"Leave it to us," said Carol, delighted that Features would have the advantage over Books. I smiled, for I had learned, the hard way, that a sense of proportion was required on a newspaper, and if one had a habit of bearing grudges, it was wise to lose it.
I worked quickly to rearrange the two remaining pages, allocating top placing to the seven-year brain-cycle theory. Ianthe, my mother, would not see its point: she preferred things uncomplicated and settled.
As the afternoon wore on, the telephone rang less and less, which was perfectly normal. Minty dealt with her pile of books and transferred them to the post basket. At five o'clock, she made us both a mug of tea and we drank it in a silence that I considered companionable.
On my way home, I slipped into St. Benedicta's. I felt in need of peace, a moment of stillness.
It was a modern, unremarkable church, with no pretensions to elegance or architectural excitement. The original St. Benedicta's had been blown up in an IRA terrorist campaign thirty years ago. Its replacement was as downbeat and inexpensive as a place of worship should be in an age that was uneasy about where the Church fitted.
As usual, on the table by the glass entrance doors, there was a muddle of hymnbooks and pamphlets, the majority advertising services that had taken place the previous week. A lingering trace of incense mixed with the smell of orange squash, which came from an industrial-sized bottle stored in the corner-presumably kept for Sunday school. The pews were sensible but someone, or several people, had embroidered kneelers that were a riot of color and pattern. I often wondered who they were, the anonymous needle-women, and what had driven them to harness the reds, blues, circles and swirls. Relief from a drab existence? A sense of order in transferring the symbols of an old and powerful legend onto canvas?
St. Benedicta's was not my church, and I was not even religious, but I was drawn to it, not only when I was troubled but when I was happy, too. Here it was possible to slip out from under the skin of oneself, breathe in and relish a second or two of being no one in particular.
I walked down the central aisle and turned left into the tiny Lady Chapel where a statue of the Madonna with an unusually deep blue cloak had been placed beside the altar. She was a rough, crude creation, but oddly touching. Her too-pink plaster hands were raised in blessing over a circular candle stand in which a solitary candle burned. A Madonna with a special dedication to the victims of violence, those plaster hands embraced the maimed and wounded in Ireland and Rwanda, the lost souls of South America and those we know nothing about, and reminded us that she was the mother of all mothers, whose duty was to protect and tend.
Sometimes I sat in front of her and experienced the content and peace of a settled woman. But at other times I wondered if being settled and peaceful had been bought at the price of smugness.
Fresh candles were stacked on a tray nearby. I dropped a couple of pounds into the box and extracted three from the pile. One for the children and Nathan, one for Ianthe, one to keep the house-our house-warm, filled and our place of our refuge.
I picked up my book bag, had a second thought, put it down again and hunted in my purse for another pound. The fourth candle was for the erring minister's wife, and my dulled conscience.
On the way out, I stopped and tidied the pamphlets on the table.
Even though it was dark, I continued home by the park, prudently choosing the path that ran alongside the river.
Nobody could argue that it was anything but a city park, ringed as it was by traffic, pockmarked with patches of mud and dispirited trees, but I liked its determination to provide a breathing space. Anyway, if you took the trouble to look, it contained all sorts of unobtrusive delights. A tiny corona of snowdrops under a tree, offering cheer in the depths of winter. A flying spark of a robin redbreast spotted by the dank holly bushes. Rows of tulips in spring, with tufts of primula and primrose garnishing their bases.
From Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan, Copyright Elizabeth Buchan February 2003,. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Viking Press, a member of the Penguin Group, Inc.
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