Grace McCleen The Land of Decoration



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The Field Again
AND AS I slept I had my favorite dream, the one about the two little people I made first of all, the fabric doll with the dungarees and flowers and the pipe cleaner man with the green sweater, and they were Father and me.

Father was holding my hand and we were walking through a field, leaving a trail in the grass. Sometimes we went to the right and sometimes to the left. Sometimes I would be ahead and sometimes Father would be. I was asking him about the Land of Decoration, about what it would be like, and then he said: “We’re here, Judith; you don’t have to ask me anymore,” and I looked around and saw he was right. For the first time it wasn’t the pretend world but the real one, with real grass and real sky and real trees, and then I looked down and saw we weren’t dolls but ourselves, and it was wonderful.

The sun was pink on our faces and our shadows grew long. I was talking and Father was listening; he was looking at me, and that was wonderful too. But after a while he began to talk before I had finished and his answers weren’t making sense, and I realized he wasn’t talking to me after all. Then I looked closer and saw that it wasn’t me, and I wondered who I was, and where I was if I wasn’t there, because I could still see and hear everything perfectly clearly.

I watched the two little people go through the long grass. They got smaller and smaller, then joined hands and began to run. I called to them, but I couldn’t make them hear, I was big, and they were small and were running away from me. I wanted to be small more than anything then but saw that I wasn’t and never would be.

They went down by the river where the sun was low and the sand martins were darting, and among the water and low light I lost them.

BOOK V

The End of the World
The Last but One Miracle
ON THE EIGHTH of January, Father came upstairs to my room. His face looked different so I knew immediately something had happened. He said: “The strike’s over. Mike just telephoned.”

I was so astonished I couldn’t think of anything to say. He went away again and I looked at the place where he’d stood. Then I took up the loose floorboard and got out my journal. I wrote: The final miracle has happened. Then I wrote: HERE IS AN END TO MIRACLES.
* * *
SCHOOL STARTED. THE factory opened. When I came down to breakfast on the first Monday back to school, Father was frying sausages.

Sausages!” I said.



He said: “I’m celebrating the return to the shed.”

I laid two places at the table. A little watery sun came through the kitchen window and fell on our hands. Father ate three sausages and I ate two.
* * *
IN THE CLASSROOM, Mrs. Pierce was putting snowdrops in a vase. She said: “Judith! How are you?”

I’m fine, Mrs. Pierce,” I said.



She said: “You look better!”

I am,” I said. “Did you have a nice holiday?”

Lovely. And the strike is over! Your father must be so relieved. I think everyone is; the town was quite a different place while it lasted.”

Neither of us said anything for a minute, and we could hear the drips in the bucket. Mrs. Pierce laughed. “Now if we could just sort out this roof!”

That was when I said: “Do you know if Neil is coming back?”

He is,” said Mrs. Pierce. “He’s a lot better.”

Oh, good,” I said.

A little while later, everyone came into class. My stomach dipped when I saw Neil. He was on crutches. He looked very pale, even paler than usual, and he was watching where he was putting his feet so I couldn’t see his face. And then I did. And a scar ran from his eye in a long line.

He saw me looking, but his face was different from how it was before. It was blank; not sad; empty. I couldn’t even tell if he recognized me. It was as if he looked through me.

Mrs. Pierce said: “Class eight, I have some news for you. Mr. Davies has written to us to check we are all behaving ourselves. His daughter has just had a baby and he is helping to look after her.”

Gemma said: “Is he coming back?” and Mrs. Pierce said: “No, he’s decided to take early retirement.” And I was very happy because it meant Mrs. Pierce would stay for good.
* * *
WHEN I CAME home that evening, I spread a tablecloth and put a bottle in the middle of the table. Then I went out to the garden. It was black and dripping and the air was raw. Through the empty branches of the cherry tree, I could see the mountain and the last bit of light glowing like embers. I picked snowdrops like Mrs. Pierce had done, then went back inside and put them in the bottle in the middle of the table.

