by Sarah Peploe
Her breasts hurt with milk, still. They’re heavy. They leak sometimes, dark and obvious through her dress. She is behind with the washing. Her big girl who is nearly seven has been helping, and her sister Doll, but Doll is close to her own confinement.
So Agnes stands out. She is a great reeking ugly jug of something that thunks and sloshes when it moves, and might shatter. When she should be tiny and quiet and foxy fleet for what she’s about to do.
She has her little girl with her, in a basket, with flowers on top and a kerchief on top of the flowers. It sickens Agnes to carry her so. But if she carried her as you should a baby, people would notice, people would talk, they would say her husband oughtn’t let her out in that state, and Ned has enough to contend with. He weeps beside her into his fists when he thinks she is asleep. She will have to tell him what she’s done if he asks. Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord. But in truth what Agnes is going to do is codding the Lord, a little bit. She hopes they will both be pleased with her in the end or at least not angry.
She has chosen a good time. There is only the verger busy with the candles and someone sleeping in a back pew. She walks up the aisle, to the open coffin.
He was a bishop. Old. The priest was away at his bedside while she and Ned were trying to get the little girl baptised. Old folk take too long to die. Babies too quick.
By his feet, Agnes thinks, will be best. Under his robes. The little girl is swaddled, so all anyone will see is cloth.
She leaves the posy with her left hand, and with her right, behind the stretch of her shawl, she places her daughter in the coffin. Footsized she is, slightly curled like apple peel. Her face is covered. The smell of the man and the baby and the sour stink of Agnes’s dress pokes through the flowers and fresh wood and makes her clench her teeth. She says a prayer like that, quickly with her jaw set, then she leaves.
She wasn’t sure when this idea came to her. It was just the clearest thing to do. Like when a cart passes you on a long road, so you sneak up behind and hop on the back, and it carries you home. St Peter won’t notice. The angels won’t mind. God can’t be everywhere at once….
And even if her daughter does get found out once she’s up there, He won’t cast her down. Once He’s met her. Once He’s seen her damsony eyes and felt her whole hand clutch round His finger. He wouldn’t dare.
Sarah Peploe’s short stories have appeared in various anthologies including Snowbooks’ Sharkpunk and Game Over, Hic Dragones’ Hauntings, and Martian Migraine Press’s CHTHONIC. She also produces comics as part of Mindstain Comics co-operative. She lives in York and tweets @peplovna.
Image of interior of Lund Cathedral courtesy of Wikimedia.