O’Hare’s Letter

George Crook would often take a tour of Darbishire when he was in trouble. He would get the slip, they would never time it, and he would be free for a good half hour to stroll around the old school before eventually ending up at headmaster O’Hare’s. He had several excuses for why he was dallying about but so far he hadn’t had to use any of them; if a schoolmaster or anyone saw him he would just press his head down and look a little off-colour like he was on his way to the nurse and they wouldn’t pay the slightest bit more attention to it. O’Hare was usually happy to see him: after the initial disappointment and sorting out of what said who and so on he would ask him about his mum, about what books he was reading or about how he was getting on with the boys. In the morning the smell of chalk dust. The smell of rain about to fall. The smell from the woods, like mulch, like damp piles of pine needles. Crook didn’t know why so many things smelt stronger in the morning but it was like that, and he liked it. Some of the halls in Darbishire were creaky more than others. Now he passed down such a one, and returned the distracted glance of a teacher through his square of glass in the door. He looked, and Crook looked back, and that was it. Darbishire was a school at the end of the world. It was stately, and spacious, but not sharp or well maintained. There was a good balance, George Crook thought, in discipline regarding form and manners and education. Form was important; if every boy weren’t uniform there would be a temptation to let loose, and there might be a mutiny. Looking around and seeing everyone the same was important in keeping one’s own urges in check, it made one feel like one was part of a big body, one whole person, and barbarism within the system would be barbarism against oneself, against the whole vessel. But there was space to play in the evenings and be a seperate person again, and no one at Darbishire had real hopes of going on to particularly prestigious colleges or professions so school was done for school’s sake, without too much worrying. A few of the boys in his year wanted to be priests. Darbishire had its own chapel, which Crook’s other school didn’t. The priest’s name was Father Malley, whom the boys described as ‘slippery’, though that wasn’t something that Crook had taken up. They called Father Malley slippery because he would never give a straight answer on things they asked him—things about the bible and what different things meant. Like how was Jesus God, and who was he praying to in the garden of Gethsemane, and one time someone asked why didn’t Joseph and Mary ever have sex. One wasn’t allowed to interrupt during mass but in chapel in the mornings one was allowed to ask questions at the end, but George Crook felt that things only went round and round, and so he never asked questions. But there was also a certain other slipperiness to Father Malley that other teachers had too, Crook thought, something he maybe noticed better than the other boys because he was new. They didn’t act like the schoolmasters at his other school; many of them were girly and familiar, when they weren’t being stern or trying to scare you into being good.

On the first day at Darbishire George Crook cried. His room was very small, without a window, and his sheets had bugs in them, something that made him very itchy the next day, and he wasn’t allowed to get up and get water or read; he had to lie there looking at his ceiling when it was time for bed. The matrons were all mean to him. Slippery schoolmasters. Mean old matrons. Sometimes he cried for other reasons, even though he was used to everything. He didn’t like sitting in a corner, he liked being sent to Headmaster’s office. Headmaster O’Hare was the only one he liked, and the only one so far besides the matrons who didn’t want to touch him, to pat his bum or hold his face or feel his hair. And now he was leaving.

Before George Crook came to Darbishire he heard stories from a friend of his at school, who’s older brother had gone to Darbishire, so he didn’t want to go. That was why he was scared on his very first day, with his Mum. They were on their way up to see the headmaster and George Crook thought of what O’Hare would look like: big and hairy, with a red face, and a big black gown. But he hadn’t looked anything like that: he was wearing a nice, comfy-looking suit, with brown shoes, and he was a little grey about, and also a little skinny. He had forgotten the appointment entirely—he was on his way to somewhere in the school in a hurry, in a private panic almost; George Crook remembered thinking he looked very wise like that—how troubled and dark he was—not like the teachers at his other school, very, very wise. But seeing the unfamiliar woman and the boy O’Hare had slowed, stood, and all of that darkness lifted. He smiled, continued forward with his hand cordially extended to his mother now standing still and receptive, smiling, and he seemed to make a deal of it, meeting his mother and him, which made him feel very good about himself.

“Hello,” he said, “I’m headmaster O’Hare, and you must be Miss Crook.” He took her hand in both of his and smiled reassuringly, like he was saying, “Yes, you are in the right place, you are not lost, I will take it from here.”

