Part 1: A Life In Pieces (click here) Part 2 Another Life In Pieces, part 3 A Life in Anguished Pieces, Part 4 A Life in Mobile Words, Part 5 A Life in Coffee Part 6 A Life in Loneliness, Part 7 A Life In Rags, Part 8, A Life in Confusion, Part 9, A Life In Families Part 10, A Life in Memories, Part 11 A Life in Contemplation, Part 12 A life in church, Part 13 A Life in Lasagne, Part 14 A Life in Chaos, Part 15 A Life in Gossip, Part 16, A Life In Custody, Part 17, A Life in Doubt, Part 18, A Life in Crisis, Part 19, A Life in "It Serves Him Right", Part 20, A Life in Paradise, Part 21, A Life in Holidays, Part 22, A Life in Emotions; and Part 23, A Life in Fours
A LIFE ON A BUS
There was an awkward silence as the coach for Italy set off for a second time, this time with two extra passengers occupying the seats directly behind Rusty and Saphie. Both were stunned. Neither had expected anything but a holiday away from everyone they knew, and if a neighbour had joined the party the last two they'd have wanted to be anywhere near were the vicar and his housekeeper.
And here was Agatha, pale, scowling … with the Reverend Josiah Pike trying to look as if he was in charge and failing miserably. And, thought Rusty, the sad thing was he still wore his dog-collar as if without it he lost everything in the way of personality.
It wasn't until after the driver, as soon as they were out of the coach company's yard, made the usual safety announcements (little red hammers for breaking windows in the event of an accident, seat belts must be worn whenever the bus was in motion, that sort of thing) that Rusty whispered to Saphie,
“Where the hell have they come from?” he asked, as if she might know.
She shook her head, her face showing how dumbfounded she felt.
“I mean, if I'd known...” he continued.
“You'd have thought they would have done us the courtesy of saying something, asking if we mind even...” he added.
She nodded again.
“What do you think?”
A pause, then: “she was your friend.” she whispered at length.
“Friend is a strong word!”
“You picked her up and invited her to live with you.”
“It wasn't like that, not at all, really: she invited herself!”
And all in whispers. Not stage whispers, but genuine quiet whispers.
“What was it like, then?”
“I've explained already: I was all over the place...”
“We've all been all over the place at one time or other...”
“I was still … in mourning...”
“And because of that you picked up that hag! Was it the same when you picked me up? I'm beginning to think, Rusty...”
“Of course not!”
“I mean, there I was, minding my own business with a cup of coffee...”
“Not at all!”
“And you came up to me, sat at my table, stole my mobile phone....”
“I did nothing of the sort! You left it behind! On the seat where you were sitting when you got up and ran away!”
“From a mass murderer!”
“Don't be unfair, Saphie...”
“From a self-confessed serial wife-killer!”
“That's cruel. I loved Connie more than I've ever loved anyone. More than anyone I've ever known has loved even themselves. What we had was so special … I can't expect you to understand.”
“And why not?”
“I said. It was … special.”
“And what I've experienced in life had hasn't been?”
“You told me. You were … free and easy...”
“I had Colin. At least I didn't kill him!”
“That's unfair! And you told me you had other men, some you've forgotten...”
“Are you calling me a prostitute now?”
He looked at her, shocked. “No! Of course not! I would never do any such thing!”
“I should hope not.”
Then they sank in to a nervous kind of silence, just as the two passengers immediately behind them started their own near-silent conversation.
“Dis you hear that?” whispered Agatha.
“What, my dear?” asked the Reverend Josiah Pike.
“What he said. About her being a prossy!”
“No, dearest, I didn't … my ears aren't as sharp as yours...”
“He said she was one, and she, the hussy, denied it!”
“What are they doing on this coach?” he asked. His expression was mild, careless, not really bothered. His had long been a life of pretence, of being the mouthpiece of a deity he'd long since lost any faith or belief in. His world was one constructed of a mental papier-mâché kind of sludge in which nothing had true substance because the ephemeral source of his own tiny wealth and power didn't. He was a shepherd, but didn't have much of a flock.
“I dunno!” she almost spat at him, less silently than she would have liked, and a little globule of moisture from her mouth landed on Rusty's head. He didn't notice, or if he did he didn't react.
“Do you think they've followed us? Is it the kind of thing Mr Naille would do? Follow a past love out of jealousy and a need for bitter revenge? Will he expect me to do battle with him?” The Reverend was sounding pathetic as his mind roamed over impossible possibilities.
“Who said anything about a past love?”
“Well, you were with him. You … er … shared a bed with him. That's more than you do with me!”
“Because he only had the one, silly.”
“Yes. The one bed.”
“He's got another since that sister of his moved in. He's not into incest.”
“Incest. Bother and sister stuff. So he's got another bed. For her.”
“Yes, he would have to.”
“She was a nun, you know. One of your sort. All creepy and holier than thou and preaching the good book..”
“I hope you don't see me like that, Agatha!”
“Well, you are a vicar. You run a church. You preach sermons. I don't like the church much, that's all. I don't believe the rubbish they preach, the priests and bishops...”
“Why did you say bishops?”
“Well – they preach, don't they?”
“I wondered if you'd heard?”
“Ugly rumours. Some thing … anything … there were those rumours … it was said … I don't know how it got about...”
“How what got about?”
“The bishop and me. He's very personable, you know, is the bishop. He wears his robes really well, and there's a glint in his eyes sometimes, the sort of glint that might suggest things...”
“Oh – nothing. Nothing at all.”
“Then what are you rabbiting on about?”
“Just something I heard. A long time ago. It really is nothing.”
“You mean about you being in the Bishop's underpants?”
“Don't, Agatha! That's all wrong! Don't say that! But … yes … that's what some of the evil folks back home have suggested when they thought I couldn't hear.”
“I've heard it too,” she grinned at him.
“You have? Who … could you tell me … who told you such a foul and fiendish thing?”
“You did, Josey, you did! When we first met. You quite often mentioned the Bishop in the same sentence as romantic stuff like sex!”
“Don't call me Josey.”
They relapsed into a sort of silence only broken by the occasional hiccup from the Reverend Josiah Pike.
“Did you hear that?” whispered Saphie.
“Most of it,” nodded Rusty.
“He used to mention the Bishop when I saw him,” almost giggled Saphie. “It was is he was obsessed with the man! I could tell he's got a crush on him!”
“Like you had a crush on my sister Isabel?”
Saphie was indignant. “Of course not!” she almost exploded, but in a warped kind of whisper, “Nothing like! I didn't have a crush on Izzy! I loved her, properly, with every sinew of my body and my mind! She was everything to me while we were together at St. Bernardette's! When she was late for Choir I couldn't stop myself looking round at the door, watching for her. Don't you dared diminish it by comparing it with the hollow yearning of an alcoholic cleric for his damned Bishop!”
“Sorry.” Rusty sounded really contrite. “I didn't mean to touch a raw nerve,” he added. “And if you must know, young Saphie, I know exactly what you mean because in a spooky kind of unwanted way I'm beginning to feel that way for you!”
“Don't call me you...” began Saphie. Then, choking, “You don't mean that, do you?”
He gazed at her and she at him. For a moment it seemed that time stood still.
Then he looked deadly serious. “What do you think?” he asked. “And why do you think I said it?”
“Christ!” came a hiss in Agatha's voice from the seat just behind.
© Peter Rogerson 05.04.14