Monday, September 7, 2020

Elevated by Bruce Costello

A retired doctor confesses a long-held guilty secret to an old vicar; by Bruce Costello.

"It started as a joke," I say, feeling my heart rate quicken. "Just can't stop wondering how it ended, though I'll never know now, after thirty years."

The woman nods, one eyebrow raised. She doesn't look like a vicar except for the clerical collar. Probably near retirement age herself, but healthy-looking, blond, and clear-eyed.

"Maybe it's something important you need to work through?"

"My life's like a jigsaw I can't finish. There's a bit missing in the middle and nothing makes sense without it." I lean back and fold my arms. "I saw your sign, Spiritual Guidance and Counselling. I was hoping you'd give me some answers."

"You've known yourself all your life, but I've only just met you." She leans forward, hands outstretched, palms upwards. "The answer is in you, not in me." She settles back, hands in her lap. "Talking often helps."

The room is sparsely furnished. Our two chairs, close together, facing each other. And a desk with an incense holder from which blue smoke curls, filling the room with fragrance.

I take a deep breath. "I was a doctor for twenty-five years, recently retired."

"Uh-huh."

"Before that I was a police officer. Facing up to criminals. Pulling people from crashes. And once having to shoot a female, who subsequently died. I was exonerated from any blame but consumed nevertheless by guilt. People didn't know what I was going through, and I couldn't talk about it. I felt like a soldier fighting a war nobody else knew was happening. I'd go to social gatherings and they'd be showing off about their Jaguars and Rovers and discussing whether sweet and sour chicken should be served with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. I started saying stupid things, like 'Oh, I drive a lovely Morris Oxford. It's got bench seats, a column change and drives like a septic tank.' Or I'd ask what type of champagne goes best with fish and chips - brut or sec? I got lots of laughs, as well as some strange looks, and people stopped inviting me to their dinner parties. Can't think why."

The vicar laughs.

"Anyway, when I was thirty-two, I accepted early retirement from the force on psychological grounds. A friend suggested I take a road trip to get my mind off things, so I did. Well, one evening I was in a hotel elevator with two men and a woman I'd never met before. The lights went out. The lift stopped. We pressed the emergency button and waited.

"'Such fun!' I said. 'Stuck in a lift with three strangers. Let's tell jokes to pass the time.' The others didn't like the idea. They didn't feel like laughing - but I wasn't going to let that stop me. I was in the mood for some madcap humor. Back then, it's what I did when I got stressed, as you've probably figured.

"'Tell you what,' said one of the guys. 'Let's take turns to talk about ourselves, our jobs, families and so on.' He was an office worker and the other fellow was a shoe salesman. They were the sort who start work at nine, knock off at five, catch a bus home to the wife, the kids and the mortgage - and know nothing at all about life.

"Then it was my turn.

"'Oh, I'm a Benedictine monk,' I said. 'I work as a faith healer.' I remember grinning to myself in the dark, waiting for someone to react, trying to imagine the looks on their faces.

"The woman spoke up. I'd noticed her when she got into the lift. It was hard not to. She had a skirt that came too far up at the back, a blouse that came too far down in the front, and a musky scent like sandalwood. I guessed what she did for a living.

"'You're a faith healer?' she said. 'I've got a lump on my finger, where my wedding ring used to be.' Her voice trembled. "'Wouldn't heal up, got bigger and nastier. The doctor sent me for tests. It turned out to be...' She broke off and began to cry. 'I'm having it cut out the day after tomorrow.'

"There was a little light seeping through a vent in the roof and I could just see her outline, but, boy, did I feel her presence! Distress exuded from her, like the strong perfume. I leaned towards the woman. She held out her hand. I took it, and rubbed the lump. 'The power of God,' I said. 'Same power Jesus used to forgive prostitutes and heal the sick. Divine, unconditional love.' I knew the words. My ex father-in-law was a minister.

"Something stirred inside me, and I've never known why, but with the middle finger of my right hand I traced a cross on her forehead. Then I felt weak all over, as if some power had gone out of me.

"'In the morning, the lump will be gone,' I heard myself saying, and felt like crying.

"The light came on. The lift moved and stopped at the next floor. We all scurried off to our rooms. And that was that. Except it wasn't. Not for me, anyway."

"Did you run into the woman again?" the vicar asks, after a long pause, in a low whisper.

"No. She didn't come down to the hotel dining room for breakfast and I left shortly afterwards."

The vicar nods.

"I can't stop wondering," I say, my voice starting to quiver. "What happened? Did she wake up next morning, still with her malignant lump, and think nothing more about me, except maybe to tell her friends about the weirdo in the lift?" I pause. "Or if the lump did vanish overnight, as I'd predicted, how might she have felt?"

We gaze at each other.

Silence fills the room.

"It would've been a truly life changing experience, I should think," the vicar replies, her voice barely audible.

11 comments:

  1. The character of the doctor is complex and developed well in a short time. How trauma affected his life is clear. He's trying to right at least one bad thing in this unpredictable world.. he still has faith, but is that enough?

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    1. I should say... he also has a forlorn hope that he made a difference.

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  2. A good step taken by the doctor. I am sure he must have felt blessed. The blessing unspoken, though

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  3. Am I the only one thinking (hoping) that the Vicar was actually the woman from the elevator. I like the fact that the story is open ended. No answers are given, so we get to come up with our own. Thank you for sharing the story with us.

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  4. I agree with James. I had the exact same impression - I believe the story strongly implies a relationship between the Vicar and the woman from the elevator but, as you said, leaves it open-ended so the reader must draw their own conclusion...and my personal conclusion was that they were indeed the same person. In fact, it almost makes me wonder if the doctor knew she was the same person before telling her the story...but that might be a bit of a stretch.

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  5. You're onto it...the vicar used to be the girl in the elevator

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  6. Love it, Bruce. As you know I'm a great fan of your writing abilities. Love the endings, sometimes twisted, sometimes quirky, all incredibly good. Well done!

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  7. That was from Jillian, Bruce sorry didnt put that in. 🎇xx🌞

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  8. I love the details here, the distress, and the question-mark ending. This really intrigued me.

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