Authors: Patrick Ness
He actually remembered the exact moment. An already bearded seventeen year old, he had entered the Bondulay Divinity School up in the Mallow Hills southeast of Hennington, a place packed with seminary students, sand blown over the hills from the Brown, and really nothing else save for the occasional chuckwalla or poisonous rattleback. This was six years after Currie
Madam Montez’ School for the Sensual Arts, so by that point female seminary students were fully integrated into school life. Celibacy rules, even the temporary ones among students not studying for the priesthood, were still in force – no court was ever going to have any say over that issue – but the number of ‘immaculate’ conceptions at the school among female students was less than the all-male faculty had feared and predicted. As a matter of fact, the salutatorian of Jarvis’ graduating class was the one and only Lyric O’Mahoneyham, overthrower-to-be of Archbishop Carl Sequin, and probably on her way to the Bondulay High Papacy had Hennington’s future not taken the route it did.
(At that point, though, that was all a good ways off – and still remains a ways off now, though becoming uncomfortably close for more vaguely clairvoyant Henningtonians. If Archie Banyon’s body had been more specific about what awaited, he might not have given up smoking after all.)
Jarvis toddled along unremarkably and had just begun his third year when he met the woman who should have been the love of his life. Her name was Diana. Long brown hair cascading in waves around a breathtaking face without a trace of make-up; a serious, challenging brow that let you know
you had better have more to your argument than just opinion; a nose slightly too wide over lips slightly too crooked placed on a face just slightly too large. Diana was stunning, not in the euphemism-for-beauty way, but actually stunning, as in it was difficult to find words for small talk when you first met her and equally difficult not to feel like you were trying to squirm out of the truth when she questioned your ideas. Most of the cocksure, popular, handsome boys at the seminary were terrified of her, and there was more than one malicious and erroneous story floated along the grapevine by those who felt threatened, which was more or less everyone.
Jarvis, on the other hand, too engrossed in his studies and too chaste in his temporary celibacy vow to notice any female, wouldn’t have registered Diana at all if she hadn’t insulted him publicly during a History of the Sacraments seminar. The class had reached the contentious subject of Hildegard Robham’s schism from the Bondulay during the Gentlemen’s War. In the old story of Pacifism pitted against The Regrettable Use of Force, Jarvis had taken the mildly surprising but by no means unprecedented position of agreeing with Robham’s pacifist principles. Diana had turned to face him from her seat in the seminar, nostrils blazing.
—I suppose I can understand your abhorrence to war, but to eliminate all use of force under every circumstance is naïve, suicidally idealistic, and in the most morally repugnant sense shirks adult responsibility. Pacifists allow their consciences to be free while still subsisting on the fruits of war.
Jarvis tried to argue back, but it was too late. He was already in love.
—How can you call the anonymous killing of strangers you’ve never met morally justified under any humane religion?
—In a theoretical argument about an uncomplicated world,
you’re completely right. In this world, however, your argument is complete sheep’s balls!
—Sorry, Professor, but suppose, whatever-your-name-is, we’d taken a pacifist stance against Pistolet? Where would we be then?
—Don’t you believe the moral high ground would have eventually won out?
? You arrogant, self-satisfied, brainless pile of treacle. How many more people would your ‘eventually’ have allowed Pistolet to kill? How many more millions deserved to be tortured, raped, and murdered because of your grand ‘eventually'?
—Surely you concede that if we’d acted earlier on, with diplomatic means—
—I concede nothing! War is a horrible, atrocious, awful, awful thing, but war was
the monster, Pistolet was. You’re applying an absolute principle to an in-absolute world.
—But we’re talking about dogmatic philosophy, not practicum.
—And you’re hiding behind your hot air, you coward!
Diana held up the main textbook for the course.
—The world doesn’t exist in this. The world exists out there.
Jarvis didn’t have time to duck before the book connected with his nose and broke it. Later, remarkably not expelled and courteously walking home the newly bandaged and cotton-packed Jarvis, she had clarified her points.
