Paternoster Tales: Chapter 33

Disappearing and dreaming.

Is being Disappeared final?

Could it be the next step on the forgotten soul’s path to dying? If it is, I hope Molly waits for me. If I’d gone first, I’d wait for her. Definitely. If I could.

Her dream-scape was the most beautiful thing I had ever experienced. Full of the sort of light that a spring sun-rise brings and the jubilant cacophony of a howl of high-swinging gibbons. It danced through my head, twisting scents of summer into every corner of my soul and filling me with a frisson of excited anticipation of good things to come like honey drizzled on bacon and candles flickering on birthday cakes and a snowy white owl flying in front of an icy moon. I saw things I have only ever dreamed of and I wondered how Molly knew.

I grew up throwing sacks onto ships; maybe Molly knew this, or perhaps she’d guessed from the dock-workers’ songs I sometimes sing. How did she know, though, that I had dreamed of climbing the ship’s rigging and feeling the wind blowing in my hair, as searing-white sails billowed beneath my feet? How could she know that I have long wanted to view the city, at sunset, from the top of St Paul’s? … something that Paternoster had forbidden. And did she trespass into my head to find my secret longing to see and hear an opera – not a snatched listen through a crack in a window pane, but the full assault on the ears from inside the … hmm … which concert venue, when there are so many in London to choose from? She chose a prom at the Royal Albert Hall; and two old friends called Zurga and Nadir singing about being faithful to each other even after life threatened to push them apart. I have always been faithful to Molly. I think her dream-scape told me she knew that. She has always been faithful to me.

The last part of her dream-scape ended before I could understand it; it was night with the stars of the constellation Orion high above the Shard, as though the city was raising a sword to challenge the warriors of the heavens …

… Orion … why?

… What would Min say?

As you don’t yet know who Min is – or any of the others, for that matter – I’ll desist from wondering what Molly was trying to say in this dream-scape. Maybe, I’ll get back to it later. After I’ve finished this Tale.

Despite everything he has lived through, Patrick shares Molly’s faith in people, in loyalty and in lasting friendship.

He lost a lot of friends during the war. The same war that flattened all the book shops and publishing houses in Paternoster Row. When I say he lost friends, what I mean is he lost the sort of friends that little boys have – the old man who gave him a sweet in return for delivering a newspaper. The laundry woman who always had a song and a smile. The warden who had fashioned a game like hopscotch, played with pennies, on the steps of St Paul’s. The friend whose dad had gone to war and whose mother couldn’t bear to have him evacuated and when finally she agreed and he went to live with an elderly uncle in Suffolk, caught measles and died before she could get to him.

And his two older brothers.

Your brothers aren’t meant to die. That is a thing that doesn’t seem right. They died within five weeks of each other, in the summer of 1940, when Patrick was six. He wasn’t told their story. He was a small boy and his parents’ only surviving son. He wasn’t told but he knew his brothers weren’t coming home. He watched his parents and their silence and their tears. He remembered the day he first saw his father cry; Christmas 1940 – the stove didn’t normally take that long to light; his father was frozen, crouched in front of it, the match long burnt out between his fingers. Tears poured down his cheeks. Silently. When he saw Patrick, he wiped his face and whispered “It’s ‘ard to bear Paddy-lad. It wouldn’t do to tell your mother you saw me cryin’. “

No-one had called him ‘Paddy-lad’ since. Days later, on the 29th of December, the blitz flattened the streets near them and blew out most of the windows in their house, filling it with smoke and dust and the smell of lost hopes. Patrick saw his father cry again. He’d been a book-binder, crafting the onlays and gilded names for the spines of leather book jackets; turning blocked pages of words into something crafted and beautiful. But the finishing rooms, the warehouse, the printers and thousands of books had gone. Shortly after the bombing and the fires, Patrick was evacuated to his older sister’s, in a village in Dorset and he never saw his father again. His mother lived on in the house where Patrick now lives, until she was too old and moved to a care-home on the south side of the river, where she stared at roses, until one day she fell asleep and never woke again.

So what of Patrick now?

Well … you will recall his dinner with the judge and before that his arrest and distress. Now … he has Mungo’s muzzle in his lap and he’s talking with Paternoster.

Picture the judge, full of dinner, snoring walrus-like in a leather chair in the corner of a room lined with books and book shelves, in the centre of which is a clearing where several easels stand guard over a small plantation of teetering piles of canvases and sketch pads and thickets of paint brushes sprouting above long-dried water jars and pots and a few vases. Where the moonlight casts a shadow across the muted colours of a patterned rug, and Patrick sits at a vast oak desk, with his hands wrapped round a coffee cup and his dog leaning against his legs, determined not to let him go again. On the desk, is littered the letters and ledgers and literature of a life lived alone. And … fittingly perched amid the almost discarded papers is Paternoster, with his feet on an inkwell and his chin resting on the smooth curved top of a dimly-glowing, comfortingly warm, metal desk lamp.

The Judge had shared an idea. And freed by the knowledge that Agatha had been found, Paternoster and Patrick were letting their imaginations fly. Patrick’s house was large and filled with empty rooms; even the space he inhabited was too much for just an old man and his old dog. If the judge’s idea could be made to work, every room of the house would ring with busy, arty activity and Patrick’s loneliness would be banished forever.

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