A struggle of one man's struggle with God
The Town House that Mr Sarp had lived in for several years created shards of triangular light through the slit of early-morning fog, stamping great tattoos against the concrete walls of the church. The sun was yellow, high in the sky, and blaring like a mighty eye looking down over the world. Mr Sarp loved the church gardens murmering quietness, broken only by the occasional whisper of the wind over the distant hills. Mr Sarp loved the faint thud of chairs being brought down from cupboards from within the church and the laughter of the children riding their bikes along MacClean Ave. He loved the quality of light, slanting through the colourful cathedral windows, tinted with a rainbow of exotic colours, or the large, orange globes littering the floors on autumn mornings. Mr Sarp loved the smell of old buildings, and books – the Bible mostly. The old statues, one of Virgin Mary and one of an angel, stood in the garden. Nestled in the grown-over tassles of weeds and vines from the overhanging plants was a bench; it was an old, tired bench, given to the church by an old man who had since died. Fred Shipley had been lonely and once confused like Mr Sarp. The plaque, which was stamped on the bench, read GOD BLESS FRED SHIPLEY; it had become orange and rusted. Mr Sarp had known Mr. Shipley through the bowling club, and had visited him in hospital several times due to the crippling arthritus he had. His grey, curly hair, thin and wire-like, looked like a witches wig and his thick-rimmed spectacles, balanced on the tip of his crooked nose, magnified his eyes to make them appear like grand, milky orbs. He had a hunched back and held a brown walking-stick which supported him as he walked. He was a good, honest man and had lived in a council flat on the edge of Papanui. The death of Mr Shipley was unsettling to the small Christian community; who had gathered at the church to pay their condolences to the family. The vicar, dressed in his black regalia and dog collar around his neck, had visited the family privately.
The vicar, named John Pottle, was a small man with grey hair that hid his face. It flowed harshly into waves down his cheeks. He had twig-like fingers which hid in his pockets and rarely saw the light of day. He had a strange smile, it stretched from ear-to-ear and neither looked like a smile or a frown. The vicar, for such a twig-like man, had a strong hand-shake; Mr Sarp had to shake his hand back to life after embrassing it.
“God is with you, Mr Sarp,” the vicar regularly told him when he entered the church every Sunday morning for the weekly service. He held out his hand, and Mr Sarp, from the gentleness of his heart, accepted and tried to match his strength, but he rarely could. Mr Sarp would then just nod in recognition and skuttle off to the pew where he sat and attempted to sing the hymns, keeping an eye on the vicar and smiling slightly every time their eyes met. At the end of the service, the vicar would stand, holding a bronze box, decorated with golden casing and a big brass buckle for the lid. That was the dreaded donations box, and Mr Sarp loathed it.
For many years Mr Sarp had lived in Papanui and attended the Sunday church service to support his wife's wishes. The vicar would rattle the donation box feverishly. “Donations please,” he would say, “you can help us feed the five thousand.” The rattling of the box annoyed Mr Sarp.
On the day of Mr Shipley's funeral, Mr Sarp's attended with no plan to feed that hungry box, even though Mr Shipley had become a very close companion through the years. The vicar stood, looking sadly out at the funeral-goers. “This is a sad, sad day,” Father Pottle said. “We have lost a member of our family. A friend, who will be sorely missed.”
Mr Sarp, whose eyes clouded with tears and whose brain molded with hyrogliphics listened on; next to him, his wife wept silently.
“Into thy hands,” Father Pottle read from the Bible, whilst looking down at Mr Shipley's open cascet; he waved his hand in a cross over the coffin. “Into they hands, O merciful Savior, we commend thy servant Fredrick James Shipley. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.” The vicar paused and looked over the congregation. Every member was crying; thick, rolling tears wettened every red cheek. “Amen.”
At the end of the service the vicar turned solemnly and took the donation box from its mantle.
“Please give generously,” the vicar said nervously. Family, friends and members of the Clergy stood and gave their weekly pay to the box. But not Mr Sarp. A knot tightened harder and harder in his stomach as each member stood and dropped their earnings into the box with a clunk and shrill hiss of approval. Glances were exchanged between Mr and Mrs Sarp.
“You do what you think is right,” Mrs Sarp said. She put a hand on Mr Sarp's crooked shoulder and smiled weakily.
Let it Be by The Beatles led Mr Shipley out of the church.
Mr Sarp felt a knot, tighter than ever, bashing against his toothpick-like ribs when he and Mrs Sarp stood and walked down the aisle, hand in hand, pictures of sadness stamped across their faces, just as the sun had casted shadows on the church walls that very morning.
“God is with you, Mr Sarp,” the vicar said. “Have a safe trip home.”
Mrs Sarp smiled at the vicar, but Mr Sarp did not respond, as if he had not noticed.
Just as the sun touched Mr Sarp's baldening head outside the church, he turned and looked back at the donation box. It was staring at him, larger than ever; Mr Sarp's hand broke from Mrs Sarp's as he began to walk back slowly, he wanted to run, but knew he couldn't. The box was glowing with an aura of gold; it was blessed by God.
Mr Sarp fished through his pocket and took out a cheque, the writing on it was long and joined together like a spider web. Mr Sarp placed the cheque into the box.
“For you, my friend,” he said, a tear dropping onto the lid of the box. The knot in Mr Sarp's chest untightened and he smiled, the first proper smile he'd given all day.
Mr Sarp had just given away his life savings for the thought of his passing friend, but the donation box continued to glow. Mr Sarp knew Mr Shipley was with God.