Crook’s mother was a widow. Also she had a glass eye, that didn’t behave in the exact same way as her other eye, which made her very self-conscious when she was around new people or when she was in the full light as she was then, her pale skin luminescent in the grey midday bloom—pane after pane in that long, august hall repeating the bleak report of midwinter. But she didn’t seem so nervous around Mr O’Hare; it was his broad, masculine smile, that made it seem as though he had done something very cheeky, and her feel like she was his co-conspirator. He seemed very wise. Very wise and capable. Samantha stopped.

“Crook!” she said. “George Crook this is really too much.” He was drawing on a chalkboard, faces with eyes bulging, big hairy eyebrows. “You’re supposed to be in choir are you not? What are you doing, rub all that off this instant!”

George Crook, frowning and smiling simultaneously began erasing his work.

“You’re damn-well lucky it was me and not Miss Fuller, who’s just nearby” she said, slapping her books and folders down on a desk and marching up to him. She took the duster and moved him away with an elbow.

“Foolish!” she said. When she had finished she dusted off her hands and stood there hipshot looking down at him.

“Well?”

“I’m in trouble, I’m on my way to Headmaster’s.”

“So hurry, or it’ll be double!” she said, and George Crook left, the sound of his weeping trailing down the corridor.

Samantha sat and undid her hair. She looked across to her stack of folders—these were study plans, syllabus outlines, algebra, geometry, history. Mr Shaw would like practice material for the children’s Friday test. Mr Dunham would like, please very much, homework quizzes drawn up and on his desk by noon Wednesday, homework quizzes that don’t infringe or test on the upcoming material, which will not be in the quarterly exam. And games, games to make it fun, make it fun Samantha, make it fun, the children like fun, and they won’t learn without fun, and being engaged. Samantha didn’t think she could hate children before she began as a teacher’s assistant. Her great grandfather was the Chancellor Exchequer for a short period, his name she only remembered when she didn’t need to, and before and after that her family on her father’s side had been philanthropists, financiers and socialites. Children seemed to Samantha to be the antidote to this hopeless tradition; she wanted to be among the living; it also appealed to her to eat satisfactory food in a cafeteria, by herself in a corner somewhere, sleep in a bed made for sleeping, with grey hodden sheets and pictures of the saints on the walls. It wasn’t quite like that but it was humble, and, if she’d admit it, it was only some of the children that made it hard for her. In moments she’d termed ‘divine’ she would see that the children she dealt with, her interaction with them was sacramental: she felt as though she were more Christian afterwards. She regretted that the children were interfered with. In her father’s circles it was part of an evening’s entertainment, there was never any discussion, as far as she could see, about its being right or wrong, only its feeling good or better; certain of her father’s friends preferred one kind of play over another, one sex over another, but the philosophic discussion as to its place in God’s creative order was rare. It was something Samantha only became gradually aware of however, she was never formally allowed into that particular part of her family’s life—much of what she knew was learned from snippets of conversation. Here, at the school, among the schoolmasters, the chaplain, the choirmaster, the matrons, the abuse was a part of Christendom; it was both an alterable and casual act of affection, a privilege of the resident system which saw, as in the lofty old days of ancient Greece, men and boys placed together for extended periods, and also something more spiritual, something ancient and biblical, something perhaps reflecting the dyadic bond between father and son. It wasn’t the frottage and fondling per se that disturbed Samantha, though it was a tradition she felt she would never have more than an outsider’s understanding of. What disturbed Samantha was the hidden religion of sex, it was that philosophy, that gnostic underworking that allowed evil to be good, and good evil. She knew there was more to it that just what she saw, she knew there were rooms beneath the school which she and anyone else not privy to the shared language and leanings of the faculty involved were not allowed to know about. She’d heard the stories from the children, like lore, strange sounds from the woods, missing children from the towns, the threats, the slips of tongue from the teachers, and the sense among those lucky children who spent Christmases with parents, uncanny and undeniable, of there being something black and heavy invading them each time they entered the walls of Darbishire.

Mine, thought O’Hare. This office. These books. This table. He pressed down upon it with the tips of his fingers, leant against it and meditated on its hardness, its weight and the cost of such a thing—not simply the things besides it that could have been bought; food, electricity for a family, several families, a cruise, other things—but its cost in other terms. In terms of life. Life foreshortened. He looked out the window. Autumn was in full swing. Fog filled the woods beyond the grounds of Darbishire, flowed grey across the paddocks, Garrett’s farm, confused and dumbed the edges of the town where the spire of St Bride, O’Hare noted, stood out above it all. I will finish that letter, he had said that morning. I will not default on an obligation I have taken upon myself. But that day he had thought about default, about that word, and wondered what it was that obligated him to follow through with anything. We are not obligated, he thought, even to live, and none of us have the right to demand one kind of life over another. I work for my children, and my children obey me and do as I say they should. I love my wife, and my wife maintains a home within these walls to which I can retire, and be free of the day’s events. These things are gifts of grace—they are not due me.

