Four Hail Marys


Mary is on her way to the new sandwich shop on Saint Michael’s Road, quietly obsessing on the relative merits of coronation chicken versus tuna mayo, when she spots Graham lolloping down the street towards her.  At least it looks like him, she can’t be certain at this distance, but who else still wears his thinning grey hair hanging loose to his shoulders?  He doesn’t seem to have noticed her, probably plugged into his MP3 player and off in a time-warp with the Rolling Stones, but she isn’t going to hang around to check.  She has a moment’s grace to backtrack and take refuge in the churchyard.

Once there, however, she feels lost.  Foolish.  There’s nowhere to hide among the flattened gravestones and, if Graham should catch her skulking there, it would be all too obvious she’s trying to avoid him.  Without stopping to think, she darts up the path to the porch and rattles the door handle.

Amazingly, the church is unlocked.  Hard to imagine what kind of service would be going on at a quarter to one on a weekday, but the fact that there is anything is almost enough to restore her faith in God.

Mary creeps inside.  It smells of damp and incense, with a parsimonious chill to the air.  Three ranks of wooden pews are lined up to face a trio of altars flanked by stone statues stemming from a more elemental age.  The gloom is kept at bay by little more than a bank of candles alongside the minor altar on the right, and the borrowed light from the outside world that, filtered through the stained-glass windows, casts watercolour shadows on the flagstone floor.  Hugging her coat around her, Mary inches forward.

The meagre congregation kneels a few rows back from the candle-lit altar: a trinity of women with white hair frothed up like meringue.  No sign of an officiating priest.  Perhaps the women are waiting for the service to begin.  Mary slips into a pew in the middle section half a dozen rows further back, to watch, and wait with them.

She doesn’t kneel.  The wooden bench looks uncomfortable enough.  Her stomach rumbles and she promises it she’ll only stay a moment.  Just long enough to see what happens.  Just long enough to ensure Graham is safely out of the way.





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