I wrote this a while ago and again it is on Shortbreadstories but I thought I’d give it an airing on here.
THIS STORY IS QUITE DARK, IT CONTAINS VIOLENCE AND SOME RELIGIOUS REFERENCES.
The old church drowsed in the late afternoon sunshine. A couple of magpies pecked and quarreled amongst the memorial stones and, should one have been looking at just the right second, a little grey squirrel recalled a moment of endeavour at the end of the summer and rejoiced in the rediscovery of a sumptuous morsel.
Mrs North stretched a hand forward and turned the great iron ring. The door pushed inwards on smooth hinges.
Every evening, summer and winter she opened the church, lit the candles, straightened and tidied. This was her space, her little dominion, hers and Father Sutton’s. The priest had been here for many years and, as he stumbled towards his dotage, more and more of the daily duties fell to Mrs North. She took them willingly, some said too willingly. There had been talk in the village about her hold over the Father. Offers from the Women’s Institute to decorate for the “special” services, Easter Sunday or the beginning of Lent had been summarily rebuffed. There was of course a little troupe of other workers but generally it was Mrs North and Mrs North alone who decided colour schemes, dictated themes and really treated St Percival’s as her own little kingdom. Father Sutton relied on her totally it seemed, she had him in thrall. Barely a day went by when she wasn’t seen scurrying towards the rectory, woollen hat low over her eyes and plastic shopper swinging from her arm.
Of course there was the shared history. It was natural that they would be close after that terrible ordeal but still, so very tight together all this time. It was odd surely.
Everyone expected that the day would come when Reverend Sutton would retire. After years of tireless service and devotion he was due his rest by now. It was expected that he would go to his sister’s neat and orderly bungalow in Bridlington. The issue had never been discussed but on quiet Sunday afternoons, over a small schooner of pale cream sherry Dolores would mull about the approaching end of her lonely days and the pleasure of having a gentleman to cook for again. What then of Mrs North?
Reverend Sutton for his part tried not to think beyond the next evensong. His greatest desire was to cut off any and all memory of those things in the past that haunted him. Horrors that poked and prodded at his conscience during prayers, blessings and communions and denied him rest in the darkness of many a long night.
He had led a quiet life, apart from that one fall from grace, that one cataclysmic sin. He had ever been studious and cerebral as befitting his calling. Giving always giving. Now, as he reviewed the path that he had trod he felt such an overwhelming regret that it threatened to consume him. Regret had robbed his eyes of their youthful sparkle and the stoop of his shoulders was caused not by a deterioration of bone quality but by a deep and everlasting guilt.
So, Tuesday the sixteenth day of April. Magpies reaching agreement and the little squirrel nibbling happily on his find thought to witness nothing more in the quiet chapel than a few fallen leaves from the previous Sunday’s floral display.
The rose gold of the falling sun filtered through the stained glass, splattering the dancing dust motes with rainbows and gently stroking the old pews with a warm glow. There was something though, another layer to the perfumes and scents today. A note in contrast to the usual gentle air. As the door swung closed behind her Mrs North’s heart pattered, her breath caught in her throat and fear, conjured from nothing more than a premonition clutched at her gut. She had held her secrets close for so very long and yet had known the day could come when she would have to face the demons. Hope had sprung eternal, now though, was it to be now? The very air was threatening on this warm spring evening.
A dark figure with head bowed was seated in the front pew. Mrs North lightened her footsteps not wishing to disturb anyone’s devotions and so crept forward heading for the door to the vestry and storeroom. As she leaned against the old wood her motion was stopped by the sound of a cough and a quiet murmur. The sound was a shard into her heart for she knew that her fears were justified, it was time.
“Ma North. It is you isn’t it?”
The old woman turned slowly. “Who is that? Who’s there?”
“Aw come on, you know who it is. Where is he?”
“Who, who do you mean?”
“Enough you old bag. The blessed father, where is he? Don’t pretend you don’t know. I suppose you thought you’d got away with it didn’t you? The pair of you, setting me up and thinking you could just carry on. Did you think I was away for good, well wrong, wrong, wrong, old Mother North. So wrong.”
The small shape unwound now and took two steps across the ancient flagstones.
The face had hardly changed, older of course and harder but that was only to be expected. The eyes were the same. The cold blue eyes that had stared down at her from the dock all those years ago.
“I don’t know what you mean Terrance, it is Terrance isn’t it?”
The head under its grey hooded covering wagged from side to side and the voice uplifted to a high-pitched squeak, mocked her feeble warble.
“It is Terrance isn’t it? You know bloody well you old bat.”
Mrs North gasped and clutched at her blouse. Beneath the pale blue silk her heart pounded, her lungs filled with fear leaving her gasping for air.
It had been so long ago, more than ten years. Ten years to tend the church and have Father Sutton to herself, all to herself, secure in her power. She had been able to conjure it up though anytime, the sounds, the sight of it, the horror of discovery and then the long, long hours ensconced with the priest as they plotted and schemed and now it was tumbling around her ears.
She put out a hand, “Terrance, it was for the best, surely you see that. He had his reputation, his work, the ministry. You, really what did you have. Nothing, no job, no family nothing. Only Peter, and you know he was so very panicked and Father didn’t mean it to happen, he was afraid and it was an accident. Just a dreadful accident.”
“So, I didn’t matter, is that it, is that what you’re saying. I just didn’t matter? I didn’t and Peter didn’t and after you’d framed me and thrown me onto the scrap heap did he give you absolution, did he? Who forgave him, the priest, who forgave him for abusing and killing my brother and framing me, eh. I had nothing, I meant nothing and so it was alright for me to take the blame.”
“No, no but, well.” She shrugged her slight shoulders.
“Well I’ve got something now.” With this his hand shot forward, a shard of light, the glint of steel and then the pain, the unbelievable scourge of pain and then nothing.
Terrance, lowered the body to the floor, wiped the blade across her tweed skirt and with pure venom spat onto the still warm corpse.
“There you old bag, now you’ve got nothing. No secrets with the priest, no power over him. I wonder what they will think of you when you get where you’re going you hag. Will you tell them the truth or will you still hide it in the name of what’s best. Well wait, just wait because you won’t be alone. You can go together to weave your lies and spin your tales.”
With a last look at the fallen woman the slight figure slid back into the pew. He bowed his head in a parody of worship and waited for the priest. As he sat in the silence of the holy space he murmured into his folded hands.
“I’ve done it Peter, I’ve killed the old bat for you and now I’ll wait, I’ll wait and I’ll get him for you and then when that’s done I’ll come and join you. Not long now, he’ll be here in a few minutes. It’s nearly time for Vespers”
Read more: Short Story: Vespers | Shortbread