TALES OF ITALY
The bus had driven off and two groups of people stood on the small bus station in Brumpton. One consisted of the Reverend Josiah Pyke with a truly attractive woman and the other of a gaggle of elderly women casting nauseous eyes in their direction.
“What are you going to do now?” asked Sophe. She was the Reverend's travelling companion, though they'd only met for the first time moments before catching the bus they'd just left.
“I haven't the foggiest idea,” he replied, openly. “I know one thing, though, and that is I've lost any faith I had in the Church.”
“And the oddest coincidence is I'm thinking of joining it,” murmured Sophe. “If they'll have me, that is. Do they take reformed fallen women?”
“You've not fallen anywhere!” declared the vicar boldly whilst at the same time knowing full well that he knew just about nothing about her. But he instinctively liked her, even though only yesterday he would have muttered about her skirt being several inches too short. The curious thing, he thought, was that today it looked to be exactly the right length.
“Oh, but I have,” she sighed. “I'll tell you what: come to my place for a chat and a cup of coffee before you decide what to do next and I'll tell you why I was on the bus from Crickleton and what I do with my life here.”
“I don't know...” he didn't want to hesitate, but did.
“You won;t be the first clergyman to cross my doorway,” she smiled. “The Bishop of Brumpton comes quite regularly. He's almost a fly on my wall!”
“The Bishop?” asked Josiah, shocked. “That's one cleric I can't stand! He battered me with his cane and I ended up in hospital!”
“He did? You poor man!” almost twittered Sophe. “I knew he was a bully! Come on, I'll make you a nice cup of coffee and you can tell me all about it!”
“Ask her why she was in Crickleton!” croaked one of the gaggle.
“And what she was doing with him,” added a second.
“And why it took all night!” contributed a third.
“Take no notice of them,” flared Sophe. “Bitter old ladies who have no idea about life! I might be a fallen woman but I haven't fallen anywhere near as far as them!”
“You couldn't,” he murmured.
Her house, when they got to it, was on a road that the Reverend Josiah Pyke might have described as “Stockbroker Belt” if he described it at all. It must have had half a dozen bedrooms, at least three reception rooms and a kitchen that looked more like the galley of a futuristic space-ship than any kitchen he'd seen before.
“Goodness me!” he exclaimed. “And this is where the Bishop comes?”
“Every other Tuesday for a couple of hours,” acknowledged Sophe. “He's possibly my most regular client, and because he's quite demanding I expect him to pay double.”
“It's Tuesday tomorrow,” murmured the Reverend Josiah Pyke.
“I know. I told him not to come again, that I'd put up my shutters, so to speak, but there's no knowing...” she smiled, bidding him sit on a luxurious sofa whilst, she said, she'd make coffee.
“I think they've locked him up!” said the Reverend Josiah Pyke, hoping that they had.
He looked around, confused. The room was delicately furnished with comfort in mind, the overall impression being one that approached minimalist if he understood what the word meant. There were three large pictures on the wall, intricately painted scenes of Italian views. He stared at the Rialto Bridge and wished he could be there, now, rather than lost in Paradise between Hell and an almost certain high water.
“I love Italy,” she said when she saw where he was looking.
“I've never been...” he said, wishing that he had.
“I go every year. Your Bishop pays for it,” she smiled.
“What … if he's a client, what do you sell him?” ventured Josiah Pyke.
“Do you really want to know?” she asked.
“And you haven't guessed?”
He shook his head.
For a moment she looked uncomfortable, and then she smiled, an open, honest smile revealing the most beautiful set of natural teeth. And when she smiled with her mouth she also smiled with her eyes. He knew that smile: it was the most genuine thing he'd seen for ages.
“I sell sex,” she said, quietly. “I let your Bishop and my other clients come here – or I travel to them – let them enjoy my body, and for an hour or two I make them believe that I'm the most sincere and truthful lover they've ever had. And I am, for that brief time. Then they go, leave me my fee, and I settle back to watch detectives on the television. And once a year I go to Italy and stand on the Rialto Bridge and watch the quiet world go by, all on my own, and happy.”
“You're a...” He couldn't bring himself to say prostitute.
“Call me what you will. I like fallen woman.”
“I think I love you...” he spluttered, and her eyebrows moved quizzically and she shook her head imperceptibly.
“And this fallen woman has the inkling that she wants to be a nun,” she murmured.
© Peter Rogerson 27.01.13
I seem to have created another of my odd characters. That's the trouble with me: I set a scene and then want to get my teeth ever deeper into it! So here are links to the previous parts.