This is the piece of short fiction (which wasn’t chosen for publication) I wrote for the Ekphrastic challenge, the prompt painting After the Storm, by Istvan Farkas. I love the colours in this, purple and green together is among my favourite combinations.
The heavens opened five minutes after the Abbé left the presbytery. A real summer storm, short lived, but violent, driving rain and wind that thrashed green branches. The only shelter was at the top of the hill where the road wound beneath a spinney of oak trees. Someone was already there, a raggedy woman. The Abbé’s nostrils pinched in distaste and he nodded curtly. Clutching his useless umbrella, he turned his back on the woman and gazed firmly out across the heaving landscape.
“You’ll be late for your lunch if this keeps up,” the woman said. “Who is it this Sunday? Lefebvre? Fabre? Meunier?” Her voice was steady as the rain, and the Abbé heard insolence in it. He would not taint himself by replying. “He keeps a good table, Meunier, so I hear. And with the son a courtier at Bordeaux, the wine cellar’s bound to be good too.” The Abbé shuffled, and his stomach rumbled inopportunely. “But they’ll all feed you well. Any of those people. People worth traipsing the countryside in the rain for.” A malcontent, a starveling. The Abbé closed his ears. The wind howled and he heard the crack of thunder. “Not like poor folk. They’d not get you away from your warm fire. Not poor folk who have nothing to pay for a Mass with.” Bitter and envious. “You’d not stir yourself for them, not even if their bairns were dying.” He heard a catch in the steady stream of words. He had no idea who the woman was, but he had nothing to reproach himself with. The clouds hung black, swollen. “You’d think a man of God would have a bit of compassion though, wouldn’t you? Make an exception. A prayer wouldn’t have taken long, would it? It wasn’t the bairn’s fault that her mother had nothing to give.” The sob was unmistakeable now. “If she’d had the money, she’d have given it to the doctor. She might have still had a bairn now, not just a mound of fresh-turned earth outside the cemetery.” The Abbé cast his eyes at the sky, looking, not for spiritual guidance but for a let-up in the storm. “If there was any justice…”
The woman’s voice petered out, and the Abbé found his at last. “Do you dare threaten a priest of the Church?”
She stared through him. Her eyes were sunken, famished. She laughed, a dry, hoarse laugh that ended in a cough. “There is no justice, not here, not from men. But we all die, one day. I’d bear that in mind, Abbé Collet, if I were you.”
She pulled her shawl tight around her throat and, head bent, hurried out into the rain, back towards the village. The Abbé’s eyes narrowed and burned with what he was not allowed to call hatred. There was a time when the Church had been allowed to deal with witches like that. He glanced at the sky, looking for approval perhaps. Thunder growled and a flash of lightning winked at him from over the church tower.
He wondered what that wink signified later, in the last few agonising moments as he choked on a fishbone from Meunier’s otherwise excellent sea bass.