A compilation of Adrian Plass's best-loved stories, including one never before published.
|Product dimensions:||5.11(w) x 7.67(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Adrian Plass is one of today's most significant and successful Christian authors, and he has written over thirty books, including his latest, Looking Good Being Bad - the Subtle Art of Churchmanship. Known for his ability to evoke both tears and laughter for a purpose, Plass has been reaching the hearts of thousands for over fifteen years. He lives in Sussex, England with his wife, Bridget, and continues to be a cricket fanatic
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Nothing but the TruthA Collection of Short Stories and Parables
By Adrian Plass
ZondervanCopyright © 2002 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSmall World
They say you should never go back.
I read a short story once that began with those exact words, and broadly speaking I suppose at the time when I read them I would have agreed. You never know what's going to happen when you take the risk of going back. That's why I was so surprised to find myself on Platform Nine of Clapham Junction Railway Station at a quarter to ten one cold autumn morning, probably the coldest of the year so far, waiting for a train that would take me to Winchester for the first time for more than two decades.
With less than ten minutes to go before the train was due to arrive, part of me didn't really believe I would actually get on when it rumbled to a halt. Why in a month of Sundays, I kept asking myself, should I actively court the pain and disappointment that could easily result from such an emotionally loaded expedition? What was the point of risking some kind of inner disaster when, at a pinch, I could manage to go on living with the tightly tied knot that had been in my stomach since I was a young boy? It was my wife who had finally persuaded me to do the thing I feared so much.
'You may be able to go on living with it,' she said one day, 'but I'm not sure the rest of us can. Seriously, John, why don't you pick a day and just go. I know it won't be easy, but you'll be so glad when you've done it. I'll come with you if you want. I tell you what - I'll take you out and buy you an Indian as a reward when you get back.'
She was deliberately being flippant about something that really mattered to her, but she was right. There's something about the idea of an Indian meal that brightens just about anything up. It was the trigger. I said I'd go, but on my own.
'Winchester, Winchester, Winchester ...' I whispered the word neurotically over and over to myself as I paced up and down the long platform trying to keep warm. For me, the very word sagged with significance, like one of those poems that tries to make you feel too much.
I did board the 9.56 when it arrived. If I hadn't been as frozen as I was I might have dithered and changed my mind, but it was so wonderful to step into the heated interior of the train. Not only that, but I also found a vacant window seat by a table almost immediately.
On the other side of the table sat a young chap of about eighteen, lost in the private world of his personal stereo. Outside this little universe all that could be heard of the recorded sound was a featureless buzz. Settling back into the warmth and comfort of my new surroundings I found myself idly wondering if this was a happy person. He looked quite together and content I thought, the sort of young man who is just beginning to feel a genuine confidence in himself. He had a well-cared-for, secure look about him. Good parents probably. A mother who'd consistently done her very best for him, a father who was never intrusive but always there if he was needed when things started to fall apart. Sports. Advice. All that stuff. Yes, by the look of him that was exactly the sort of father he'd got. And would he realize just how bloody fortunate he was in that respect? Oh, no! You could bet your life he ...
I squirmed in my seat as all the old boringly familiar feelings of helpless rage began to mount in me. How long was I going to have to put up with the past reaching out to grab me by the throat like this? What a maniac I was becoming. Pushing the hair brusquely back from my forehead with one hand, I dragged my attention away from the innocent music lover on the other side of the table, and gazed out of the window. As if in some fever dream, I rehearsed the past in my mind as I had done a thousand times, helplessly aware that ten thousand repetitions would never make any difference to the way things had been.
I never had fully understood why my parents separated. I lived with my mother, a very efficient, undemonstrative, quietly unhappy woman. The only thing she ever said about the failure of her marriage was in answer to an unusually direct question when I was about ten.
'Why did Daddy go away and leave us when I was little?'
'Your father can only cope with very small worlds.'
That was all she said and all she would say. It was typically enigmatic. What was a ten-year-old supposed to do with that? I hadn't the faintest idea what she was talking about. Perhaps if I'd thought about it a little more I might have begun to understand. After all, Dad had created a little world for him and me to be together in, and it hardly changed at all in the short time that I knew him.
It began a few days after my eighth birthday. Mother announced quite dispassionately one morning that my father had come back to England to live. He wanted to see me that afternoon in Winchester. Did I want to go?
