Have you met
Mac? She is the Bishops wife, but not a bad old stick.
She looks a
well only a little bit. Come on I will introduce you.
Why is she
MacDonald or is it McIntosh? Apparently even her husband calls her
Mac stood in the
hall, daydreaming as she often did these days; she was ten years old, back when
she was called Elizabeth and living in Tanzania, where her parents were
missionaries. She could smell heat, spices and sweat and there was her mother
on stage singing When I am laid in earth, even the usually chatty
members of the corrugated iron church were transfixed by her mothers
beautiful voice, more so than they would by her fathers preaching or when
he gave out Holy Communion.
me, her mother sang, her voice beseeching the audience and her daughter.
Behind her mother, was her father at the piano; he was not a great pianist, but
he had got Macs mother to teach him when he had been called to become a
missionary, as he thought it might be useful. He was not naturally musical, and
often Elizabeth would see her mother wince when he played, but this evening all
eyes were on her mother who was bringing Didos lament to an end. As she
finished, the whole congregation applauded, even the children, until it seemed
that the clapping would never stop, whilst her mother bowed low, as if she was
on stage at La Scala or the Bolshoi.
She held back a tear
as she thought of her mother, only recently dead; no matter how difficult she
had found her, she had left a gaping void in her life.
Mac, this is
Maria, she teaches at the University, she has just joined. Mac is the head of
the Beeston Samaritans.
sad, said Maria.
Oh I was just
thinking about my mother. She died at the end of last year; she was in her
eighties, but I still miss her dreadfully.
And suddenly Mac was
in Marias arms, and something kind was being murmured in her ear. She
imagined what it must look like, two middle aged ladies, in an embrace, and for
a moment felt terribly embarrassed, but then she melted into this strange
womans arms and realised that she felt love, and not the love she felt
for Christ or even for her husband, but something warm and complete that she
had been looking for all her life, and for just a moment she swooned.
You looked as
if you needed a hug.
I did, I
I loved your
father, truly, but he was driven and dragged you and me in his wake.
you want to be a missionary?
coughed, her voice still had a hint of Leeds despite her travels throughout the
world, I was hypnotised by your father, and he was a great salesman; that
was why he was such a successful missionary I suppose. But no, music was my
world, and not playing hymns to little children in stifling churches or leading
a congregation, but proper music with an audience.
Oh mother, but
you achieved so much, both you and dad.
Did we? Did we
Mac never saw her
mother again, but then part of her was relieved; her mother was intent on
revaluating the past and in the process destroying Macs childhood
assumed you were happy. She told her mother on that last visit, you
always seemed to be.
You never know
what goes under the surface of a marriage. And being dragged around from
country to country, preaching to those poor people who needed food and water
more than they did religion.
Well we helped
them with that; dont you remember that well we dug? Anyway you
didnt have to do it, you could have gone back to England.
Her mother sighed,
it wasnt easy just to leave your husband in those days, not like
now. Divorce was so much more difficult.
Her mother nodded
deliberately and then a few minutes later was asleep, and Mac left her, her
past in ruins.
She realised that
she was holding hands with Maria under her green jacket. Mac had invited Maria
to a concert at the cathedral; music by Britten and Handel; and as Les
Illuminations started she felt her hand taken and stroked slightly by the
tips of Marias fingers; at first she was shocked, but soon decided she
liked it, that it felt soothing and exciting.
What do you
looking slightly embarrassed, it was interesting, a bit modern, the
Oh you sound
like Terrence my husband, and Mac too looked embarrassed. They both stood
in silence drinking wine; Maria looked at her companion; a bit fusty and so
private, but there was beauty and sadness in her face, and Maria loved her and
had done since she had taken her in her arms that first evening at
Where is your
Oh at some
meeting or other, all he does is meetings poor dear. Oh I think they are
starting, this next bit is Handel, a bit less modern.
and Maria gently squeezed her arm.
You seem deep
in thought said the naked Bishop.
Oh, I was just
thinking of when I was a teacher, back in Manchester.
She watched his
penis joggle slightly as he laughed, god he is old, she thought; his body a
shadow of what it once was, although at least he hadnt put on weight, in
fact he was scrawnier than when she first saw him naked.
