His sister, Gertrude, refused to remove her coat. She said she wouldn’t be staying long. Her mouth was compressed in a grim line; and she held in front of her, like a shield, a large black leather handbag. Her eyes surveyed his cramped kitchen, and rested awhile on the plates piled up in the sink. Her nose wrinkled at the odour of a discarded pizza box she could discern peeping out from a garbage can under the sink.
“I’ve come to invite you to our Nativity Play,” she said.
“Oh,” he said.
“At your age,” she told him, “you must know the End is Nigh. You should ask Father Barnabas to hear your confession.”
“Father Barnabas! That poseur who’s in love with himself?”
Gertrude stood up. Her face was white.
“All right,” he said, to placate her. “Sell me a ticket.”
“There are no tickets. You show up Saturday at six p.m. with two dollars, and we’ll let you in.”
She made it sound as though the gates of heaven would swing open to admit him, if he truly repented.
On Saturday night, he was walking along St. Catherine’s Street towards St. Jude’s Church Hall. The sidewalk was slippery with a covering of snow trodden into brown slush by Christmas shoppers, who bumped against him with their parcels. Their faces had the distracted look of people struggling to meet a deadline. He disliked Christmas. The forced jollity. The jangling Carols played over and over again in the supermarkets. He remembered when his children were young, when Christmas was special, and then he thought once again of the hate-letter his married daughter had sent him two years previously. The letter still hurt. He sighed and hung his head.
A young woman stopped him in his tracks. She had a pleasant, smiling face, and she was studying him, as though divining his thoughts.
“You look as if you could do with a complimentary ticket,” she said, as she handed him a plain white envelope.
“Thank you,” he replied. “My sister said there weren’t any tickets.”
“See you,” the girl said, and she stepped past him.
At the Church Hall, he opened the envelope, and handed the ticket to an elderly woman who sat behind a table covered in green baize. She looked at the ticket, gasped, and handed it back, holding it between finger and thumb.
“Father Barnabas!” the woman called in a high-pitched tone bordering on panic.
A figure in a black suit, about twenty feet away, turned towards them. His handsome face expressed a theatrically exaggerated concern for the less fortunate of the world. His hair was a beautifully coiffured mane of silver that cascaded down to his clerical collar. The sight of him was too much for the man. He fled.
Outside, in the crisp winter air, he felt better. ‘Funny,’ he thought. ‘Both Gertie and I were raised Catholics, yet something in me always rebelled.’
He glanced at the ticket and noticed the name ‘Gaiety Theatre’ printed on it, and then he saw further down the street the theatre lit up in lights.
The doorman of the Gaiety, a big man with the battered face of a pugilist, took his ticket, and said:
“You’re in luck tonight. Champagne on the house for you.”
The inside of the theatre glowed with a reddish light. Music was playing, and the air was heavy with perfume.
“Hey, Mary!” the doorman beckoned. “Show this gen’lman to a seat by the stage.”
Mary had long, dark hair, and her breasts peeped over the top of a black lace bodice. She led him to a table, helped him off with his overcoat, scarf and tuque, and said she’d be back soon with the champagne.
He sat down and looked about him. The little theatre was full of men, and they had an expectant look on their faces.
A voice over the loud-speaker announced: “It’s showtime! Gen’lmen, please put your hands together for Lola!”
A woman in a long, white, evening dress glimmering with sequins, stepped onto the stage. She wore high stiletto heels, and carried a fan of white ostrich feathers. As she danced to a pulsating beat, she slowly shed the white dress to reveal red satin underwear and a body of voluptuous proportions. She was taking a deliciously long time in undoing her suspenders and peeling off her black fishnet stockings, when the man felt a hand caress the back of his neck.
The young woman, who had given him the ticket, was standing next to him.
She had on a white lace bodice that pushed up her firm breasts in a most tantalizing manner. She also wore a sky-blue garter belt, and white fish-net stockings. The whole effect was one of creamy scrumptiousness, a confection of sugar and spice and all things nice.
She sat on his lap, letting her long blonde hair brush against his face, and she poured champagne into two flutes. She handed him one, took the other for herself, and they clinked glasses.
“Feeling better now?” she asked. Her voice was soft and gentle. She had large blue eyes set wide apart, and a generous, smiling mouth.
“You bet,” he said, and he gave her a hug.
She took the glass away from him, set it down on the table, and drew his head down until the side of his face rested against the tops of her breasts. He had forgotten how cool and soothing a woman’s breasts could feel.
“You’re an angel,” he murmured. “A ministering angel.”
James Forbes is an old, and old-fashioned, man who had to wait until he was retired and had time to do what he always wanted — become a writer of fiction. In April or May this year his first novel GRITTLETON TOWERS will be published by Lulu.com and will be available on online retailers such as Amazon.com, Baker & Taylor, and Barnes & Noble.