Tea With The Pope
Author's note: I read the story "chivalry" from Neil Gaiman's "Smoke and Mirrors" short story collection and... Show full author's note »
Chapter 1His name was Monty Creek, he was about 84, and collected picture frames which coated the interior of the mobile home he shared with his dog John. On the 1st of March 2001, he pulled up in the small seaside town of Aldeburgh and sold the fish he caught to pay for the rent of his spot in the caravan park adjacent to the beach.
One Monday afternoon in 2012, Monty ambled along the seafront to town; he was going to collect his post and check the charity shop for any picture frames which caught his eye – to add to his huge collection. John trotted obediently by his heel without a lead and Monty chatted to his old pal about the strong sea wind, the cloudy sky, and other subjects which he thought appropriate to share with his dog. For John wasn’t any old mongrel – he was a proud wolfhound who considered himself quite the intellectual for not only could he fetch a ball, he could return it too!
As the pair came to town, Monty ushered John across the road and told him to “stay” as he went into the post office. The shop could do with a lick of paint and an overall makeover to bring it into the 21st century, but Monty thought that it fit in with Aldeburgh’s old and rusty feeling which attracted so many tourists in summer. As the room was empty, Monty walked straight up to the counter and enquired about his post. The spotty teenager at the desk didn’t have a clue as to what to do and went to the back room for guidance. A few minutes later he returned with a single envelope. Monty thanked him for his help, and left the shop. When he saw John, he took a humbug from his pocket and shoved it into the dog’s mouth. Once the hulk of an animal had chomped it down, Monty let him hold the letter.
“Shall we go to the charity shop now, John?” He asked his old pal as they set off in the direction of the local cancer research branch.
The interior was very shabby indeed and the peeling wall paper with mould creeping from the top of it to the ceiling was a sign that, like the post office, it could do with an update. But the appearances didn’t deceive Monty, and as John patiently waited outside, the old man edged his way through the stacks of books, toys, and other items previously rejected by their owners. Monty knew where the picture frames were but as he made his way through the shop, a glint of red caught his eye. Like a magpie, his path changed and his pace increased so that he could get a closer look at this flash of red through the thick glasses he used to aid his fading vision. He was about to pick up the small round object when a hand reached out in front of him and snatched it.
“I saw it first!” A woman’s voice screeched. Monty looked up at the woman in her designer suit and didn’t think that she looked the type to be in a charity shop. All the same, he didn’t let the unpleasantness put him off his weekly trip and so he continued to his favourite shelf which he could see had a few frames laid out.
Of course, the frames were never meant to be sold as frames. For the pictures inside were what usually persuaded people to buy the item. But Monty was the sort of chap who enjoyed being different to others. He surveyed the frames on display. He already had many decorative frames so he immediately ruled out half of them. The only others were very plain and one was broken. Monty sighed in disappointment but felt like he couldn’t leave empty handed. So he picked up the largest plain frame which had a price tag of just fifty pence. Before he continued to browse the shop, he raised an eyebrow at the scruffy piece of cloth which was clasped beneath the glass of the frame.
As he moved into the very back of the charity shop, Monty picked up a book on snails which he planned on reading before the news at five thirty that evening and carried it to the end of the shop. The shelves along the back wall were hardly visible as there were so many toys jammed onto them. A sparkly rubber ball bounced onto the floor in front of Monty and the old man picked it up knowing that John would enjoy playing with it. His items came to a total of £3.50 and knowing that he didn’t have much more in change, he took them to the old lady at the counter. She was very thin and so small that she could have been a child if her long gray hair hadn’t given her away. Around her neck were many beaded necklaces and Monty could see that she wasn’t wearing any shoes – probably to hide the fact that she was just trying some on in the back room. She peered closely at the price tag of each item and then charged Monty £1.50 for the lot. He made up the extra in the charity box.
“Would you like a bag?” She asked, smiling up at Monty showing her crooked teeth.
He did want a bag and so nodded assertively.
“Oh,” She smiled, “Suit yourself.”
And with that, she perched herself on the stool and hummed “It’s a long way to Tipperary” tunefully. Monty thanked her – kindly ignoring the old lady’s dimness – and left the shop without his bag.
John looked up at his master, wagging his huge tail in greeting. Monty took the letter from John’s mouth and handed him the ball he had just bought. All the way home, John walked tall and proud – showing off his new toy to everyone who passed.
Back at the mobile home, Monty placed his purchases on the table and sank down in his arm chair. Recently his back had been giving him agony and this was because, as his doctor had warned him, he was on his way out. But Monty knew that there was no point in sitting around all day waiting for his time to come, so just chose to spend longer relaxing in his chair.
When he had caught his breath, the old man took up his letter and opened the envelope with a knife which had been in the family for years. Inside was a crisp white piece of printer paper with a neatly typed message. He was just leaning forward to read it when his alarm clock went off – it was six o’clock! Time for the news!
“John, turn on the television will you?” He muttered. John obediently unfolded from his bed and nudged the on button with his nose.