The congregation had swelled. We were six. Seven including the vicar. I took a seat at the back pew, being nearest to one of the two radiators. A man in scuffed shoes sat further along the pew from me. He nodded a greeting. As did the others. Good morning.
I’d got there too early. The door was locked. A woman was sitting in the little front porch. She smiled at me. She always reads the second lesson. Speaking fast, her voice has a mid-Wales lilt. She speaks urgently as if there is too much to get out. I walked over to Cis and Dick’s headstone. The tree overhanging their grave is leafless. It is a gnarled, dwarfish specimen. Rather sombre. I thought of Cis. I could hear her laughter, see her little wave; her only remaining gesture after speaking became too much. I shall plant some snowdrops for next year.
I’d forgotten my glasses so I didn’t speak the responses. I preferred it that way, I don’t agree with them all. The sin stuff. We just do the best we can. But I like to hear the words. I like the slow, monotonous chanting of the words. And I like the prayer. I like to kneel. It feels ancient. An ancient act of losing the self. An act of submitting. And one of sharing. We share compassion for our fellow men. It feels good to do so. Kneeling at the altar for communion, I smelt those either side of me. The man with the scuffed shoes smelt of washing powder and a slight hint of damp, the woman to the left of me of talcum powder and violets. The wine is sweet, cloying. Morning had broken as I left, a crisp azure sky.
Sitting in the car at Morrison’s waiting for him to return the trolleys, I watch as a girl does a cartwheel. She is outside and I think of her small pudgy hands coming down hard on the wet concrete. She completes the cartwheel and returns to her feet a little flushed, her ponytail awry. She turns to see if her father and grandmother had been watching. They had not. For a moment she is disappointed but shrugs it off, skipping forward to join her grandmother on the bench.
Poetry Extra on the radio and the poet Gavin Maxwell is talking about white spaces. Just like artists, always concerned with how to deal with the negative spaces, the emptiness-es, the silences. Do we fill them or let them be? It is an eternal fear, I think. What if the nothing is all there is?
Another radio programme, this time on Radio 4, and it’s in response to the anniversary of the killing of the Charlie Hebdo staff. A teacher from Paris is saying that ‘religion is the new taboo.’
Before beginning the service the vicar reads out the notices. He tells us of the sad death of one of the congregation, saying that his funeral is to be this Friday. He ends the notices with a reminder of the church’s block booking for the pantomime, and that tickets can be accessed via the website. When the old man with the hearing aid gets up to read the first lesson, as is clearly his habit, I notice that he is no longer wearing the navy jumper I’ve seen him in for the last two Sundays but a sparkling creamy-white Aran cardigan. It is a little big for him, forming a skirt around his hips. Under the cardigan he has a white shirt and tie. His hair is still fluffed up at the back, like that of newborn. He is Northern, Lancashire or Yorkshire, I can never tell.
Who is it? the girls in the office ask. I tell them his name. Oh, god they say, not him. He talks and talks, it’s exhausting. An ex-preacher apparently. He’s as thin as can be, his clothes hanging off him. I’ve got cancer, he tells me, pointing at the sores on his head and pate. I ask him what he’s come to talk about. Dei Tomos, he says. But what will you talk about? Oh, I come in to talk about people who died a hundred years ago, he replies pulling out a scrap of paper from his coat pocket. His script is tiny, closely written, with dates and underlinings. He smells of aniseed.
In the end we couldn’t watch the end, the DVD was buggered. That was the bit I remembered. The Requiem, the rickety horse-drawn carriage, the pouring of the corpse out of the borrowed coffin into the mass grave, a spade shoveling lime on top of it. Then Salieri being pushed in his wheelchair through the asylum, greeting the ‘mediocrity’. I bought a copy of The Requiem for you, I told him. Did you? he said. Yes, I said, it was one Christmas but you never listened to it so I gave it to OXFAM. I didn’t know you very well then, I said. I’m sorry, he said. Of course, it is too dark, too melancholic, for him. I know that now. I know him now.
See the sun has come out. And the sky is Titian Blue. It is enough.