Once the last of her parishioners shuffled out of the nave and out into the spitting, December rain, Celeste closed the doors and sat down heavily in the nearest pew. Nothing like the Christmas season to swell the church audience, particularly when the children were so darling in their costumes. Irresistible even to the most sporadic worshipers.
She rubbed her eyes, fingers massaging the tension along her brow, then dropped her hands in her lap and stared up at the crèche at the front of the church. So different than the crèches of her days in London. No bright paint or gold sparkled on the wooden figures, and the dents and scratches were visible, even from the back of the nave. But something about the unadorned statues was more beautiful than those others. Perhaps these Scottish figures just seemed closer to what she imagined Jesus’ life was like—simple, stark. Not stark as in barren or desolate, stark as in clearly defined, well-focused.
Celeste stood, stretched, then gathered her things from the back room before stepping out the side-door into the dark of the evening, heading for home.
Her stomach growled as she pushed open her door—lunch had been ages ago. She turned up the thermostat and stepped into her slippers before shuffling into the kitchen. She pulled open the door of the refrigerator and stood staring at the bare shelves. Finally, she took out a jar of pickles and a half-eaten can of olives.
She stood over the sink, munching on the condiments, when she heard footsteps on her porch and a knock a moment later. She rinsed her fingers and hastened to answer the door. Eideard Comgall stood in the pale glow from her porch light, his woolen coat shedding water just as it did when the hair was still attached to the sheep.
“’Evenin’, Vicar. Ah hope Ah’m not interrupting ye.” He shrugged the collar of his coat around his ears. “So many fowk at service tonecht, Ah couldn’t find a space to gab wi’ ye.”
“Of course you’re not interrupting me,” Celeste said, stepping back and gesturing for him to come in. “Can I make us some tea?”
Her parishioner nodded, continuing to stand on the entry-mat, uncertain.
“Do take your coat off, if it’s warm enough in here for you. I’ve only just turned on the heat.”
Celeste returned to the kitchen where she quickly hid the jar of pickles and empty olive-can in the sink. She filled the kettle and put it on before coming back into the sitting room. Eideard had removed his coat, but still stood awkwardly in the entry.
“Come. Sit down. The tea will be ready in a moment.”
Eideard moved slowly into the sitting room, his large frame seeming even larger in the small space. He sat down carefully at the edge of her sofa, his hands between his knees, his time-worn face wearing an expression of extreme discomfort.
Celeste sat across from him, waiting patiently for him to begin. Sometimes it took men a long time to be able to speak of matters of the soul with her. More so in Altnaharra even than in London, but that was probably to be expected.
“Vicar, Ah hae come from the parish council.”
Celeste’s stomach fell. The council?
“It’s Christmas in a coople ay days,” he continued. “We thought you micht be wanting to go back to London. Spend time with yer family. We’ve asked Vicar Gilroy to come ower from Iomhar to do the service instead.” He glanced up at her, but when she didn’t immediately respond, he continued on, rubbing his palms on his knees. “He’s retired from his parish, but he’s happy to gie a sermon now an’ again. He’s canty to come.”
Celeste sat stunned, unable to respond. The council was taking the Christmas sermon away from her? The most joyful and beloved day of the Christian calendar, and she was being shipped off. Replaced by a Scottish man too old to care for a parish, but not too old to step in for the English woman they were pushing out. They didn’t want her for their special day.
The slowly building screech from the kitchen dragged her out of her stupor.
“Let me just fetch the tea,” she replied, her voice catching on the words. She hustled into the kitchen and pulled the kettle off the flame, hoping the whine of the steam would cover the sound of her sob.
For the Grammar Ghoul Challenge #53