Giles. That was a rough area, and the church hardest parish of my life; all
that vandalism and poverty, and remember that drunk man who I had to physically
throw out? We were so glad to leave I remember.
You might have
been, but I wasnt, I loved that school; it may have been rough and run
down but the children were lovely and the teachers were so dedicated. I felt so
guilty about leaving them, letting them down. I still think about them
I am quite
sure that I did, but you were so excited at getting that job in St Albans, I
didnt want to spoil it.
You could have
got a teaching job in Hertfordshire.
Well we had
the kids soon afterwards, and after that
.well then you became Dean and
then Bishop and being a Bishops wife is a job in itself.
Still naked he
joined her in bed.
Oh Bishop, not
tonight, I would like to finish reading my novel.
I am sorry you
didnt like my friends.
Oh Maria, was
I rude to them?
Not at all, I
could see you trying very hard, but I know you and I could tell you were
They were sipping
wine in Marias front room, around them bookshelves clung desperately to
every wall, books askew and without any apparent order.
No Mac, it is
I who should apologise. They were not polite to you and they should not have
argued with you about religion. But many of my friends have had bad experiences
Oh I am used
to that, and of course The Bishop gets it all the time.
Maria wondered if
Mac had mentioned her husband to punish her.
and I are very different from each other said Mac thoughtfully, I
thought I got on with everyone.
You do. But
you are playing a role, trying to appease everyone, even me
wondered. Why even her? Was Maria special? Perhaps she was.
You can be
yourself with me Maria told her, in fact I would encourage it,
thats what friends do.
Sorry I am not
used to having friends.
Maria stroked her
arm and then leant over her and stroked her tummy, and suddenly they were
kissing; Marias tongue touching her lips, licking them and then pushing
inside her mouth.
The vicar, Peter
something or other, did not notice her until she came down for communion. She
saw him suddenly recognise her and flinch, before putting the wafer on her
tongue and blessing her. Well, she may have left the Bishop, but that did not
mean she was ex-communicant, and she had as much right to be there as anybody
This was the first
time she had gone to church since she walked out on the Bishop over a month
ago. It had been embarrassingly difficult to leave him, because he had been
busy with so much going on in his diocese, including a vicar who was having an
affair with a parishioner, and when they did get a moment together, he was
always on his way somewhere else, and so she had been unable to sit him down
and say what she needed to say. If she had been of a suspicious nature, she
might have thought that he had guessed and was deliberately avoiding her, but
she knew that they rarely saw each other anyway, and that this was how their
lives had always been.
But one evening over
dinner she at last got the chance. She felt sad looking over at her husband who
was eating a curry with relish, and whose life she was going to ruin with just
a few words.
I have told
you, I am not happy. I am in my fifties and I am bored and I rarely see you,
and when I do we talk of nothing or just church, church, church.
I know that I
am busy, and now with the children gone
. I am sorry I didnt realise
how unhappy you were. You could have talked to me about it.
She could see a tear
dripping down his face, and for a moment she wished she hadnt said
anything, that she could take it back; Maria would be hurt and angry, but she
I could take
some time off. He suggested, why not? We could do with some time
together. And I know it hasnt been great in the bedroom, but then it
never seemed important to you.
Terrence. And she left the table quickly as she knew was going to weaken,
and she knew that she couldnt.
The service was
coming to an end; the final blessing was given, and then the vicar and the
choir of five old ladies and one old man walked out. It was summer now and
there was a faint smell of sweat and deodorant, as well as the smell of church;
presumably furniture polish and wilting flowers. Why had she come to church
when she could have been out with Maria exploring the castle or together in
bed; Marias lovemaking still a continuous wonder?
She looked at the
parish newsletter which was in her pew; Rev. Peter Newsome, that was it. An
intelligent man, she remembered, who had a double first from Cambridge, and of
whom great things were expected, but who so far had failed to set the Church of
England alight, or even Beeston. And what she remembered of him, he was a
singularly dull individual, and hadnt there been a petition against him
because of several of his sermons and articles he had written condemning
homosexuality? Dear god, she had forgotten about that. That seemed to be the
sign of being conservative in the church, to be anti-gay. Is that all the
conservative wing, and perhaps the Church of England itself, had to offer? To
be against things?
