Part 1: A Life In Pieces (click here) Part 2 Another Life In Pieces, part 3 A Life in Anguished Pieces, Part 4 A Life in Mobile Words, Part 5 A Life in Coffee Part 6 A Life in Loneliness, Part 7 A Life In Rags, Part 8, A Life in Confusion, Part 9, A Life In Families Part 10, A Life in Memories, Part 11 A Life in Contemplation, Part 12 A life in church, Part 13 A Life in Lasagne and Part 14 A Life in Chaos
A LIFE IN GOSSIP
“Now what?” asked Rusty when the doorbell rang. A week had passed since Agatha had been installed in the Vicarage and Saphie and Izzy resumed their old friendship, albeit in the form of a platonic relationship rather than the torrid partly physical affair they’d enjoyed in the convent. All three of them were there, the radio was on and music that reminded them of the glory days of their youth was quietly playing old favourites.
“Better go and see, brother,” said Izzy with a smile.
He frowned to himself, went to the door and returned with the Reverend Josiah Pike in tow.
“Agatha’s settling in well,” Joe – the vicar, Josiah, – told them, “but I’ve hit on a problem.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” grunted Rusty.
“It’s serious,” continued the vicar, frowning. “I’ve come to explain.”
“Explain on,” invited Saphie.
“She’s virtually recovered,” Joe assured them, “She’s up and about for short periods and you wouldn’t believe that she’d been so ill. And she’s got to talking. In fact, she talks quite a lot.”
Rusty nodded. “You’re telling me,” he said lightly, wondering what was to come.
“You’d think that the crack on the head that she received would have addled her brains, but she’s as sharp as a knife, and as far as I can tell there’s nothing wrong with her memory,” continued Joe. “But my problem lies in one of the things that she’s told me. Tell me, Rusty, when she lived here, if you don’t mind me being personal, was it a so-called biblical relationship? I mean, and this is me being candid, or something like that … but did you, er, share a bed together?”
“That’s really nothing to do with anyone but the lady and myself, but if it clears something from your mind I’ll confirm that for part of her stay here we did,” replied Rusty awkwardly. “I was still recovering from the death of my dearest Connie and somehow ended up with Agatha, both as a lodger and a so-called lover.”
“She’s been explaining things,” muttered Joe. “I think she’s used me as a bit of a confidante. And one of the things she went to great lengths to explain to me had to do with the passing of your late wife.”
“It did?” asked Rusty, raising his eyebrows. “I didn’t know her then! Connie died a good six months before I bumped into Agatha. I was hellishly lonely and at first I thought she’d fit in as well as anyone and better than most,, and she explained that was about to become homeless due to the financial crash. Her husband had left her, her three adult kids live miles away and from what I know about her they can’t have had much time for her … but I didn’t know that then. All I knew was I needed someone to talk to, to relate to, like I’d related with Connie. So it was after the funeral … six months after … that I invited her into my home and, to my eternal shame, slept with her. And I know that slept with is a euphemism for having sex, but for us it was mostly sleeping. I suppose at our age it had to be.”
“She said very much the same thing,” nodded Joe.
“So unless the church is happy to put its nose into my private life, what has anything she said got to do with the price of milk?” asked Rusty, a bit testily.
“She was still in bed when we were talking, not me, you understand, I had a chair, … she gets up now and then, from time to time…”
“I’ll bet she doesn’t do any actual housekeeping,” put in Rusty.
“She’s recovering from a nasty injury,” retorted Joe, a little sharply. “I’m not a slave-driver, you know! She assures me she’ll be busy in a week or two. She’s not the harridan you’ve described to me, not in my opinion anyway!”
“Get on with it, then,” muttered Rusty.
“Well, I sit with her when I can. It must be terrible boring, a woman like her having to endure her own company for hour after hour…”
“Endure’s the right word when it comes to her company!” put in Rusty.
“Rusty!” hissed Saphie. She smiled at the clergyman. “Carry on,” she said.
“Well, she said you and she used to talk in bed. She said it’s a very human and wonderful thing for two people to do, lie with their arms around each other and share little intimacies, and I believe it must be the case, though I’ve always been a man on his own myself. The Bishop never stays the night…”
“And?” urged Rusty hastily.
“She says you told me about your dear departed wife’s demise. She said the poor woman would be around still, if you hadn’t put an end to her! She said that you confessed to murdering her during one of your little tête-à-têtes in the bedroom! She told me that you smothered her with a pillow and that’s why you were a widower, and she swore you meant every word you were telling her. She said she took it as a warning. She was quite sure you were warning her that where one woman has gone, so can another, or something like that!”
“That’s utter tosh!” exclaimed Rusty. “You didn’t believe her, by any chance?”
“She convinced me,” admitted the clergyman with a frown. “That’s why I’m here. I came to put you in the picture because I’m pretty sure the police must be on their way. I had to report it, of course. I may be a cleric and there may be privileges to my position in the world, but concealing a murder isn’t one of them!”
“You’re an idiot then!” whispered Saphie. “That woman is as evil as any woman can be and it’s taken her not much longer than a week to wrap you round her little finger! Rusty never smothered anyone, did you Rusty?”
He shook his head vehemently. “I loved Connie,” he almost choked. “I loved her more than you can imagine, and had for all our years together. And I would never, ever have hurt a hair on her head! Now, sir, Reverend or whatever you want us to call you – get out of my house with your tittle-tattle and lies, and never darken my doorstep again!”
“I thought you ought to be warned…” muttered the Reverend Josiah Pike. “I didn’t mean any offence! But if you confessed to murder then you ought to be charged with it! We can’t have men murdering their wives willy-nilly, can we?”
“You’d best go,” said Saphie. “Or it’ll be clerical idiots who find themselves being murdered rather thanmuch-loved wives who fate has thrust ontothe very brink of an agonising death!”
“I had to report what the lady said,” almost wept the clergyman, “you shouldn’t have said anything to her if you didn‘t want her to repeat it!”
Rusty stood close to Josiah, nose to nose almost, could smell the grapes on his breath, and hissed “I would never tell a creature like Agatha anything, and I’m shocked that a man of God can be so foolish as to believe the words of a woman like that! Now get out, or I won‘t be responsible for my actions!”
The Reverend Josiah Pike gathered as much dignity to himself as he could muster and made his way out. Nobody showed him the door, nobody bade him farewell.
A heavy silence fell on the room. Saphie sighed and looked at Rusty and remembered the conversation she’d had with him weeks earlier when he’d suggested that he helped Connie out at her end. But she was wise enough to say nothing for the moment.
“Rusty, how dreadful!” exclaimed his sister Izzy. “What a horrible, horrible woman!”
“I don’t know what to say,” he breathed after a dull pause. “I knew she was a hag, but to tell that kind of lie about me! I swear … I swear I would never so much as lay one finger on Connie, and what I did do, and I told the police this at the time, I helped her swallow an overdose of morphine right at the end… I was open about it … but they all said, the pathologists and so on, that she was probably dead before she swallowed them.”
There was a heavy knocking at the front door followed by a splintering sound as it was smashed in. Voices shouted, wild, excited, authoritative voices, and a fat police Inspector barged into the room.
He glared around until his eyes rested on Rusty, and he clenched and unclenched his fists as he walked, menacingly, towards him.
©Peter Rogerson 21.03.14