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Then the seven outlined heads in the front pews drooped and the vicar remove nike air max 1 black d his tortoiseshell glasses, lifted his chin and with eyes closed addressed the heavenly powers in his weary, sorrowful singsong.
“O Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life: Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman . . .”
The last brick was set in place as the vicar, having put his glasses back on, made the celebrated pronouncement—man and wife together—and invoked the Trinity after which his church was named. There were more prayers, a psalm, the Lord’s Prayer and another long one in which the falling tones of valediction gathered into a melancholy finality.
“. . . Pour upon you the riches of his grace, sanctify and bless you, that ye may please him both in body and soul, and live together in holy love unto your lives’ end.” nike air max 1 leopard
Immediately, there cascaded from the fluting organ confetti of skittering triplets as the vicar turned to lead the couple down the aisle and the six family members fell in behind. Briony, who had been on her knees in a pretense of prayer, stood and turned to face the procession as it reached her. The vicar seemed a little pressed for time, and was many feet ahead of the rest. When he glanced to his left and saw the young nurse, his kindly look and tilt of the head expressed both welcome and curiosity. Then he strode on to pull one of the big doors wide open. A slanting tongue of sunlight reached all the way to where she stood and illuminated her face and headdress. She wanted to be seen, but not quite so clearly. There would be no missing her now. Lola, who was on Briony’s side, drew level and their eyes met. Her veil wa air max 1 s already parted. The freckles had vanished, but otherwise she was not much changed. Only slightly taller perhaps, and prettier, softer and rounder in the face, and the eyebrows severely plucked. Briony simply stared. All she wanted was for Lola to know she was there and to wonder why. The sunlight made it harder for Briony to see, but for a fraction of a moment, a tiny frown of displeasure may have registered in the bride’s face. Then she pursed her lips and looked to the front, and then she was gone. Paul Marshall had seen her too, but had not recognized her, and nor had Aunt Hermione or Uncle Cecil who had not met her in years. But the twins, bringing up the rear in school uniform trousers at half mast, were delighted to see her, and mimed mock-horror at her costume, and did clownish eye-rolling yawns, with hands flapping on their mouths.
Then she was alone in the churc cheap air max 1 h with the unseen organist who went on playing for his own pleasure. It was over too quickly, and nothing for certain was achieved. She remained standing in place, beginning to feel a little foolish, reluctant to go outside. Daylight, and the banality of family small talk, would dispel whatever impact she had made as a ghostly illuminated apparition. She also lacked courage for a confrontation. And how would she explain herself, the uninvited guest, to her uncle and aunt? They might be offended, or worse, they might not be, and want to take her off to some excruciating breakfast in a hotel, with Mr. and Mrs. Paul Marshall oily with hatred, and Hermione failing to conceal her contempt for Cecil. Briony lingered another minute or two, as though held there by the music, then, annoyed with her own cowardice, hurried out onto the portico. The vicar was a hundred yards off at least, walking quickly away across the common with arms swinging freely. The newlyweds were in the Rolls, Marshall at the wheel, reversi cheap nike air max 1 ng in order to turn round. She was certain they saw her. There was a metallic screech as he changed gear—a good sign perhaps. The car moved away, and through a side window she saw Lola’s white shape huddled against the driver’s arm. As for the congregation, it had vanished completely among the trees.
Part 3 Chapter 6
SHE KNEW FROM her map that Balham lay at the far end of the Common, in the direction the vicar was walking. It was not very far, and this fact alone made her reluctant to continue. She would arrive too soon. She had eaten nothing, she was thirsty, and her heel was throbbing and had glued itself to the back of her shoe. It was warm now, and she would be crossing a shadeless expanse of grass, broken by straight asphalt paths and public shelters. In the distance was a bandstand where men in dark blue uniforms were milling about. She thought of Fiona whose day off she had taken, and of their afternoon in St. James’s Park. nike air max 1 It seemed a far-off, innocent time, but it was no more than ten days ago. Fiona would be doing the second bedpan round by now. Briony remained in the shade of the portico and thought about the little present she would buy her friend—something delicious to eat, a banana, oranges, Swiss chocolate. The porters knew how to get these things. She had heard them say that anything, everything, was available, if you had the right money. She watched the file of traffic moving round the Common, along her route, and she thought about food. Slabs of ham, poached eggs, the leg of a roast chicken, thick Irish stew, lemon meringue. A cup of tea. She became aware of the nervy, fidgeting music behind her the moment it ceased, and in the sudden new measure of silence, which seemed to confer freedom, she decided she must eat breakfast. There were no shops that she could see in the direction she had to walk, only dull mansion blocks of flats in deep orange brick.
Some minutes passed, and the organist came out holding his hat in one hand and a heavy set of keys nike air max 1 ebay in the other. She would have asked him the way to the nearest café, but he was a jittery-looking man at one with his music, who seemed determined to ignore her as he slammed the church door shut and stooped over to lock it. He rammed his hat on and hurried away.
