Rows of pitch pine pews stood on either side as Katherine Morgan swept across the nave’s unpolished floor. She reached the cross standing atop the altar’s faded blue fabric and bent down, her knees clicking as she descended the small distance to the hard wooden floor below. The surface offered her little physical comfort, but its familiarity provided the relief she had hoped for.
She checked over her shoulder, her gaze passing the symmetrical rows of fatigued wood and tall stone pillars, and toward the closed door and vacant doorway. Happy she was alone, she turned to the sky.
“Might need a little help here.” She spoke softly, tapping her forehead and chest and then her left and right shoulders.
Katherine – Kathy to only her closest of friends – reached up and touched the worn and peeling cross above her. Formerly the beautiful centrepiece of a lively and vibrant parish, the object now stood as a reminder of something the town of Netherdale had long-since lost. The sense of community the small town had once prided itself on, had been replaced by feelings of isolation and a stubborn ignorance toward one’s fellow townsfolk, such were Katherine Morgan’s thoughts on the matter.
Kathy, along with the other nine members of the Netherdale Town Council, placed the blame squarely at the feet of Live Better Ltd. Live Better had purchased land – against the wishes of the Council and the near 600 petitioning names – on the Southern outskirts of town twenty-five months previous. Within six they had built and filled almost half of the new homes with tenants. The new townsfolk were decent enough people – Kathy had made the effort to meet many in person (meet, not cross-examine she had convinced herself) – but most were fresh out the city. They’d pass each other in Food Mountain’s narrow aisles, sure, or exchange glances across Greasy Al’s dining tables, but that would be about the long and short of it. It disappointed her no end. What saddened her more was that she knew construction was underway on a second complex to the North of the town. A hideous sandwich if ever there was one, she would say in the small moments she felt flippant about the matter.
Kathy had already raised this issue with one of Live Better’s senior board members, a man she knew could halt proceedings if he deemed it prudent to do so. It was a man she knew well, both from her previous dealings with him, and, more prominently, because the man was her older brother, Jonah Rogers.
The only girl within a gaggle of five, Kathy had never been particularly close with her siblings. As they grew old and their parents passed, her five bothers had scattered; she was the only Rogers child to remain in town. When Jonah had returned it was like meeting a well-recognised stranger, she had considered at the time. So much so, she had not preserved enough emotional traction to have any influence of his decision to build so near to the town, despite her vigorous behind-closed-doors protestations. But enough was enough. If one housing complex wasn’t bad enough, a second would surely be the final nail in the coffin for the town she had once so much-loved.
Like the cross, which she released from her touch as she knelt back down, Kathy had once been considered beautiful. Hell, there was a time when she was even called beautiful. Perhaps that’s why she found herself feeling such an affinity to it. It, like her, unwillingly wore the effects of stress and time and the absence of care. Although, in Kathy’s case, there was enough still there – hidden behind the wrinkles and the well-worn scowl – to see how she was once crowned Netherdale High’s Prom Queen. Once beautiful, now aged, worn down, unloved. Just like this town, she thought.
She interlocked her fingers and rested her forehead on their join. “We really need this,” she pleaded, her voice weakening. For a few moment, silence. Well, almost silence, as one of Reverend Vickers’ pigeons let known its obvious objections to her reason for worship this morning. She forced herself up from the cold wood, reminding herself not to cuss because a) you’re not allowed to cuss in church, as she had been told before, and b) it’s only a pigeon. Then, as she plodded back down the nave, her phone rang. She knew she’d be told off again for using the damn thing inside, but she decided, as there seemed to be nobody around, that she didn’t care.
“Kathy,” the soft female voice said.
She recognised it instantly as that of Beatrice Simmons, a near-fifty year old cashier at Food Mountain, wife of Glen Simmons, a newly hired construction worker helping lay the groundwork for the new housing complex. What Kathy didn’t recognise was the meekness of her voice.
“Beatrice, what’s going on?” she asked.
“Where on earth are you? I’ve been trying your home phone for ten minutes.”
“I’m..,” she paused, considered, “..just out. Beatrice, what’s wrong?”
There was a lengthy pause on the other end of the line, then Beatrice Simmons spoke. “It’s the site, there’s been an accident. A terrible accident.”
Kathy breathed deeply, composed herself. “Oh… goodness, is Jonah all right? Glen?”
“No… I mean I don’t know. I’m not sure. They won’t tell me anything. I’m heading to St Clare’s right now,” Beatrice replied, the tremble in her voice evident even down the crackling line.
“OK, just stay calm Beattie,” Kathy began,“I’m sure they’re fine. I’m leaving right now, I’ll meet you there.”
Beatrice’s voice faded. “Yes… OK… good. See you in a moment.” Kathy went to hang up. “I just hope everyone’s all right.”
“Me too. I’m sure they’re fine. See you soon.”
She knew it wasn’t right, but Katherine Morgan’s head was already filling with notions of red tape and healthy and safety procedures, of lawsuits, appeals and counter-appeals. She waddled back up to the cross – which seemed to have taken on a new lease of glowing life as the sun shone in from behind it – and kissed its cold steel, then turned her head once again to the sky.
“Thanks,” she said gleefully, throwing the musky open air above her the slightest of winks. “This will do just dandy.”