How to Forget About Evil: #2: The victims: Father Joe Tanner

by M.T. Ingoldby

read it in the right order


Jane unlocked the stable door and stared through the hay-dust at four or five horses variously at rest. The one who stared back she pointed at and said, “how much for the palomino?”

Hours later, fire-lit on the hillside looking down on the narrow valley, she stroked its chin till it was half-asleep and pressed her mouth against its flank in what might be called a kiss, if she had ever seen one, till the beast whinnied and shook itself free.

In sight above them was the grey ridge that separated one valley from the next. Long smoke from the fire streamed towards it, scattered at the summit by an upward wind from the valley beyond. All night the smoke flew and was obliterated at the peak. When dawn came it had given out, the camp was gone and clouds engulfed the summit so that no one could have seen which way she went.

“I loved Billy Morgan,” said her older sister. There had been a long silence in the room. Her mother eyed the fire through lenses thick as hooves and with a grey rug bunched over her knees. “Billy was sweet.”

“You never loved him,” her mother sighed.

“I did love him. You scared him off, and father. Billy wanted me to marry him.”

Her mother shook her head like flies were near it. “Where’s your sister, Est?”

“He had a car like Mr Bosun’s, only cleaner. He told me he loved me in it. Did you know that?”

“Where’s Jane, I asked.”

“How should I know?” Esther cried. “She’s gone again. Can’t stand this place. Can’t stand you.” Not easily diverted, she finished, “First Billy, now Jane.”

“Oh, be quiet about that boy.” snapped Mrs Tanner. “Why not go off and find him? Why take it out on me?”

“You begged me to stay, mother.”

“I never.”

“Begged me. Yes you did. The second father got sick.”

“Well. He’s not sick anymore, is he.”

Both women looked at the tall chair at the head of the table, now vacant for over a month. Mrs Tanner went on, “Talking all the time about things that didn’t happen. Why don’t you run off and tell him the good news, the two of you can marry and leave your poor mother in peace.”

Esther shifted from her mother’s eyeline into the kitchen. “If you can’t get a man to marry you, you might as well kill yourself. That’s what I say.”

“You say a lot of nonsense.’ said Mrs Tanner. ‘Put the kettle on.”

Esther’s voice came out of the kitchen: “Do you think father’s looking down at us, mother?”

“What was that?”

But the rest was lost to the steam.

As Esther watched the stew, Mrs Tanner slipped outside to watch the dusk soften the land behind the rectory. Her daughter’s singing died away, and she was left the night’s full privacy: Insects buzzing; cattle lowing sleepily; the wind itself conferring whispers that she followed down the slope towards the old haybarn, through which they howled.

When they moved here the barn had been full of hay, and so shrouded in trees a whole week went by before they’d found it. Over time the hay had rotted; it’s stench had carried to the porch. Now you needed prior knowledge of the smell to even notice it.

She passed the door and entered the barn by its broken gape. Inside were shards of moonlight on a bed of hardened mud, the air made palpable by lengthy spider webs, and, (her fading sight deferring to her nose) the mulch of age: damp wood, old paint, sodden leather from the tack room where her sins were purged by lashes from a horsewhip, the high rafters’ slow-falling dust, and mouldy rope – the mixture thickened in her throat.

In a patch of silver light, surreally alone, the little stool stood waiting. From the rafters dropped a knotted rope that ended in a loop. Mrs Tanner saw it now, still as a painting. So rough and taut not even the wind could sway it. She regarded it as nothing; she could scarcely make it out, and walked towards it to dispel the confusion.

It was hard in her hands as she grasped it, tugged it once and slipped it round her neck. The smell, the old rot, came back to her. She knew why she was here.

But a sudden light disturbed her; high up on the slope. Esther had thrown open the back door and now cried out “She’s back, mother! Jane’s back!”

Maryann paused, one toe on the stool’s seat. Then she turned, left the barn and hobbled back up the slope, breathing ghosts.




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