—I’m sorry about your nose, but you were completely in the wrong.
—That’s all wight—
—I just get so mad at scholars who cave themselves in book-learning and then in perfect riskless safety advocate an
adherence to the Sacraments regardless of the real-world human suffering it causes. It’s immoral. I get sick of the skewing of God’s messages to further some intellectual ideal. That’s why I threw my book at you.
—Don’t you think the central message of the Sacraments is to care for your neighbor as if he were your brother? And if that message has to be applied imperfectly in an imperfect world, then so be it. It’s our moral responsibility to God to do the best we can in the situations He provides to us.
—I’m wif you all de way—
—I don’t want to waste my time bothering with all this esoteric nonsense that keeps you completely out of God’s big, messy, wonderful world. That’s the whole reason I’m entering the priesthood.
Snap judgment guided by passion that it was, the priesthood turned out to be a surprisingly good fit. Jarvis excelled in his studies, turned out to be a better orator than he expected, and was able to take most of his classes with Diana. He was aware of the perversity of only being able to please the woman he adored by entering lifelong celibacy for her, but dumber things have been done in the name of love. When graduation day arrived, he and Diana hugged platonically. Before he set off on his first assignment less than twenty miles away in urban Hennington, he went with her to the docks in the Harbor, from where she was to set sail for
assignment, across the ocean on the entire flip side of the world map. They waved as the ship set to sea, her long hair tangling wildly in the wind, his beard catching flecks of sea foam. As she disappeared over the horizon, Jarvis realized how easy it would be to keep his vow of chastity. The only woman he ever loved was receding thousands of miles away, and Jarvis’
desire receded with her. He had heard that sex was overrated anyway – sweaty, sticky, brief, and ultimately depressing. He tucked away his tired, sad, and sore heart, telling himself he could probably get more joy out of gardening.
In this, he was entirely correct, though the measure of his joy was not reflected in the bounty of his garden. He had long since accepted that his fingers were many shades away from green, but that didn’t stop him from celebrating small victories: a tomato large and red enough to be edible; a double-digit strawberry harvest; blueberries that didn’t make the church children vomit. He had once managed an avocado and parsnip pie for an after-church potluck that the Widow Jesslyn Mitcham had even called ‘tart in the best sense of the word'. This morning, he was on his knees, trying to coax a clutch of basil leaves into taking root. The man at the greenery had told him that basil was the best seasoning to use for the summer squash he anticipated (hoped hoped hoped for) in a month or two. Coincidentally, basil had been on sale that day, so Jarvis had purchased a few cuttings to try to grow in his garden.
—You can do it. Here’s some water to make the ground lovely and moist, and these little blue pellets will make you grow green and tasty. You’re going to love it out here. It’s a beautiful place, if you’d only make that little bit of effort.
Jarvis sat upright and stared down at his basil in surprise.
—Am I interrupting?
Jarvis swung around and looked up.
—Mrs Bellingham! Of course you’re not interrupting. For a minute there, I thought my basil was talking to me.
—Oh! I say!
—Or would that be ‘my basil
talking to me'? No matter. What can I do for you this fine, warm, beautiful day?
—Do you have a few moments, Father?
He motioned her inside the church to his office and sat her in a chair opposite him across his desk.
—What’s on your mind?
She gave a slightly embarrassed little frown.
—It’s kind of silly, Father.
—Coming from you, Mrs Bellingham, I highly doubt that.
—That’s very kind, Father, but, well …
—You can feel free to tell me absolutely anything, sister. Not only do you have my strictest confidence and good faith, you’ve also got a legal system that says that I never, ever have to tell anyone.
Mrs Bellingham smiled.
—All right, then. How can I begin? I’m not a superstitious woman, Father.
—I’ve always admired your levelheadedness.
—But lately, I’ve been having these dreams. She paused.
—Well, one dream in particular, but over and over again.
—Is it an especially bothersome dream?
—Yes, to be frank. She paused again.
