I am preparing for a couple of short story competitions and decided to write a piece of flash fiction based on the Beatles’ song ‘Eleanor Rigby’. This isn’t going to be submitted to any competitions – it’s just a writing exercise.
Eleanor picked up a handful of rice outside the church porch. The wedding had been beautiful. She imagined herself in the gorgeous dress – layer upon layer of Chantilly lace, embroidered with tiny pearls – and, looking around to make sure nobody was there to see, she tossed the rice high into the air, smiling as it bounced off her like raindrops. The smile melted from her face and slipped to the ground amongst the remaining grains.
Eleanor grabbed the broom and swept the mess into the flowerbed. She nodded her head. Yes, Father McKenzie did a brilliant job; it was the best wedding service she had heard in years. She dug the rice into the dark mulch with her fingers, wiped her hands on her apron and made her way to the vestry to dust and polish, before tidying up the remaining flowers in the church.
Later that afternoon she sat at the window of her little cottage next door to St Peter and Paul, where she could watch people come and go: the regular congregation, christening parties, weddings and, inevitably, funerals. Weddings and funerals were her favourites. And she got to see him every day from her window. The face at the window. Her face. The one that she kept in a jar by the door. She hid everything under that mask of make-up and pretence. Her life was spent chasing shadows of what might have been and wondering about all those other lonely people.
Next door in the rectory, Father McKenzie sat at his desk, writing the words of his Sunday sermon that he knew no one would hear. Even the weddings and christenings were becoming fewer and farther between. Mostly funerals these days. Eleanor haunted the church, a quiet ghost, eager to please and fall on her knees at the smallest request. He shuddered at the thought. He only gave her the job of voluntary lay minister and housekeeper because they went to school together and she lived next door. Sometimes when he was darning his socks by the light of the window, he could see her peering out of hers; he wondered if she could see him, and if she was wondering the same thing. Did she know about the holes in his socks? Had she rifled through the drawers in his bedroom when he wasn’t there? Why should he even care? Maybe because he understood her loneliness.
When he found Eleanor’s body on the floor of the vestry shortly before the evening service, he was overcome by a feeling he had never had before. A feeling that stayed with him as he wrote the funeral service, an epitaph to an old friend, a young love that turned sour because of his calling. Both her parents had died a long time ago. She had no husband or children to mourn her. Just him and a few members of the Parish Council doing their duty.
He wiped the earth from his hands on his cassock as he left the graveyard and returned to the only place he felt comfort, to pray for all the lonely people in the hope that someone would be saved.
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