O’Hare winced and bit on his finger. That was not logical. He moved on to responsibility. “Responsibility,” he said aloud, turning from the window, his arms folded behind him, “responsibility is…” He recognised the voice. He had heard its echo in the assembly hall many times, but in his office it seemed lacklustre, like a dull, almost nasal re-rendering, like a kinescope. The word in particular had a vibratory quality to it, too many vowels. He realised he was holding his breath, then in a flurry, in three quick inhalations he restored himself to the world around him, as he often had need, and exhaled slowly and quietly.

“Responsibility is that thing that obtains solely to human beings, that requires us, not simply for the rightful comportment with others of our species, and the getting along of humanity, but as creatures made in the image of the Almighty God, those with a special bond to the Creator, to follow through,” he said with added emphasis, ticking the air in front of him, “to follow through with prearranged and innately understood courses of action complying with an ontic matrix of all and any actions known by the Creator as ‘good’.”

O’Hare drew aside the wooden lid to his cigarette box, then closed it, having forgotten that it had needed filling since last week.

“Ought,” he said. “Ought and…ought not. I ought to write a letter.”

He spoke a little louder.

“I ought to write a letter. I ought.” He took a deep breath, tilted up his chin, bellowed: “I ought to write a letter, a bloody letter! I ought!”

The door opened and Mrs Treadwell peered inside.

“What on earth…?”

“Ha!” said O’Hare with a lusty movement of his arms notwithstanding his tight tweed jacket, his fists clenched, “just warming up for the assembly.”

“That’s come and gone!”

“Next week then, next week. I want to be prepared.”

“Oh,” said Mrs Treadwell distrustfully. She began to close the door.

“Margaret,” he said.

“Yes Mr O’Hare?”

“Do you have any cigarettes?”

“Yes Mr O’Hare,” she said, withdrawing again.

“Er, no, on second thought Margaret, a bottle of milk.”

“A bottle?”

“Yes, of milk, if you please. But not from the kitchen, I want it from the butchers, in town.”

“I’ll send one of the boys shall I?”

“Yes, of course,” said O’Hare before catching himself. “No, I mean, no I want you to get it for me. And some of those spiced almonds if they still have them, a quarter pound.”

Mrs Treadwell looked incredulously at him.

“Here,” he said, taking out his wallet, walking the bills to her with his hand outstretched. “That should do it. In your own time.”

He returned to the window and listened for the door closing.

“Responsibility. To tell the truth. The whole truth. To…to…” he hurried to the bookshelf, the correct words, the feel of the correct words held precariously there between his um’s and er’s. He opened the King James Bible, flipped to the concordance, traced his finger along the words as he returned to the window. “To ‘have no fellowship,’” he continued, having found the verse, “’with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.’ To do what is uncomfortable, in the face of great resistance, to stand at the tide, and deliver an oration to a sea that can swallow you, to a people that hate you, because it’s right, because, because ultimately it’s in one’s best interest, if one wants to spend an eternity with the Creator. To do what is right while one still has the opportunity.”

O’Hare had grown quiet. He paced to the door and peered out the way Mrs Treadwell had peered in. He stepped into the anteroom, then searched the drawers of Mrs Treadwell’s desk for cigarettes. Finding a pack, he took one out and lit it. His fingers were trembling, but he didn’t know when that had begun. Thought had ended; that lofty, salutary type that leads men to conclusions about things previously unexamined, and makes one feel living, and not flat and dusty as O’Hare more often than not did, and now he felt poorly.

“Are you alright, sir?”

O’Hare turned.

“When did you come in, Crook?”

George Crook looked up at the headmaster and said nothing.

“Well why are you here?”

“I got sent here, sir, I’m in trouble.”

“’Was sent’. Why are you in trouble?”

George Crook took a folded letter out from under his thigh and held it up to Mr O’Hare who put the cigarette between his lips and read the note quietly. George Crook followed the headmaster’s microscopic expressions with anxious interest. O’Hare finished the letter, then looked down dismissively at the boy, who was indeed in trouble.

