The hobnob hovered above the tea, her hand hardly able to steady it. With a clunk it snapped like broken bone and disappeared into the milky depths.
‘Oh dear, will you be wanting another one?’
Valerie sat staring at the carpet in silence.
‘Hm. I’ll get you another one.’
As he bumbled out, she took some time to reflect. In the normal sequence of events she’d arrive at some godforsaken church out in the sticks, cast a forensic spiritual eye over some marmite pooled in the centre of a piece of stale toast and regretfully inform the excited nun or priest that there was nothing doing. Usually nothing sinister, just another example of the plethora of everyday coincidence, the result of condiments past their sell by date.
Today had been different. She racked her brains to think how it could have been done. Pipes along the branches that sprayed petrol on command? Some sort of arboreal spontaneous combustion? She could just about fathom the burning tree alone, but what about the scaly figure it revealed? Valerie shuddered, her tea lapping of the side of her tea cup as she remembered the lithe form hanging in a cocoon of feathers, dripping in golden nectar, crowned with a halo…
‘Chocolate hobnobs’ confirmed Nigel as he came back into the sitting room.
‘Wasn’t sure what biscuits you people would like, I normally have a digestive but given who you work for I thought… well I don’t know what I thought. Something more decadent seemed in order.’
Valerie remained unmoved, staring in silence at the floor. She thought of all the times it had nearly happened, the crying painting in Verona, the jabbering nuns in Montevideo. Could it really be that after all that He would show himself to a protestant in Yorkshire?
‘So, what do you think?’ said Nigel sitting down. ‘Sleeping angel, burning tree, not normal is it?’
Valerie snapped out of her reverie.
‘Pastor, why did you call us? If this is some kind of anti popish dare…’
‘My dear, you may believe we all sit around plotting against the pope and hiding angels in burning trees to get one over on you, but I can assure you we don’t have the time anymore. The simple fact of the matter is that our church isn’t really equipped for this sort of thing. We don’t really do miracles, and certainly not ones this ostentatious. We called the police of course, but they didn’t want anything to do with it either. We were rather hoping you would take it off our hands.’
Valerie sat back in disbelief. Perhaps the Lord made some mistake? Got lost on the way to Rome?
She imagined a helicopter emblazoned with the cross, its pilot clad in cloth of gold, the burning tree and its angelic cargo suspended beneath with chains like rosary beads.
Nigel looked at her forensically, following her trail of thought.
’We could put it on the back of a van for you?’