The Long Shadow

Rachel Arbuthnott arranges the flowers in church,
Deftly she snips at wisteria, willow and birch,
Inserting the foliage now here and now there
Filling in patches once empty and bare,
Delicate blossoms from shrubs she has grown,
Numerous flowers from seeds that she's sown,
Viburnum, peony, azalea, rose,
Many with Latin names only she knows,
All carefully grown with one aim in view,
To create an arrangement different and new,
A challenge to all her competitive neighbours,
A warning to them not to rest in their labours,
To be 'Number One' is Rachel's sole quest
She has to be one step better than best.
Rachel Arbuthnott arranges the flowers in church,
Her life nothing more than an arduous search
To prove to herself that she's something of worth,
Not a symbol of spinsterhood held up to mirth
Or pitied by those who've experienced love,
She requires nothing less than a status above
The solitary 'Miss' preceding her name
Which rings in her ears again and again,
And now as the petals drift to the floor
An old lady's tears wet her cheeks once more,
A sorrow as long as the shadows that fall
From towering steeple to churchyard wall,
Why should such happiness be so denied
And leave so much bitterness burning inside?
Rachel Arbuthnott arranges the flowers in church,
Like a bird in a belfry secure on its perch
Her sharp eye in hindsight perceives the scene clearly
That moment in time which has cost her so dearly,
For her it was love, trustworthy, secure,
To him just a game which he called free amour.
She sweeps up the leaves, the buds and the blossom,
But circled by beauty her heart cannot soften,
Her conscience knows better to wield any blame
For he died for his country, a hero in name,
Had he lived to grow old she might still have the right
To feel hurt, to feel cheated, to suffer her plight
But time is the healer and she holds the key
To redeeming his soul and so setting her free.
Rachel Arbuthnott arranges the flowers in church
Its floral traditions her constant research
But now as she places the blossoms in place
She pauses to straighten the hair from her face,
Each stem that she expertly measures and snaps
Adds a notch to the sorrow that readily saps
Through the decades of sadness, of hope and of hurt
Like discarded petals, like leaves in the dirt.
And then as she lifts her arrangements on high
There's just a faint murmur, an audible sigh
Of pity? of pain? She straightens and winces
Yet despite all those years lie occasional glimpses
Of the girl that stood there in her white satin dress
Full of hope? full of joy? full of love? who can guess?
Rachel Arbuthnott arranges the flowers in church
And remembers the day she was left in the lurch
Left to the pity of parents and friends,
Left to the church she so lovingly tends,
Left herself open for envy to grow,
Left only to thoughts of that time long ago,
She is burdened by guilt and yet filled with regret
Can her heart now forgive, and her thoughts now forget?
She straightens the altar cloth, blows away dust,
Counts all the hymn books as only she must,
With varnish and vigour she shines up the brass
Of the men who were lost from the Sunday School class
But the last name of all her duster won't reach,
The name of a lad on a Normandy beach.

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