Rudd stabs his fork into the last of his chips. He sweeps it up through the tomato sauce on the edge of his plate, and back down towards a few grains of salt. His eyes are almost closed, his head pillowed on the palm of his hand. Sleepily, he repeats the motion, hypnotized by the slow, wiper-blade progress of the fork. Finally he brings the red-gold slice up to his mouth, chews it slowly, and then lets his fork rattle down on to the plate.
“Mind if I join you?”
He looks up and sees an older man in front of him – tall, tidy, looking clean in the shadows. Slowly, slowly his tired mind connects him back to the wedding, back to the service under the trees, planets ago. Surprised, he pulls himself upright and glances around the room. It’s empty. Even the doctors have gone.
“May I join you?” the priest asks again.
“Sure. Everything okay? My apologies for all this,” he mumbles, sweeping his hand vaguely around the room.
“Not your fault,” says the priest, sitting down. “Good meal by the way. Impressive producing it in these conditions, especially with no staff.”
“Thanks. Wasn’t just me.”
“Saw Simi and Marybelle in the kitchen earlier. Quite a partnership.”
“For sure,” says Rudd.
“Marybelle? She must have Scottish in her, or something?”
Rudd shrugs. “Don’t know. Jacobus might.”
“Oh. You don’t know?”
“No, not really. Jacobus was talking to Tim about her. I think Jacobus was at school with her.”
Rudd sits a little straighter, trying to drag his mind back from the cliff edge of sleep. Marybelle? She slips around his mind, like a bird trapped in a room. He can’t catch her.
“Oh,” says the priest. “I see. She seems a bit of an outsider, don’t you think?”
Marybelle? Why all these questions about Marybelle?
“I don’t know.” Rudd shrugs . He tries to end it there, but the priest’s eyes force him deeper. “May have grown up with Jacobus. Something like that. His mum took care of her because her mum died? The mum who adopted her. I think she was adopted. Best to ask Jacobus.”
“Wonder if she’s got any family …” the priest muses, the fingers of one hand tapping gently on the table, his signet ring a dull glow.
Rudd cricks his neck from side to side, eyes closed. When he opens them he sees that the priest is looking at him. He stops his stretching. “She works at a school. The same one she went to. I do know that. Seems mad to me.”
He is about to stand up, to end the conversation, when the kitchen door swings open. It thumps against the wall, and as though summoned by some mysterious force, Marybelle appears, with Simi behind her.
Rudd raises a hand in greeting, relieved at the interruption, but Marybelle does not stop. She hurries past, ushering her companion up towards the reception area. He calls out to her. “Everything okay, Marybelle?”
She stops, and turns towards him. “Oh, hi Rudd. Never saw you. Hello Father Norman. Just off to find the doctors. Can’t stop.” She gives them a little wave, and is gone before Rudd can reply, with Simi’s kaftan, flowing like a field of flowers behind her.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023