The Guardian are running a competition, looking for a 150 word opening to a novel with the title “All We Know of Heaven”. I had been looking forward for an excuse to do a little bit of fictional writing, so took the opportunity to rustle up some words.
I had no clear ideas of a novel as such, but had some little vignettes rattling around at the back of my mind. So I have produced four little entries. Unfortunately, the competition is only open to residents of the UK, so my winning entry will have to wait, ahem.
The first is my attempt at a “Mills and Boon”-type romantic tale. Not my cup of tea really, but it struck me as a nice idea to try it anyway. The second is more imaginative. I take as a theme the story of the Lost Tribe of Israel, as they trudge through the mountains looking for a new home. It is a story that, naturally enough, has never been told! Then I tried my hand at school-day reminisence. Finally, I have thrown in the start of a little horror story.
Poised atop the gilded stairway, Geoffrey surveyed the crowded ballroom of the Municipal House below him. His gaze followed his wife as she sashayed gracefully into the arms of her new-found suitor. “All we know of heaven,” he said quietly, with a tone of bitter amusement, “is contained in this house tonight.”
“Old mister bleak”, came Jenny’s slow voice from behind him. She drew closer to his side, calmly and with deliberation. She placed her lace-rimmed arm gently by his side, and pressed her warm hand, briefly, into his. “Is this all that heaven has to offer? Champagne and chocolate truffles, Shubert and Strauss, marble floors and perfumed ladies? Surely not, my dear Geoffrey.”
Turning cautiously, Geoffrey stared into Jenny’s eyes, looking for clues to her mood. “I was thinking of you, Jenny,” he whispered playfully, “that would be heaven enough.”
All through that harsh winter, the winter of sorrow and brutal retribution, god’s lost tribe trudged through the mountainous land. United by the fear of love lost and hope eternal, they huddled and worked and died. Uriah, their prophet and preacher, urged them on when they tired, heaving the mothers carrying babies up the ravines and across the windswept valleys. Abandoned and excluded, these people were marching to heaven. Every ray of warm sun was greeted with exultant praises.
“Yearn, my people, rejoice in hope eternal. Seek and you will find, find and you will be found,” he shouted to them from every vantage point.
“All we know of heaven is in your power,” they thought. And they followed him. Abandoned by god, without promise, they clung to this demi-god.
“We shall win a new land,” Uriah told them. “Win it. It has not been promised, or given, or laid out. We must win it, take it. And all the sweeter it will be for that.”
Sunshine was our glorious signal, the blue sky our herald. We gathered from early morning at the back of the houses, with someone calling at Anto’s house for the ball, his mother in apron at the door shouting for him to come down. “Anthony, your friends are at the door.”
Johnny Mayfield was Georgie Best for the day, forgetting his awkward white limbs and fair hair, to gallop and shoot with earnest glee.
As we played on through the afternoon, I remember the knee-scraping scuffles with sweaty hands and dust-covered faces, the yelps and gleeful cries of the scrappy children resounding around the concrete playground.
There were boys in shorts and t-shirts, scuffed knees and scraped elbows. Dirt marks were signs of pride, the sure proof of virility. Goals were celebrated with oohs and aahs, the scorers no less ecstatic than if they were at Anfield or Old Trafford. This was our heaven, our nirvana.
The Cramer house stood on a low hill, just out of town, with an unkempt hedgerow fronting the road and tangled briars and leafy trees enveloping the large front garden. There was a sign of pealing paint saying “Heaven’s Promise” above the door. When we heard the news, the local kids clambered on their bicycles and rode as far as the bottom of the hill to peer at the house, daring to go no further. My father drove with his men towards the house and stopped on the dusty road before us. He rolled down the window slowly and said to me: “Boy, go home now, your mama wants you.” I knew she didn’t, but felt glad in my heart that my father said it. His voice was oddly warm and comforting, so familiar yet so alien. The other kids backed their bikes back a little, waiting respectfully for some words or signs.