On a porch lit by a single night-light, Joshua and Seth sat smoking their pipes on the bone white chairs their parents had sat on when they had emigrated to farm the land around them. They had been small boys then, and lived their adult lives on this soil. But in each other’s company their voices carried the scent of a home never forgotten, the words like the brush of heather on the skin. Their forty-year-old conversation bobbed on the wind that blew across the porch.
‘I’ll tell ye Joshua, there were none so fair as that Martha. Eyes like amber she had, and hair like a fire around her shoulders. Aye, she were a fine lass.’ He sighed deeply, his chest rattling like a tin can rolling on wet cement as puffed on his old pipe.
‘Dunno that yer missus would like ter hear ye say so Seth,’ said Joshua. ‘What about the feelin’ of jus’ tilled earth beneath yer feet? Or the smell o’ fresh bread bakin’ in the oven?’
‘And these are fine things Joshua, jus’ as you say. But a man likes ter keep a memory o’ a lass in his heart, an’ I ken think o’ a lass who moved yer own once, before yer turned to preachin’. An she never got o’er it either, bein’ jilted by you – died a poor lonely ol’ spinster with a broken heart, so she did.’
‘She died a happily married woman wi’ thirteen grandkiddies! An’ it was her leavin’ me that helped me ter find me callin’ so don’t ye go re-writing history jus’ to suits yer purpose, ol’ rogue that ye are. Ye did that when we was children too.’
Seth laughed, his chest rasping like a tin can on wet cement. The night was drawing in, and the sharp air bit on Seth’s old bones as he drew his blanket round him.
‘And tha’ would be you practicing all that Christian forgiveness would it brother?’
Josh smiled wryly. His efforts to convert his brother were constantly thwarted by his brothers’ delight in mocking him.
‘My Lord knows I am jus’ a frail weak ol’ sinner Seth. But he shows me the way Home – it would content my ol’ heart to know you knows it too.’
Seth looked out of the corner of his eye at the baby brother he’d watched over since their fathers’ death when Seth was only nine and found himself ‘man of the house’. He had worked more hours than Joshua would ever know to make sure that his baby brother got to stay at school and had taken quiet pride when Joshua had made it to university. But the toil had been worth it for there was no feeling to match watching Joshua graduate, or become pastor of the local church.
‘So tell me little brother, when were ye ever hearing me deny Jesus?’
Joshua looked over at his brothers’ old gaunt face.
‘Well… can’t say as I ever have. But then I never heard ye say much of what ye thought on the matter. Never saw ye at church for tha’ matter.’
‘Aye…’tis true. But then, ye never saw me reading o’ the bible, and jus’ cos I never stood in a pulpit and yelled ‘praise the Lord!’ at the top o’ me lungs, don’t mean I don’t know how much I got to be grateful fer. When I walk into a church, it’s empty save for Himsel’ and me.’
Joshua could only be silent as fireflies, stirred by the wind and drawn to the flame of the night-light, danced through the air.
‘Never saw ye read much o’ anything,’ he said quietly.
‘Aye, well it jus’ took me a little longer ter learns is all. Did all me learnin’ while yer was at that university.’
‘Oh. So yer loves the Lord then brother?’
‘Aye. Saved me from being a bigger ol’ rogue than I already am.’
‘So why ye never tells me?’
‘Well, ye were havin’ so much fun brother, and I figure it were good practice for yer preachin’. Never did like to deny ye anything.’
Seth tapped out his pipe and reached for his old tobacco pouch and Joshua reached under his chair for his bible. In each other’s company, their voices carried the scent of a home never forgotten, their words were like the brush of heather against the skin. Their forty-year-old conversation bobbed on the wind that blew across the porch.
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