“I feel really guilty,” said Alice, watching the coffin being carried into the church. “I wish I’d never raised the issue.”
Sheila patted her arm. “Don’t blame yourself dear, somebody had to do something. It was really painful, having to listen to that every Sunday morning. It needed to be said.”
Jemima Etherington’s coffin was carried up the aisle, and laid on a trestle in front of the altar.
Alice and Sheila sidled into the pews at the back of the church. There’d been a good turn-out, which was only fitting considering that the deceased had been a dedicated member of the church community for many years … until recently.
The organist, the new organist that is, struck up the chords for the first hymn. Alice supposed he too must be feeling uncomfortable, having taken the role previously held by Jemima Etherington. After she’d been inauspiciously prised out of it by the new vicar, that is.
Even the vicar looked uneasy, she thought, as he shuffled through his sermon notes. He’d been almost relieved when Alice had broached the subject of Jemima’s increasingly erratic organ playing, seizing enthusiastically on the opportunity to replace her.
“It’s as if she doesn’t hear that she’s playing completely the wrong notes,” he’d said in agreement. “Was she always that bad?”
Alice had reflected carefully. “She was never that good,” she said, after consideration, “but she was never quite this bad.”
So a replacement had been identified, and Jemima had been gently relieved of her duties. She’d protested, argued, declared that she’d never return to the church and had bolted sobbing from the vestry. Crossing the graveyard at a mighty lick, she’d fallen head over heels into an open grave being prepared for a funeral the next day, and had died in hospital from complications arising from her injuries. It had all been very sad.
The vicar cleared his throat and began his sermon.
“Jemima Etherington,” he intoned lugubriously, “was a pillar of this community.”
The organ blew a loud raspberry; the congregation gasped.
The vicar glared angrily at the startled organist before resuming.
“Throughout her life she gave unstinting service to the church …”
The organ bellowed out a cacophony of chords, so loud that the candlesticks trembled on the altar.
The organist turned to the aghast congregation, shaking his head and pointing at his own chest.
“Not me,” he mouthed silently.
“and was a regular worshipper here for more than 50 years …”
The organ emitted a banshee-like wail and the organist leapt from his seat, standing pressed against the wall as if to make it clear this was nothing to do with him.
“and a stalwart member of the Womens’ Institute …”
He paused and waited for the organ to comment. Silence.
“We shall miss her contribution to church life …” he said, gathering confidence, “and more than that …”
At this point the organ suddenly burst into a horrific and barely recognisable rendition of ‘Jerusalem’ and the entire congregation bolted for the door.
The vicar surveyed the empty church, as the organ thundered happily away in the corner and the stained glass windows shivered in their frames.
“I think I may owe you an apology, Mrs Etherington …” he began uncertainly in the brief silence between the first and second verse.