TALK OF THIS AND THAT...
Doris Sophie Jones who preferred being called Sophe sat back in her sofa and smiled at the Reverend Josiah Pyke.
The coffee was good, possibly the best coffee the clergyman had ever sipped, but it wasn't the flavour or quality of the steaming drink that fascinated him but rather than the sight of his new friend as she smiled broadly at him. She was still dressed in that possibly-too-short skirt, but modestly. Her face bore only subtle traces of make-up and her smile, which appeared wonderfully often, was genuine. He knew that much. Suddenly it seemed to him that he must have a university degree in smiling! And her hair, straight and past her shoulders, tidy and ageless and blonde though her eyebrows told a darker story, looked as though it was fragrant, the kind of hair that a middle-aged clergyman might want to sniff for hour after blessed hour.
“What am I doing here?” he asked at length.
“Well, you're a vicar and I really do want to be in Holy Orders,” she murmured. “I know I'm a fallen woman but I've never been a bad fallen woman, if you see what I mean.”
“I'm sure you've never been a bad anything,” he said, fervently.
“I try not to be bad,” she whispered, “but those old women on the bus – they judged me all right. They know who I am and that I visit a man once every week, on Sundays, and sometimes even stay the night with him. They know who it is – after all, he was Mayor of Brumpton until a couple of years ago, and they're aware that he lost his wife in that railway accident that they're still investigating...”
“That was terrible,” murmured the Reverend Josiah Pyke. “We held special prayers...” he added, as though praying was relevant.
“Everyone in that carriage was either killed or so badly injured they wished they had been,” she said calmly. “And the gentleman – no names, it wouldn't be fair – lost his wife. Since then I've been invited to call on him, to offer what little kindness that it's in my power to offer. I don't let him pay: he's my one charity case even though he could easily afford my rates! But it doesn't seem right for a fallen woman to make a fortune preying on the bereaved.”
“You're anything but a fallen woman,” he said sincerely.
“I've been a prostitute for more than thirty years and although I don't like the word it describes precisely how I've made a living and afforded this comfortable home of mine,” she murmured. “It's a common error that women who live like I have prey on men and are their downfall, but that's rarely the case and certainly not in mine. Men come to me, lonely men, sometimes lost men, and I offer what I can. I've not been trained in anything like psychology and I find understanding what motivates people virtually impossible. But I do enjoy sex with the right partner and that's what I offer if they want it, but I am choosy and they know it. I place a premium on hygiene and won't tolerate clients who are anything but clean! This is a large house and I have one room specially for my trade, so to speak. I never sleep in it, though. It's for work, not play! But I retired recently and although I still get the odd phone call or knock on the door I turn them all away because I have already explained to them – and I suggest other ladies if they're that desperate. You see, I'll be fifty before long and don't want to ply my trade into my dotage!”
“You don't look anything like fifty!” he said, devoutly.
She smiled. “You're a sweet man, but I am. I suppose I've lived a healthy life,” she murmured, and when he glanced into her eyes he could see no contradiction there.
“You said … about being a nun?” asked an almost-but-not-quite appalled Reverend Josiah Pyke. Her story joined her brief skirt in his mind as becoming suddenly acceptable.
“I've had my fill of sex,” she said, bluntly, as if she was speaking to a roguish man-of-the-world.
“I've never had any sex,” he said, almost miserably. “I'm not actually sure what sex is or how to do it,” he added, sounding lame even to himself.
“You poor man!” she exclaimed. “Are you a Catholic, then? I didn't realise...”
He shook his head. “No, it's nothing to do with the church. I suppose it's a combination of things...” he said, quietly. “But I'm not here to talk about me! Tell me why you think being a nun is the best alternative to who you are today.”
She paused, and frowned. “That's not exactly what I mean,” she replied after a while. “I don't mean alternative as such. You see, the only people I see, normally, are my clients and as time has passed they're getting fewer and further between. Some have even died, though not in my bed! But that's what time does. When I was nineteen – that's when I started my job – a fifty year-old man would have made a good client. Now, thirty years later, he's either no longer interested or dead!”
“That's sad,” whispered Josiah.
“I know. But I like to think that I helped him along life's path. And it's not all altruism on my part. My rates are high – they have to be if I'm going to make a good living without being on my back twenty-four hours a day!”
“That's two bits of bad news, then,” he said quietly, then he grinned at her. “You're retired and even if you weren't I'd never be able to afford you without breaking into my nest-egg!”
“That's interesting – a man with a nest-egg,” she smiled.
“A lottery winning,” he said, self-consciously. “When I die I'm going to go to my maker...”
“And you need a nest-egg for that?”
“You do if you're booking a ticket on a space-ship and are going to be blasted into the sun!” he murmured, and he couldn't help the look of slight defiance when he lifted his eyes and looked at her.
© Peter Rogerson 28.01.13
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.
16. Tales of Italy