The light didn’t want to go that evening. I could hear the little kids playing on their bikes in the back lane as if it was spring already. When Father came in, he was white, but he smiled, and it was a proper smile. I asked him how work was and he said everything had gone smoothly. He said he was glad he never had to get on that bus again.

While we were having tea, I said: “Was Doug Lewis there?”

Father said: “No, he wasn’t. I don’t know where he is.”

We didn’t say anything for a minute. Then I said: “How are the potatoes?”

Perfect,” Father said.


* * *
AFTER TEA, FATHER said: “Come here.” He took a leaflet out of his pocket. It was red and white and blue and had a picture of a hot air balloon on it and said: The Ride of Your Life! See the world as you have never seen it before! He said: “Would you like to go?”

Yes!”

Right,” he said. “That’s that.”

He lit the fire in the front room, and I sat by his feet while he sipped his beer and the flames played over everything. I thought things hadn’t been this good for a long time–Father had never offered to take me on a hot air balloon ride and if he could just start going back to the meetings, things would be just about perfect.

Things went on being good: The next night I cooked macaroni and cheese. Father liked it, even though it was from a packet, and afterward he lit the front room fire again. The day after that it was sunny. When Gemma and Rhian and Keri were skipping rope in the playground, Neil came up, and Gemma pretended she didn’t see him, but they let me skip a bit with the rope.

And that evening, Father and I walked around the garden and Father said it would look better soon, the cherry tree would grow back and the golden cane and the Christmas roses. He said that in fact the fire had been good for the soil.

On Thursday I made myself go and speak to Neil, though my heart slowed so much I thought it was going to stop. (But I needn’t have worried because, after I had finished speaking, it went twice as fast). I went to his table and stood there until he looked up, then I said: “I’m glad you’re OK,” and though it wasn’t a great thing to say, I couldn’t think of a better one.

Anyway I don’t think he even heard me. He looked through me, then went back to his book. I stood there for a minute, then walked to my seat.

That evening Father did something he’d been putting off too: He began taking the fence apart. He did it with a crowbar, bending the bar backward and forward, and Mike helped him. The wood screamed and splintered, and the garden was soon full of glass and concrete and broken planks. Father saved the brass knob and put it on the mantelpiece, where it glinted gloomily. It seemed to know it wouldn’t be needed again.

That night I cooked spaghetti Bolognese for dinner and fried the onions and mince and boiled the spaghetti, and all Father did was stir it. I asked if we could pretend the sauce wasn’t from a jar, and we did, and while we were eating, Mike said: “Can I borrow the chef?” and Father said he would have to think about it, and I couldn’t remember feeling so happy for a long time.
* * *
LATER, WHEN MIKE had gone and we were washing up, I said: “Can we invite May and Elsie and Gordon over?”

Not now,” Father said.



I waited a minute, then said: “Are you going to go to the meetings again?”

And he said: “Judith, I don’t want to talk about this.” So we didn’t.

But later, when I was in my room, I said to God: “Please help Father.”

God said: “I can’t help him. He has to help himself.”

He’s trying.”



Then tell him to try harder.”

I took my journal into bed with me and turned over three pages and wrote: Is Father better yet? Then I turned over another three and wrote: What about now? I kept turning over and writing and I fell asleep with it beside me.

The last day I marked was a Wednesday. But, as it turned out, we didn’t get that far because the very next night something happened that ended all of that. It ended pretty much everything, and I didn’t even see it coming.
Where to Find Mustard Seeds

D. S. Michaels

The Flat

The Old Fire Station

Milton Keynes

MK2 3PB
Dear Judith,

How nice to hear from you. Of course I remember you: and our conversation that Sunday and am very sorry to hear that recently things have been so difficult for you and your father. As this world nears its end, we must expect Satan to try our integrity. I’m sure that whatever happens, God won’t forget the love your father showed for His name and will accept him back into the fold with open arms when he is ready to return. I am sure your own faithful example is an encouragement to your father. I am afraid I’m pretty busy and won’t be coming to your congregation for some time, but I will pray for both of you.

