Thomas needed to pause and take a breath before going in. He was very nearly late, but shouldn’t appear flustered. It was seeing her name. It burned his eyes and took his breath away. Of course it was no surprise, but it had reminded him of her wedding day.
Gloria had gone to him, along with her boyfriend, and begged him to marry them. Her parents wouldn’t agree to the marriage, and he could see why. He thought the boy an unprepossessing lump, sitting there on the sofa next to her with his arms covered in celtic tattoos.
Gloria’s Bambi eyes welled up with tears as she explained
‘they just don’t understand. Mikey is standing by me. He wants to look after me, and the baby’
She whispered the final words, and shot a glance at the boy, who appeared unmoved.
‘I’ll be eighteen in a months time’ she continued ‘I want to have the wedding then. Mum and dad won’t be able to do anything about it then’ she finished, triumphantly.
Thomas couldn’t believe that this boy was capable of looking after himself, let alone a wife and child, but apparently he had managed to get himself a job as a labourer and, in response to Thomas’s questioning, mumbled that he would be able to afford a small flat on the local estate.
Thomas had known Gloria since she was a baby, and he didn’t like to think of her living amongst the dreary council terraces. Gloria’s well-to-do parents had found their faith when she had arrived seven weeks prematurely, and while she was fighting for her life, they were finding comfort in prayer. But, as is the way of things, they attended Church every week for a couple of years, then it became just Christmas and Easter services, and eventually dwindled to nothing, but he still bumped into them in town occasionally.
Looking at her, he marvelled at how Gloria had grown from such a scrap of life into such a beauty. Her golden skin was lit in multi-colour under the stained glass of the study window and she looked the antithesis of Mikey. She was smartly dressed in grey trousers and loose jumper that just hinted at the curves beneath, and her glossy dark hair was snatched back from her face with a flowered band.
‘Surely she could have found someone more suitable’ he thought.
She would not be deterred though, and some two months later, there she was blinking up at him innocently with her white veiled eyes. The boy standing next to her, shuffling, and fiddling with his carnation. She was attended by two young bridesmaids, princesses in their bright pink dresses, carrying baskets of rose petals and between them stood a small pageboy, looking sheepish in a football shirt.
‘So common. Must have been his idea’ thought Thomas in an uncharacteristic moment of venom.
He noticed that the sparse congregation were mostly the couples friends, young people dressed up to the nines. The girls uniformly wearing explosive ‘fascinators’ which seemed to be the in thing in headwear that year, and the boys all wearing suits and ties, many, he suspected, for the first time in their lives. There was an older couple in the second row whom Thomas took to be the boy’s parents, and he spotted Gloria’s parents sitting discreetly at the back both soaking up tears with a tissue. He wondered if she knew they were there.
He managed to smile and say his lines, controlled the urge to flinch when he pronounced them man and wife, watched Mikey kissing her somewhat over zealously, and then paid careful attendance to the signing of the register. But, watching her afterwards, laughing and grinning at the camera amongst the ominous grey stones of the churchyard, the big meringue of a dress only just camouflaging the bump, he feared for her.
After the wedding he saw her occasionally at the shops, where he would watch her from a distance, admiring her ability to look graceful and serene even when she was pushing her screaming child.
Then quite out of the blue, she rang and asked if he would perform the child’s baptism. He knew that for him to agree to take the service she really should be attending church regularly, nevertheless he jumped at the chance to see her. He offered to give her and the proposed god-parents the necessary short lessons and arranged to visit her home the following Thursday for the first session.
He wasn’t quite sure why he was so excited at the prospect of seeing her again, but he knew that she seemed to stir urges in him that he had long forgotten. It was only after spending some time in front of the mirror, even splashing on some cologne that he had won in a lucky dip, that he set off to visit her in the shabby flat.
Opening the door she smiled warmly, lighting up his world. As he entered the surprisingly tidy living room he noticed Mikey was perched on a chair in the corner. Nodding, he lifted his cup, in a sort of strange ‘cheers’ welcome that Thomas suspected may have come from spending too many hours at the pub.
Thomas really enjoyed those lessons and seeing Gloria regularly brought the kind of familiarity he had only wished for in the past. She called him ‘Vic’, a shortening of Vicar that made him shiver pleasantly each time she said it. The company of the young people who were to be the god-parents, and in particular Gloria, was intoxicating to him. They lived in a different world, one of loud music and easy laughter, one he had never managed to feel part of even when he was younger. So although the course was generally only three lessons, he used some spurious reasons to suggest having another one or two. Gloria and Mikey both muttered excuses, but he did eventually persuade them.
The day of the baptism, Thomas could barely get through the initial service, his eyes fixed on Gloria as she pacified the baby girl. He was quietly delighted that her white linen tailored suit outlined her body in a way not entirely appropriate for the church. Her head was covered by a wide brimmed white hat, with a modest piece of lace drawn over her eyes. He noticed how this pure white outfit accentuated the brown of her eyes, and the scarlet of her painted lips. Sitting next to that brutish Mikey, she looked delicate as a snow flake.
