Suite 201

May entry Telegraph Creative Writing Group on the subject of REUNION (Winner)



“Welcome!” Frank swings the door open and the subtle smell of truly good food leaps to Ben’s nostrils.

“Smells good….” Ben is unexpectedly ravenous, something he hasn’t experienced in a long time. They embrace briefly, as the phone rings.

“….one moment” Franks says as he crosses the room, motioning Ben to sit on the comfortable, high backed sofa.

“Maria Elena….yes, yes. It’s arranged, finally. Yes, I know, but I’m coming…. I don’t know…….I don’t care! What time then? What bus do I take? OK ……see you tomorrow, and thanks.”

Ben immediately feels at home in this simple room. So much light streaming in through the windows, though it is now evening. The furnishings are neutral – no paintings – just flowers and books , a few candles which have been lit. Frank crosses the room, back to his visitor.

“Now let’s celebrate this historic occasion, where the mountain has come to Mohammed… choose the toast, sir” the host decides.

Holding a bottle of red wine at arm’s length, he uncorks it swiftly, pours two generous glasses.

“To good health and friendship,” Ben says and they raise their glasses.

“And the simple life!” says Frank.

“Ah yes, that beautiful thing, the simple life.”

Ben does not smile.

– – –

“You can cook… the carbonara was delicious, the veal too. ”

Ben folds his napkin with great reverence as he leans back, the plate clean. There are only two chairs at the round kitchen table.

“How are you coping with everything?”

Ben searches Frank’s face for clues.

There’s a bit of a pause, then Frank says

“I still don’t think it’s for me. Theoretically I should be able to manage it, but….well, you know. The media is the worst of it, being recognised is pure hell. “

Ben nods vigorously.

“Yes, the very nature of our training, our characters, makes us the antipathy of what’s expected. I’m glad to be out of it.”

Frank hesitates, stirs things a bit.

“Well, not really, you’re still high focus because of the circumstances surrounding your resignation.”

He looks sympathetic but clearly expects an answer.

“Why did we choose this path? ”

Ben’s voice is raised.

“How did the whole thing become a circus, with nothing but feuds, arch rivals – Sodano for instance! – scandals, abuse on a massive scale for decades, butlers – a secretary of state who was power crazy!”

He trembles, his hands shake.

“So why did you resign knowing what the fallout would be?”

Frank is undeterred, not put off by confrontation.

Ben pushes himself up on his feet, his frail physical self against the solid wooden table, leaning on knuckles white with the effort of containing himself.

“I’m not the first to do it. One or two before me have also.”

“Not in the last six or seven hundred years,” remarks Frank drily as he moves to to deal with the loudly expressing espresso machine.

Ben’s raised voice, surprisingly strong, follows him.

“ Celestine the fifth who resigned said those holding our office have the right, and in some circumstances, even the duty to resign. I felt the truth of this. ”

He crosses to the sofa and plumps down, weakened by the outburst. Frank fights with the machine for a few minutes, eventually putting two steaming cups down on the glass table between them. Ben continues.

“I told the truth. I am near the end. I accept the criticism of the whole church, but was desperate to to get back to what I …am. A priest who worked, prayed, lived quietly. There is too much “transparency” as they call it. On every word or action there is comment, analysis and judgment. Instantly and everywhere, by everyone. I realise myself I’ve been so judgmental – how I hate papal bulls, the way they’re cast in stone, forever. I’ve made mistakes which pain me, and what I did to other people by not acting, not speaking up, haunts me. And damning other religions as deficient…….”

He tails off, looking into the distance.

“We swear to sacrifice our lives to the greater good, not to be perfect,” Frank reminds him.

Ben shakes his head, grimacing, but amused now.

“You’re a boy, Francis. I am already a ghost. I used to love languages as much as the church, more even. Football is an obsession. Nothing will ever match 1974-76 when Beckenbauer’s Bayern Munich, my club, won the European Cup three times in a row. They made me an honorary lifetime member of the club in 2010– me! Did you watch the championships league final in London last Saturday? I drank a silent toast to dear John Paul, since Borussia Dortmund gave him lifetime membership during his watch, did you know that?”

They both snigger at this.

” Is it so wrong at this final stage of my life to want to feel the flood of life again, without all the rest?”

Their eyes meet.

Frank’s voice is low, though still cheerful.

“I feel the same about San Lorenzo, the Buenos Aries football club. I’m their most obsessive fan, even – especially – from here. It was the first club ever to win Copa Sudamerican, the only Argentine club to win Copa Mercosur. FIFA deems it one of the classic clubs of the world. Go on! ask me the name of the current squad, or any of the squads from ’68-‘74 when they won four league titles?”

“You’re more fanatic than I am, Francis.”

Ben’s impressed.

‘Do you miss anything, something that you can never do again?” Ben asks.
Frank looks pensive, pushing his glasses up his nose slightly.

“Ah, the company of women. I had girlfriends in my time, and loved them. In my early years, dancing the tango, with those wonderful partners….and the milonga, traditional Argentinian music….another passion I can’t rid myself of. I hear it every day in my head, somewhere. I am a true milonguero, ” he says clapping his hands in staccato bursts, rhythmically, hypnotically.

“Tango, intriguing” Ben muses. “It’s an art I believe, but I was under the impression you must always have the same partner,” he teases.

“Mostly yes, there are very strict etiquettes which if ignored, mean you end up with nobody to dance with. Mostly it’s body language, eye contact. Subtle.”

