The Pilgrim’s Progress, or, The Pilgrims’ Progress, or, The Pilgrims Progress… (and some people think punctuation doesn’t matter…)

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An illustrated extract from my novel Peter and Paul. The action commences at N 51° 52’ 11” W 3° 40’ 01.76” exactly.

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Then said young Country Wiseman, “All set, then?” and Pilgrim, having made some small adjustments to the webbing whereby his weighty burden was secured upon his back, answered him with a main voice, Yea. Let us go forth. In the name of the Lord, Amen, for he found that he was indeed in remarkable good spirits now, such that Country Wiseman wondered greatly at him and he at himself also. Must be the fresh air. And he encouraged the females in their company in like wise also, they being weaker vessels unused to such manly marching that he might bring them abroad saying unto them, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.
“What are you talking about, Daddy?”
“Don’t know, Alice! It just came into my head. It’s in Pilgrim’s Progress: John Bunyan, you should read it, I was glancing through it on Sunday afternoon while you were reading your, er, on the lawn…. But Bunyan’s quoting… It’s somewhere near the beginning and he’s quoting…” Oh. Peter pauses. Now I know why it came into my head. Funny how the mind works. He turns, lest he be consumed, looks towards the mountain.
“Quoting what, Daddy?”
“It doesn’t matter. I can’t remember. Lot’s… I mean, Let’s… go!”
“Do you know what Daddy’s on about, Sasha?” asked Alice as they started to pick their paths through the tussocky turf towards the stream, stone strewn bemerded by apparently German speaking sheep it seemed to Sasha, sheep who said mehr…
“Sasha?”
“You really expect me to explain our father to you?” Our Father. Paternoster. “Which art in Heaven.”
“What?”
“Hello!”
“Sasha…”
“D’Bee thy name.”
“’S not fair.”
“Ewh. You said snot.”
“Sasha!”
“What? Rhymes with snot.”
“It is, not fair.”
“Life isn’t. Nobody ever said that it was.”
“Every time I ask you a serious question, Sasha, you say something I don’t understand, or you tickle me and throw me on the floor. I’ll save you the trouble this time.” And she plucked at her armpits apelike going ow ow ow before throwing herself into the long grass by the stream. After playing dead for a second or two she sat up and sadly watched Jack and their father splashing manly deep striding through get your boots wet through the stream while shrinking on the brink hand in hand on rocking clunky stepping stones teetering Fran and their mother trying to balance…
Sasha, still laughing at Alice’s antics watched Alice watching and loved her. Realised how much she loved her. This was a new feeling, wasn’t it? She strolled up to her, and then knelt down so their faces were close, put an arm round her.
“I think Daddy was saying some words from the Bible which are quoted, copied, that is, referred to, you know? in a book by John Bunyan called Pilgrim’s Progress.”
Sasha watches Alice’s brows contract, the little frown lines come, her lips rounding, beginning to form who, what, why…
“I’m not sure, because I’ve only skimmed it- have to admit it didn’t grip- but I think at the beginning the main character, Pilgrim, is comparing himself to Lot…”
“Lots of what?”
“No, that was his name, Lot. He’s a character in the Bible who had to try to persuade his wife and… two daughters… ah. To go on a journey.”
“Daddy’s got a wife and two daughters.”
“So he has.”
A sudden shriek from Fran, who has apparently got water in her boot.
“Ow! It’s really cold!”
Peter and Jack, some way on by now, turn back to see what all the… oh dear, the men look at one another knowingly, women eh? this is going to take all day at this rate… Pilgrim refrained himself as long as he could, that his wife and children should not perceive his impatience; but he could not be silent long, because that it looked like being a bloody long hike and the morning was far spent and it was nearly lunchtime already.
“Come on, girls,” calls Peter.
“I’m all wet. My boot went under.”
“Aaah!”
“Oh no, Jane! You’re up to your knees!”
“Come on…”
“Jane’s gone in as well… Ow!! It’s slippy!”
“Hop on, then, little Sis,” says Sasha crouching, suddenly businesslike. “Let’s go.”
“Yay, piggy-back!”
So Sasha heaves little Alice aboard and strides straight through the midst of the waters of the flood thereof, splash splash enough of this pratting about splashy splash up the other bank and here we are.

