The Choir Invisible
IT was nearly dusk, and the woman was there in the churchyard again. As I came out of the parish church after choir practice, I saw the slight figure under the hawthorn trees overhanging the old red-brick wall.
That part of the churchyard held the older family graves, the worn ones that leaned at a peaceful angle and were covered with the gentle growth of lichen.
Molly and Liz were coming out behind me. They paused in their conversation and followed my gaze.
“Do you know who she is?” I asked. “I’ve seen her here before now, always after this choir practice, since we moved it to the church.”
They both peered across. “Sorry, no.”
“She may be in the sheltered housing by the green?” Molly suggested. “She looks the right age for it.”
She did, but I would know her if that were the case. I went in there to do sing-alongs, where I sat at the piano and took requests and everyone joined in. Anything from Perry Como to musicals to the latest from the charts.
Molly and Liz waved goodbye while I locked up.
The woman was moving away now. The evenings were dusky at this time of year, and the path, shaded under the trees, was uneven gravel.
As I looked across one last time, feeling an odd sense of concern for her, she stumbled slightly.
I ran straight across the grass, apologising to the long-dead as I went between the old stones.
She was leaning over, one hand on an arched gravestone.
“Are you all right?”
She looked up at me, surprised by my sudden breathless appearance.
“Oh, yes, my dear, I’m fine. It would take more than a wonky path to finish me off.”
“Lucky that gravestone was there for you to catch at,” I said, offering her my arm. “Chris really should have the path levelled.”
The woman shook her head.
“That would disturb the quiet. Better to let things rest.”
She was elderly, a small woman with a deeply lined face.
Her eyes were that faded blue that I remembered from my grandmother.
“I’ve seen you here before,” I told her. “It’s nice to meet finally. I’m Carol Flynn – I run the village choir. We always have a practice on Tuesdays.”
“Iris Cotsmoor. You have a good choir. I’ve heard it from out here.”
We began to walk back through the churchyard. She let go of my arm as soon as we reached the more certain footing of the tarmac pathway.
“Yes, we take anyone who wants to join, but it’s amazing what a lovely sound they produce.
“Too many people think they can’t sing, but if you put them together with others who already know that they can, or who aren’t scared to try, they seem to find the strength.”
I couldn’t help enthusing over my choir. I knew it was only a small village affair, and we were never likely to turn up on any TV programme featuring Gareth Malone – though we all dreamed of that
– but maybe that was why I loved it so much.
We were just a crosssection of life: old and young, newcomers and old residents. We all sang our hearts out, and people went home smiling afterwards.
I was used to persuading people to sing. Could I persuade Iris to talk about her past?
“Have you heard any of our performances?”
“I heard your carol singing last December,” she said. “And at the village fete.”
“Oh, we get everywhere!” I replied with a laugh. “We enjoy just singing, but I always wanted the choir to be out and about sharing the music.”
We reached Church Lane, and I needed to turn right, towards the newer houses where Grant and I lived.
But I wanted to make sure Iris got home safe first.
“Can I walk back with you?”
“That’s kind, but there’s really no need. I know my way.”
The dismissal was polite but definite, so I smiled and said goodnight.
“If you want to come in and hear the practice some time, from inside the church rather than outside, you’re more than welcome!” I said as she turned away.
“Thank you,” Iris said. Again her response was polite, but I knew she wouldn’t come.
Well, some people were wary of churches.
I mentioned her name to Chris, the vicar, and he