To supplement her dole Mary Maloney worked as a cleaner in one of the big Highgate houses. Though only a few hundred yards from her home in Archway the hill was steep and she never had the fare so she'd set off early to ensure she'd be there on time. Mary hated it when they scolded her, the rich ladies who owned the fine houses.
They all seemed taken, one way or the other, these ladies: married, affairing, courting, jetting off, inviting in, a non-stop carnival of lust and sin. After forty years of marriage, Mary Maloney had almost given up on love: almost, but not quite. Her night-dreams were filled with erotic passions, gossamer ghosts entwined, lithe angels embracing, in a universe of warm honey.
Days were another matter: too short and too cold. Christmas announced its appearance in the form of a luminous green cross above the church on Archway Roundabout. The festive season brought on a mix of piety and guilt about Mary's failing faith; on her way home from her work she popped into St Gabriel's to unburden herself to the priest.
"I think," Said Father Kelly, wiping his semen from Mary's down-turned mouth with a handkerchief, "you know what you must do Mrs Maloney."
"I do indeed, Father."
Crossing her chest Mary rose from the cushion she had been kneeling upon and went to leave. It had been some decades since Mary Maloney had stepped inside a church, and the ancient rituals hadn't changed. Lightly, his eyes downcast, a rosy pallor on his wrinkled shiny cheeks like apples gone bad, Father Kelly touched her sleeve.
"It's for the best, Mrs Maloney. God would not want us to retain sadness in our hearts when the solution is before our eyes."
Leaving the church Mary Maloney walked slowly back up the Holloway Road. It was a grey December afternoon and a biting wind whipped round the tower. The fruit and vegetables outside the Persian supermarket with its alien hieroglyphics were coated in grime from the lorries that barged past. Clutching her anorak about her shoulders Mary shivered and hurried along Fairbridge Road to the flats, Father Kelly's sour taste burning her mouth.
Today Frank's absence was physical, thank Christ. The flat was cold and dim: the light in the hall had been doused by the water from the bath of the young African lady upstairs. Mary kept on her coat, filled a kettle and closed her eyes, and saw herself suddenly as a young girl running along a muddy lane to the cottage. It was raining and the bucket of water from the well slopped over but kept refilling. Her father waited with the belt.
Mary slept at the kitchen table, her nose dunking her tea, her mind on other matters. Frank came in from the bookies stinking of Guinness and sick.
"Mary!" he roared from the hall, where he had fallen over her shopping trolley. Mary lurched into consciousness.
Mary went into the hall and helped her husband to his feet. His big cold fingers crushed hers with deliberation. Trying not to squeal Mary pulled him up and into the living room where he collapsed on the damp old armchair and slept. Removing his damp trousers, his soaked underpants, Mary put her arm under his knees, lifted him a little, and put him in the man-sized nappies she'd needed to buy from the pervert shop to stop him destroying the furniture.
As Frank snored, Mary realised she'd forgotten the bangers. The shop in the estate only sold Polish sausages and Frank wouldn't touch them. She'd have to go back to the Co-op on Junction Road before he woke up hungry and roared like a big baby for his tea.
Once, when her mother was still alive and her father still had something to live for, he had kept bees, selling their honey in the market and saving some for Sunday best. But after she passed on he took to the drink and one night, as Mary hurried home from the dairy, as she walked up the lane she heard a terrible screaming and saw her father running through the paddock with phosphorescent ghosts writhing around his head. Her father had sprayed petrol on the beehives and lit a match, and the burning bees attacked him as they glowed; like fireflies.
Mary fell in with the dairy-owner's son, big baby Frank, and when she got pregnant the priest denounced her, her family disowned her and they fled to the grimy town of London and she had never prayed since, it being clear that no-one would listen.
The lights by the bus stop never seemed to change to green: lorries from the North and from home growled past. School children rioted as they waited to go home and she braced herself for their taunts, but they were too busy screaming across the road at some poor homeless man sat outside the bathroom showroom. Mary used to stare in the window for hours at all the round baths and taps and expensive showers. But since the homeless man had settled there she'd avoided the shop, scared by his threats and the strange movements beneath his blanket.
As she hurried out of the Co-op with her bags-for-life Mary saw the beautiful Christmas lights cascading down the side of the heathen church in the middle of the roundabout. Above the building, aloof against the black night sky, the neon green crucifix stood erect.
Mary bowed her head, tears in her eyes from the freezing wind. Finally she realized what Father Kelly had been saying to her, what she had to do, where she'd been going wrong all along. Mary Maloney went home and crucified her husband.
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