Maria Magdalena by Ida Saudkova, c.a. 2000



‘And WHY weren’t all of you at Mass this morning?’

Father Reilly loomed over the little ones as they stood in a grubby row, their faces twitching with an impulse to laugh at this enormous gargoyle with tufts of white hair sprouting from his nostrils.

Miss Cunningham, the priest’s secretary and driver, watched, embarrassed, from the threshold of the kitchen as the kettle shrieked and whistled on the stove. The children’s Aunt Kathleen poured the boiling water onto the tea leaves, muttering in the Cant the entire time. She was still muttering when she carried the priest’s tisane through in its dainty periwinkle-blue cup and saucer.

‘In ENGLISH, if you please, Kathleen; remember, we ARE in England!’ he bellowed over her curses.

‘That’s not what you said last week, Father,’ piped one of the children, seizing her chance. ‘You said that the Holy Father was mistaken to allow the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular.’

The priest turned his rheumy blue eyes on Deirdre, who was thirteen, and Jimmy, the youngest of the siblings, saw his chance to escape. But as he made a run for it, Father Reilly’s enormous paw clamped down on his shoulder, and held him fast.

‘So we can add listening at doors to the LITANY of transgressions you have failed to confess, Miss Connolly? That was a private conversation between myself and your brother, who, coincidentally, has also not seen fit to grace us with his presence at Mass today!’

‘He’s unwell,’ retorted Deirdre. Upstairs, she could hear the effort of Gerry trying to be quiet as he moved around his bedroom.

Father Reilly peered up at the ceiling. ‘The old injury?’ He drained the dainty teacup in one gulp.

Deirdre nodded. Gerry had taken a bullet in the Battle of Monte Cassino. It had never healed properly, and Father Reilly was not known to be sympathetic even to those injured in the course of their duty to King and Country.

‘Athract,’ began the priest, turning to Deirdre’s grandmother, ‘you understand that it gives me no pleasure to visit you here today. You, of course, are welcome to receive Communion in your home, on account of your age and infirmity, but when hale and hearty children risk the wrath of God, and imperil their immortal SOULS – ’

Bridget, who was only seven, began to blub. This was nothing new. At least eight children had been reduced to tears by him this week alone in Catechism.

Athract waved a bony hand dismissively. ‘The little ones were enjoying the snow. They all say their prayers before bed and do their bit around the house. I think that pleases God, even if it doesn’t please you.’

‘Might I use your lavatory, Mrs Connolly?’ asked Miss Cunningham. Athract shrugged, and jerked her head towards the back door. Miss Cunningham was used to less well-off families regarding her with suspicion and disdain.

‘Fetch me some more tea when you’re done, Miss Cunningham,’ barked Father Reilly, thrusting his cup at her.

She squeezed awkwardly past Kathleen, who was doing a reading for a neighbour, and ran into the outhouse, her teeth chattering. She was still carrying the priest’s teacup.

She locked the netty door behind her and thought of all the things she needed to ask her employer forgiveness for. How she’d casually scraped her door key the length of Father Reilly’s car when she’d seen him parked outside Mrs Lewis’ house, because he’d thrashed her son Michael for daring to ask if maybe God wasn’t real. How she’d let his tyres down after seeing  Morag Anderson wet herself in terror during assembly by bellowing to the whole school how he’d seen her sticking her tongue out during the Eucharist. How she and the curate had gotten tipsy at a wake last week and egged each other on to crueller and funnier impersonations of Reilly.

I’ll give him something worth absolving me for.

She pulled down her knickers, and aimed a warm stream of piss into the translucent china vessel. Before leaving, she shook herself, and genuflected reverently at the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that hung on the inside of the netty door. His warm, pale, oval face smiled down blandly at her own sharp features.

“Thy will be done,” she muttered.


About the Author:

Frances Holland has been writing ever since she was five years old, when she realised that putting an amusing caption on a drawing of her dad could get cheap laughs. Her inspirations include folklore and mythology, as well as the everyday lives of the people around her. She lives in Northumberland.