He flushed slightly
as she left and shook his hand.
How are you? An earnest face, a sweaty hand.
I am well
thank you. Interesting sermon. In fact she had almost forgotten it; she
had heard so many, something to do with Hosea she thought.
She could tell he
wanted to talk more, or felt he should, but there was a queue of people behind
her and so she extricated herself with ease and left the church and within a
few minutes was back to the house she shared with Maria.
You were up
early this morning, I missed you?
Mac smiled, oh
I went to church. See how they are getting on without me.
froze, what at the cathedral?
be silly, just over at St. Helens.
I thought you
had given all that nonsense up.
I left my
husband, not my religion.
Maria sniffed; Mac
was only just beginning to realise that her lover hated Christianity just as
much as her friends did.
forget Liz and Anna are coming for dinner this evening, or are you going to
Evensong or something?
more people? I thought we could have a day to ourselves.
I like seeing
my friends, when you have been living on your own you come to rely on your
friends. And anyway I like to show you off.
Mac went upstairs to
change her shoes, feeling gloomy. She knew what the evening would be like;
Marias friends amused at first by Mac; her being a Bishops wife and
now living with Maria, and then the conversation becoming more strident and
How on earth
can people believe such stuff
What does your
husband say to
. he really lays it into Christianity, makes you realise how silly it
Maria had quietly
followed her upstairs and had her arms round her, oh Mac, I do love
Of course I
do. Now lets get undressed, we have got all afternoon.
A few days later,
her eldest Luke telephoned.
She felt guilty,
having not told either Luke or David; hoping their father would, which was
quite unfair of course. Both her sons were married, and had their own lives,
but she should have been brave.
how are you?
What is all
this? Dad is very upset, he had to go to the doctor, he has been given some
pills to take.
Well I need to
talk to you.
Why not come
up here, bring your family and you could meet Maria.
God no. This
is between us. I will take Tuesday off and we can meet halfway, in Nottingham.
You can get a train down.
They sat in the
Arboretum, the spire of St Andrews church, where the Bishop had preached
at least once, peeking at them through the trees.
Oh mum, how
could you? What on earth are you doing, you have spoiled everything. Dad
is so upset.
Mac looked at her
son, in his early thirties with children of his own, but still her child.
I am sorry,
but I have met somebody else and she is lovely.
I thought you
were just staying with her, I didnt realise...
No, I think I
It was still very
hot despite it being September, and the arboretum was full of people; families
larking about and a young man opposite them reading a library book.
But you and
dad have been through so much.
I know, and I
still love him, but I think that I was going slightly mad. I was bored; I am in
my fifties and was slowly dying.
goodness sake, Luke sounded petulant like when a teenager and was being
denied this or that, all marriages can be dull at times, do you think
Rebecca and I are always happy, but
we stick with it. Think of your dad
and David and me.
You are adults
with your own families, and your dad will cope; it will take time but he
Well I think
you are being selfish.
They sat together
quietly, I do love her. You might find it difficult to understand, but
she makes me feel alive, and she is someone different. I struggle with some of
her friends, but she is lovely and kind and I am learning such a lot from
But dad never
stood in your way; he wouldnt have stopped you doing anything.
Not fall in
love with someone else; he wouldnt have let me do that. You should meet
Maria, because she is part of my life.
Mac was feeling
hungry, after she had told Maria where she was going and they had held each
other, Mac had only time to grab an apple before she hurried down to Beeston
railway station. She munched it as she sat gazing out of the window at the
Lincolnshire countryside as the train set out for Nottingham.
Would you like
some lunch? she tentatively asked her son, there is a Chinese buffet
place in the Victoria Centre which isnt bad.
get a sandwich. I need to find a Chelsea top for Matt.
They are bound
to have them.
After a sandwich in
Subway they visited various Sports Shops.
There are more
Manchester United and Liverpool tops than either of the Nottingham
Yes, it is all
the sport on television; people are less likely to support their local club.
Matt should support Luton Town, but all his friends follow Spurs or Chelsea, or
even one of the Manchester teams. I offered to take him to Kenilworth Road, but
he would rather watch Chelsea on television.
Your dad used
to take you to see Aston Villa.
