Grace McCleen The Land of Decoration



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A Skeptic
THAT AFTERNOON THE sky grew dark with the weight of the snow. It kept spiraling down, wondering which way to go. I sat and watched. I could have watched it forever. I didn’t eat dinner. My hands felt hot or other things felt cold and my skin was prickling all over. Father asked if I had a temperature; I told him I had never felt better.

The next morning it was still snowing. Drifts reached to the sills of windows, cars were small white hillocks, my breath formed clouds, and the floorboards creaked with the cold. Father was rubbing his hands by the Rayburn when I came down. He said he’d had to dig a tunnel to get out the back door.

I decided the time had come to tell him what was happening. I took a deep breath. “You know I was asking about miracles?”

He banged the fire door and said: “Not now, Judith. I’ve got to saw more wood and I have to see if Mrs. Pew is all right. In fact, you could do that for me.”

But I have to talk to you!” I said. “It’s important.”

Later,” Father said. He swigged the last of his tea.

I stared at him. “Do I really have to go round to Mrs. Pew?”

Well, it would help me.”

What if I don’t come back?”

Don’t be silly, Judith. There’s nothing wrong with Mrs. Pew.”

Her head wobbles.”

So would yours if you had Parkinson’s.”


* * *
Snow came over the top of my wellingtons as I waded through the front gate. My legs were wet by the time I got next door to Mrs. Pew’s front door. The bell went on for a while. I shuffled from foot to foot. The little kids in the street say Mrs. Pew invites children into her house and they’re never heard of again; they say that’s what happened to Kenny Evans. Though some people said he went to live with his father. I looked up and down the street to see if there would be any witnesses if Mrs. Pew tried anything.

The door opened a crack and I smelled something strong and musty, heard the latch turn, old hats and gloves from secondhand shops. Then I saw a black dress, a high collar, and a white face with red lips, drawn on eyebrows, and little black curls that shook and glinted greasily. Spider eyes peered at me. There were lines around her mouth, and the red of her lips ran into them. It looked as though she was bleeding. “Yes?” Mrs. Pew said in her cracked china voice.

I swallowed and said: “Hello, Mrs. Pew. Father told me to come and see if you needed anything.”

She turned up her hearing aid and leaned closer, and I backed away and said: “Father said: Do you need anything?” I was about to say it a third time when she shook her head, tweaked my sleeve, and pulled me into the hallway. I turned round, as the door shut. My heart began to beat very fast indeed.

Through the doorway, a television was blaring. A woman was standing in front of a lorry on a motorway, saying: “Yesterday a blast of Arctic weather brought snow and ice to much of the country for the second time this week. The first taste of winter came just two days ago, when a mild October was shattered by an eight inch fall of snow. The weather is causing problems on the roads and at sea. Four sailors, including a fifteen year old boy, had to be rescued yesterday after their yacht capsized off Plymouth. Both falls of snow have confounded weather forecasters…”

Mrs. Pew turned the sound off, then came back and said: “Now, what is it? Speak up, child!”

Father said: DO YOU NEED ANYTHING?”

Oh!” she said. “There’s no need to shout! That’s kind of your father. But you can tell him I’m well provided for; I’ve enough tins in my pantry to feed the army.”

Good,” I said, and turned to undo the door.

Wait, young lady! Have you seen Oscar?”

What?”

Have you seen Oscar?”

No.”

He didn’t come in for his cat food last night,” she said. “It’s most unlike him. Usually he doesn’t set foot outside if it so much as spits with rain. He holes himself up somewhere. If you see him, let me know, won’t you?”

My legs were shaky as I went to the gate. I turned back to say goodbye, and then I stopped. Mrs. Pew was dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief, but her head was wobbling too much to do it properly. She said: “I can’t help thinking something terrible has happened to him.”

I looked down. I said: “I have to go now.”

Father was on top of the wall at the side of the lean to, raking off snow. “Mrs. Pew has enough tins to feed the army,” I shouted, “but Oscar is missing. Can I talk to you now?”

Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Yes.”

Later!”


* * *
BUT AFTER CLEARING the roof he was busy shoveling snow, and after that he was busy chopping wood, and after that he was busy reading the paper, listening to the forecast, and getting dinner. I played in the garden. I made a snow cat and a snow man and a snow dog, and by then the day was almost over. At dinnertime he was only busy eating, so I laid down my knife and fork and said: “Father, I’ve got to tell you something.” I waited for him to speak, but he didn’t, so I said: “On Sunday I made snow for the Land of Decoration.” I said: “I wanted it to snow.”

He went on chewing. I could see the muscles in his jaw move. He must be playing it cool.

I said: “Father, I made snow for the Land of Decoration and then it happened. It was a miracle! It happened twice, just as I wanted it to. But you mustn’t tell anyone yet, because it might scare them and I’ve only just found out myself.”

Father looked at me for probably the longest he has ever looked at me. Then he began to laugh. He laughed and laughed. When he had finished laughing he said: “You’re a star turn. So this is what all the miracle business has been about?”

Yes,” I said. I hoped the laughter was due to shock. “I’ve been wanting to tell you. And I did it a second time, just to make sure–and it happened again! Even though you said that it wouldn’t. Because I had faith!”



Father said: “It’s because you spend too much time in that room.” Then he sighed.

Judith, whatever you made for your model world has nothing to do with the real one–you’re always making this or that. It’s a coincidence .”

It’s not!” I said, and I felt strange, as if I was getting a temperature. “It wouldn’t have happened without me.”

Father said: “Have you been listening to a word I’ve been saying?”

Yes,” I said. But my head began to feel full again like it did on the day I made the snow, as if there were too many things in it.



Father said: “Judith, ten year old girls do not perform miracles.”

I said: “How do you know if you’re not a ten year old girl?”

Father pinched his eyes shut with his finger and thumb. When he opened them, he said he’d had enough of this ridiculous conversation. He took my plate, though I hadn’t finished, and put it on top of his own and went to the sink, ran the tap, and began to wash the dishes.

I stood up. I tried to speak calmly. “I know it’s hard to believe,” I said. “But it wasn’t just once–”

He held up his hand. “I don’t want to hear any more.”

Why?”



Father stopped washing the dishes. “Because! Because it’s dangerous, that’s why!”

Dangerous to who?”

Dangerous to whom .”

Dangerous to whom?”

It’s dangerous to think you have that sort of power. It’s … presumptuous–it’s blasphemous .” He stared at me. “Just who do you think you are? It was a coincidence, Judith.”

I heard what he said, but my head was getting too hot to think about what the words meant. I looked down and said quietly: “You’re wrong.”

I beg your pardon?”



I looked at him. “It wasn’t a coincidence.”

Father reached up and banged the cupboard door hard. Then he leaned on the sink and said: “You spend far too much time in that room!”

I have a gift!” I said. “I made a miracle happen!”



Then Father came up to me and said: “I want you to drop this right now, d’you understand? You do not have a gift. You can not make miracles happen. Is that clear?”

I could hear our breath and the drip of the tap. There was a pain in my chest.

Father said: “Is that clear?” For a minute the pain in my chest was too great to breathe.

And then it was as if a switch had been turned off and I didn’t feel hot anymore. The pain went away and I was cool and separate from things.

Yes,” I said. I went to the door.

Where are you off to?”

To my room.”



Oh no, you’re not; the less time you spend in that room the better. You can dry the dishes, and after that there’s some other things you can do.”
* * *
SO I DRIED and then sorted out Bible magazines. I put the oldest ones on the top of the pile and the latest at the bottom. I brought in four bucketfuls of sticks and two of coal and stacked them by the Rayburn.

Father said how well I had stacked the sticks, but that was just because he felt guilty he had shouted, like he always does. I didn’t say anything back, because I wasn’t going to let him off that easily.

