She has a gun sitting in her lap. It’s stark against the pretty floral pattern of her dress. Like a bomb ticking away in a family’s flower garden, and Reverend Davis has no idea what to do about it.
She’s beyond distraught. Her sobs hard enough to clap loud like bells in his small church. It’s what initially pulled him from his office. He’s helped so many in this small town in their darkest hour, he only meant to give her a comforting word.
He swallows, he has to try, it’s why he took up this mantle so many years ago. To help people. Taking a stiff step closer, Davis leans heavily on his cane and calls out, “Miss?”
She doesn’t look up. Her face is hidden behind her hands, her beautiful blonde locks spilling over them to hide any distinct features.
Davis has seen so much in his forty years as Reverend. Even in a coastal town like Kinsale, where simple sailor-folk and fishermen filled the taverns to the brim. He has seen the result of cocaine addicts, the internal collapse of families, sexual assaults, a few unwanted teenage pregnancies, to even the occasional suicide.
Even small towns can be infected by that growing pandemic of depression.
But he’s never been in the centre of it. Never seen the disaster unfolding up-close. Like standing in the eye of the storm, waiting for the walls of the hurricane to close in and suck him up and away.
“Miss, please,” he limps a little closer, “I only wish to help ye –“
Her right-hand shoots down to the gun and he feels his breath catch, his chest spasms in unadulterated fear, but it’s only to hold the wretched thing, not point it. He looks back at her face to find her mascara smudged and a spectacular bruise blooming on her cheek.
His heart tightens and then cracks. Spitting out fine splinters of sympathy to imbed into his soul. Sailors were not the kindest bunch.
“Can I help ye? Miss, please, is there anythin’ I can do for ye?” Asking her if she’s alright is senseless. She’s clearly not close to being alright.
Predictably she shakes her head, her red eyes filling up with a fresh wave of tears, her blonde curls bobbing with the motion. “I do not think so,” the accent throws him. It’s quite posh, a little too upper-class for such a small town.
“My name is Reverend Davis,” he says, “Might I be asking yours?”
“Klara,” she answers, voice hoarse and rough, “Klara Peters.” She manages a watery smile, “And I know who you are. They call you ‘do-good, Davis’, you know?”
“Aye, I know,” he shifts a little to ease the stiffness in his leg. “It’s a pleasure ta meet you.” Her curls bob along with another slow nod. He waits a moment and then sighs.
“Miss, what brought ye here tonight?” he finally asks. She doesn’t look up, her eyes now focused on the revolver. “Are ye trying to get away from someone?” he gestures to her face.
She nods again, and instantly her face crumples, a new wave of sobs making her shoulders shudder and jump, “I just want it all to stop!” The words are a blubbering mess, but he manages to understand it.
“What?” he implores, “What should stop? You can surely divorce a husband, or even leave the town, there’s no need to – “
“You do not understand!” She stands, the gun now gripped firmly, finger on the trigger.
“What don’t I understand?” Davis stands as still as possible, his throat suddenly quite dry. He studiously keeps his eyes focused on her face. Not daring to even glance at the gun – like trying to stop a coiled snake from striking by sheer will. “Tell me, and I will try my best to help.”
She stares at him for a long moment, her startling blue eyes almost translucent in the candlelight. She blinks, more tears rolling down her cheeks. “They took my daughter away,” she looks past him, her eyes focusing somewhere on the altar. “When she was only two years old, social services came and took her away.”
“Why would they do that?”
Her face hardens, “Because my husband wouldn’t stop drinking!” The words clap hard in the chapel, “Night after night, he would drink until there was nothing left to buy food with!” Her left-hand shoots up into her hair, gripping it tightly, her eyes now sewn shut, “They took her away because my neighbours decided it best! They called them, and after taking one look at the bottles standing around the house, they took her!”
Davis feels a piercing shame at his own community. That they would damn a woman before even attempting to aid her. One of his flock’s oldest and most tenacious vices. Their need to judge and gossip.
“I begged him to stop drinking, just so that I could see my Caroline again,” her hand falls away from her hair, and she looks down at her frayed shoes. “And when I had begged once too much he struck out. Eventually, I stopped asking, but he never stopped hitting.”
He dares a quick glance at the gun, at the pale grip of her knuckles and decides to take a tentative step closer. “I am deeply sorry that ye had to go through that, Mrs Peters. But…” he frowns a little, uncertain, “Why didn’t ye leave him?”
She shakes her head quick and harsh, a touch of fear filling up her eyes, “I tried once.” her voice cracks under the pressure of the words, “He beat the fear into me.”