We only went
twice, and had to rush out at the end on both occasions because he had
somewhere else to go; he was always busy on Saturdays with weddings or
should have taken you.
always busy too.
The telephone rang;
she hesitated to answer it being otherwise engaged, but her sense of duty
prevailed, and to her surprise it was Terrence, who she didnt know even
had Marias number.
you? she asked.
How do you
think? Have you seen the Daily Express?
We are in it;
Bishops wife in Lesbian affair.
There was silence
and then the telephoned clicked and there was the dialling tone.
Maria was lying
beside her cross because she had interrupted their lovemaking to answer the
telephone, that was my husband, the Express has got hold of our story.
Bishops wife in lesbian love triangle.
Oh my dear, I
am so sorry.
I just hope
that it wasnt one of your friends, you know how funny they think our
Maria looked up at
ridiculous. I know they can be a little rude sometimes but nobody I know would
do anything like that, certainly not to the Daily Express.
Mac wept whilst
Maria softly stroked her bare back.
I am sorry
My name is
Elizabeth, not Mac.
The class sat in
front of her, all expectant, waiting for her to entertain them. She gave
them a big smile and then wrote a sum on the blackboard and started to explain
it, whilst the children continued to watch, intrigued and eager to learn.
teaching a Special Needs class; there were ten of them, and despite the
occasional tantrums and the need for infinite patience she loved each one of
know how you can cope, Maria had said, I thought my students were
bad, but at least they know how to use the toilet properly, well most of
I love it, I wouldnt do anything else.
You do seem
happier, happier than I have ever seen you.
You make me
dont you come back?
renting a flat of her own in Beeston somewhere between Marias house and
the cathedral. Although she no longer lived with Maria did not mean she
didnt love her, and she wanted to be close to her friend, and in fact
their relationship was better than it had ever been.
should have done this originally? suggested Elizabeth, as she lay in
Marias arms one night, less pressure for both of us.
But I miss
Oh you still
see me a lot; I have slept here three times this week already and you know you
just have to call me if you need. And there is Samaritans of course.
We both need
time to ourselves, it doesnt mean I dont love you, I do more than
And they kissed long
Lisa, sitting at the
back seemed to be in difficulty with her maths project, so Elizabeth sat next
to her, and slowly they went through the sums.
worry Lisa, you are doing really well. And she put a shiny gold star on
the finished assignment and Lisa smiled in appreciation, happy to have pleased
her teacher. Elizabeth looked up and realised that the bell was about to ring
and that it would be time to go home. She sighed; relieved that she was almost
finished for the day, but also a contented sigh of work well-done.
As she was about to
leave, her bag already over her shoulder, she heard a familiar step and there
was her husband stepping into her classroom.
How on earth
did you get in?
recognised me, after all it is a church school.
yes thats true.
They looked at each
other; Terrence seemed older, and she felt a pang of guilt as she wondered how
much of that was due to her.
I have got
some papers for you to sign he told her, our divorce, you know, and
as I was coming past I thought that I would drop them off.
I will do them
now if you like, if you are not in a hurry.
No I am free
Wow, that must
be a first. But there was no rancour in her comment, or at least not
They sat together in
the staff room drinking instant coffee whilst Elizabeth signed form after
you? she asked, after doing the last one.
Oh I am
managing; the Archbishop gave me a couple of months off, and said I could be
off longer but I was desperate to get back. I hate just sitting, I am glad to
be back in the swing of things.
Why? I have a
job to do.
drinking coffee, sitting on chairs that had seen better days, with chocolate
wrappers and empty mugs scattered around them. Then they heard a vacuum cleaner
being dragged along the corridor.
Mrs Pearson, we had better go.
What are you
doing now? he asked.
A bit of
marking, nothing much. There is a new episode of Vera on tonight,
thought I might watch that.
Join me if you
like, I can even cook you a meal, nothing fancy mind.
That would be
lovely her still-husband said, I would enjoy that very
As they drove back
to her flat, she remembered her mother; how she created beauty in the strangest
of places, and yet felt unfulfilled and died angry and bitter. Perhaps her
mother was more selfless than her daughter, but why should she not embrace
life; sex, friendship, a job she enjoyed, and even an evening in front of the
television with a dear friend, who might eventually forgive her for all the
pain that she had caused him?