“Come in, Crook,” said O’Hare, who turned and re-entered his office.

At the window O’Hare watched the small, round, bundled Mrs Treadwell down below walk unevenly across the courtyard, toward the front gate.

“Relax, Crook,” he said, not turning around. “I’m not interested in punishing you, not today.” He drew on his cigarette then watched the smoke swirl and spread across the glass. She was a vanishing grey-green shape now, a tartan something tumbling slowly out into the world beyond Darbishire, and Mr O’Hare had a sudden, an almost manic lust for escape in the same discreet, soundless manner. He believed the afterlife was like that—quiet. Not heaven, which came after, and would arrive with a great crashing and thundering—matter itself dissolving, the cosmos folding in on itself, all of creation being withdrawn and replaced, and then much celebration and shindigging thereafter throughout eternity. No, that space immediately after one dies, before the great White Throne Judgement, to which the untimely-born Apostle visited and returned, prompting him to say, “To die is gain.” And while we wait, thought O’Hare, the secrets of the universe taught by the indwelt logos, and the secret language with which to understand those secrets. George Crook now was silent, and the office was silent, the typewriter outside was silent, and O’Hare took that as deliberate.

Turning, he lifted the large geode paperweight pressing down on an assortment of papers, many of them George Crook knew to be bad reports yet to be filed, and put the note from Crook’s schoolmistress on top, replacing the rock. He took off his jacket, hung it on his chair back and from an inside pocket pulled out a key on an old piece of twine. George Crook watched as he crouched behind his desk, unlocked a drawer somewhere down below and returned, face slightly flushed, with a letter. He put it down on the desk and stubbed out his cigarette then sat, the old, cold chair creaking even under his modest frame. Mr O’Hare seemed agitated, despite his leaning back, his quiet expression.

“What do you believe, Crook?” said Mr O’Hare now, looking down his nose at him. “That one man should die for the people, that the whole nation perish not?”

Whatever ease George Crook had allowed himself now disappeared. He waited hopefully for an elaboration, but there was only Mr O’Hare’s steady blue eyes.

“I think it’s John, sir, the Gospel of John.”

There was a pause of silence as O’Hare studied the boy’s face and processed his answer, then he laughed, loudly and abruptly. “That’s thinking outside the box, Crook! Yes indeed, very nicely done!”

Crook smiled. The headmaster was wiping a tear from his eye, he seemed to say something like “The innocence of youth,” or some similar endearment that he felt needn’t be repeated above his raspy chuckles, then he leant back in his chair.

“I don’t suppose you know what evil is yet. Not in the full, ‘present perfect progressive’ sense which I have come to understand the word. The world, I should say. I feel like a frog in a pot, Crook, slowly boiling. But that’s not fair. You are the ones being boiled alive, after all. I’m glad to say I’ve never been the one waiting in the dining hall but I have been the maître d’ and perhaps for that I’ll receive a greater portion of the judgement.

“Hesperus is Phosphorus,” said O’Hare after an extended period of silent reflection. He began leaning forward slowly, gravely. “Is Diabolos for that matter. Is Christos, is Kronos, is…is…” George Crook watched his headmaster’s gaze slacken and drift. He was deep in thought again.

“Is Ouroboros, finally. That circle that brings us back to Abraxas. The opposites unite. Heretics rediscover orthodoxy. Mortals immortality. And what is the law?” he queried. “Have we forgotten it? Has it changed? Is it really immutable? Are we bound to it? Is it to the law we pray? or to the Logos? I used to know Christ. That’s what I’ve said so many times as an adult. I used to know Christ, I used to. But I think that now what I know can’t be separated from what I’ve seen, what’s in my head, Crook,” he said, turning to the boy and tapping his temple with a stiff finger. “I learnt the liturgies, but too well, and now I’m missing the word from the words. We all must be children, like you. Who could have predicted such sorrow. Who would have known that the children would be the casualties of this spiritual warfare. I’m saying it Crook!” he shouted, standing, then sat, and he seemed to George Crook to be afraid suddenly, reproved, like the loudness of his own words had brought him out of a dream in which nothing mattered. “I haven’t slept much the last week, Crook, have they been talking about that? or have I been doing jolly well alright.”

“I haven’t heard anything, sir,” said George Crook after a moment, because the question at first had gone right by him, and he had to summon the courage, after deciding the question did indeed require a response, to respond. Mr O’Hare pushed back a band of his hair that had fallen across his face.

