Some people are so nice, it just seems too good to be true.
Loveable Alan Atcliffe: that’s what they call him.
Like Mrs. Montgomery, who waited for the breakdown people for nearly an hour in the dark of winter 2001, before Alan pulled over in his taxi and changed her tyre in just five minutes. Or Father Chase, who knows Alan was the secret donor of the final £2000 that the church needed to pay for a new roof.
Loveable Alan Atcliffe, who lives in the cottage out on the plain, behind the school and the duck pond. Some people in Blythe would go further; they would use words like virtuous, or perhaps even saintly. People like Mrs. Donovan, whose mother timed her heart attack to coincide with the big snow of 2006.
Mrs. Donovan’s car became stuck, and when she tried to dig it out her snow shovel snapped in two. She tried fruitlessly to dig with her hands, and was on the cusp of giving up when Alan’s taxi lit up her drive and the man himself stepped out.
“It must be my lucky day,” she said.
“God doesn’t do luck,” he replied and gave her a snowy-white grin. “Morris Danner told me he saw you struggling out here.”
He began to dig but soon realised the true extent of Mrs. Donovan’s plight. Throwing down his shovel, he said, “I’m taking you to the hospital myself.”
“Alan, you can’t take me to Shrewsbury. That’s nearly sixty miles. You can’t.”
But he could and he did, and when she tried to pay him the fare that racked up on his meter, he refused to take it.
Loveable Alan Atcliffe.
Of all the people in the village that really love Alan, Mr. and Mrs. Baines would be the ones to talk to if you had only a little time. In the rainy summer of 2005 their only daughter, Verity, went missing after her piano lesson. She was a beautiful girl, with bright green eyes and long yellow hair: assets that made everyone in the village secretly fear for the worst.
Of course, it was Alan who helped organise the first local search party. Dressed in his Wellingtons and his brown Mackintosh, he banged on every door to drum up numbers. Then he led a team of nearly forty men and women from one end of the village to the other in the last hours of daylight. Mr. and Mrs. Baines had never expected such a response when they first knocked on his door to ask if he might have spotted Verity on his travels.
As if these efforts had not been enough, he took a central role in making sure that Verity’s name stayed in the general public’s minds once the national media grew bored of the story. He helped the Baineses build a campaign website to keep her memory alive and even donated the first funds to aid a private investigation into Verity’s disappearance.
On Christmas Day 2006, not long after the big snowstorm, the Baineses invited Alan to dinner. As the pudding and brandy burned in the centre of the table, Mrs. Baines turned to Alan and asked, “Be honest with me. I know you will. Do you think she’s still alive?”
The others assembled were silent. Alan placed a tender hand on Mrs. Baines’ shoulder and looked into her hopeful eyes. “I believe she’s alive more than I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ himself,” he said.
Mrs. Baines tried to smile but cried instead. Mr. Baines came to hold her but she was already in Alan’s arms, which, although she would never tell Mr. Baines such a thing, was her preference.
Loveable Alan Atcliffe, that’s what they call him. Every man, woman and child in the village: Loveable Alan Atcliffe.
Of course Alan is a humble man, and he would never think of himself as loveable or saintly. But he understood why some thought of him that way. It was because they had not seen what Alan had done in the rainy summer of 2005. The thing that only the Lord Jesus Christ had been a witness to.
Alan had been lazy that day. He had not turned on the back wipers of the taxi. A harmless enough evil, and one born of a righteous belief that summer owed him a rear-window view. As he backed out of the drive—a thoughtless, automatic act—he assumed the way was clear, because it was always clear, and it was only in the daytime that the children came past on their way to school.
It was a fact of the everyday: the girl should not have been there.
But she had been and the Lord Jesus Christ bore witness silently as the car first knocked Verity Baines to the ground, and then ran over her head as she lay unconscious. Alan remained silent as he pulled at his hair and tried not to scream as he first caught sight of the awful mess dribbling down his drive from beneath the car.
“What were you doing there?” Alan asked the girl as he placed her in the boot on a pile of old newspapers and black bin bags.
The Lord Jesus Christ had no need to reply. Alan knew, God doesn’t do luck.
Loveable Alan Atcliffe.
Who cried as he cleaned his drive with a snow shovel and a hosepipe.
Who dwelled upon his reputation and his standing in Blythe for far too long, and then had to buy a large steel container from the DIY shop.
Loveable Alan Atcliffe.
Who once a year says a prayer in his cellar, and sets down a bouquet of flowers by the old entrance to the crawlspace that he filled with concrete as the rainy summer of 2005 came to an end.
S.R. Mastrantone’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Fiction Desk, Lamplight and carte blanche.
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