'Bats' by Jo Derrick
There are bat droppings on the altar again, so Rita goes into the vestry cupboard to fetch the dustpan and brush. It’s all a bit much. This isn’t in her job description. She’s a flower lady and it isn’t even supposed to be her day, but Betty Marsh is off gallivanting again, this time to Leigh-on-Sea to visit her daughter.
Rita gives the altar cloth a good brushing, sweeping the small black droppings into the pan. She automatically looks up as if she’s going to spot the irritating little buggers hanging from the vaulted ceiling.
She’s trying to get the silk flower display right, but all these interruptions aren’t helping. They always change the winter silks (reds and creams) to the summer silks (predominantly white) at the beginning of June, but Betty forgot, so now Rita is having to do them today, as well as the end of pew arrangements for Claire Duffy’s wedding on Saturday. It’s all a bit much and she intends to have it out with Betty Marsh when she gets back.
Rita’s carefully placing the last silk lily into the tall altar display when she hears footsteps and the creak of the old church door. The new vicar likes to leave the church open from 9 till 5. He doesn’t agree with a locked place of worship. He locks away all the silver, mind.
Rita stops what she’s doing for a moment and looks towards the nave. She sees a shadow slip into the front pew, but can’t make out who it is. She turns her attention back to the arrangement in the lady chapel. Every now and then Rita peeks round the side of the organ to see if she can make out who it is, but the shadowy figure seems elusive. She thought it was Chloe at first, but of course it can’t be. A sob snatches at her throat and Rita dabs her eyes with the handkerchief she keeps in her pocket. She shakes her head and tells herself not to be so silly. If it is Chloe, then it’s a bit late to be praying for forgiveness! She recalls Chloe’s white face, her black painted lips, yards of black net swishing around her Doc Marten boots and her permanent scowl. And then the most unforgivable thing of all. Chloe’s room still smells of death.
Rita puts the finishing touches to the lady chapel arrangement and turns her attention to sweeping up the foliage she’s snipped off to decorate the pews. She hears a slight cough followed by the sound of flapping wings. Those bloody bats. Aren’t they supposed to be nocturnal?
She looks towards the front pew, but the shadowy presence has gone. She didn’t hear footsteps nor the creak of the church door. She puts down the long-handled broom and walks down to the pew. There’s a smattering of bat droppings and a small white feather. Rita tuts and goes back for the dustpan and brush.
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