Friday, 23 June 2017

The Invitation

[Media prompt] The head of the Church of England admits that it helped to hide sex abuse of boys and young men by one of its bishops.
The Invitation

“Well, we can’t avoid him forever,” his wife said, delicately navigating a spatula muddied with cake mix into his open mouth. “He’s not worth the trouble.”

He clamped his lips over the soft rubber blade, wiping it clean as his wife withdrew it, murmuring something incomprehensible through his batter glued lips.

“Oh,” he said, closing his eyes raised aloft as though in prayer. “Why not just eat it like that?”

Her frown was betrayed by a smile. She filled the cake tin, neatly lined with baking paper, and then clanged it heavily on the countertop, as her mother and grandmother had done. Satisfied, she took a sip of wine from a glass crowded in by leftover eggshells, a box of cocoa, chocolate buttons in a Ziploc bag. Half of knob of butter lay unwrapped next to a sieve dusty with the snowy remnants of sugar and flour.

“Open it will you,” she said, already half way across the warmed kitchen, tin clasped tightly. He pulled at the handle, hot air blasting out as the door opened.

“Be careful,” she said, sliding the tin onto an oven rack stained by hundreds of drips and dollops.

“You see, I think he is worth the trouble,” he said, the closing pop of the oven door a celebratory champagne cork for flawless teamwork. “I know he’s your brother, but–”

“It’s not that.” His wife folded the wrapper around the butter, threw the eggshells into the kitchen bin. “His conduct is...,” she sought for the right word, running water over the frosted sieve. “Despicable. But that’s not my point.”

He watched her put away the chocolate buttons, close the lid of the cocoa box and slide it into the cupboard next to a packet of something that mystified him. She was still trim, her legs like a girl of twenty, tanned and glowing in the kitchen warmth. He started to say something, but his wife was quicker.

“We can’t let it control us. Why should his disgusting deeds prevent us from going? I’m not saying you’re not right. You are. What good person would want to be within forty feet of him? But if we don’t attend, then it’s as though he’s won.”

He could see the batter had started to rise in the oven, the beginnings of the dome already appearing. Cakes. They were such simple creations, chemically speaking, but the molecular rearrangement was a work of God.

“He’s got away with it, you know. Home free.”

His wife removed her apron, washed her hands. The water foamed in the sink.

“Yes,” she said. “I know.”

And then she put her wet hand to her forehead. At first he thought it was because she had not dried her hands, but saw they were real tears on her cheeks. She picked up the apron and dried them away.

“I always looked up to him,” she said, dabbing at the corner of her eyes. “He was so … selfless. Once, I guess I was about thirteen, he cancelled a hike for his D of E award to do my babysitting. I needed to study for a test. I forget what for now. But because of that, he didn’t get his Bronze.”

He looked at the cake tin, basked in orange light. There was something spiritual about it, like a stained glass window in the late afternoon sun.

“We have to face him,” his wife said, leaning back against the counter. “Not for him. For us. The easy thing is to dodge him. I want to avoid him as much as you. More than you. But we have to go.”

The man nodded.

“I’ll RSVP, then. Today. But the Archbishop of Canterbury can go to hell.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” she said, peering into the oven. 

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