After studying foreign languages and literature at the University of Canterbury, Bruce spent a few years selling used cars. Then he worked as a radio copywriter for seventeen years, before training in psychotherapy and spending 20 years in private practice. Nearing retirement age, he closed his practice and started to write short stories, some serious in theme, others purely for fun. He’s had a few stories published and is becoming a voracious submitter.
A Plague of Women
The Reverend Reginald Marshall’s wife was an upright lady. Moira served on three Church committees and played the organ in morning service. She held firm views on matters of morality, which she liked to share, peppering her speech with do’s, don’ts, shoulds and shouldn’ts.
In conversation with Reginald, she frequently prefaced her remarks with “You needn’t think....” or “You just think....”
This irritated Reginald, who sometimes imagined a response like “I don’t need you to tell me what I think or shouldn’t think. I’d actually rather you listen to me to learn what I do think.”
However, long years of marriage to Moira had taught him that some things are best left unsaid. Instead, he would retreat to his study to talk to God, who neither twisted his words nor belittled him.
Then he would go out on his pastoral round, visiting the sick and the bereaved, including Mrs Murgatroyd, a widow.
Reginald maintained high ethical standards in his relationships with parishioners. He felt safe with Mrs Murgatroyd, an older woman towards whom he felt no trace of sexual feelings. And he was confident that a woman of her calibre could have no inappropriate intentions towards him.
There’d been just the one occasion when he’d glimpsed a certain, fleeting look in her eyes.
Reginald and Mrs Murgatroyd often prayed together and thanked God for their special relationship that helped support Reginald in his ministry.
Then misfortune came upon Reginald. He fell in love with a pretty parishioner called Phyllis, diagnosed with early-onset Fiddlemeister’s Syndrome. Reginald visited Phyllis every Friday from three till three-thirty and ministered to her with prayer and bible verses.
Phyllis’s nearness acted like a perfume on Reginald’s senses, exciting a yearning, which grew into a torment. However, he continued with pastoral visits, and somehow managed to detach from his emotions while he was in Phyllis’s presence and maintain his minister’s role.
At night, with Moira lying rigidly beside him, Reginald evolved elaborate fantasies featuring himself and Phyllis.
He consulted a psychiatrist, who advised him to explain to Phyllis that he had developed feelings for her and therefore could not ethically continue to visit.
When Reginald followed this advice, Phyllis declared that she loved him, too, and tried to kiss him. Reginald fended her off and ran out of her house. Phyllis rang Moira. All hell broke loose.
Desperate for someone to confide in, Reginald visited Mrs Murgatroyd, who stared at him goggled-eyed as he spoke, her face like a squeezed lemon. Her eyes narrowed, her lips tightened and almost disappeared. A beetroot coloured flush appeared on her neck and spread up to her cheeks. Reginald stared at her, mesmerised, like a mouse glimpsing a snake’s tonsils.
“Piss off,” she hissed.
“I’m so sorry....,” Reginald began, but Mrs Murgatroyd advanced on him. He jumped to his feet, sidestepped to the door, ran to his car and sped off. A minute later he drove through a red light and was killed by a big truck.
During Reginald’s funeral service, Mrs Murgatroyd, Moira and Phyllis had a fist fight. They were pulled apart by three church elders, two deaconesses and several passers-by who ran in off the street.
Later, God and Reginald, who had witnessed the whole debacle and been highly amused by it, were strolling together through a rose garden in Paradise.
“You know, God,” said Reginald, “I’m realizing how much my difficulties arose with women. Whoever created woman made a bit of a design flaw there, not that I’m blaming anyone in particular,” he teased, digging God in the ribs.
But God just smiled. “There’s a chap up here called Harley Davidson who teases me about that. Used to make motor-bikes. He reckons when I designed women I put the exhaust too close to the.......”
A flock of angels broke into song, drowning out God’s voice.
Reginald burst out laughing and God never did finish her sentence.