Perhaps this was the first step in the undoing of her plans, but she was already walking back, retracing her steps, in the direction of Clapham High Street. She would have breakfa st, and she would reconsider. Near the tube station she passed a stone drinking trough and could happily have sunk her face in it. She found a drab little place with smeared windows, and cigarette butts all over the floor, but the food could be no worse than what she was used to. She ordered tea, and three pieces of toast and margarine, and strawberry jam of palest pink. She heaped sugar into the tea, having diagnosed herself as suffering from hypoglycemia. The sweetness did not quite conceal a taste of disinfectant.
She drank a second cup, glad that it was lukewarm so she could gulp it down, then she made use of a reeking seatless lavatory across a cobbled courtyard behind the café. But there was no stench that could impress a trainee nurse. She wedged lavatory paper into the heel of her shoe. It would see her another mile or two. A handbasin with a single tap was bolted t cheap air max 1 o a brick wall. There was a gray-veined lozenge of soap she preferred not to touch. When she ran the water, the waste fell straight out onto her shins. She dried them with her sleeves, and combed her hair, trying to imagine her face in the brickwork. However, she couldn’t reapply her lipstick without a mirror. She dabbed her face with a soaked handkerchief, and patted her cheeks to bring up the color. A decision had been made—without her, it seemed. This was an interview she was preparing for, the post of beloved younger sister.
She left the café, and as she walked along the Common she felt the distance widen between her and another self, no less real, who was walking back toward the hospital. Perhaps the Briony who was walking in the direction of Balham was the imagined or ghostly persona. This unreal feeling was heightened when, after half an hour, she reached another High Street, more or less the same as the one she had le nike air max 1 grey ft behind. That was all London was beyond its center, an agglomeration of dull little towns. She made a resolution never to live in any of them.
The street she was looking for was three turnings past the tube station, itself another replica. The Edwardian terraces, net-curtained and seedy, ran straight for half a mile. 43 Dudley Villas was halfway down, with nothing to distinguish it from the others except for an old Ford 8, without wheels, supported on brick piles, which took up the whole of the front garden. If there was no one in, she could go away, telling herself she had tried. The doorbell did not work. She let the knocker fall twice and stood back. She heard a woman’s angry voice, then the slam of a door and the thud of footsteps. Briony took another pace back. It was not too late to retreat up the street. There was a fumbling with the catch and an irritable sigh, and the door was opened by a tall, sharp-faced woman in her thirties who was out of breath from some terrible exertion. She was in a fury. She had been interru nike air max 1 red pted in a row, and was unable to adjust her expression—the mouth open, the upper lip slightly curled—as she took Briony in.
“What do you want?”
“I’m looking for a Miss Cecilia Tallis.”
Her shoulders sagged, and she turned her head back, as though recoiling from an insult. She looked Briony up and down.
“You look like her.”
Bewildered, Briony simply stared at her.
The woman gave another sigh that was almost like a nike air max 1 premium spitting sound, and went along the hallway to the foot of the stairs.
“Tallis!” she yelled. “Door!”
She came halfway back along the corridor to the entrance to her sitting room, flashed Briony a look of contempt, then disappeared, pulling the door violently behind her.
The house was silent. Briony’s view past the open front door was of a stretch of floral lino, and the first seven or eight stairs which were covered in deep red carpet. The brass rod on the third step was missing. Halfway along the hall was a semicircular table against the wall, and on it was a polished wooden stand, like a toast rack, for holding letters. It was empty. The lino extended past the stairs to a door with a frosted-glass window which probably opened onto the kitchen out the back. The wallpaper was floral too—a posy of three roses alternating wi nike air max 1 th a snowflake design. From the threshold to the beginning of the stairs she counted fifteen roses, sixteen snowflakes. Inauspicious.
At last, she heard a door opening upstairs, possibly the one she had heard slammed when she had knocked. Then the creak of a stair, and feet wearing thick socks came into view, and a flash of bare skin, and a blue silk dressing gown that she recognized. Finally, Cecilia’s face tilting sideways as she leaned down to make out who was at the front door and spare herself the trouble of descending further, improperly dressed. It took her some moments to recognize her sister. She came down slowly another three steps.
“Oh my God.”
She sat down and folded her arms.
Briony remained standing with one foot still on the garden path, the other on the front step. A wireless in the landlady’s sitting room nike air max 1 sale came on, and the laughter of an audience swelled as the valves warmed. There followed a comedian’s wheedling monologue, broken at last by applause, and a jolly band striking up. Briony took a step into the hallway.
She murmured, “I have to talk to you.”
Cecilia was about to get up, then changed her mind. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
“You didn’t answer my letter, so I came.”
She drew her dressing gown around her, and patted its pocket, probably in the hope of a cigarette. She was much darker in complexion, and her hands too were brown. She had not found what she wanted, but for the moment she did not make to rise.
Marking time rather than changing the subject, she said, “You’re a probationer.”
“Whose ward?”
“Sister Drummond’s.”③

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