Author: Rosie Allen
George negotiated the labyrinth of sleeping dogs and anorak clad tourists with typical irritability. Over the years he had become adept at balancing his glass between a thumb and forefinger with his packet of cheese and onion, ensuring that not a drop would spill from his glass. Gliding between tables he procured his usual seat – next to the stained glass window – by snarling at a family of French tourists with such ferocity that they retreated, scurrying to the restaurant in the next room. George’s window was an ancient relic, a reminder of the time the pub had been a convent. Now it was a refuge for the rain soaked, Glastonbury tourists that George despised, eager to pore over their acquisitions of healing crystals and too-pungent incense. He let out a comfortable sigh as he sank into his chair. A quick scan of the pub revealed that none of his colleagues had visited his namesake pub, The George and Dragon, on this Friday lunchtime. He was pleased. A glorious, golden hour of lunchtime was not to be wasted in hearing tedious details of other’s weekends. A ham sandwich with a slick of nose-searing mustard and Bounder, the ironically named and chronically lethargic bar dog sniffing at his feet were all he needed.
The pale afternoon light filtered in, refracting the faded cobalt and scarlet onto George’s skin like a watercolour painting. He loved to bathe in the glow of the window and he had made this seat his favourite for a particular reason. The glass depicted an effigy of the most glorious angel he had ever seen. Statuesque, with a halo of corn-coloured hair, Brigid, as he called her, was a picture of celestial beauty. He had felt drawn to her the first time he had visited the pub and had formed an attachment which only seemed to deepen with the passing of each visit. Brigid was a medieval Barbie – if she were real, not only would her slender and statuesque proportions make it impossible to walk on two legs, but she would be almost ghastly – too monstrously, perfectly beautiful to be real. George had never met a woman in his life that would be able to measure up to Brigid, and so he simply didn’t try. Apart from the odd tourist, no one else ever seemed to want to sit near her. This was perfectly fine by George who guarded her with a loyalty bordering on jealousy.
Finishing his sandwich George drained the last of his, now tepid, pint and looked at his watch. He noticed the bruises which had appeared mysteriously round his wrist at the weekend seemed to have spread, speckling his entire forearm in blue and red blotches. He tentatively pressed his fingers onto the nastiest looking splodge which was the sickly purple-black colour of an overripe plum. There was no pain, but little blue branches of vein which sat under the surface of his skin seemed to stand out more vividly than usual, as if his skin had turned slightly transparent. The chime of bells outside stopped George from meditating on his affliction any further, and he made his way back to the office for the last tedious few hours of Friday afternoon.
George’s weekend passed with no major event, the drudgery of routine marking only how especially unremarkable the rest of his life was. He visited the pub one more time on the Saturday evening, after his Fly-Tyers guild meeting, where he discussed with his acquaintances the relative merits of using pheasant feathers instead of hare fur. He had sat next to Brigid as usual and noticed, once again that the bruising had spread, this time making a rapacious journey past his elbow. The veins, now red and green, stood out as markedly as motorways on a road map. He would go to the doctors on Monday. And while he was at it he’d get his hearing checked. It had been getting worse very recently having been no cause for concern before. Probably the youngsters in the office having the radio on too loud…. George’s thoughts were interrupted by a friendly, if incredibly shrill voice: ‘And here’s George, I haven’t seen you for a while’. He was enveloped in a warm, patchouli smelling embrace. He felt immediately irritated. It was Helen, the treasurer for the guild. Everybody seemed to like her but George, for whom she ironically seemed to show a preferential fondness. God knew he never encouraged it. She was attractive enough for a woman her age, but her vivacity and spirit frightened him. He had never liked loud women.
Helen worked her way through round the group with ‘hellos’, every toothy grin mirrored by the faces she encountered. As she hovered next to Brigid the difference became ever more marked. Helen with her plump, lined and inanely grinning face was the opposite of Brigid, in her elegant and cool composition. Brigid was to her as an exquisite lily to a homely pansy. George made his excuses to drink up and go home.