“Aye, it is usually the way it goes.” He concedes and then holds out his hand, feeling a ping of surprise that it isn’t shaking. “But there’s no need for this. I can help, we can all help…”
She stares at his hand, her expression pinched with anger or perhaps disgust? He’s not sure. “Do you think, Reverend that…” she swallows. “God forgives us? Even when we are unable ask forgiveness?”
He feels his heart battering in his chest. Please don’t. Please don’t do this now. “I believe that we are all witnesses to the lives around us. It is our duty to ask forgiveness for the lost – the one’s we failed. To ask God to at least consider them before damning them. But we should also try not to put ourselves in that position. Your words will always mean more than mine in your judgement,” a trickle of sweat slides down his neck, pooling into his collar. “Mrs Peters, won’t ye give me the gun?”
She doesn’t answer, seemingly trying to push him back by her gaze alone. He sighs and drops his hand. How can he get through to her? Closing his eyes briefly he quietly prays for a small miracle – God had forsaken him so many times on nights like these, when the darkest parts of his flock oozed out of the boil.
He clears his throat and finally asks; “When was the last time ye saw your daughter?”
“Five years ago,” she replies almost instantly. “I tracked down the family, and I saw her playing in a garden filled with roses,” she manages a trembling smile. “She was so happy. They even kept her name.”
“Tis a pretty name.”
“It is…” she whispers. “But they moved away last week! And I won’t ever see her again!” The gun waves erratically as she gestures, coming to settle once again on her chest.
“It’s a tragedy, to be sure…” he steps even a little closer, hoping not to startle her further. He reaches out again, “Give me the gun, ye don’t have to do this.”
“I do…” she says, “I really do.”
“No!” he moves closer and instantly she presses the barrel up against her temple in retaliation, barely able to keep it steady. He tears his eyes from her finger trembling on the trigger. “No, no you don’t. Your little girl can still get to know ye through letters. The family might be open to visits. There’s a slew of wonderful things you can still do. Please…”
“You don’t know!”
“I do,” he implores, “He’s taken away so much, your autonomy, your life, your joy, your daughter, don’t let him take the one thing you still have.”
She frowns. “What’s that?”
“A future with your daughter, Mrs Peters. She deserves that.”
She sways, the gun falling away from her temple to hang by her side. Without thinking he lunges forward, grabbing her just in time before she collapses to the floor. Her sobs rip and shake through her and he hushes, softly and quickly he slides the gun out of her hand and slips it into his pocket.
Relief blooms in his chest, spreading to the rest of his limbs, which begin to tremble. She’s safe, he thinks, for now she’s safe. There’s still much he has to sort out. He needs to contact the sanctuary in the town over to come to fetch her. She’ll need lodging and protection from her husband.
But for now, in the warm protection of his Lord’s home, everything is content.
The church door creaks open an hour or so later, startling them both from a light doze. Davis peers over his shoulder to find old Inspector Keene shuffling in. He spares a kind smile to the now calm Mrs Peters then slowly stands, already reaching in his pocket for the gun. It will not do for her to keep it. At least for a while. “Evening Inspector,” he says meeting the man in the middle of the aisle. “How can I help ye?”
The Inspector looks unusually pale, even his thick beard not enough to hide the gauntness in his eyes or cheeks, “I’m here for Mrs Peters.”
He nods with a light smile, “She was quite distraught,” then frowns. “She had a falling out with her husband I believe,” Davis holds out the gun. “It would be best for you to keep this for a while, I’ll be sending her to a sanctuary tomorrow morning. She will need protection.”
The inspector stares at the gun, then back at Davis. “Reverend, she shot her husband not three hours ago in their home,” he glances down at the revolver. “And I’m guessing that’s the murder weapon.”
The shock of it almost makes him drop it, but the Inspector has a quick reflex and grabs it from his suddenly limp fingers. “No,” Davis says, voice tight. “Surely not… there must be some mistake, Inspector.”
“No mistake,” he pockets the gun. “We have witnesses, and this gun should match the bullet we found in his skull.”
He slowly shakes his head, “No, it can’t be –“
“It’s quite alright Reverend,” the voice is right behind him. Mrs Peters is standing now, her hands folded, her hair smoothed down and mascara wiped away.
She smiles stiffly and nods at the Inspector, “I am ready, sir.”
Inspector’s Keene’s eyes soften when he sees her face. Wordlessly he takes her by the arm and gently guides her to the doors. She walks upright, her movements smooth and deliberate, and Davis finds himself unable to look away.
She stops at the door. “Reverend Davis?” she turns around, her smile suddenly quite bright. “Send a prayer up for me, please.”
He manages a short nod before the door slams shut.