“I sometimes think I’m alone in this,” he said. “I wanted to be an engineer initially. I don’t know why I chose to be a teacher. I thought I’d be more comfortable. Or someone said that to me once, one of my professors. ‘You’d be more comfortable…etcetera.’ I love children. That’s why I chose to be a teacher. I love children. Do you know, Crook, that when I became a father I lost all of my cynicism? Not permanently, mind you, but for a long time looking in my child’s face, hearing his laughter, I couldn’t be cynical, life was too grand for bitterness. Children are special. And I think a key of some sort, I can’t articulate exactly. Children must connect with the immaterial world in a way adults cannot. The adepts know that too. That’s why children feature necessarily in their magic. Who was it that said that God is in the eyes of a child? Well in any case it was Dostoyevsky who said the demon of lawlessness is in us all. And that’s perhaps where it begins. The very goodness of a child. Magic is the changing of one thing into another. Like turning a tree into charcoal. ‘Suffer little children and forbid them not to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ For every saintly pleasure there’s an inverse demonic pleasure—the same elements are at play, yet we are building different towers. With the left hand we build the tower of Babel, and with the right we build the Kingdom of God. We are masons of skill in both, Crook, He has made us more than capable. But children are not masons, they are the Kingdom, the Lord’s most powerful allies. Our salvation stands or falls on how we see children. What children are to us. God demands that we be like children when we look up to him, we cannot assume our understanding of anything counts for anything. We submit to the unknowable wisdom of God. See adults are smart, Crook. That’s what we think. But God’s ignorance is man’s genius. Lucifer was about knowledge, human knowledge, that’s what the light represents. That’s the eye that beholds the divine light.” Headmaster O’Hare joined his thumbs and forefingers to form an eye. He said all this as an aside it seemed to George Crook, like he had too much to say in too short a time, too much of little consequence that must be said nonetheless. “But see if we look down on children, and assume that by virtue of our being merely older we are of more value, or are at liberty to use children for this or for that, we become like the man who prays to himself in the temple, and he cannot expect forgiveness. We are blind from birth to death, the little we see is from God. On earth we race from newness of life to the end of our days, from youth to decay, but in the Kingdom of God we are all racing to be born again. We all striving to be like children, we all returning to Eden, before the fall. The devil’s way of interpreting that is cosmetics, Crook. Is organ transplantation. Is bathing in young blood, like that Hungarian countess I can’t remember. Wearing the skin of infants. What could be more perverse?”

“I don’t know, sir,” said George Crook. “Are you leaving?”

“Leaving where? Who told you that?”

“I’ve heard that you were going to resign but that it’s actually that they’re pushing you out.”

“Yes it’s true,” said Mr O’Hare, “I don’t know when, but soon.”

They each sat looking at each other from opposite sides of the desk, George Crook in his jacket too tight, arms resting on his chair’s armrests too high, and Mr O’Hare, leaning now to one side, thoughtful fingers covering his mouth. A wind picked up outside and haled itself through a gap somewhere. George Crook began to weep.

“This is it,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” said O’Hare. “I’ve let you down.”

“You haven’t let us down, sir, it’s those other teachers what…it’s those other teachers that…”

“That’s what it means to let someone down, boy,” said O’Hare sternly. He wished George Crook would stop crying. “I stood by and didn’t speak up.” His throat felt bruised. He squinted and set aside the other things he knew he should say but couldn’t.

George wiped his tears away with a hand, sensing the headmaster’s displeasure.

“Fifty such letters wouldn’t atone for this obscenity,” O’Hare said quietly, picking up the letter on his table as though having forgotten it, inspecting it crudely front and back. “Fifty letters to the fifty noblest men in England. Here is one, nonetheless, I ask the Lord to bless it. Did you know, Crook, that you needn’t go to confession to be forgiven?”

You don’t sir?”

“No. None must. And I say none should. We are children reconciled to God. We musn’t offend our Father by ignoring him, by contracting out to someone necessarily inferior to Him. We are the only people on earth with the privilege…we ask Him to forgive us, he does, and that’s that. That’s that,” he said again, rapping on his table. “The damned will be punished once for their sins, and an eternity for rejecting His forgiveness. It’s an unresolvable, immense, infinite, recursive thing. As simple and as wonderful as it is to receive, is as grave and undoable it is to reject. So we shouldn’t mess about it with it—we ask His forgiveness and believe it, or we stretch the whole world’s credulity by saying you do this, or you do that in order to be saved, and then enter the devil.”