I knew I had a dad, but he'd left when I was little more than a baby, so I had no memory of him at all. My mother kept no photographs of her ex-husband in our house. Many times, in the course of my early years, I had lain awake at night, picturing his face just above the end of the bed in the darkness of my room, and imagined making a special trip to find him. In my fantasies he was always overjoyed to see me. We would embrace, and he would explain why it had been so difficult for us to be together, and say how much he had missed me since going away.
Here was a chance to see him in reality. I felt shy but excited. I remembered looking into my mother's face, searching for a clue to the solution of the obvious problem. Did she want me to go? But my mother's face never gave information of that sort. There were no clues.
'Yes, please,' I said, 'I'd like to go, mother.'
Later that morning my mother drove me to Winchester in our blue mini. We stopped just outside the Old Market Inn. There was a man leaning against a gatepost a few yards away. Mother didn't even get out. So much for my secretly cherished dreams of parental reunion! 'That's your father,' she said, pointing. 'You'll like him. I'll pick you up again at five o'clock.'
Suddenly, there I was, at eight years of age, standing outside a pub in a strange city with a strange man, watching the familiar shape of our little car accelerate away and disappear round the corner. Looking back, I can hardly believe what my mother did. I cannot begin to imagine doing anything so clearly irresponsible with one of my own children. For a few seconds I did experience real panic, but small children readily accept bizarre things, and, in any case, my mother had told me I would like my father, and she was the sort of woman for whom every opinion laid down was a winning card. I had never known her to be wrong before.
Nor was she wrong now. All he said in a quiet, resonant voice as I walked hesitantly in his direction, was, 'John? I'm your dad,' but his eyes smiled from far inside and there was a feeling of safeness about him. I recall being obscurely pleased that he continued to lean on the gatepost as I moved towards him. He let me do the last bit of the trip.
This first meeting was a long way from the emotional splurge of my night-time fantasies, but from the moment I encountered my father's chuckling good humour I absolutely adored him. That day we sat on the grass outside the cathedral in the sunshine, and ate our way through a picnic he'd brought. I remember every crumb. There were three different kinds of sandwich - ham, banana and cheese - two kinds of cake - Battenburg and cherry - two chocolate biscuits wrapped in shiny coloured paper, and an apple each. There was a bottle filled with ready-diluted lemon squash and two disposable paper cups to drink it from.
He asked me questions about myself as we ate, listening in a very still way with his head on one side as I gained confidence and chattered away about home and school and friends and football.
When he asked me which team I supported I suspended the whole of my beloved Arsenal team and said, 'Which one do you support?'
'Aston Villa,' he replied.
'So do I,' I said, and from that day forward I did.
When we'd finished eating he packed everything away in a brown and green leather shopping bag and stood up.
'Well, John,' he smiled, 'do you think we're going to be pals?'
I looked at him then and thought to myself that he was a 'hands in his pockets' sort of man. His clothes were brown and soft, so were his face and hair. He was comfortably untidy and his eyes seemed a little bit hurt as well as being smiley and kind.
'Oh, yes, Dad,' I said, relishing this word that had suddenly become so unexpectedly and wonderfully substantial, 'we'll be pals all right.'
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking slowly round the inside of the cathedral, stopping every now and then for me to ask a question, or when Dad wanted to explain something. He seemed to know an awful lot about everything without having to use a guide, and I think I sensed, even then, that he was introducing me to something he loved.
Mother picked me up at five o'clock - on the dot, of course. She didn't get out of the car this time either, or even look in the direction of my father, as far as I could see. Poor Mother. I'm sure I must have rabbited on about my new 'pal' all the way back home, but all I can remember her saying was, 'I told you you'd like him.'
'But,' I said in real puzzlement to myself in bed that night, 'how could you possibly not like someone so nice?'
Three or four times a year for the next four years the pattern of that first visit was repeated. There might be fruit cake instead of Battenburg, and the weather might drive us under cover to eat our picnic sometimes, but in every other way our outings stayed exactly the same, from the brown and green leather shopping bag to the paper cups. It never struck me as odd that we always met in the same way, and always did the same things. On the contrary, I loved it. I loved him. It was simply the way things were. I didn't mind in the least that I never saw where he lived, and never really learned anything about the rest of his life, because we seemed to belong to each other totally for as long as those all too infrequent afternoons lasted, and that was all that mattered to me. As time went by Winchester Cathedral and everything connected with it glowed richly in my imagination with a sparkling Christmassy brightness, a reflection of the joy I found in just being there with my father.
