(Originally published on Booksie).
You could hear the shouting from the back of the church.
“Holly! It represents the blood of our Lord and saviour! It’s his birthday, after all.” Matilda drummed her fingers on her crossed arms, that’d got the old coot for sure.
“Well, technically that blood came from the crown of thorns, which the Holly represents also, more of an Easter thing too, I’d say. Now, Ivy, Ivy is as evergreen as our love for the Lord. It clings steadfast where it makes its home, much as we cling to our faith in Jesus and his heavenly Father”. Iris felt her bosom swell with both the love for her saviour and the satisfaction that she’d won.
“Ivy should only be used outside”, Matilda fired back. She arched an eyebrow, there was no way she’d back down on this. The congregation in Mickelwell would be dying off soon and without young blood like her taking the reins, their message of the Lord’s peace would be lost. Iris made a soft humph.
The outer door opened and forced smiles across both their faces, as the Rector arrived and brushed the snow off his shoulders. For an old lady, Iris sprinted towards him with uncharacteristic verve.
“We were just discussing the decorations, Peter”. She used his first name deliberately. “I was thinking about Ivy, now I know it can be a bit plain, but I thought we could spray paint it. I’ve been watching YouView videos, all the young ones do, right Tilda. We need to think of the future of our Church.”
“Holly looks much better, Iris dear, with the berries to brighten the pews. It reminds us of Jesus and his sacrifice. Don’t you think, Peter?” The air inside the Church felt as cold as outside and it wasn’t the faulty heating, this time.
Years of dealing with people had given Peter a keen eye for trouble. Despite the women looking like cordiality itself, he knew better. It was time for subterfuge.
“I think that’s a marvellous idea,” Peter began, Matilda turned to her nemesis and grinned extra wide before he continued, “the fusion of traditional and contemporary. How about you each take an alternate pew?” Their mouths dropped open in protest but Peter didn’t miss a beat. “What could be more appropriate at this time of year than the spirit of helping your fellow man, or woman in this case, in their endeavours?” He nodded to both of them. “In fact, you’ve both inspired me for my Sermon for the big day. Wonderful work, ladies!” he tapped them both on the shoulders and made haste to the Vestry.
And so it was that Iris and Matilda each forged their new purpose- to each outdo the other. Iris with her work-free days spent every moment she could on YouView. She created bronze versions, copper versions, even a hot pink variation (it would clash with the red berries perfectly, and if she got hers up first Matilda would look the fool). Matilda created antiqued musical scrolls that curved around the foliage, softening the hard edges of the holly. It was surprising how effective a used teabag could be on paper, and she could dry them during the day and then work on them in the evenings. They each poured their very souls into their displays, never once consulting the other.
Bright and early on the first Saturday before Advent Iris arrived. She hung her Jackson Pollock Ivies in their allotted positions and stepped back to admire her work. They looked hideous! It was like a toddler had spat paint at the leaves, she thought, but it looked very modern. She heard the hinges of the outer door squeak open and dived behind the pulpit. Iris gave a quick glance to the heavens and prayed for forgiveness over her transgression into the most sacred of spaces. For the first time since their stupid argument began Iris knew guilt. She urged her feet to find a way to reveal herself but her mind remained stubbornly aware of the repercussions of hiding where only the clergy was allowed. She would carry the shame to her grave, better to do that privately.
Matilda breezed her way over to her pews and laid her offerings out. They were the epitome of “vintage chic” and not a berry out of place. She shuddered at the sight of Iris’ attempt. There was time to rectify that though.
Iris poked her head around the edge of the pulpit just in time to see Matilda reach into her pocket. Something glistened in the light of the bare bulb that suspended from the ceiling. With a light clip, several of the paint-splattered Ivy leaves dropped to the floor. Matilda swept them up in her hands and took a swift reconnoitre. She shoved the leaves in her pockets and made for the door. Iris shot up. This was war! She stomped her way out into the daylight, only stopping to grab at handfuls of Matilda’s hard work.
“MATILDA SAUERMANN!” Iris raced after her. She shouted expletives the whole way. She managed to round her opponent, just at the corner of the street, by ducking through the other church-gate.
“How dare you?”
“How dare you?”
“Well, I don’t know what you’re talking about but I just saw you deliberately take your pruners to my displays!”
Matilda scoffed at the suggestion, despite her guilt.
“Honestly, Iris, I think you’ve been reading too many of those Cozy Mysteries you like so much.” Iris grabbed towards Matilda’s left pocket, but a swift angle of her hips protected Matilda’s pruners. She uncrossed the arms and leaned in towards Iris.
“Now you listen here—” A high pitched squeal came from the inside of the church. Matilda looked at her watch.
“The wedding rehearsal!” Both women sped back to the churchyard.
“Follow my lead”, Iris warned.
The poor bride to be sat in the front pew sobbing and shaking, her beau offering the odd “there, there” at intervals. Iris and Matilda entered the church, all smiles.
“Honestly, I’d forget my own head, Tilly.” She gave the girl a light tap on the forearm. Iris rushed over to the front pew. “Oh no, you caught us halfway through! It looks such a mess and now the surprise is ruined.” Iris turned to Matilda. “So the other half of the scrolls will go in these spaces,” she gestured to the missing clumps of Ivy, “and their drying at home you say?” Matilda nodded slowly and reached into her pockets.
“And these bits will get woven in amongst the Holly, here. Well done matching the pink to the bridesmaids’ dresses, Iris. A master touch!” She turned to her partner in crime.
“Now all we need to do is continue removing the Holly berries and weave them into the bough that hangs in the porch, Holly and Ivy together. Male and female, a joining of souls.” They waited, nervously, to see if the ruse had worked.
The bride leapt up and threw her arms around them both, before wiping her tears away with a hankie.
“Oh thank you, thank you so much. What a wonderful idea. When I walked in I didn’t realise you hadn’t finished, you’ve put so much thought into the display. I should have known you’d both worked it out together and everything would be perfect.” Matilda and Iris each gave the other a knowing look. No-one would ever know any different.