Claire, a bushy-haired sixteen-year old, had passed through a pagan Goth-phase and now took the view that God is green-and-everywhere.
Lizzie, a chubby twelve-year old, was a straightforward Girl’s Brigade believer. With prayers and the tambourine as a big attraction.
Boswell, a pale and spindly thirteen-year old, didn’t not-believe in God. He just didn’t often think about it. If he had a philosophy, it was Maybe. If pressed, he would go for a play-it-safe Probably. On Sundays.
At school, there was no room for Maybe or Probably: Religious Education was Compulsory. On Fridays. For an hour a week, in the company of Miss Wemyss, Year 8 faced up to the major religious issues of the day: embracing Ethics and Morality and suchlike. All this could have been terminally sleep-making, but Miss Wemyss was a lively young person and kept things on the go, even among the bone-heads of the back-row. She had blonde hair and a curly smile and called him by his first name. She was one of the few teachers that he described as ‘OK’. More than ‘OK’.
Despite the Weemys-thing, Figgis’s interest in Religion normally faded by about three-thirty on a Friday. However, this week there was homework: ‘Choose a major character from the Old Testament. Write a story about the person and the world they lived in.’.
‘Do your research,’ said Miss Wemyss, ‘but use your imagination. Show your characters as real people, dealing with real Issues. Make it around a thousand words. We will discuss.’
Year 8 wasn’t keen on Issues. But maybe there was some mileage in imagining stuff about Salome, or Mr and Mrs Lot. Maybe David v. Goliath. Or what about Eve? And the serpent? Why not? As they left the room, it didn’t seem such a bad idea.
When he got home, Figgis sat at his father’s desk and took down the family Bible – often dusted, seldom opened. He closed his eyes, turned a few pages and poked a finger at random … ‘Methuselah’. Excellent, he thought. Plenty of scope.
His mother came in and said ‘Why are you poking the Bible, Boswell?’
‘I’m not poking. I’m absorbing.’
‘The Word of God.’ There was, he thought, no answer to that.
‘Have you washed your hands?’ Mothers always have an answer.
After tea, hands double-cleansed to Biblical standards, Figgis settled down with the Good Book.
Genesis 5:21 And Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begat Methuselah.
Figgis counted back through the Book: M. was seventh in line from Adam. He drew the shape of a seven-layer family tree. His jaw jutted, his pen jotted: he was making progress. His father came in. ‘You’re not making marks in the Book, I trust.’
‘It’s over hundred years old.’
Not that often, by the look of it, thought Figgis. But he went for the quiet life. ‘Yes, Dad.’
His father came close. ‘What are you looking at?’
Please, just let me get on with it, thought Figgis. ‘Genesis,’ he said.
‘Hmm,’ said his father. ‘Tricky … Creation – the Flood and so on.’
‘Yes, Dad.’ He did giraffes walking on to his Ark.
‘Right, then.’ His father picked up some papers for the sake of it and left.
Figgis looked at his giraffes. They wouldn’t fit into his Ark. Obviously. So what about Diplodocus? Forget it. What about the Blue Whale? For God’s sake, Figgis, give it a rest.
He went back to the Book. Genesis 5:26: ‘And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years and begat sons and daughters’
‘Of course he did,’ thought Figgis. A story-line began to form in his mind. ‘I bet he begat big-time. The family allowance would be mega-meg.’
Genesis 5:27 And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.
Figgis checked the arithmetic. It seemed OK. Well, if the guy had some sort of scam going, you’d expect the figures to add up. But, in any case, this was a story crying out to be told … A family working all the wheezes … Son Lamech living (allegedly) to be 777 years and grandson Noah (he of the Flood) living to be 950 … Death duties? Do me a favour – nobody dies round here … Pensions? Gimme, gimme … and don’t forget to praise the Lord.
‘Do research,’ Miss Wemyss had said. The Bible was a bit thin on background, but the Web would have loads of stuff. Loads. Yes, indeed, CyberSearch gave thousands of sites for ‘Methuselah’ – get-rich schemes and anti-ageing ideas … No, no – forget it.
But he wouldn’t mind a name for Methuselah’s wife. He clicked ‘wife’.
Lizzie came in. She looked at the screen and said ‘Why do you want to know about wives?’
‘I don’t. I need Methuselah’s wife. For homework. Go away.’
She looked closer. ‘Why is it offering you a Discreet Relationship?’
‘Boswell! It says ‘Wife for Sale’ … You’re on to a weird web-site!’
‘No, I’m not!’ His face flushed. He knew this was going to cost him.
‘SexyDating …I’m telling Mum!’
‘I’m doing a story. For RE. And I’m busy.’
‘Of course you are. So you won’t be needing your CD player for the week-end.’
‘Help yourself.’ It was a token surrender: the player was on the blink and now he could blame her.
‘I’ll leave you two to click together,’ she said. ‘Don’t forget to tell her about your spots.’
Figgis threw a book and switched off the computer. Forget the Web; go back to basics. He turned to Genesis 5 and took notes. Main players: … Methuselah … Lamech … Noah … Plus sons and daughters. Allegedly. The usual suspects.
What did these people do? … lived, begat, died … lived, begat, died … As a story-line, it was thin. No faces, no places, no how, what, or why … The thing needed more spice.
Think, think … There was so little in the Book. Why? … Someone was covering up. Who? … No women were listed in Genesis 5. How come?
Click – Figgis snapped his fingers. It was the women what dunnit.
OK, try this for story size. The men run a begat business (whatever) in downtown Edensville. The real brains are the wives and daughters (no names on file) who are into benefit fraud, tax fiddles, anti-ageing scams. You name it, they’re creaming it. Then M’s wife (call her Moll) has this idea for a Flood. Protection racket or insurance job? You decide.
Figgis’s mind was racing now. He had seen the Light. He had Characters and Conflict. He just needed a Moral ending …
Think, think … OK, the Flood gets out of hand and everyone drowns … Except for Noah and his wife, who were legit all along.
Great stuff. This would have Issues and Imagination all over. Fantasy, even … Figgis looked forward to writing it – and to the prospect of Miss Wemyss’ curly smile across the class-room. And, just possibly, a ‘See Me’ in red ink at the bottom of his page.
Next week Birds, Bees and Centipedes.