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Stained Glass

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“Our Father, who art in heaven.”

There’s sunlight streaming through the mosaic of coloured glass, dappling the floor in pastels as the small girl kneels. The muted reds and blues and greens play over her yellow hair, dancing amongst the curls that escape from her tightly wound braid. They tease at her dress, turning the pale pink into a patchwork of soft hues. The girl’s hands are clasped together, folded against her heart in the centre of the sunbeam, but the coloured light that falls is far from strong enough to overpower the memory of a deep red that still stains her fingertips.

“Hallowed be Thy name.”

The church is silent but for her voice as she speaks the words that she has long known by heart. She wills her voice to be steadfast, but the design of the room captures every stutter, every falter, and sends it echoing through the myriad of alcoves and beams. She continues anyway, because if she cannot hear her own voice then her ears will be filled with another sound, a sound that she wishes she had never heard and yet cannot seem to banish.

“Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

Her eyes are closed as she prays, and so she does not see the wavering pattern of coloured light fade as a cloud passes in front of the sun. Instead she sees the fractured image of the crucifixion, the large glass window stained not with translucent colour but with a spray of dark red that blacks out her saviour’s face. Eyes open, the shadow of the splattering of blood still lingers, and she cannot help but wonder if she will ever see it clean again.

“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses.”

She had trespassed, once, padding silently down the street in fear for her employer. She’d wanted to be brave, to be helpful, and instead she’d ended up scared and helpless as the man they’d been searching for had ended the chase. The echo of the gunshot still rings in her ears no matter how much she focuses on the words of her prayer, and the gasps of the dying man as she pressed her delicate fingers into his gaping wound refuse to be forgotten.

“As we forgive them that trespass against us.”

There’s a quiet creaking that warns her she is no longer alone, but she does not move from the harsh stone floor even as footsteps make their way towards her. Her eyes are open now, fixed on the stained glass face that she can just make out beneath the memory, but at the edge of her vision a figure kneels to join her at the altar. She could almost think them an angel, but she has painstakingly repaired that garment too many times not to know its owner by the fur of its hem. She should turn, but finds she cannot tear her gaze from the ghostly image of a guilty man’s blood.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

A dam breaks inside her throat, and the prayer she clings to falters as the tears finally begin to fall. Her hand automatically goes to her sleeve, but another is already ahead of her, holding out a neatly folded square of white cloth edged in pale lace. In her faltering, another voice continues her prayer, not as steadfast or certain of the words, but strong enough to allow her respite as she fights against the tears.

“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.”

She finally turns, and the two women finish the prayer together as they reach for each other; the older encasing the younger as they both avert their eyes from the final resting place of the man they failed to save. Death is a horrible thing to witness, but as the small girl with the tightly wound braid cries for the man who was lost, the other’s eyes remains dry as she thinks of all those who have been saved. Later, they will talk, but for now Phryne Fisher remains a silent comfort as Dorothy Williams cries into her shoulder.