She steps into the tall building, unsure. She folds into herself, hands grasping at elbows, eyes tracing the wooden floors. She follows the veins of the stained glass reflected onto the ground all the way to an empty pew. She sits. The echoing chants fill her mind and she allows herself to just sit, to just stare. For a moment, she is not Sarah Woods at all. She has no thoughts, she has no feelings. For a moment, she is free.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” A deep voice rumbles from behind her. The man is old and draped entirely in black, a single wooden cross dangling from his neck on an old piece of string. “Are you here for the mass?”
“No,” She replies quietly. “I just wanted to sit.”
He makes a kind sort of bowing gesture and extends his hand for her to take. “Then, please, join us up there. Feel free to just sit, to stand, to sing, to watch.”
“No thank you,” She says. “I’d really rather stay back here.”
He lifts his hands up as though in surrender and bows again before slowly ambling up to the front of the chanting congregation.
She holds herself closer, as if fighting off the cold. She wills herself to cry but nothing happens. She watches the people raise their hands up to the sky, sees the man with the cross necklace feed the people slices of bread, hears the prayers to God to watch over their sick, their loved ones. The man looks back at her and makes brief eye contact. Flustered, she leaves her sanctuary.
The streets are dark now, they weren’t when she had first walked in. A light drizzle has begun to descend from the sky and she clutches at the light jacket that she is wearing. Her purse is heavy, heavier than it was when she entered the church. For a second, she thinks about going back, but she stops herself. She’s made her decision.
She enters her small apartment and all the lights are off, though her sons should be home.
“Hello?” She calls into the empty flat. She turns on the lights and unpacks her purse. Looking around, still anxious, she lifts out cans of soup and a big box of just-add-water pancakes, deftly and silently packing them into her empty cabinets.
“Sarah?” Her husband comes into the kitchen from their bedroom.
“Yes?” She answers too quickly, too rushed and she fears what this slight show of insubordination will yield.
“Why weren’t you home earlier?”
Is he having me followed? Will he know that I’m lying?
“I – I went to church.”
“Church?” He says angrily. It is clear from his tone that he had not known, that she had bet on a losing hand. “What the fuck were you doing there?”
“I just go sometimes to… Sit. To listen to the hymns.”
“Did you talk to anyone?”
“No,” She says quickly. “No.”
He looks at her full of disgust and hatred. Then with a sneer he grabs his coat and leaves her alone in the apartment, slamming the door behind him.
She collapses onto the ground and lets out a rattling sigh, puts a hand to her head and tries, for the second time that day, to cry. Still, nothing happens.
Knock, knock, knock.
Alert, she gets up off of the ground and looks through the eyehole, fearing the worst. She sees the top of a head of a small woman. She opens the door.
“Hello,” The woman says. “I’m looking for a Ms Woods?”
“I saw you earlier at the church and I thought you might want these.” The woman reaches to her feet and lifts up, with difficulty, a big bag full of boxed and canned foods.
“Oh, no,” Sarah says. “I – I don’t need all that. Please,” She says, her hands held up in front of her, creating a barrier between her and the old woman. “Please, just leave.”
A frown flashes over the woman’s face, a deepening of her wrinkles over her eyes.
“I saw you today, Ms Woods,” She pursued. “I saw what you took, I know that you need this.”
“No, no, you’re wrong. I don’t need that. Please, please just go away.”
The door is now open only a sliver, Sarah only visible as a quarter of an inch slice down the left side of her body. Her eyes are begging, but dry. Her eyebrows are scrunched up in fear. Her mouth is tight, not daring to be hopeful. She closes the door.
Sarah slides down the locked door and puts her head in her hands. She now has to find a new church, one where they won’t know her face. She ticks off the list of places that she has already been to. She will have to go to the library tomorrow to Google new churches in her area. She still has hope, because it is all that she can have.
She hopes that she can find a church that will just let her sit.