our Superintendent there.” James remarked.

“Chief Superintendent.” Rachel corrected him with a smile.

“Oh, that could have been embarrassing”

“I won’t tell.” She said; “anyways, that Chief Super is known for his thoughts on religion in the Police Service. It’s quite nice for me to be able to pray in uniform, and I have a good reason as a PLO to be with Sarah here if he does decide to make an issue of it.”

“Let’s not go out of our way to offend him;” James suggested, “but in a vicarage I think you might expect people to pray occasionally.” The three of them smiled weakly together and bowed their heads.
James took a deep breath, slowly breathed out and confidently said; “In Psalm 23 we read ‘although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will not be afraid because you are with me.’ Let us remember God’s own presence with us now as we pray for Sarah and the Chief Superintendent during their statements and let us ask that Sarah would know God’s presence as she walks through her particular valley of the shadow of death. May she also accept the support of others who wish to uphold her and walk with her. Let’s spend some time in pray, either aloud or silent, and then we’ll end by saying the Lord’s Prayer together.”
After they had said the Lord’s Prayer James stood up and moved across the lounge to stand in front of Sarah. As she looked up at him he placed his hands gently on her head; “May the Lord be gracious to you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you and may he give you His peace. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen” as his hand traced a cross in the air above her Sarah made that sign of the cross on her own body. Looking up, into his eye, she breathed deeply; “Thank you Father.” Then quieter; “Thank you James.” As he took a step back she stood determinedly; “okay Rachel, let’s go shall we?”

Reunited, the five of them left the vicarage and walked across the church car park. “Where exactly do you want us Paul?” the Chief Superintendent asked.

“Erm, with your back to the church noticeboard I think, we can then have the church in the far background. That should balance the shot I think.”

James bristled. Balance the shot, he thought, it’s not a Hollywood production. This is about a woman who buried her young son yesterday. A boy whose killer is still loose and needs to be caught. He put his arm protectively around Sarah and whispered into her ear; “You’ll be fine, I’m right behind you. Remember, you only have to read the statement – you don’t have to look at the camera.” She nodded, silent and composed.

They took their places, with the church noticeboard displaying “St. Joseph’s Church, Swanhill” in an arc behind them. The light above the camera on Paul’s shoulder lit their faces and Paul gave a small nod.
“I am Chief Superintendent Bentham, leading the investigation into the death of Daniel Watkin…” James didn’t listen anymore. He knew the details. Standing just to the left of Sarah and behind her, mirroring Rachel on her right hand side, he lifted his right hand a little and placed it gently on Sarah’s back. He felt her lean slightly into his hand, acknowledging the support he offered her, and she started to read the statement before her.

Immediately after Paul had said it was all done James had offered to walk with Sarah. Handshakes all round then they set off. James wasn’t sure where they were going to go, he just knew that watching parents gather to chat before they collected their children at the end of the school day wasn’t going to do anything beneficial for Sarah. He had to take her away. And so they walked together, heading absent-minded towards the town centre. Sarah obviously didn’t want to go home and be alone right now and James found he was more than happy to give some more time to be with her.

As they walked side by side he felt her fingers brush his hand and his mind skipped back to earlier. Something in the way she had said; “Thank you James.” After he had blessed her now preyed on his mind. True Sarah was beautiful, and single. He’d always found her attractive and loved to see her quick smile, a smile that had understandably being missing for a few months now, but now was not the time and these were not the circumstances to consider making their relationship more personal. Her fingers touched his again and he placed both hands into his jacket pockets as they carried on walking.

Walking into Swanhill James offered a coffee. Sarah hadn’t drunk her earlier cup of tea and he, as a vicar, was use to drinking tea or coffee at most visits he made. They headed for one of the many coffee shops that littered the high street and found a small table against the wall to drink their coffee of choice.
As they talked James was aware of Sarah reaching across the table occasionally to touch his hand as he held his cup. She only did it to reinforce a point she was making, normally about how supportive he was being or how she didn’t think she’d have managed without him helping her. He smiled and nodded in response but his mind was warning him to be very careful. This had to be handled properly or Sarah would end up very hurt indeed. Him too probably but that wasn’t his first concern.

Making an excuse James headed for the toilet, giving himself time to think – and to empty his bladder. Returning shortly afterwards he sat again at the table. Sarah looked at him; “As a thank you would you let me cook you dinner tonight?” she asked.

“That would be wonderful, but not needed.” He responded; “and I’m afraid tonight just isn’t possible.”

“Well then, maybe sometime later this week?” Sarah pushed.

“Like I said Sarah, you really don’t have to. I’m your priest and I’m honoured to serve you, and all my parishioners. I think that you should give yourself a few weeks before entertaining. I’ll be glad to come round for dinner some time, just not this week.”

“Entertaining? No. It would be just one friend saying thank you to another friend for their support.”

James smiled openly; “That’s a lovely gesture Sarah. One I will take you up on, just not right now. Okay?”

“Okay.” Her smile didn’t match his but she didn’t push the idea any further. They spent another ten minutes or so in conversation then, with their coffee cups empty, headed for the door.

Standing on the high street James offered to walk Sarah home. “No thanks Father, I think I’ll enjoy a little time on my own right now.” James nodded, conflicted inside that he might have hurt Sarah in turning down her offer but he was convinced that she had made a play for him and that, in the long run, he’d done the right thing – however much he would have wanted to take their relationship further he didn’t want to her to be as vulnerable as she was right now.

“God bless you.” He said, “Take care.” And turned to start the walk back to St. Joseph’s. Purposely not turning round he pushed his personal feelings for Sarah down low. Hopefully there might be a time in the future when they could explore those feelings but then if ifs and buts were pennies we’d all be millionaires.

When he got ordained he hadn’t been aware how much that white bit of plastic around his neck would make him desirable. He wasn’t ‘back of a bus’ ugly but he knew he wasn’t an oil painting either. In his first parish there had been too many older ladies who had a ‘lovely niece or neighbour or once even a grand daughter who would be just right for a young man like you.’ It had been embarrassing as they squeezed his biceps or patted his chest but he had just smiled and thanked them for their offer. It was different when his own feelings were drawing him towards a woman but the relationship had to be with him, not with that white strip of plastic.


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