21 Jan 2004

He found himself standing there staring out of the wide window onto the panorama which lay across the valley and into woods on the opposite side. The altar obstructed a little of the view but he was taller than most and so he could easily see the damp grass, the wet wood and grey sky. He watched the arrowhead collective of Canadian geese that chose that moment to take off from in front of the woods, from the damp crotch of the valley, off on their lengthy flight to somewhere eminently warmer. “Wise fuckers.” he thought.

He could feel the wool of the suit on his wrists. The smart shirt he was wearing was one of his father’s old ones. It was short in the arm, short in the length and strangulating on the neck. In the silence of the room his movement to loosen the constriction around his neck with a hooked finger seemed almost rude. “It would be better and more in keeping with the moment to stand here and suffer,” he thought. It was very tight though. “Fuck it, best to loosen this button than have another one of us keel over dead.” he decided.

He twisted his head to the left as he pulled at the collar and he saw the coffin in front of the blue curtains. The undertaker and pallbearers had wheeled it in ahead of the six mourners, only after he had stood in the way of them for an age, unaware that he was impeding the progression of things. He had never been to a cremation before. The only death that he had suffered was his dog’s. The vet had whisked him straight off afterwards, no words, no actions, and just a bill. “Which was fair enough,” he thought, “At least she was straight up about everything. If those fuckers had told me that I was in the way and asked me to move rather than just waiting behind me, shuffling feet, being so goddamn overly polite and apparently sensitive….”

He looked out of the window again. The Reverend Father was talking. He had left his pulpit to stand right in front of the mourners. It made his address far more intimate, even though he had never met the deceased. The Reverend was earnestly telling her nearest and dearest all about her. It did not help that he had remembered that she had spent time in a certain part of Africa. Her husband corrected him with the right part. He felt himself begin to smile. “Check yourself. Fucking inappropriate,” he thought.

And then he had to smile to stop himself from laughing out loud. Everyone was singing a psalm and the words were the same as those he used to sing a decade before in some abbey, on a daily basis. He looked at kneeling mats, at the hymnbook in his hand, at the décor, he listened to the organ behind him and the father who sang with overstated clarity in front of him. He felt immensely hypercritical. He had renounced all this sort of thing years before. “But here I am now and if I don’t smile I’m going to laugh loud. No fucking joke.” he thought.

He soon became aware of the pallbearers behind him. Apparently their job was not solely to cart the coffin in but to add weight to the whole service. As the organ began, as the weak voices of the mourners started, the pallbearers added their experienced voices to the noise. They added timing, volume, annunciation and weight. He listened to them. He heard when they stopped mid way through the second verse and let him and the family continue under their own lacklustre speed. Then he heard them again as they joined in on the last verse to make sure everything finished as it was meant to. “How many times do they do this a day. How can they take this fucking seriously? This is not far off from being a fucking farce. I bet Granny is watching and laughing right about now.”

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