Tawe stream

“Off you get now, I’m puffed.”
“Too many fags.”
“You’re right there, little Sis.”
Now when all were safely arrived upon the other side there was great rejoicing and much laughter though some of it seemed a bit hysterical to Peter well that’s not surprising he thought not really given the really rather odd party we are come to think of it. Really…
Jack, knowing the way, led the way, saying, This is the way, and in truth, this is the life: I love it here, out on the hills, great. And Fran hopped and skipped to catch him up while Peter, commiserating of his kindness with his wife’s wetness, brought her along as quickly as may be behind. Last of all the two daughters, the long and the short of it.
“Why was he trying to persuade them to go on a journey?”
“Who?”
“Lot.”
“Oh.” Sasha glances at Alice, trudging along doggedly by her side, has a quick look at their parents’ backs a dozen paces in front. “It’s not a very… Not a very easy story to tell.”
“Is that because I’m Too Young?”
“You guessed it.”
“So it’s about sex, is it.”
“Well… it’s got sex in it. But it’s not very nice sex. If you see what I mean. Which you of course don’t.”
“Because I’m Too Young. Tell me anyway.”
Dug myself a hole there, all right. Always doing that. Sasha walks few more paces, checking her parents’ backs again. Not easy. She’s just decided she really loves this funny looking little bundle, and she really doesn’t want to tell her a nasty story so corrosive of innocence… I mean, little Alice here has no idea that a father could offer his two daughters for the sexual entertainment of a lustful mob; neither does she know that the same father’s same two daughters could get him drunk with wine and then make him have sexual intercourse with them so that they could have children. Sasha doesn’t want to be the one to put these horrible ideas into her sister’s funny little head.
“Oh, don’t bother, then.” Sulky again. Damn.
Sasha stops, takes Alice’s arm gently, gets in close.
“Alice, love.”
“What.”
“Please try and understand. I’m not joking and I’m not going to tickle you and throw you on the floor. Please.”
Alice’s eyes flicker up to her sister’s, look away, back; her head goes down, her lower lip starting to protrude. Like when she was a baby and- God it’s no joke, she really is still Too Young… Sasha kneels down, kisses her cheek.
“Alice, there are horrible things in the world. So horrible that sensible grown ups just tend to keep quiet about them in front of children. So as not to frighten you.”
“What, you mean like vampires.”
“Well, I suppose a scary story about a blood sucking vampire is a sort of model of…well, it’s a representation of… of something nasty. Do you see? It lets you try out your emotions without getting hurt, it’s a sort of softened version- one that isn’t too scary- of bad things that really do happen.”
“Worse than vampires?”
“Yes. I mean, what’s the worst a vampire can do to you? Bite your neck, huh? I mean, it’s not very nice to think about, but…”
“He feeled her breasts too.”
“Oh, right. Well, that’s not too bad, is it? I’d rather have my breasts feeled than my neck bited.” Though Jess did both, of course. Wonder if there’s a signal up here?
“Girls! what are you doing?” Peter, yelling from half a mile away up the hill.
“Coming!” What I’m doing, Dad… “Come on Sis- race you!” What I’m doing is trying, Dad, to repair the, damage you’ve done… led me to do… to your younger, daughter, by referring to a piece of… of … three thousand year old… porn. Oh no it’s not, I can hear you, saying, it’s a parable about evil… evil and the wickedness of man and the inevitability of divine punishment, punishment God yeah, this hill’s… pretty bloody punishing all right, have to walk the rest of the way. I know you could go on for… hours explaining but, the fact is… I don’t want filthy Lot and his foul daughters anywhere near my little Sis. Look at her go. Running right up to you, Dad, leaping into your arms. You’ve no idea how much she trusts you, loves you. Don’t go putting your horrible toxic bible stories into her poor little head. Phew.
“I’m puffed.”
“Too many fags, Darling. You’d better watch it.”
“You’re right there, Mum.”
But you’d better watch it too, keep on heading up the mountain. Look over your shoulder like that once too often, Mum, and you’re sodium chloride.

Nigel Timms

 

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