Yet, Mikey was tender towards her, helping her up the step to the font, smiling his crooked toothed smile down at his young wife and baby. Thomas noticed too, that Gloria’s mum and dad were both there, obviously reconciled to the fact that this youth was Gloria’s idea of ‘Mr Right’.
‘Happy families’, he thought dryly, whilst an unfamiliar emotion gripped him.
He managed to catch her before they left, and clutching her elbow, drew her into a corner for a private conversation. She resisted slightly, and glanced at Mikey for approval, giving him a strange knowing smile.
‘How are you these days Gloria’ he said, surprisingly anxious for any hint of unhappiness to prove him right about the boy.
‘Great thanks Vic’ she replied chirpily ‘in fact I’m expecting again. Can you believe it! Not got this one out of nappies yet for goodness sake’ she grinned, obviously delighted with the news.
Thomas, on the other hand, squirmed. A vision of the boy’s grubby hands touching her perfect white form haunted him that night, and for the days following. He began to make special efforts to pass her house, convincing himself he was ‘just keeping an eye on her’. He watched as she chatted to friends, or hung out her washing. He saw her in the park pushing the little girl on a swing, and studied her as she paid for her shopping in the supermarket. To him she seemed the perfect little wife and mother, the perfect woman.
He had never found anyone like that. There had been one or two sweethearts when he was younger, but they were just flings, nothing serious. It must have been at least thirty years since he had had a lady friend. The last one, Jennifer, hadn’t liked the sobriety that he insisted went with the job and had flounced off one day declaring him ‘boring’. Since then he had led a simple solitary life, with only his flock for company. The old ladies appreciated him, bringing him cakes and the occasional stews in winter, and he had been happy.
Until then. He didn’t understand the obsession that was taking over his life. Why did just a glimpse of her make his heart pump faster and his palms damp?
‘At my age for goodness sake’, he thought to himself ‘I’m not some teenage boy’.
And then at a fete one day he saw her with him, that Mikey. They were laughing and smiling together, and when he reached down and kissed her brutally like he did at their wedding, she leaned into him as though he was the only person on earth. Thomas felt a fibrillation in his chest that made his whole body shudder.
It wasn’t long after that that she rang, and asked to arrange a christening service for the new baby. Before he had time to think, he had asked her over
‘pop round for a cup of tea and a chat Gloria’
‘oh, can’t you come round here, I’ve got the kids to see to’ she said.
‘well, I’m a bit busy, it would help lots if you could see your way to attending here my dear’
She had sounded a little reluctant but nonetheless agreed to go the following day and Thomas could hardly conceal his delight when she turned up on her own.
‘Sorry can’t stay long, Mikey’s got the kids and he has to go off to work in an hour. He’s been working so hard bless him. He’s so good’ and Thomas flinched inwardly as he noticed her fondly touching the gold band on her left hand as she said it.
‘Come in, come in, sit yourself’ he said flustering about, pouring tea into his best china cups. He had bought ginger biscuits, and all the time they were talking business he was thinking how sweet and hot her breath must smell.
After about half an hour she said she should go. They had agreed a date for the service so Thomas knew he would see her again soon, but as she turned to go through the big old oak door of the vestry her fragrance overwhelmed him. He caught her arm and pulled her in towards him. As she cringed, horrified, his mantle of humility fell away and animal instinct, hidden away for so long, took over. Her struggling fired his passion, and it was with complete and utter abandonment that he pushed her down amongst the gravestones and satiated his overwhelming, soul consuming desire.
It was only when she stopped struggling that he noticed the pool of rich red spreading round her head like a halo. The grey slabs, once witness to her joyful marriage seemed now to lean in crooked sorrow.
The horror of it took his breath away, and dazed, he headed back to the vestry to try and calm himself, where in a vain effort to blot out the image of her lying there, he drank wine straight from the bottle and quickly passed out.
When he came to the next day she had already been found, and the police, happy with his quickly improvised alibi, attributed her murder to an ‘outsider’, no-one in the parish being thought capable of such a thing.
He had never suffered such pain before. Every heartbeat was a knock on hell’s door. His faith, so strong over the years, was sorely tested, and he prayed for hours every day, trying to gain understanding of his own actions. He seriously considered going to the police, giving himself up, but how could he abandon the good people of his congregation who relied on him and loved him? He decided it best that God be his judge when the time came.
And now, there she was, in white again, boxed like a beautiful doll. He embraced the knowledge that his future would be full of penance and that the first of these would be to read the eulogy whilst watching Mikey weep, his two motherless children beside him bewildered by her absence.
Thomas gathered himself, and stepped up to the pulpit.
Written as part of the Writing 101 challenge, write a post based on an overheard conversation using foreshadowing.