The balcony of the Market Church smells of old wood and beeswax. This is where Mathilde and Anna meet after school; it’s cosy and safe, their place of secrets. Mathilde closes the pew door.
‘I killed my mother.’
‘The doctor said she shouldn’t have any more babies and if she did it would kill her. And she did. So I killed her. I heard Aunt Lina say so. I have to tell the truth… especially in church.’ Mathilde turns to Anna. ‘What do you think will happen to me?’
‘Nothing. Nothing at all. You haven’t done anything wrong. You were just born.’
‘I killed .…’
‘You were a baby, Tilli! Babies are born and sometimes they die, sometimes the mother dies. That’s how it is.’
‘I must be really wicked.’
Anna puts her arm around Mathilde.
‘Do you think Grossmutter hates me?’
‘You know she loves you very much.’
’It wasn’t your fault.’
‘Don’t say that.’
‘But Aunt Lina said …..’
‘If only I could do something …..’
‘Don’t do anything, Tilli. Just be yourself. Oh…’ Anna gets up.
‘What is it?’
‘I forgot. I have to look after the twins today.’
‘I can’t. Mutti’ll never forgive me if I don’t turn up. You know what she’s like.’ Anna picks up her bag, hugs Mathilde and clatters off down the stairs.
On a sunny day the reds, blues and yellows of the ancient stained glass sparkle with salvation, today the sky is low and the windows look their age.
Mathilde has done the worst thing anyone can do. She stares into the vast Gothic space of the Market Church and remembers something Grossmutter once told her. This is a plague church. She said the people of Hannover built the Market Church in thanks for surviving the Black Death hundreds of years ago. A chill goes through her and she pulls her coat more tightly around her. Shegoes downstairs and walks up the central aisle towards the medieval font. She peers at the scenes around the barrel from the lives of St. Georg and St. Jacobus, patron saints of the Market Church. Grossmutter calls them ‘Papist abominations’ but Mathilde thinks of them as her friends, they were at her christening. If only they would speak to her.
‘Tilli!’ Mathilde’s name echoes through the church. Anna is back. ‘I remembered on my way home that Freddie looks after the twins today. I had to come back to see you were all right.’
Mathilde grabs Anna’s hand and they sit on one of the pews. Neither says a word. When the church bell strikes four, they do not move. Finally Anna gets up and eases open the huge church door; the snow swirls before her, christening her face as she leaves. Mathilde watches her friend become a dark blur against the whiteness of the Market Square before disappearing completely down Kobel Strasse. Mathilde returns inside. As she gathers up her things she feels someone is watching. She turns. In the west corner of the church she sees a statue; she’s never seen it before. She goes up for a closer look. It is the pilgrim St. Jacobus; behind him stands the cloaked skeleton of Death. How powerfully St. Jacobus speaks to Mathilde now; Death took her mother and it was her fault.
She must get out of here. She grabs her bag and rushes from the church. Outside the wind blows hard and Mathilde stumbles, tiny pellets of ice sting her face. She gets up, brushing the snow from her coat. She must get home.
To be continued next week …………