The next day George reflected sombrely on what the Doctor had said that morning. Probably a dietary issue. Maybe anaemia, get more iron. Take some exercise, a healthier diet. But they’d run some tests anyway, just to be sure. His condition had rapidly got worse over the past few days. His sense of taste had dulled, turning everything he put in his mouth to tasteless mush. Only his vision seemed to have sharpened, with bright colours brought sharply and painfully into focus, a fact he hadn’t mentioned to his Doctor for fear of having to undergo more tests. He had hated needles since he was a boy.
He had been signed off work, but George would take himself to the pub at lunchtime for a medicinal Guinness – he remembered the grinning toucan from the adverts extolling the health-giving iron it contained. Maybe the next day he would go for that run – the doctor had told him exercise would be good to strengthen his bones. George ordered his drink and made his way towards Brigid, raising his eyes to hers only to be met with an agonising pain. The colours on the glass had intensified so brightly that they bored into George’s eyes like lasers. He dropped his glass, falling painfully to the floor, his hands covering his eyes. He remembered a crowd of faces surrounding him and nothing else.
George awoke the next day, having slept all through the last afternoon and night, feeling a different man. He felt more energetic than he had in years. In fact, he felt more energetic than he had ever felt in his life. He was surprised to find a scribbled note on his kitchen table informed him that he’d been taken home and a doctor called round, who recommended nothing but rest until his test results had come back. George went to the bathroom and looked himself over in the mirror. The coloured blotching had spread to cover every inch of his body, hardened into scales like a tiled church roof. The translucence of the colours allowed the pulsing veins and blood to be seen and a look in his wardrobe mirror showed a beating heart, kidneys and lungs all functioning lucidly under his now glass-like skin. Strangest of all, he seemed to have grown younger. His profile now matched the photograph he had on his mantle as a 25 year old. Wrinkles were ironed flat, a sagging jaw now firm. He was beautiful.
George pulled on his trench coat, tying the belt while sprinting out of the door. As he ran up the high street past vegan cafes and crystal shops, everybody stared at this beautiful, translucent creature in a camel trench coat. On he sprinted, towards the tor where he was being compelled, as if a rope was tied from his heart to the relic, and was being pulled onwards.
Air rushed into his lungs, he could feel the blood pumping, bright and alive round his arteries; he felt euphoric, invincible. At last the tor came into site, and he sprinted ever faster towards it, ascending the hill with the exuberance of a boy of eight instead of a man pf 65. ‘Look mummy’ he heard a little voice say as he sped by ‘that man has wings’.
And he did.
George stretched them, tearing the coat from his body, these alien vessels patterned in stained glass, and took off from the ground. He could fly. Boring George the IT administrator was running like an athlete and he could also fly! Below the Somerset levels formed a patchwork, the spire of Wells cathedral like a galleon in the emerald sea of fields that surrounded it. Directly below him stood the tor, his Jerusalem. And on top of the tower, the realisation of his greatest dream – Brigid. She was as radiant as he imagined, more so. Her corn coloured hair lustrous in the sun, those eyes the same colour as the sapphire glass from which they had created. She had come for him. George had always known in his heart that she would. He circled the Tor for a few moments, savouring his happiness, before landing. She smiled and moved towards him, her arms and wings outstretched in an embrace. George pulled her nearer. She was cold. Chillingly so, and the blood in his veins seemed to turn to ice at her touch. And her smell wasn’t the scent of spring flowers as he’d imagined. She smelled of decay. She smiled at him. In the moment she snapped George’s neck into shards of glass and hurled him over the side of the Tor to shatter onto the ground, she looked more beautiful than she ever had.
The girl sat next to the stained glass window in the George and Dragon and waited for her friends to arrive. The light refracted the grey, brown and green onto her skin. Unusually dull colours, the girl had thought, for a stained glass window. The man in the window stared out sadly, a longing look in his cold grey eyes. The girl shivered, pulled her coat closer and moved away to another table. She never liked sitting next to the window with the sad old man in it.