Frank is moving his head, his hands and arms going automatically into some dance mode.

“This Barolo is superb.”

Ben rolls the glass gently so that the tears fall languidly down the sides.

“A 2007 Vietti Barolo Rocche,” Frank answers, reading the label.

“ I know nothing about wines and buy Barolo just because my father came from Piedmont. “

It’s the second bottle and they are savouring it. A comfortable silence hangs in the air.

“ Are you sorry you didn’t stick to chemistry in a laboratory, missed out on an ordinary life?” Ben asks.

Frank takes his time in replying

“ Companionship would have been nice. I dream sometimes that I’m married, very amiably. I can’t see her face but know her voice. She has a big laugh……and we tango. ”

Ben slumps into the sofa a bit, so relaxed is he.

“Other people, for me…..not really. I’ve missed the academic side, there was no time for the depth of solitude one can have – few opportunities to be entirely alone, with brilliant books to teach me. No chance to play Bach on the grand piano any more, which impoverishes me. I was no leader, just a follower. Happy to be one.”

“Yet you were still out there in the real world,” Frank jibes. “The first Pope in history to join Twitter, which obliged me to as well.”

“Oh, that!” Ben digs the heel of his hand into his brow. “My aides said it would be good for me to become more accessible. Wrong, again. Modern life is too…..”

He drops his head, Frank thinks he may be sleeping.

“May I ask you something? ” .

Frank leans back in his favourite chair. Ben looks pale, troubled.

“When I resigned, is it true that some thought I had run away with someone I met on Twitter?”

Frank bursts out laughing.

“I haven’t heard that one, but we’ll always be talked about, you can’t worry.”

“Well, since we’re being candid, can I mention that some think you have a …..friend you are seeing, outside I mean.”

“A friend? “

“There are rumours of you being seen all over Rome, walking with a woman, and one last week where you were on a bus, in civilian clothing….?”

Frank blushes.

“No such thing as privacy of course.”

Shaking his head, he owns up.

“It’s true, I go out with Maria Elena…..”

Ben’s eyebrows are raised, in amusement.

“She’s my sister but I’ve nagged her to find a place where I can tango. She’s found a group on the outskirts where I can go twice a week for the practica. She doesn’t dance, but we enjoy the conspiracy and the company.”

“Dangerous!”  Ben is highly amused.

“…..we go by bus, nobody even looks at us, we’re just an old couple.”

“Your sister lives in Rome?”

“No, she’ll never leave Moreno, Buenos Aries is our home. She’s here for some months on a quest to make my life bearable. She considers me highly unsuitable as Pope, and thinks it will kill me!”

“It will, of course,” Ben agrees.

“Yes, but in the meantime I’ll breathe the same air as everyone else, and dance the tango. The people are kind, they move the venue sometimes to protect me. ”

Ben sees fire in Frank, feels his clear connection to life. Standing to pour the last of the bottle into Ben’s glass, Frank remarks

“The big thrill for me is the Popemobile. I stood on the lift at the back, moving upwards, shaking with laughter imagining I’d be called ‘His Hydraulic Holiness’. And then they told me the colour was ‘Papal White’ ….who thought of that? I love the thing, ugly though it is with all that glass.”

“Ugly it may be, but after John Paul’s near miss it’s essential. You’ve got away with it so far, leaving the glass off but I urge caution. Bullets can be……..inconvenient,” mutters Ben.

“Your old one was built like a tank,” Frank reminds him.

“Well, yours is better than mine, that was only the G-class and you got the 230G M-class. Good old Mercedes, they do it so well,” Ben says, proud to be German.

“Do you think Leonardo and Michelangelo had a discussion like this? Mine’s better than yours, etc…….” Frank wonders out loud. They are nicely plastered.

“Unlikely. Michelangelo detested Leonardo – jealousy probably. Michelangelo was a miserable workaholic. He was high born, considered himself superior to Leonardo who came from an ordinary family. What incensed him to madness was that Leonardo was in a group that decided the best location to place his -Michelangelo’s – David. He had almost finished working on the Sistine ceiling at the time and loathed the job, he was a sculptor, not keen on painting, and persisted with almost super-human stamina. I only know this because my apartment was directly above the Sistine Chapel when I lived in the Apostolic Palace. I used to go down there and stand alone in the silence and marvel at the genius of one man. The fact that I walked across Michelangelo’s masterpiece most days of my papacy, never ceased to take my breath away.’

Ben glances at his watch and stands up.

“I am rather tired after a scintillating evening.”

They walk to the door, Frank holding back from trying to assist his now more wobbly colleague. He resists, too, offering to walk him back to his quarters in the Mater Ecclesiae.

They embrace each other warmly, and Ben says

“They chose the right man, Francis, without a doubt. A word of advice from a very old man. Never, ever give up the tango.”

– – –


Based on BBC News item 2 May 2013

Never before have two Popes lived in close proximity inside the Vatican. Former Pope Benedict is now residing in a former convent situated in the Vatican Gardens. He is 10 minutes walk away from his spacious former residence, the top floor apartment of the Apostolic Palace, overlooking St Peter’s Square. Pope Francis has taken up residence in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a 120-room hotel next door to St Peter’s Basilica, where he occupies Suite 201 on the second floor. He finds the former papal apartments too large for his taste and prefers simpler accommodation.

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation