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11:41, 5 Aug 2015
The bottle of sunscreen hit me, hard.
'You'll need that where you're going.'
Where I’m going?
I don't even turn to look at her, I know whose voice that is. Marion Greenfield.
My lips move in silent recitation as I bend to recover the bottle that she has thrown 'Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes.'
I check the container for damage before I straighten and, all without turning to look in Marion's direction, hand it to the manager who is frozen on the sidelines. He looks conflicted, realising his corporate duty to bring Marion to task for throwing stock, but feeling the pressure of our small town society to decree that I deserve it.
'It's alright, Bob,' I murmur as I pass, making my way out of the store, stopping only to leave my basket of goods where they will be found and redistributed to the shelves. I hate to put someone to the trouble of doing it, but I think everyone would agree it is best if I don't tally there any longer.
I go, as I always do, across the small, neat, town square to the church. The building stands, perfectly white, Gods truth made manifest.
I know that Marion led a protest to Pastor John, asking him to refuse me the comfort of the church. It can't have been an easy thing for him to deny her, and I know his decision troubles him. If I am found to be guilty, he will never live it down.
‘Murderer!’ Marion’s voice is shrill as it cuts through the background hum of a small town centre.
I stop, close my eyes and take a deep breath.
‘He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart,’ I mouth, the words are only for me, I don’t seek confrontation. I don’t have the stomach for it. The words are my anchor, and once they are spoken I can move again, albeit like an injured bird. I hop across the square with my eyes on the brilliant white of the church, my Sanctuary.
‘What did you do to her, you devil!’ Marion screams now, and a part of me wonders if I will ever get to scream that. If I will ever be so sure of blame, that I can demand satisfaction with such certainty.
The thought tears at me, and I run now with little regard for traffic into the church. I throw an apologetic glance back to Fred Turner, who had to brake to avoid a collision. If he had hit me, he would probably be a town hero.
I can breathe again as soon as I am inside the church. I dip my head in reverence before straightening, and find that Pastor John has appeared before me.
‘I heard her,’ he says simply, placing a comforting hand on my upper arm.
I nod. Everyone heard her, I think, and I chide myself for the twinge of pleasure I get from knowing that God heard her too. I should not relish the prospect of Marion’s accounting, it is an unworthy thought.
‘There is some silver to polish, if you’ve a mind?’ Pastor John suggests, gesturing with a hand towards the Vestry.
I nod again, hoping that I have somehow communicated my gratitude to the Pastor. I chide myself for pride, the Pastor does Gods work and needs to thanks from me to measure its worth.
There is a pile of silver laid out for me, and I set to work with pleasure. I have found that if I concentrate on a small task with great intensity, it quiets the chaos that besets my mind if I relax for a moment. Whether it be memories, of darling faces and the honey sweet scent of baby hair, or the torment of imagination, shallow graves or watery ends.
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight,’ I whisper to my reflection as I buff and polish.
I move a large vase, and my breath catches. There is her face, staring out at me from the newsprint. My heart. My only love. My daughter. Tears fall in huge splats and I try to push them from her image before it blurs, a low, animal keening coming from inside me as I am exposed to the hurt that I have tried so hard to protect myself from.
I don’t need to read the words, I know that they say ‘Missing’ or ‘Still Missing’ or ‘Presumed dead’. Her story has changed my life, from its very beginning. I only want to know if it has ended, and if it has, how.
Pastor John comes running, and he pulls me into a comforting embrace as he sees what has happened. I make out the word ‘wickedness’ and his apologies; he knows that this was left just for me to find. It is another protest of his continued support of me.
It takes some time before I am recovered, but I feel better for the tears, like the woods after a storm. Lighter, somehow.
Composed, I continue my work until all the silver gleams. I suppress the hope that God will see how diligently I work and bring my daughter home to me as vanity. I am not worthy of her, while sin remains in my heart.
I pull on my gloves as I leave the Church, and looking down I almost walk into Sheriff Turney. His face is drawn, his hand comes to rest on my arm where the Pastor’s had just an hour before. Something happens as he speaks, as though the world becomes distorted and out of time. His lips move, I hear him, but the two are not in time. I know I am staring blankly at him, and I see him gesturing wildly across the Square to the front of his office where two cars are pulled up. In one sits Marion’s husband, Dennis. He looks pale, crumpled, his eyes huge in his face with what looks like fear.
In the other is a face I think I recognise, but the light is on the glass and…
I see that she is not the child who left me, dark rings circle her eyes, a bruise colours her cheek. None of this matters. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart’.
I know where I am going.
I run to her.