‘The Stones’ was first published in Skald 7 (1997).
The Stones: A Short Story by Rob Mimpriss
He parked the car on the road from Llanaelhaearn, and followed her over the stile onto the field at the bum of the mountain. He saw her in the crimson of the autumn evening, swinging the restraint from her arms and legs, letting her feet sink deep in the mud and shit as she led the way up the hill. He curled his hand round the ring in his pocket, and broke into a run to catch up with her.
He was twenty-eight years old, but looked younger. He had recently been appointed as a curate at Bangor Cathedral. He slowed down to adopt his companion’s pace, and said: ‘Are you sure he heard you?’
She didn’t change her expression. She was fingering the Celtic brooch on her scarf. ‘The Bishop can hear a heresy five miles away,’ she said.
‘There’s no way round it. You’ll have to apologise.’
‘Philip!’ she said impatiently. ‘If you think I’m about to apologise to that egotistical fat-head—’
‘He can hear you,’ said Philip. ‘He’s got a cottage less than five miles from here.’
She laughed. ‘What on earth made you say it, anyway?’ he said.
‘Is it so controversial?’ she said. ‘If the Bible shows the influence of pagan religions, it must be because the pagans knew more about some things than we did.’
‘They took their ideas. But they were making them better; religion was evolving—’
‘Evolving my arse,’ she said. ‘Look, there’s a stile over there. First one over ’s first to be a bishop.’
She started running. ‘Hey! Siân!’ he called out. ‘That’s not fair!’ Then he got into the spirit of it, and started running after her. He slipped and fell on his face, and then he was up and away again, laughing.
The top of the field was fenced. She was climbing the stile when he reached it. He saw her boots caked with mud, and a smear of dirt at the bottom of her tights. He reached his hand out to hold her by the ankle. The tassels danced on the edge of her skirt as she jumped. She landed on all fours a few feet away.
‘Jacob!’ she teased him.
‘Are you all right?’
She got to her feet. ‘I’ll live.’
‘You’ve got mud on your skirt.’
‘I’ll still be a bishop.’ She looked at Philip and started laughing. ‘Oh, Philip! Whatever happened to you?’
He tried to wipe some of the mud from his face. ‘I’ll have to use your shower before Evensong.’
‘If we make it to Evensong,’ said Siân. ‘That’s no good; let me, Philip.’ She was wiping his face with the hem of her skirt. She laughed at his expression and stepped back, letting it fall. ‘And you the next R.S. Thomas!’
Philip turned his face away. ‘How far to the top?’ he said.
‘Half an hour by the path. We can try straight up if you think it’s quicker.’
He looked about him. The slope above them was screed and treacherous. The path followed the contour of the mountain. ‘I think we’ll take the path,’ he agreed.
‘We might miss Evensong.’
He did not feel like teasing. He moved forward down the path determinedly. Mynydd Carnguwch rose up like a breast in front of them. To their right was the shoulder of the three-headed mountain. Philip said:
‘You’ll have to be more careful, though. I’ve had complaints about you before.’
‘Who from?’ The response was spirited.
‘Mrs Prys—’ he began.
‘Mrs Prys! She isn’t even on the church council!’
‘She’s an evangelical. People have to listen to her.’
‘All I said was-’
‘But you said it. Do you want to destroy your career just to make a few theological points?’ He tried to make his voice gentler. ‘Do you want to destroy mine?’
She made no reply. Let her think it over, Philip told himself. A good leader uses a combination of stick and carrot. They reached the place where the path turned in silence. A tilted display board, like a lectern, thought Philip, stood a little further up the slope. Peering upwards he saw, grey against grey, a scattering of stones like an old man’s beard. He stood at the display board as though it were a point of authority.
‘Who built it?’
‘The Celts.’ Her voice reached him distantly.
‘Defence. When they saw the ships coming, they’d retreat up here.’
‘I thought all the attacks came from overland.’
‘Sometimes people attack you from behind.’
She was moving away. ‘Siân!’ he called. ‘Hey, Siân, I didn’t mean—’ He stopped. She was climbing the slope without looking back. He cursed, and started going after her.
The wall of the fortress came down to a point. Philip scrambled through the opening and looked about him. Siân had gone. A maze of low, unroofed huts lay between him and the summit. He ran into the nearest of them. ‘Siân,’ he said, ‘you mustn’t think—’
She was hiding herself. The air was clammy. He sat down on a boulder and started to laugh. Up the holy mountain with a ring in his pocket. Siân, this is Jehovah; Jehovah, this is Siân. He heard a movement behind him, and turned round. For a moment, her face appeared from behind a rock fifty yards away. He watched. There was no further movement. Stones shifted under him as he made his way towards her. She was sitting in one of the hut circles, her back against the wall. She eased herself onto it as he entered. She regarded him silently. The heels of her boots kicked the stones as she swung them.
‘I thought you’d gone,’ he told her.
‘I’m omnipresent,’ she said.
‘I’m sorry about what I said.’ He searched her face. ‘You just need to be careful.’
She made no response. She’s waiting, he thought. With his hand in his pocket, he slipped the ring over his finger.
‘Shall we be friends?’ he said.
He tried to take her hand. She refused it. ‘Look at me, Philip,’ she said.
She had turned her back on him. She was climbing on top of the wall. Gingerly she stood up, and turned round. She held out her hands on both sides to balance her.
‘I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of Egypt.’
Her face was like flint. She gazed into the distance beyond him.
‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me...’