As for the mustard seeds, I didn’t know you wanted to grow them. I’m not sure how you’d go about it. I think most people just grind them up. If you want to try with some more, I got them in Tesco. Failing that, you could try a health food shop or a gardening store.

I look forward to seeing you again when I am next visiting your congregation.

Christian love,

Your Brother,

Derek Michaels

A Discovery
I CAME HOME on Friday, and turned my key in the front door but it didn’t click. I thought I must have forgotten to lock it when I left for school that morning and was very glad Father was still at work and didn’t know. I went into the kitchen and made a sandwich and a drink and then went upstairs.

I turned along the landing and was concentrating so hard on balancing the sandwich and my drink and thinking about the balloon ride Father and I were going on so I didn’t see that my door was ajar. When I did, my stomach dipped. I pushed it open and I saw two things.

The first thing was Father sitting on the bed. He didn’t look up and his face was red and crumpled as if he had been sleeping and he smelled of beer. The second thing was that he was holding my journal. Then the room shot backward and Father and the journal shot forward. I heard myself say: “Why aren’t you at work?”

There isn’t any,” he said, and when he looked up I saw that his eyes were glassy and half closed. “Two thousand laid off.”

What?”

It’s shut down,” he said.



I blinked. “But you only just started back.”

The strike finished us. We’ve lost half our customers.”

It’ll open again.”

I don’t know,” Father said. “You tell me. After all, you’re the one with the magic powers, aren’t you?”



I felt dizzy.

He laughed. “I expect you knew anyway! Perhaps you closed the factory! That’s what you do, isn’t it? You make things happen. And then write about them in your bloody diary! ” As he said the last words he stood up, hitting his head on the hot air balloon, and the room swung to and fro.

And there was me thinking Doug had it in for me because I was working!” he shouted. “That the trouble we had at the house was because of the strike! That it was boys being boys! You told me you would drop this miracle business, Judith! YOU GAVE ME YOUR WORD!”



He came close and I saw the veins in his eyes.

I put down my plate and cup and I couldn’t look at him, just kept looking down at my sandwich.

He said: “I told you, Judith! I told you and told you to drop it–” Then his voice broke, and he sat on the bed and his shoulders shook.

I said: “All I did was have faith,” and my voice was just air. “God did the rest.”

DAMN GOD!” he shouted.

I was trying to help,” I said.

He stood up. He looked like a madman. He said: “This is what I think of your help.” He picked up my journal and tore the cover away. He tried to tear it down the middle, but the spine was too strong and it bent this way and that. It made him even madder. He began tearing out handfuls of pages, and his hands were juddering and shaking. When there were just a few pages left, he threw the journal on the floor and looked around him.

I saw what was going to happen a second before it did but I was still too slow. I screamed and ran at him, but he had grabbed a field in the Land of Decoration, and houses and trees and cattle rained down on us. I clawed at his arms, but he pushed me back and began sweeping rivers and castles and palaces and cities up into the air. He uprooted trees, he flattened mountains, he crushed houses under his shoes.

I hung on to his arms, I hung on to his legs, we fell over, he got up again, he hurled the stars down, he broke up the moon, he toppled the planets. He tore at the sun, and the cage broke apart. The sea cracked with a sound like a plate, and the boats were cast up. The sky fell to earth and the earth broke apart. Beds and chairs, teapots and bushes, rose trees and washing lines, windmills, pitchforks, plum pies, and candlesticks came raining around us. Felt dogs howled, beaded fish flopped up and down, zebras whinnied, lions roared, fire breathing dragons had their fire put out, scorpions ran in circles. I tried to save them but as many as I held I dropped again and all around us, the air was full of feathers and clay and wires and beads and heads and arms and legs and hair and fur and stones and sand and wings. And pretty soon there was nothing left but a heap of old rubbish.

Father stood panting and swaying. He was panting a little. He looked around, then lurched toward the door. It crashed behind him and I heard him stumble on the stairs. Then I fell down too, but I don’t know where because there were no more places, and I don’t know how long I fell because there was no more time. Dark filled my eyes because there was no more light, and there was no point in ever getting up again because what had been done could never be put right.
The End of the World
I WAS IN the dark when I heard a voice. The voice was saying: “Wake up.”