“It’s as you say, sir.”

“Oh well,” said O’Hare, “that’s all, boy, get out. Mrs Treadwell’s coming back soon and I want to enjoy my milk in peace.” He was hastily finishing the letter as he was speaking. He signed it roughly, angrily, then replaced the pen. George Crook hadn’t moved. He was afraid to.

The headmaster, standing, put back on his coat and returned to the window. He opened one, and George stood upright suddenly. He felt as though he were seeing something violent. The other he pushed open too—there was no crank; he stretched his body outward, pushing on the small brass handle until the angle was at its limit. The cold autumn air rushed in, O’Hare folded his arms behind his back as he was wont to do when inspecting the outside world from his office, and George Crook could hear now on the air the choir practicing the Miserere without him.

“You’re a strong boy, Crook, despite what the other kids say. We’ve not all been forced to live without our fathers. When you leave here remember there are some good ones,” he said.

In the anteroom George Crook sat and waited for Mrs Treadwell to return, so that he could tell her as soon as possible that something was wrong with headmaster O’Hare, that he was afraid for him. That he thought that maybe he needed someone to talk too, someone to talk to him, and right away. When Mrs Treadwell returned it was with Samantha the teacher’s assistant. She had an appointment.

“Mrs Treadwell,” said George Crook, standing. “Mrs Treadwell, I need to talk to you.”

“What have you done this time?” said Mrs Treadwell, putting down the headmaster’s milk and almonds.

“I’m first, Crook,” said Samantha.

“Mrs Treadwell, I think something’s wrong with the headmaster.”

Mrs Treadwell stopped, stared at the boy, and her pale, wrinkled lips tensed. Her fear and silence made the boy afraid, and he began weeping again.

“Mrs Treadwell—” said the girl.

“Shut up, Samantha,” she replied, standing by the door to the headmaster’s office. She placed a hand at the doorhandle. Down at her feet a cold draught blew—it rippled the hem of her dress.

“Mr O’Hare,” she called politely, knocking, turning the knob. “Mr O’Hare I’m back.” She went inside.

After a moment she returned.

“Where is he?”

George Crook held his face in his hands.

“I knew it!” he sobbed.

Mrs Treadwell left the anteroom and, politely, as before, called the headmaster’s name.

Samantha, knocking on the headmaster’s door, entered cautiously. George Crook watched her, her slight frame, her timid hands held stiffly at her sides. She waded through the headmaster’s office, this way, looking at the photographs and honours, that way, the ornaments adorning the bookshelf, the pot-pourri in its vase, the cross and the rosary, and the crystal pitcher full of water on its salver, things she touched without invitation, with bold and open interest, as though she were touching the face itself—his face, because she knew he was dead, like Crook did.

George entered too, though stood by at the door ready to leave if an adult were to return.

She considered telling Crook to sing the Pie Jesu, something he could do very, very well, but the simple words she needed to do that she felt were impossible to say. She picked up the headmaster’s geode paperweight, felt its roughness like an avocado on the outside, and the cold, smooth machine-cut lip of the chalcedony innards. A breeze crinkled and stirred the topmost sheets of the pile, that headache of correspondence and responsibility that may never have been completely resolved. Samantha picked up and read the letter left in the midst of his desk. It was addressed to the vicar general. Nothing in it surprised her. Not one detail. She folded it slowly and gently and slid it into the stamped envelope left beside it, then slipped the envelope into her coat pocket. Her father was a personal friend of the vicar general, she would make sure it made it to him.

At the window, looking over the parish, Samantha wondered what this would mean for her work, whether she would have more time or less to finish her duties. She also wondered whether she would be asked to say something at the assembly (there must be an assembly). St Bride stood out above the fog: she peered with unspectacled eyes now in the direction of the town. It was clearer without the crusty old panes of glass, but still not clear. She held the headmaster’s lenses, which she knew to be in a green case in his top drawer, up to her eyes and it seemed a little crisper. Lowering them, she thought perhaps that the church bell should be tolling, but realised then that it wasn’t ceremony she felt was needed. It wasn’t an impromptu Pie Jesu. It was the sound of screaming. She wished she were screaming, though she knew it was too late now. She wished it were a thing one could do for an atrocity that had begun many millennia ago and not ended. She wanted for the whole civilised world to begin screaming, to show that our horror, if we were human enough for horror, was still our best weapon against evil; our continued, sustained distress, our tears, our prayers, our extravagant, childish wish for something different.

 

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