Death in the Cathedral
A Novella in Five Stories by Malcolm Dixon

  Crown of Thorns
  Death in the Cathedral
  More’s Utopia
  Out There
  De Profundis
About the Author Winter 2022 Fiction Issue  

Crown of Thorns

Father John says our souls are bright shining white but that they suffer a black mark whenever we commit a sin and this makes God feel sad. We are not allowed to eat anything before school on a Friday anymore because we all take communion now at the 8:30 a.m. mass at Holy Ghost Church every Friday morning and so we all bring cold toast from home in shiny silver foil and eat it no earlier than exactly one hour afterwards outside in the yard. Waiting just one single minute less than this would be a sin and God would be sad to know our toast was mixed up in our bellies with the body of His Only Son, Our Lord.

When we go inside this morning to the school hall I have got to come in all by myself from the front before everyone else has sat down and I have to address them like we have practised, Miss Danforth and I. Miss Danforth told the whole school once at assembly that I am the best boy in the school on account I am so very well-behaved all the time and the best boy or girl by far at reading. She and I spend time alone in her tiny dark headmistress’s office every day when she sits back in her big chair with her eyes closed and listens to me read to her out aloud from a grown-up book or the bible. Afterwards she tells me I am the best boy in the school and last week at assembly she told this to the whole school. Later Cathy Crist told everyone in class that when she grows up she wants to marry Stephen Mattimore and I had to come out to the front and stand with her and the teacher and tell her that this was impossible as I will most probably be a missionary in Africa or Melbourne when I grow up.

In actual fact I know I will never marry Cathy Crist when I grow up because of how she let Kevin Cutter show her his willy in class one time at the back and even though everyone said it was just his finger I do not think she should have looked at it anyway.

Kevin Cutter is my adversary. One time he just came right up to me in the school yard for no reason and said that Our Lady was a cow! and then he laughed out loud right in my face after he had said it too as if what he had said was something clever or funny instead of just stupid and not to mention highly blasphemous. I know he is going to go to hell at Easter, via Australia, where he is emigrating to then with his parents. His soul must be very nearly blacker than the rotted soul of the devil himself.

Another time going over the hills on the way home from school Kevin Cutter hit me in the eye with the muddy fallen branch of a tree and it became infected and I had to wear a black eye-patch over one eye for longer than a week. He and his gang had been threatening my best friend Philip Daniels and when I asserted myself between them Philip shouted Watch out, Stephen! and Kevin Cutter swung the branch fast with both hands and it hit me hard in my left eye and then they ran off. Philip’s father is a policeman but he could not arrest Kevin Cutter. They emigrated to Australia themselves last Christmas and I sent Philip a letter I wrote on special see-through thin paper but letters take a very long time to travel all the way to Australia and back even when they are written on the special paper.

I can see Kevin Cutter right now while I am eating my cold toast. He is running wild and shouting and playing like all the other children are. There are so many I wonder how I will ever learn to spell all their names exactly correctly. I am learning how to spell all the words in the dictionary. Every day I learn how to spell all the words on one page of the grown-up dictionary and my mother tests me before bedtime because I asked her to do this for me. We are still on all the words beginning with the letter A. Mother believes in me being a special good boy as much as Miss Danforth believes in me.

Except one time Mother asked me to go into the house because she was arguing for a long time over the front garden fence with old Mrs Vache next door who said a very bad rude word to Mother out loud and when I shushed Mrs Vache and said straight to her that she should be ashamed because her Guardian Angel could hear her saying that bad word right then she became quiet and just stood looking at me as if she were very cross indeed and Mother asked me nicely to go inside. We used to like doing jigsaws together Mother and I because she says it proves I have a lot of patients.

I can also see Cathy Crist and her friends playing over by the railings. She looks at me eating my cold toast and I turn away. Now I can see Bugsy Baker, the boy whose loose tooth I took out for him when he was crying in the boys’ toilets that time because it was bleeding and he was scared. I said I could take it out for him and it would not hurt. He let me do it and it didn’t hurt him not one little bit and afterwards he was very happy that it was out. And there too in her coat is Mrs Traynor who does not believe in me. She said I was a thief. That I had taken something from her classroom that I was not supposed to take and it was in my bag but I had not put it there. Someone told her that they had seen me put it in my bag but I did not. I got very upset and Miss Danforth came and said it was all nonsense and what would a clever boy like me want with a number of old wooden blocks on a tatty piece of string anyway and Mrs Traynor said that wasn’t the point. I heard Mrs Traynor say to Miss Danforth that I was just like everybody else really and Miss Danforth tutted loudly to her and walked off.

Mrs Traynor does not like me because I stopped her from picking on Keith Mercer in class because his nerves are bad. Keith Mercer is not my cousin but his mother is a very close family friend of my mother’s and we say he is my cousin but he is not. But I do know his nerves are very bad from his home situation and one time when we had to sit absolutely still on the floor in class before a story he could not prevent one of his legs from moving quickly up and down all the time and Mrs Traynor insisted in front of the whole class that he keep his leg still before she would start to read the story to the class and when he said he couldn’t stop it because it was his bad nerves she would not believe him and tried all the harder to make him stop it. I put up my hand then and said to her that I knew for a fact that Keith has very bad nerves because of his home situation and that I would tell Miss Danforth at break when I was alone with her in her headmistress’s office what she was doing in class to Keith and Miss Danforth knew that I would not tell her a lie. Mrs Traynor did not like that because her face went all a bit twisted but she stopped it all the same.

I do not know why it is called Good Friday as it does not seem to me to have been a very good day at all. When Mrs Traynor blows her whistle in a second everyone will first stand still and then walk quickly without running or talking to stand in their lines for class before coming into the school hall. I will not line up with the others but am to go directly to the hall where Miss Danforth will be waiting for me at the front with the crown of thorns on a red tasselled cushion. The caretaker made it from real thorns and twigs and it looks like a bird’s nest with a hole in the bottom. When the children are all sat down I have to take it off the cushion and hold it up high above my head so that everyone can see it and announce in a loud voice so everyone can hear the words clearly even at the back that This is my crown of thorns and I wear it so that your sins may be forgiven. I am not at all afraid or nervous and I go in when the whistle blows. But when I am waiting at the front of the hall by myself the long curtains at the back swing open at once and all the children seem to burst in together with the blinding bright shining light from outside and there is so much murmuring loud noise suddenly that I feel like I am lifted up off my feet and am looking down on everyone from very high up and even Miss Danforth standing beside the piano looks quite small.

new section

  ©Malcolm Dixon, 2022

Back to top