—Why don’t you tell me your dream, Mrs Bellingham? And take your time.
—If you insist. And she told him.
—The secret is all in where you place your feet.
—If you get them square with your shoulders, then step a little bit apart, you can just let your center of gravity carry the swing away from you.
—You don’t say.
Thomas Banyon pulled another drag on his cigarillo as he waited for Armand Odom, President and COO of Odomatic Incorporated, purveyors of fine dried and canned meats, to just shut up and take his fucking swing already. They had been at the fifteenth tee for nearly ten minutes while Odom shifted and wiggled and realigned and rebalanced and talked and talked and talked. Thomas was letting the prick win, currently by all of two strokes, and Odom had got it into his head that Thomas should be the beneficiary of his own obviously superior skills and knowledge. Thomas held the smoke in his lungs. The things you went through to get a new customer.
—See, I think your problem might be that you’re rushing it, pushing yourself to just hit it as hard as you can without first getting the feel for your tee.
—I mean, we can talk more about your putting problems when we get to the green, but remember, putting doesn’t matter if you can’t get there first.
—Makes perfect sense.
Thomas closed his eyes and dragged again on the narcotic-spiced cigarillo. They were made specially for him by a shady agribusinessman from over the border and contained a delightfully mild narcotic formed when one particular species
of beetle laid its eggs on the leaves of one particular species of shrub, of which shrub the shady agribusinessman owned every single known specimen. When the beetle eggs hatched, the grubs would, in an action apparently unique in the natural world, attack and eat only the stems of the fern, causing the leaf to fall to the ground whole, beetle-egg husks still attached. The husks decomposed as the leaf dried up, igniting a most unusual chemical reaction that resulted in a dried fern leaf with black speckles. These leaves were then gathered by trained harvesters, mixed with regular cigarillo tobacco, and then hand-rolled in zero-humidity humidors into slender, smoke-able sticks. The whole process cost an obscene fortune, but the results were exquisite: a smoke that elated without cloudiness, relaxed without lethargy, and painted the world pink without painting it red. Thomas received them
The shady agribusinessman, whose name was Dylan or Declan or some D name Thomas always forgot and preferred not to know anyway, recognized a good retailer when he saw it, and Thomas was the best retailer of shady agribusiness products in all of Hennington. The wholesale boxes of Maria John, posh, itch, Brown Dog, and katzutakis arrived like clockwork every fortnight, along with a fresh box of TB’s Special Blend.
—Now watch where my arms are when I bring the club back. Can you see how I’ve only got my elbows just slightly crooked? And look where the head of the club is.
Thomas kept his eyes closed.
It was worse at the green.
—Your approach wasn’t bad, but did you see where I placed mine? I purposely hit it long to take advantage of the slight incline.
Thomas had purposely hit his own ball short to take advantage of a subtle groove he knew rested just below the hole.
Now, he would have to shank even that. He blew smoke out of his mouth and reinhaled it through his nose. Odom missed his putt, sending it wide.
—See, I pushed it, just like you do the tee shots. That’s what happens when you rush. Goddamnit!
Thomas was going to have to three-putt a one-meter shot to keep this moron in the lead. He wondered whether it was possible to miss the hole that many times without looking drunk or blind. He picked up his ball and pocketed it before Odom could complain.
—I’ll give you the hole. Why don’t we call it a day and get some drinks inside? On the house, of course.
—But how will you learn?
—I think I’ve got enough to absorb today.
The clubhouse barmaid, Tracy Jem-Ho, was ready in the clubhouse with cocktails, one with twice the alcohol for Odom, who remarkably was still protesting.
—But a real sportsman would never quit a game in the middle.
—You were ahead. Your victory was inevitable.
—Still, a final score has a certain—
—We water the course every Thursday. We would have been wet by the eighteenth hole.
—You don’t water every morning? Pre-dawn watering is generally considered par for the course, if you’ll excuse the—
—Every pre-dawn except Thursday, when we water at this time.