He died at the wrong time, you see. I was twelve. It was two days before my next visit was due. When my mother gave me the news, delivered in that same dry, disinterested way, it was like being punched in the stomach very hard when you're not expecting it. And then - well, I've never been quite sure what happened then. I think I managed to switch something off right inside me, and I felt nothing. I don't know if I was ever quite able to forgive my mother for the way she dealt with me over my father's death. I wasn't taken to any kind of service and there was no grave because his body had been cremated. The ashes were distributed somewhere or other by somebody, my mother said, with an almost non-existent emphasis on the 'somebody', and that was it. He was gone. Nothing to remind me of him, and a complete inability to grieve. I don't think I shed a single tear.
The years went by. I grew up. I got married. My mother died. I had two children. I was very nearly happy - happy but for the nagging, ever-present knowledge that one day I was going to have to deal with the little unexploded bomb that lay like a lump of cold metal in the pit of my stomach. I was never quite brave enough to face it, the mixture of grief, sorrow and heartache that might explode and tear me to pieces. I kept well away from Winchester.
Now my wife had talked me into going back. She had seen, over the years, how the pain of this emotional containment affected not just me but her and the children as well. Often it manifested itself in black moods that had no very clear link to the past, but were nevertheless closely connected with those distant days.
Sometimes, specific incidents triggered irrational bouts of anger. When Sam, aged nine, asked me why I supported a 'rubbish team' like Aston Villa, I flew into a terrible rage, demanding to know why I shouldn't and what it had got to do with him. For that brief, black period I felt as if I was eight years old and he was bullying me. Realizing what was really going on was so strange - like regaining consciousness after a particularly vivid dream. Poor, confused Sam forgave me freely.
Another time, I was walking around the local shopping precinct with my wife, when I happened to notice that a woman walking beside me was carrying a shopping bag that closely resembled the one my father used to pack our picnics in. Brown leather with inlaid green patches. The sight of it made me feel sick in my stomach. I was low for days. So many things ...
Well, I was going to tackle it now. Soon after alighting from this train I would be stepping back into the only world that my father and I had ever shared. Resting my face against the cold surface of the window I closed my eyes and dozed fitfully for the rest of the hour-long journey.
by 11.15 I was sitting in the warmth and comfort of the Old Market Inn in Winchester. The walk down from the station had set up such a screaming tension in me that my hands and teeth were tightly clenched by the time I turned into Market Street, but I was beginning to feel a little better now. I couldn't have faced going into the cathedral straight away, and the only delaying tactic that I could think of was the pub. I'm not a great drinker at the best of times, let alone on an occasion like this, so I simply ordered a hot chocolate and took it over to a seat by the window that looked out towards the cathedral. Resting my elbows on the table in front of me I cuddled the hot china mug in my hands. It felt like a mini-version of one of those old stone hotwater bottles that I could just remember having in bed with me when I stayed with my grandmother as a small child.
Through the window I could see, a hundred yards away, the west door of the cathedral, the door that my dad and I had walked through so many times. Now, on this desolately bleak October afternoon, a mere trickle of warmly dressed visitors was passing in and out of the building.
I decided to give myself a talking to.
'Now look!' I whispered into the side of my mug, 'you are an adult. You are not a child. You are allowed to choose what to do for yourself. If you decide to get up and walk back to the station and take the next train home, then that is fine. That is absolutely fine. You've lived with this fear in your gut for twenty years. You might as well put up with it for another decade or two.
Excerpted from Nothing but the Truth by Adrian Plass Copyright © 2002 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Preface . . 9
Small World 11
A Letter to William . 23
Nearly Cranfield . . 41
Stanley Morgan's Minor Misdemeanour . . . . 55
Marl Pit . . 83
Nothing but the Truth . . . . 99
Posthumous Cake . 131
Why It Was All Right to Kill Uncle Reginald . . 137
Friends Coming Round . . . 151
Except Ye Become . . 197
The Cellar . 211
Bethel . . . 221
The Second Pint . . 237
Father to the Man . 251
The Final Boundary 285