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Short story: <i>Beware of the Swan</i>

Mr Smith peeped out through a crack in his lace curtains at the entrance to his driveway. He sucked in his breath through his teeth and exhaled worriedly. He pulled the curtains closed again. He straightened them so they would look undisturbed from the outside, where a car was quietly nosing into his driveway.

Mr Smith sighed. He knew what was going on here. Miss Mabel, unofficial head of the parish and official town busy-body, had been on at the new parson about Mr Smith's church attendance record. And Miss Mabel—with her fussy pastel hats covered extravagantly in faux blossoms, and her fussy pale neck ringed with faux pearls (although she would have it that an ex-errant sea captain had insisted she have them in gratitude for the part she played in his conversion), and her voluminous twin sets and sensible dark blue shoes—had been the reason there had been so many parsons in and out of this parish in the last forty years. Mr Smith was almost positive that she'd scared the first one off when she was only ten years old, by shouting him down during a sermon about hell that the young Miss Mabel found to be not quite pious enough. From that moment on, it was only a matter of time.

Mr Smith shuffled his carpet slippers over the linoleum floor towards the kitchen. There was thick dust on the side cabinets, spiderwebs under the fancy little tables his wife had strewn through the halls and the corners of rooms to give a general impression of furniture. Mr Smith had never really liked all the fiddly bits of furniture, but he had really liked his wife, Nancy, very much. She died late last year; and now he realised that all those fancy tables needed to be wiped, dusted, cared for, and generally appreciated the way Nancy used to, or they tended to become resentful and jump out at him when he got up in the middle of the night to get some scotch out of the sideboard.

Nancy had been good at keeping the house looking neat, but lived in at the same time. And she kept Mr Smith the same way. When Nancy was alive Mr Smith wouldn't have had to suffer the indignity of answering the front door with egg yolk smeared over the collar of his dressing gown, and a dob of sauce on one toe of his carpet slipper. He wouldn't have been answering the door in his dressing gown at all. But if the parson didn't like it, that was the parson's problem.

Mr Smith peered hopefully out of the peephole in the front door. He could see the parson stepping out of his fancy car, and shutting the door, and locking it with one of those fancy beepers. He was looking for Lawrence, which was Mr Smith's name for the swan who lived in the canal just at the end of Mr Smith's street. It was amazing, Mr Smith reflected, just how many religious folks decided not to come knocking once Lawrence had approached them inquisitively. Lawrence's actual intentions in his strutting up the footpath may have appeared ambiguous to the casual passerby, but Mr Smith had taken the liberty of erecting a lovely wooden sign near his front yard that said "Beware of the Swan". He also set the story about that Lawrence had once, in a fit of passion, taken a UPS delivery man's arm clean off. And to reward Lawrence for his guard-dog-like vigilance, Mr Smith fed him sandwiches.

Unfortunately, Lawrence must have been off enjoying himself in the canal somewhere. So Mr Smith watched the new parson step confidently up the path.

The parson wasn't a big man, but he looked as though maybe he indulged a little in that deadliest of sin; vanity. He looked young, just in his early thirties, and wore his hair carefully and casually styled around his head so it flopped like the ears of a good natured and stupid puppy. His walk proclaimed him to be a man who worked out at the gym. Not a manual labourer, but someone who had muscles on purpose. Nancy and their daughter Rose would have called him buff, and giggled irreverently after he'd gone. He moved easily, smoothly, as though he had complete control of his body, and all his joints had been oiled. Mr Smith envied him that.

Mr Smith started to unlock the door, but didn't remove the safety chain. He opened the door a crack. The parson was here to try and bring him back into the fold, and he didn't want a bar of it. But Mr Smith wasn't a fighter; and, if the parson was persuasive enough, Mr Smith would probably cave in and be forced back to Miss Mabel and her band of bossy zealots. They would want to clean his house, nose in his business, and mouth platitudes about Nancy they didn't mean. Mr Smith jiggled sadly at the safety chain.

There was a gruff honk followed by high pitched squealing, and Mr Smith pulled off the safety chain and flung open the door. There was Lawrence, right on cue, charging up to the parson looking fearsome. And the parson, with his shiny floppy hair and his determined walk and sculpted body, was shrieking like a child, kicking out at Lawrence while racing back to his car. Mr Smith leaned on the door frame, with the egg on his collar and sauce on his slipper and his arms folded, watching as the parson backed his fancy car quickly out of the drive. Lawrence continued charging up the path, to the sandwich Mr Smith had placed there earlier.

Mr Smith chuckled to himself as he shut the door. If the new parson couldn't handle Lawrence, Miss Mabel would finish him by the end of the week.

This is the result of a thirty minute writing exercise. The only constrictions were the time limit and five randomly selected words from the dictionary. Today the words were: joint, parson, swan, buff, and ambiguous.

Image courtesy of Napalm filled tires.

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