Bishop's move
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by Andrew Lee-Hart




“Have you met Mac? She is the Bishop’s wife, but not a bad old stick.”

“She looks a bit scary.”

“Not really, well only a little bit. Come on I will introduce you.”

“Why is she called Mac.”

“Her surname; MacDonald or is it McIntosh? Apparently even her husband calls her Mac.”


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 mother’s beautiful voice, more so than they would by her father’s preaching or when he gave out Holy Communion.


“Remember 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 Mac’s 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 Dido’s 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.”

“You look 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 Maria’s 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 woman’s 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 did.”




“I loved your father, truly, but he was driven and dragged you and me in his wake.”

“Didn’t you want to be a missionary?”

Mac’s mother 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 really?”




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 Mac’s childhood memories.

“I always 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; don’t you remember that well we dug? Anyway you didn’t have to do it, you could have gone back to England.”

Her mother sighed, “it wasn’t 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 Maria’s fingers; at first she was shocked, but soon decided she liked it, that it felt soothing and exciting.


“What do you think?”

Maria smiled, looking slightly embarrassed, “it was interesting, a bit modern, the Britten.”

“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 Samaritans.

“Where is your husband?”

“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.”

“Good,” 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 hadn’t put on weight, in fact he was scrawnier than when she first saw him naked.

“Manchester, St 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 wasn’t, 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 now.”

“Oh you didn’t say.”

“I am quite sure that I did, but you were so excited at getting that job in St Albans, I didn’t 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 Bishop’s 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.”

“Sorry Mac.”



“I am sorry you didn’t 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 unhappy.”

They were sipping wine in Maria’s front room, around them bookshelves clung desperately to every wall, books askew and without any apparent order.

“I am sorry.”

“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 with Christianity.”

“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.


“Perhaps you 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 sometimes.”

“Even” Mac 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, that’s 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; Maria’s tongue touching her lips, licking them and then pushing inside her mouth.

“Oh” said Mac, “oh.”





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 else.


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.

“But why, Elizabeth?”

“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 didn’t 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 hadn’t said anything, that she could take it back; Maria would be hurt and angry, but she could explain.

“I could take some time off.” He suggested, “why not? We could do with some time together. And I know it hasn’t been great in the bedroom, but then it never seemed important to you.”

“Oh Terrence.” And she left the table quickly as she knew was going to weaken, and she knew that she couldn’t.


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; Maria’s 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 hadn’t 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.

“Mrs Mcintosh. 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.”

Maria’s smile froze, “what at the cathedral?”

“No don’t be silly, just over at St. Helen’s.”

“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.


“Don’t forget Liz and Anna are coming for dinner this evening, or are you going to Evensong or something?”

Mac sighed, “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; Maria’s friends amused at first by Mac; her being a Bishop’s wife and now living with Maria, and then the conversation becoming more strident and mocking.

“How on earth can people believe such stuff….”

“What does your husband say to….”

“Have you read…. he really lays it into Christianity, makes you realise how silly it is…..”

Maria had quietly followed her upstairs and had her arms round her, “oh Mac, I do love you.”

“Do you?”

“Of course I do. Now let’s 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.

“Hello Luke, 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.”

“I am sorry.”

“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 Andrew’s 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.”


“Yes, she. Maria.”

“I thought you were just staying with her, I didn’t realise...”

“No, I think I love her.”


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.”

“Oh for 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 will.”

“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 her.”

“But dad never stood in your way; he wouldn’t have stopped you doing anything.”

“Not fall in love with someone else; he wouldn’t have let me do that. You should meet Maria, because she is part of my life.”

“I don’t think so.”


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 isn’t bad.”

“No let’s get a sandwich. I need to find a Chelsea top for Matt.”

“In Nottingham?”

“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 teams.”

“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 meetings.”

“Perhaps I should have taken you.”

“You were 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 didn’t know even had Maria’s number.

“How are you?” she asked.

“How do you think? Have you seen the Daily Express?”

“Since when….”

“We are in it; Bishop’s wife in Lesbian affair.”

“Oh Jesus.”

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. Bishop’s wife in lesbian love triangle.”

“Oh my dear, I am so sorry.”

“I just hope that it wasn’t one of your friends, you know how funny they think our relationship is.”


Maria looked up at her lover.

“Don’t be 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 Mac.”

“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.


Elizabeth was 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 them.

“I don’t 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 them.”

Elizabeth smiled, “I love it, I wouldn’t do anything else.”

“You do seem happier, happier than I have ever seen you.”

“You make me happy too.”

“Then why don’t you come back?”


Elizabeth was renting a flat of her own in Beeston somewhere between Maria’s house and the cathedral.  Although she no longer lived with Maria did not mean she didn’t love her, and she wanted to be close to her friend, and in fact their relationship was better than it had ever been.

“Perhaps we should have done this originally?” suggested Elizabeth, as she lay in Maria’s arms one night, “less pressure for both of us”.

“But I miss you.”

“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.”

“Of course.”

“We both need time to ourselves, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you, I do more than ever.”

And they kissed long and hard.


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.

“Don’t 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?”

“The caretaker recognised me, after all it is a church school.”

She smiled, “yes that’s 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 this evening.”

“Wow, that must be a first.” But there was no rancour in her comment, or at least not much.


They sat together in the staff room drinking instant coffee whilst Elizabeth signed form after form.

“How are 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.”

“You should travel.”

“Why? I have a job to do.”


They continued 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.

“That’s 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.”

“Sounds very pleasant.”

“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 much.”

“So would I.”


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?




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