Leave me alone,” I said.

Wake up,” said the voice.

Go away,” I said.

You have to wake up,” said the voice.

Why should I?”

You have to wake up,” said the voice. “Because the world is ending.”
* * *
I OPENED ONE eye.

In front of me was what looked like a forest. There were fibers sticking up and the fibers were green.

I opened both eyes.

My cheek was pressed against a piece of green carpet. The carpet had been part of the Land of Decoration.

I sat up.

A blanket covering me fell away. Moonlight was coming through the window.

I looked around. Then I leaned my head against the wall and didn’t want to look anymore.

Get up!” said the voice.

Go away,” I whispered.

There’s not a second to lose!”

Go away.”

Don’t you know what this means?”

Please go away,” I said.

But the voice wouldn’t. “What do you see?” it said.

Everything’s broken,” I said at last and closed my eyes.



God said: “Exactly!” He sighed. “Judith, I’m trying to help you here, but time is running out.”

Running out for what?” I said.

Think about it.”

I opened my eyes, and this time I said: “No.”

Yes,” said God.

No. You don’t mean–”

I do.”



I shook my head. “That’s impossible.”

What was that word again?”

Impossible,” I said.

Have all the other things happened?”

Yes, but … that would mean–”

Armageddon,” said God. He laughed. “You wanted the world to end. You asked Me about it often enough.”



I needed to go to the toilet. I got onto my knees. “When?” I said.

Imminently.”

How long have I got?”

About two hours,” said God.

Oh my goodness,” I said. I held on to the wall. Then I said: “I’ve got to tell people.”

You have told people,” said God. “You’ve been telling them for years.”

They might listen if they knew it was coming tonight.”

God laughed. “Do you think so?”

They would if they knew it was really going to happen.”

Then it would be for the wrong reason,” said God. “Anyway, how would you convince them?”

I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve got to try.”

Judith,” God said, “it’s half past four in the morning. What are you going to do–shout from the rooftops?”

Everything was spinning. I thought how happy the Brothers and Sisters would be: May’s chilblains would be better; so would Elsie’s joints. Nel would walk again. Alf would grow hair. Uncle Stan’s ulcer would vanish. And Gordon would never be depressed again. Josie would be able to make clothes for people for all eternity. And Father–Father would see Mother. And so would I!

But,” I said, “what about the other people?”



God didn’t answer for a minute. Then he said: “You know what happens to the other people.”

And he was right; I had always known, but now that it was about to happen it was different. “Isn’t there anything You can do?” I said. “Perhaps the world isn’t ready to be destroyed just yet! Perhaps there are still good things in it.”

Such as?” God said.



I tried to think. “Mrs. Pew!” I said suddenly.

Mrs. Pew?” said God. He didn’t seem to think much of my suggestion.

Yes!” I said. “And Oscar!… And Auntie Jo !… And Mike! And Joe and Watson, and Sue Lollipop–and Mrs. Pierce !”

They don’t believe in Me,” said God.

But You can’t just kill them!” I said.

You knew this would happen.”

What about the children … the people who haven’t heard about You … the people who didn’t listen when we went to the door, because they were on the phone, or the baby was ill, or they’d heard bad things about us, or it was raining?”

I’m sorry,” God said, “that can’t be helped. I can’t hang around forever. There’ll always be those who don’t know or don’t listen or are too busy. It’s not My fault.”

It’s not theirs either!” I said. I was beginning to feel as though I would like to be sick as well as go to the toilet. “Can’t You just forgive them?” I said.

God laughed. “You’re a fine one to talk about forgiveness! Look, I’ve waited since the Garden of Eden to do this. You don’t expect Me to put it off a few more weeks?”

So Father hasn’t made the end of the world come after all?” I said.

Well, yes and no. This is all besides the point. It’s happened; I would have made sure it did one way or the other.”

