“Mrs. Jane Calthrop, of course, is not your average vicar’s wife,” whispered Ethel to her cousin Gladys, just after the chorus closed out the last harmonies of “Teach the Children.”
Bringing popular music into the service had been Jane Calthrop’s idea. To appeal to the young people, Ethel supposed. But it was really an unexamined assumption on her part since most of the songs were more suitable for her generation than the young people of today. Ethel preferred the old hymns, not because she disliked the popular songs in their place. But between the granite walls of the village’s centuries-old church they just seemed more fitting.
Ethel had no time to tell Gladys about the bra burning that Jane Calthrop had organized as a young woman years ago when she was a college student in London. We were all a bit radical back then, Ethel admitted to herself. It was the times. But the way she talks about it so freely with that full-throated laugh was just too much. “I made the evening papers,” she once said with a laugh. “Standing on top of a VW Bug without a bra on–you could tell because I didn’t have a shirt on either. The caption called me a modern Lady Godiva.”
Ethel, almost an exact contemporary of Jane Calthrop, recalled her own early ’20s. I didn’t have time to go around showing off my breasts in public. I was too busy sacking groceries and trying to scrape enough money together to get my own flat.
The congregation had flipped to the back of the hymnal for the responsive reading, and Ethel had done so automatically as well. This was always her favorite part of the service. The collective voices of the church-goers rushing past her like a river of words.
The passage was the story of the Good Samaritan. For a moment, Ethel wondered who she might be if she was a part of the parable. Would she walk on past or help the poor, injured soul?
Now, as the congregation settled back into the pews, she said to her cousin, “She studied with a guru in India for three years, and she has started a yoga class here at the church, and I’m not talking about yoga just for exercise.”
“Does anyone come?” asked Gladys, eager to hear more.
“Of course, they do. She is the vicar’s wife,” replied Ethel, as if Jane Calthrop’s influence were the most obvious thing in the world.
Vicar Calthrop began his sermon with a story about a trip to the mall, and it was hard to tell were his message might be leading. He was very handsome man, which she felt gave him an unfair advantage when it came to his winning souls or even enlisting the ladies of the church for the annual bake sale. She knew it was hard to say no to the good reverend. But it was such a shame about that wife of his, she reminded herself.
Ethel was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she really wasn’t following the sermon very well. Or for that matter even paying attention to the dress of the other women in the congregation, which she sometimes critiqued when she was bored. She loved nothing better than getting together with her friends after church and discussing the fashion successes and failures of the day.
That’s why it came as a surprise to look up to see Jane Calthrop hurrying past her in the aisle. Her eyes looked watery, though she did her best to hide them behind a raised hand. Her face was flushed as if she had been crying.
It was only an instant, but it was as if her world had shifted suddenly. Hadn’t anyone else seen Jane Calthrop’s distress? Apparently, not. Vicar Calthrop continued his sermon, the congregation appeared as it always did in rapt attention.
“Excuse me,” Ethel said under her breath to Gladys. She got up and quiet slipped out of the pew to follow Jane Calthrop.
I’m hardly the best person to comfort her, she thought as she made her way toward the door. When she emerged from the church, Ethel saw Jane Caltrhop looking at the roses in the far corner of the small graveyard that was directly next to the church.
By the time she reached Jane Calthrop, she had already seen Ethel coming. She greeted her with a faint smile.
“Are you all right” Ethel said, her voice trailing off.
Ethel could see for herself that Jane Calthrop had been crying.
“How good of you to come,” said Jane Calthrop. “And I’m so glad it’s you; I’m not sure anyone else would understand.”
“What?” asked Ethel with real surprise. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m sorry, I know that we’re hardly spoken, but I’ve always had the feeling that there is some sort of connection between us.”
Ethel nodded her head, feeling a bit hypocritical for remaining silent. But she was here to help, wasn’t she?
“I’m so embarrassed. It’s just I heard Emily Dalton make an unkind remark about my dress. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. It’s just so hard being the vicar’s wife sometimes.”
Ethel reflexively looked at Jane Calthrop’s dress. It was rather formless and a dreary pink, she quickly concluded.
“I knew you would understand. You and I are alike, don’t you think? Like sisters,” she said with a note of excitement in her voice. We’re like sisters separated at birth, I can tell. What do you think of my dress?” she asked as she made a girlish curtsy.
Ethel stood for a moment, taking in the woman before her. “It’s lovely,” she said at last. “So lovely, I think you should wear it as often as you like.”
Jane Calthrop gave her a hug then. “I knew it,” she said impetuously.
“It’s lovely,” Ethel repeated again, as she stood stock still in Jane Calthrop’s embrace. For now, Ethel had decided to enjoy the moment. But later, she thought, I must figure out why I advised her to wear that horrid dress.
Note: The closed captioning on my television occasionally freezes on a random line. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to use these lines as writing prompts. The rules of my writing game are that I must write a short-short story in a single sitting.