Stephen J. Hayhow

At home in Stoke Newington Church Street: Pentecost

Darkness in those weeks beforehand, thick and almost opaque, which had covered our part of the city, it weighed upon our minds.  That darkness momentarily pressed down upon me as I stood, half-awake, glancing at the frayed and torn curtain, remembering the sign of the blood.  But that had been nearly three months ago. That death, that darkness for three long hours, had left its mark, as if the whole city bore its weight, but not its meaning. No one spoke of it now. Life returned to normal. Outside on Spensely Terrace, opposite the Victorian terrace where I had rented rooms for the last decade, which I barely called “home”, the sun shone brightly on the facade of Stoke Newington church, the park was in spring bloom, the traffic quiet. I stepped back into the drawing room, poured the Earl Grey from the China pot, sipped from the teacup, paused, and sat down in the old leather nursing chair. After flicking through the Telegraph, I tossed the paper onto the coffee table, got up and shuffled back over to the French window, again gently parted the frayed and torn curtain with my stained thumb, and once more looked out on the street below.

There was a shabby man, muttering in some ancient tongue, muffled by noise, as a bus passed, but I could not make out what he was saying. Normally the street preacher was there on Thursday afternoons, annoying passers-by with his megaphone and blasts of imminent doom, delivered through his battery-powered beat-box, but not today.

With the air of a prophet (as if I had ever seen one of those?) this slouching fool, with strong and worn hands, not those of the office, but of hard manual work, or the battering of the sea,  straightened and looked up at the sky. For a moment I thought he glanced up at my window, I instinctively withdraw and twitched the nets closed. How stupid, I thought, why would it matter whether or not he saw me? And then again the weight of that memory, that leaned on the mind as if for support, and like deep death, like none before we had known. But we did not talk about that anymore.

The dishevelled man started up again , but louder this time.. He said it was our fault.. we had done it.. it was going to come upon us.. we were guilty, not other people, but each one of us. By now a crowd had gathered, quite a sizeable one, in fact. Women with pushchairs and impatient small children, a cluster of new City blokes, who appeared to know each other, most likely on their way up to square mile, stopped, stood, and listened . No one ever listened to these people! Least of all those city types!

The speaker’s voice grew, and then another man began to speak, but I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Was it even English? Anyway, it was the first speaker who was getting all of the attention.

Then it happened: the wind picked up – but it was a clear, well almost clear day – the trees swayed under what started as a breeze, but blew up into a gust and then a heavy wind. But the crowd did not move, and still the man’s voice grew stronger, fuller, richer, even mellow.

There was the shaking, the blurring of vision, the flames of fire heating the mind, blocking the sense with heat, terrible heat… The church across the green appeared to bend as when you are looking along hot tarmac on an August summer’s day. Next there was a terrible crack, and the stained glass windows on the façade smashed and glass trickled and fell to the pavement below, almost in slow motion, but not where anyone was standing. No one shrieked or even moved. I noticed that the wind was blowing against the church’s façade, but seemed to pour out of it, as if the source were from inside.

The curtain in my hand ripped, for I had not noticed how firmly I was gripping it, and then it was as if I was slipping downwards, clinging on and dragging it with me; but I was falling down, further than the solid floor beneath me, dragging the whole room with me. The pain in my hand from the wound was sore and irritated by the rough curtain fabric.

The odd man kept speaking and somehow I heard him distinctly, in spite of the disturbance. Every word. Like the clear call of a bell, but not that church bell. I was losing all sense. But I could hear, I could hear nothing else except that voice; it was as if the voice spoke from within my mind. How could a man speak with such clarity, when the old world was sliding away and dragging me down and away with it?

I felt the compulsion to go outside, but I was almost prostrate on the floor, the words, “this generation” ringing in my ears, the wind now rushing, gashing, smashing, and cutting through the drawing room, a swirling confusion. Newspaper headlines and “current events” spinning around the room, pictures lifting from the walls, rattling but not falling, the William Morris wallpaper with its distinct and bold patterns, blurred and out of focus.

I crawled along the floor, “I must go, I must come, I have to go down!”, I heard myself ! Oh that compulsion, who has ever felt that desire, that gravitational pull towards a torrent of words. But I felt that pressure, it grew stronger and stronger. The Words were dragging me, drawing me into themselves, engulfing and consuming me in their meaning.

I managed to open the door, then leaned against the banister and tumbled down the stairway in the hall, propelled towards the wide Victorian front door with locks and bolts. With my face pressed up against it, I yanked down the latch, and pulled the door back towards me into the house. The wind did the rest. But then the wind, as it were, got hold of me, and dragged me stumbling onto the kerb like a drunk,… pulling me towards the pensive crowd. 

Some were weeping, others were in what looked like state of shock. I was prostrate on the pavement. Somehow I had half-crawled and pushed my way to the front of the crowd, which was now filling the whole square. The man continued. Every word struck like a hammer, every word clear, the death, the life and now the wind. The fire was the end and it was the beginning. It was the end of that heavy weight on our minds, he said. I heard myself, shout, “But what shall we do? What shall we do?” The man paused, glanced in my direction, and continued, “Look… you just look – look at your victim! Make sure you look at his palms, will you? Look into those holes.. they are dry now, they do not weep blood! Just look!” 

Well, I did look. And this time I saw. But I saw with my mind. The weight lifted from my mind, but it was just then the water came. The sky was clear, but the ground was wet. Sprays of fresh water, like a sprinkler or a water hose, began to douse the whole crowd. We all looked up to see where it was coming from. The sun shone, but the water kept coming, we were drenched, all of us, children, women with children, city workers in their sharp suits, all of us soaked.

But now I was clean. I felt clean. I knew cleanness. I pulled myself up, unsteady, and smiled at the people around me, none of whom I knew, none of whom noticed me and I staggered back to my flat, pushing my way through the soggy crowd, but no longer of the old dispensation.

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