I waited till nine o’clock, then I said good night and went upstairs and got out my journal and wrote all of this down, everything that had happened since Sunday. Because it was too important not to, and if I couldn’t talk about it I would have to write it somewhere instead.
A Secret
I HAVE A secret. The secret is this: Father doesn’t love me.

I don’t know when I first guessed, but I have been sure for a while now. He’ll say: “That’s a good answer,” or “I liked the way you used that scripture,” or he’ll come to my room and stand in the doorway and say: “Everything all right?” But he sounds as though he is reading the words from a sheet, and afterward he tells me how I could have done the presentation better, and though I tell him he can come into my room he doesn’t.

These are the reasons I know Father doesn’t love me.
1) He doesn’t like looking at me.

2) He doesn’t like touching me.

3) He doesn’t like talking to me.

4) He is often angry with me.

5) He is sad because of me.

1) Father doesn’t look at me if he can help it, and when he does his eyes are black. They are actually green, but they look black because he is angry. There is a verse in the Bible where it says God’s spirit is sharper than a two edged sword and divides even the soul from the spirit, and joints from their marrow, and knows thoughts and secrets of the heart . That’s how it feels when Father looks at me. It looks like he doesn’t like what he sees there.

2) Father doesn’t touch me. We don’t kiss good night or hug or hold hands, and if we are sitting too close he will suddenly notice and clear his throat or move away or get up. Sometimes when we are together, something in the air changes and it is as if we are the only people in the universe, but instead of there being lots of space, as there would be if we really were, we are locked in a very small room and there is nothing to talk about.

3) Father doesn’t like talking to me. This may be because I ask a lot of questions, such as: “What will it be like in the new world?” and “Does God know everything that will happen in the future?” To which Father said: “God can decide what to know and what not to know.” To which I said: “Then He must know what’s going to happen in order not to want to know about it,” and Father said: “It’s a bit more complicated than that.”

So I said: “Does God let bad things happen because He can’t see them or because He doesn’t want to stop them?”

God lets bad things happen in order to prove that humans can’t rule themselves. If God stopped everything bad happening, then people wouldn’t be free. They would be little puppets.”



I said: “I suppose so. But if everything we do is already written out somewhere, are we free to do what we want or do we just think we are?”

Father said: “We can’t understand God, Judith. His ways are unsearchable.”

Then why ponder them?” I said.



Father raised his eyebrows and closed his eyes.

I said: “Perhaps you can ponder too much.”

And Father said he thought you probably could.

But most of the time I don’t say much to Father and he doesn’t say much to me, and this is the biggest problem we have, because all the time we are not saying things, the air is filled with the things we could. I am always trying to hook one of these things down, but they are usually out of reach.

4) Father is often angry with me. This is because there is a list of things he approves of, which must be done a certain way, such as:
a) speaking (not mumbling)

b) sitting (not slouching)

c) walking (not running)

d) thinking (not daydreaming)

e) saving (not spending)

and an even longer list that must not be done at all, such as:
a) crying

b) playing with food

c) leaving food

d) running around (including hopscotch in the hall, which breaks another rule too; see f)

e) scuffing shoes

f) noise in general

g) leaving doors open

h) not paying attention

And sooner or later I am bound to do one and forget to do the other.

Sometimes, though, I don’t know why Father is angry with me. Once I asked him what I had done wrong.

He said: “You?”

Yes.”

What makes you say that?”

You always seem cross.”

Me?

Yes.”

I’m not cross.”

Oh.”

You’d know if I was cross!”

That’s all right, then.”



He said: “Cross indeed!” And he was angrier than he had been to start with.

5) But worse, much worse than Father being cross, much worse than Father not talking to me or not wanting to look at me or not wanting to touch me, is when he is sad.

Sometimes when I was younger, I used to come downstairs at night to get a drink and the light would be on under the kitchen door. I would see Father through the glass panel, sitting at the table, not doing anything, just sitting there. I stood by the door waiting for him to move, and if he did it was like stepping into warm water. If he didn’t I would go back to bed with a pain in my chest and promise to be better and wait for the light to come.