And now it’s gone,” I said, and I looked around again. “If only I could put it back together! But I can’t. It would take too long.”



But I wasn’t really thinking about the Land of Decoration anymore. I was thinking about Mrs. Pew and Oscar, about Sue Lollipop and her trip to the Bahamas, about Mrs. Pierce and Mike. I was thinking about so many other things too that it seemed they were crowding into my mind because it might be the last time they would be remembered–thinking of the way the world was in the snow and how it would be in the spring, how the cherry tree would come back to life, and Mother’s Christmas roses, how in the summer the mountain would become green, and how Father and I would go up in the hot air balloon and see the whole valley. I was trying to imagine it all gone, and it was really difficult.

So I can’t save them?”

No.”

I sat down on the floor with a bump and pressed my hands together to try and stop them from shaking. I said: “What will it be like?”

The biggest thing the world has ever seen.”

And then,” I said, “the new world.”

God said: “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

And I didn’t say anything, because it was what I had wanted for as long as I could remember.

I closed my eyes. “No more sickness, no more death?” I said.

That’s right.”

And You’ll wipe the tears from people’s eyes?”

Yes.”

And Father and I will live there, and we will see Mother, and it will be like it was in the beginning?”

God said: “What was that?”

And we’ll see Mother again.”

Not that bit,” said God. “The other bit.”

And it will be like it was in the beginning.”

No, no, the first bit,” said God.

And–Father and I will live there…” I said.

That’s it,” said God. “You see, that’s the bit I’m not sure about.”

What? ” I said.

Well,” said God, “your father–I mean, can you really call him a believer? His attitude hasn’t been right for some time now.”

I blinked. “Father believes in You!” I said. I laughed. “You know he does! He’s just been tired lately; things got on top of him–”

But God was saying: “No. I’m not sure he believes in Me at all.”

Are you listening to me?” I said. I jumped up. “You have to save Father!”

It doesn’t change the fact that he’s lost faith in Me.”

No!” I shouted. “He hasn’t! Can’t You do anything?”



And then God looked at me. I felt Him look, and everything went still and my skin prickled. He said: “If I were you, I’d be asking myself that question.”

Me?” I said. “What can I do?”



God laughed. “Judith, look at what you’ve done already!”

I blinked. Then I put my head in my hands. When I took it out I said: “I’ve done quite a lot, haven’t I?” And then, in a smaller voice, a voice so small that no one but God could have heard it, I said: “If anyone dies it should be me.”

Clever girl,” God said softly.

What?” I said.

Well,” said God. “You’re right, of course; if it hadn’t been for you, none of this would have happened. You are the only one who can save your father. He’s sinned, Judith; he’s lost faith–the greatest sin of all. He deserves to die; he will die; unless someone saves him….”

Who?” I said. “How?”

God sighed. “Don’t you remember? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth–”

A life for a life,” I said.

If someone were to give Me their life instead…”

Oh,” I said, and my voice was quiet, like a breeze on its way somewhere else.

It’s the only way,” said God. “The Fundamental Law. Remember?”

I felt wind buffet my face, as if I was standing at the edge of a cliff, and I felt the ground shift under me.

You love him, don’t you?” said God.

Yes.” But I wasn’t thinking about Father anymore. I wasn’t thinking about anything just then.

God said: “Now, are you going to save him? Hurry up and decide or you may as well not bother.”

Yes,” I said, because there wasn’t really any decision to be made; there had been a moment when I wondered if I would get to see the Land of Decoration after all, then that, too, stopped mattering.



But I had to be sure of something. “If I do this,” I said suddenly, “You have to promise me–You have to promise me–Father won’t die.”

Where’s your faith?” said God.

I need You to promise!” I shouted.

All right!” said God. “Dear me! You have My word.”



I swallowed and looked at my shoes. I said: “Then can I see him?”

If you’re quick.”



I went to the door. I meant to go quickly, but my body was moving as if its battery had run down.

At the door, I put my hand on the handle. “God,” I said, “can I really save him?”

Yes,” God said, “you can.”

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