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Mass was getting heavy. Father Higgs wagged his finger from the pulpit while Mrs Lamb called us all “Fucking sheep!” from the back. Framed by overcast light from the doorway, she conducted her litany with a walking stick. Father Higgs preached on while the congregation pretended Mrs Lamb was seated at her pew, quietly, on her own, taking in the sermon as she did every Sunday.
All eyes were forward, except the Father’s and the children’s and Jimmy’s and mine. Today, more than any other Sunday, Father Higgs’ habit of writing his homilies out longhand delivered some salvation for both him and his flock. Whenever he stumbled, thrown by a “fucker” or a “bastard” or an “arsehole”, he looked down to find the next word he wanted to spread while Mrs Lamb improvised something less sacred.
We had a bet and it looked as if I’d won. Jimmy and me had stumbled across a drug cache last week in the school changing rooms — hard and soft, upper and downer, legal and not. We’d bet each other we couldn’t use them at church on Sunday. There were only three commandments: target one person only, so no lacing the wine; the effect must be obvious at some point during the service, so we’d have to dose our mark beforehand; most daring or outrageous effect won the remaining stash.
“Nice one,” Jimmy whispered in my ear.
“Speed, angel dust, pure caffeine and Prozac… I think.”
Mrs Lamb showed no signs of slowing. The children of the congregation hung off every word of this broader, more profane education. Even Father Higgs seemed to be losing his cool, increasingly tripping over his words and looking down at his hands, now lit by a break in the cloud outside.
“Mrs Lamb always stops outside for a snack before the service,” I whispered. “I’ve never known her refuse a biscuit.”
Jimmy nodded, his eyes on Father Higgs, and leaned over. “Did you know he likes a shot of something more spiritual to steady himself before the service?” I looked at Jimmy. He smiled. “Watch.”
Father Higgs had lost interest in both his and Mrs Lamb’s exegeses. He looked up at the light falling through the windows, through angels illuminated and haloes glowing, with mouth open and eyes wide.
“Oh…” said Father Higgs.
“L–” whispered Jimmy.
“Respect.” I nodded slowly. “We have a winner.”