Tower, and a lovely one, is the #writephoto prompt for this week from KL Caley at New2Writing.com. It’s the second tower we’ve had, but it’s very different from the last, which starred Prince Engineer George. So this my story, just over 1300 words, and not a George in sight. Shame.
The Bell Tower
The bell tower stuck out from the church, as if it wanted to keep some separation from what went on in the house of God, and the goings on in the loft. None of the bellringers were sure which came first, the church or its aloof steeple. It was only a topic for conversation when a newcomer turned up anyway.
“Have you rung before?” the leader, Bill, asked the lady who had struggled up the narrow stairs, and stood wheezing for a full five minutes before asking if she’d come on the right night.
“Every Monday, that’s right. Then we do weddings and church services by arrangement.”
Having established that she wasn’t there to ask for a peal at a wedding, or a toll at a funeral, it was time to assess the woman for ringing fitness.
“Yes, but only for a year, after I was a student, moving through a series of ‘first jobs’. You know what I mean?”
Some of the older ringers agreed. The ones who had been to college. Bill had been born within sound of these bells, been baptised in the church, gone to school in the primary across the way, and to the secondary modern a bus ride away. Then he’d got a sensible job as a trainee accountant with a local firm, and that was him set for life. He sometimes wondered, when pealing for weddings, whether he’d been a bit subservient when Moira’s parents had said ‘only a registry office’ for their wedding, but as they were paying, his parents had gone along with it.
He didn’t sometimes wonder.
Bill thought of it every time they pealed a wedding. It was the start of his life with Moira, and it was probably why it had never worked. He, with his steady job, secure employment, guaranteed pension, was ‘not good enough’ for their Moira. And by the time the baby had arrived, it seemed Moira agreed with them.
So, in the prime of their lives, from twenty to thirty, they’d done their best to live up to her parents’ expectations, produced three grandchildren for them, and struggled to hide all the wishes and hopes they’d each had for their futures. Wishes and hopes that seemed to be further apart than they ever had before that night at the Beer Festival, when they’d giggled a lot, escaped from their friends, and ended up doing more than they planned. Unplanned, in fact.
His sigh almost escaped him as he faced the newcomer. She had made it up the stairs, even if she had struggled for breath.
“So, what made you decide to come tonight, then?” Be polite to a newcomer. She looked like might take their average age down a year or ten: was she even over retirement age?
“Well, I finished school last term, and though the summer’s been good, with the nights drawing in I thought I needed something to get me out, rather than feel I was back in lockdown.”
Oh, yes, lockdown. They’d all missed ringing during lockdown. Had a row about it. Appealed to the bishop. Bishop replied saying the Diocese, and indeed the Archbishop, had appealed to Number 10, to no avail.
“You look young to be retired, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Oh, teaching, you know, we retire at 55 if we can swing it. Some Heads are more difficult than others. Mine was cutting back, so delighted to get rid of me.”
“Where did you teach?”
“Park. Reception through 6th grade. Little monsters, but fun with it.”
The leader racked his brains, and decided it was the new primary over near the housing estate on the old golf course. Times had changed. Probably didn’t call it a primary school, now.
“Well, we’re going to do a warm-up, then we’ll move into a round. Let me remind you how to pull. … Is number 3 up, Jack?” he asked one of the others, who’d been going round pulling each rope a few times in turn, getting them from the ‘safe’ to the ‘start’ position.
Getting a positive response, he turned back to the woman. A full twenty years younger than him. He was definitely getting old. “And what’s your name? … I’m Bill, that’s Jack…” he introduced the other ringers, who were standing around, each by a rope hanging from the ceiling. Or rather, hanging from an unseen bell in the loft above them, the rope sneaking through a well worn hole in the wood, polished by years of use.
“Okay, Carol, now let me see you take up the position to pull…. Good.” He was surprised that she was holding the tail of the rope in the right direction, spare loop towards the floor, her other hand lightly on the rope as it rose to the ceiling. “Now, start the bell. It’ll be fairly light, as bells go.”
Carol put her hands together and pulled down on the rope, let it and the tail rise up, then caught it again as it came down, and pulled, in the sort of rhythm you’d use to push a child on a swing.
“Well, you’re either a natural, or you haven’t forgotten a thing from, what would it be, twenty years ago?”
“More like thirty,” she said. “But I’ve always liked the sound of the bells, pictured the ringers in the loft when I heard them.”
“Can you do a round, now?”
“Um, I never really got the hang of when I was due in, but if you can tell me who to follow, I’ll do my best.”
So with Bill calling the number of the bell she had to follow, they started a simple warm-up peal, then took a break, before carrying on for a round of eight. Since Carol had made the number up to nine, everyone sat out in turn for a rest.
That was the first week Carol came.
By the tenth week they were planning Christmas and practising the old rounds for the nativity celebrations. Carol had received some ribbing about her name and Christmas from the younger members. Bill always went quiet around this time. Trouble was, there were so many carols at Christmas. He often wondered where Moira and the three kids had got to, Carol, Benjamin and Lucy. All skinny little things, rushing around all over the place. But Moira had taken them away, made a new start somewhere in the Home Counties, somewhere fancy. With an accountant who was a partner in one of the Big Five accounting firms. She’d laughed at his potential for promotion in their little accountancy office in town. He had been the manager before he retired, though.
It was the last practice before the Christmas festivities began. He’d handed out the sheets which showed everybody where they were supposed to be and when, with due regard to giving everyone a chance to ring, and everyone at least three rings off, to be with their family.
“Will that schedule be all right with you, Carol,” he asked as they started down the winding stairs, which by now caused her no trouble at all.
“Oh, yes. I’ll see more of my family this year than I have for years.”
“How’s that then?”
“Well, Mam got the cancer and died when I was forty, and Ben and Luce have got their own families, and haven’t got time for big sis any more.”
“Ben and Luce?” Bill staggered slightly, and Carol reached out a hand to his elbow.
“Yes, I’ve been trying to work out how to break this to you. Benjamin and Lucy. My little brother and sister. We never forgot you, whatever Mam said about you. And this Christmas, if you want, I’d like to spend some time with you. What are you doing about Christmas dinner?”
Turned out he’d be spending a round with her, his daughter Carol, this Christmas.
© J M Pett 2022