That was when I thought I could make Father love me, but I don’t anymore. Because the reason he doesn’t happened a long time ago and I can’t do anything about it now, even though without me it wouldn’t have happened at all.
A Voice in the Dark
WHEN I HAD finished writing in my journal, I put it under the loose floorboard beneath my bed. I would have to hide it for now. Until Father came to his senses and saw what was staring him in the face.

I suddenly wondered what Brother Michaels would say if he knew what had happened, and I wished I could tell him how right he had been, that I could make things happen just like he said.

I got into bed. My head still felt hot and I was feeling even stronger than before. I could see myself in bed as if I wasn’t in my body. I’d fainted once and it felt similar. I was thinking about Father and the argument, thinking how surprised he would be when he finally did realize I could perform miracles, but it was as if it had all happened to someone else now, as if the little body lying in the bed and the house and our street and the town and the whole universe was pouring into my head and my head was big enough for it all, but it went on getting hotter and hotter, and it was all so strange I just lay back and let it happen. Then I heard something.

So, you can make it snow,” said a voice. “What else can you do, I wonder?” Something shot up my spine and into my hair, and it felt like something inside me had melted.

Hello?” I said, but no one answered. I waited.

Then someone sighed. I was sure of it.

I sat up in bed. I was breathing very hard. I pulled the blankets around me and took a deep breath. “Who’s there?” I whispered.

Everything was silent again. Then the voice said: “I said: ‘What else can you do?’”

I gasped. “Who are you?” I said.

Now, there’s a question.”



I opened my mouth. I shut it again. “Where did you come from?”

There’s another.”



I said: “I want to know–”

You already do,” said the voice. It sounded quite close.



I shook my head. “Where are you?” I said.

I’m all around,” the voice said. “Inside things and outside them too. I was, and am, and will be.”



Then my heart beat once, very hard, and I said: “You’re God, aren’t You?”

Shh,” said the voice.



I swallowed. “Can You see me?”

Of course,” said God. “I’ve been watching you for some time. You could be very useful to Me.”



I sat up. “What do You mean?”

Well,” said God, “you’ve got a great imagination. I need someone like you to be My Instrument.”

Your Instrument?” I said.

Yes.”

What for?”

Miracles, that sort of thing.”



I put my hands over my face and then I took them away. I said: “I knew I was meant to do something important!”

Shh!” said God. “Not so loud. We don’t want to wake your father.” He paused. “But there’s one condition: You have to have complete faith; you have to be prepared to do whatever I ask, no doubting, no grumbling, no asking why.”

OK,” I said. “I won’t.”

You mean it?”

Yes!”

All right,” said God. “We’ll talk later. Right now I have to get on with some other things.”

What other things?”

Well, this is a busy time in heaven right now. Four horsemen are straining at the bit, there’re some winds that are very restless, and there are a lot of locusts that are getting under everyone’s feet. Oh, and some seals that have to be opened. In the meantime, no blabbing, all right?”

Can I carry on using my powers?”

Yes,” said God. “I’ll let you get used to them for a bit.”

Do you think I could make things happen to people and animals as well?”

God said: “Judith, it’s all a matter of faith.”

The mustard seed!”

Precisely.”

I won’t say any more to Father.”

Very wise.”

But he’ll believe me in the end?”

Yes.”

Because I’ll do more and more things and he’ll have to see. He will have to see I am doing something special.”



No doubt about it,” said God.

Then God went wherever it is that He goes and I lay down and thought two things. The first was that I had been silly to expect Father to understand about the miracles but I didn’t have to worry because it would all come right in the end.

The second thought was strange. It was that this had been waiting to happen to me, and thinking that made me happier than anything I had thought before in my whole life. The miracles had been waiting all this time, and so had I. And now the waiting was over, and things could begin.


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