WHERE COMFORT LIES by Faymarie Morris.
It wasn’t long after her 5th birthday that Rosie first began to question things. Her Mummy had been very ill and Daddy had sent Rosie to stay with Grandad Percy, Grandma Bella and Auntie Meg, until Mummy felt stronger. Rosie loved Grandad Percy and liked nothing better than listening to the stories of her Daddy’s mischievous antics, when he was a little boy. But grandad was deaf and often had to resort to an ear trumpet in order to hear her. Rosie was mischievous too and would whisper in grandad’s ear until he took out his trumpet, then she would yell loudly down it. She always made him laugh though. Her exploits amused him and he loved her to sit near him, by the fireside, and read stories.
Grandad Percy was deeply religious and had been a methodist preacher, when he was younger. Sitting next to him in chapel always made Rosie giggle because he used to sing all the well-loved hymns, in a rich, baritone voice, but just a few bars behind everyone else. The poor organ player struggled with the ever changing tempos and was constantly having to readjust. But everyone excused him because he was a well respected member of the community.Then one morning, while she was waiting outside the post office for Auntie Meg, a snooty looking lady with long grey hair approached her and asked.
‘Well, who are you? You don’t live in Milton, do you?’
‘No,’ answered Rosie, ‘I’m staying with Grandma and Grandad.’
‘Who are your Grandparents? I don’t recognise you at all.’
Rosie, a little miffed at this interrogation, leaned forward to wave at Auntie.
‘Oh, but that’s Miss Wise. So how do you know Miss Wise? The woman’s voice was quite sharp as she glanced at Auntie, then sneered knowingly.
‘ That’s my auntie Meg,’ Rosie said, beaming.
‘Well, that explains it, dear. You must be Mr and Mrs Wise’s granddaughter.’ Suddenly her tone had changed into some sickening parody of the original. ‘But, but, that must mean you…you are Hedley’s daughter? Well I never.’ Realisation had finally hit her. She peered sideways at Rosie with a look that anyone older would have described as envy, then added, ‘your father…your father was…ooh, your father was such a handsome young man. I remember that all the local girls called him ‘the dashing major’ each time he went galloping past them on his horse.’
Rosie was getting bored now and started to edge away. The woman had funny eyes that weren’t even looking at her.
‘I hope you realise that your Grandfather is the most well respected man in the area. You do know that, don’t you?’
Rosie nodded absent-mindedly and turned away.
‘Your Grandfather is a wonderful, god-fearing man and you must love him dearly.’ She had said, suddenly spinning Rosie around to face her. Rosie shuddered as she looked up at this woman with strange eyes, now raised heavenwards in some ecstatic, beatified trance.
‘Rosie, come on sweetie. Time we were heading back. If you want those new colouring pencils, we’ll have to cross the road to the newsagents.’ Auntie Meg whisked her away, leaving the frustrated, indignant, cross-eyed woman behind them.
The conversation had puzzled Rosie and during that long afternoon she had gone over it, again and again. She had considered asking someone but Auntie Meg was busy baking apple pies. Grandad was in the conservatory, taking his afternoon nap and Grandma was sitting in the bay window, knitting, so Rosie decided to do some colouring in, instead.
The summer-house was damp and smelled musty and Rosie didn’t like it but soon that dislike was replaced by the look on the woman’s face. It was so clear in her mind it kept getting in the way of her pictures. Suddenly Rosie threw down her pencil, raced to her bedroom and flung herself down onto the bed, sobbing. She missed her Mummy and Daddy so much. They would have known how to make things better. Her innocent, 5 year old brain had no idea how to process what she had seen or heard.
On Sunday morning they all went to chapel. It was the week before Easter and the chapel was full. The lesson and hymns all contained the Easter message, delivered with great passion and watched over by an image of Jesus, suffering on the cross.
As the preacher delivered his sermon, Rosie had tried to take everything in. She listened to each emotive word the preacher used and studied his overblown actions. It was soon pretty obvious to her that Grandad didn’t hear much because he kept turning his head and cradling his ear. Then, while they were singing ‘There Is A Green Hill Far Away…’ Rosie was casually looking around at the worshippers when she noticed the woman with the funny eyes, about 3 rows back and immediately turned to face the front. There was something unsettling about her, apart from the eyes, that is and Rosie wanted to go.
She grabbed Auntie’s hand and whispered that she felt sick and Auntie seemed more than happy to leave. Of course she hadn’t felt sick, well not really but she had felt uncomfortable and once outside, felt instantly better. She had imagined they would just head straight back home but instead, Auntie sat on the low wall, outside the porch, waiting for the others to come out.
Rosie wondered if she should tell Auntie why she wanted to leave, but didn’t quite know where to start. She was watching the antics of a group of rooks that kept circling and swooping around the graveyard. One of them landed on an old gravestone, a few feet away, squawked loudly and then did a long white poo and Rosie watched it slowly trickle down. It made her smile but not for long because soon everyone started to file out then milled around in the porchway, like sheep.
Suddenly the lady with the eyes burst out of chapel, into the light, and headed straight towards Auntie Meg. Rosie didn’t know what to do. She wanted to go, but she was only a kid and couldn’t. She didn’t even want to look at the woman let alone talk to her. What should she do? The cross-eyed lady was coming closer and Rosie’s stomach turned over.
A stream of vomit ran down the woman’s coat and dribbled onto her shoes. Rosie started to heave again but managed to turn away in the nick of time, and aimed it into the flowerbed. All the pretty flowers were covered in bits of food and the whole disgusting mess was slowly merging into the soil.
The woman, clutching her handbag closely to her chest was running up and down. ‘Keep her away from me,’she yelled, looking at Auntie Meg. ‘She did it on purpose. I know she did.’
Auntie Meg winked at Rosie and said, in a simpering voice, ‘But, but, Miss Ellis, I did nothing, really I didn’t. It wasn’t me. Ppplease don’t accuse me.’
‘I didn’t mean you, I meant her.’ This time she was looking at Mrs Foster, the vicar’s wife, who also strongly denied doing anything.
Rosie was so confused. She kept thinking of what the cross-eyed woman had said outside the post office and could make no sense of it. Rosie loved her Grandad. Grandad was a good man, the woman had said so herself and anyway, wasn’t God supposed to be good too? Well, if that was right, she reasoned, with the simple logic of a 5 year old, why is my Grandad frightened of God? When the cross-eyed woman said Grandad was a wonderful, god-fearing man, Rosie had been terrified. She wondered if Jesus had been frightened of god too…but she didn’t say anything.
No one knew how she felt, especially adults because they didn’t understand. They always said, don’t ask so many questions, Rosie. You are only a child and children should be seen and not heard and must always do as they are told. You will understand everything, one day, when you’re older…
The years passed by and Rosie kept her own council. She was 13 when her favourite teacher Mrs Dobb, had been trying to explain something that Rosie obviously didn’t understand, and ended up by saying,
‘Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions, Rosie. If you don’t understand something something adults say or if what they say feels at all uncomfortable to you, ask questions. Question everything Rosie. Just because adults say they know everything, doesn’t mean they do and, you know what feels right, don’t you? If you trust your instincts you won’t go far wrong.’
And for the rest of her life Rosie had done just that. She trusted her feelings, questioned everything, and slowly decided, for herself, that there was no place in her life for god. God was unnecessary and as soon as she was old enough, had read about atheism. They were rationalists, humanists, sceptics and freethinkers and at that moment a light switched on in her brain. This had made total sense to her and just felt right.
Atheism wasn’t even a little bit scary. Atheism was warm and soft, like a deep feather mattress and for Rosie, atheism meant comfort.