I’m squashed between my sister and my mother in the front room, like a buffer zone, a no man’s land. It makes me glad that Jacob and I are only back for a few days for the funeral. Mam is so pale that her black coat and white blouse gives her the look of an ailing magpie. My sister is impeccably made up, shedding an occasional tear but without letting it spoil her mascara. In his casket, my father is unnaturally serene, wearing a red tie that I know he didn’t like, a present from my sister last Christmas. I can almost hear him grumbling.
The line of mourners is long, shuffling through the hallway, front room, into the kitchen and out the side door – a perfect one-way system. The death notice had said house private but nobody in this town thinks that applies to them. There’s the scent of lilies from the funeral wreaths and the smell of eggs sandwiches leeching from the kitchen. Jacob has been assigned to the kitchen to help with doling out the teas and Powers. When the kitchen door opens, I get a glimpse of him with a whiskey bottle in his hand, surrounded by giggling women and red-faced men. The best parties are always in the kitchen. I shake my head at him, but he’s swallowed by the crowd.
I’ve been away so long that I struggle with names and even faces. I can’t believe how old some of my schoolmates have got, how settled. Only the old people look the same as if time has stopped for them. My hand is shaken, massaged, and a few have gripped me so hard, I almost yelp. People lean in, wafting their smells over me. After an hour, I’m robotic, I shake, I nod, I mumble a thanks for coming. My hand is aching, I want to wash it, to wipe away the sweat and grime. I look at the rows of feet still approaching. Amid the stout comfortable footwear and trainers is a pair of polished tan expensive shoes and then a handshake that fizzes. I look up and for a second, I don’t recognise him but then there’s no mistaking the eyes, mud brown with a fleck of grey. I pull my hand away. I want to wipe it on my skirt. I feel hot and cold at the same time and fight down the urge to vomit. The last time I saw him was almost nineteen years ago and it’s hazy, alcohol fuzzy. I can’t go there.
The line moves on and I shake more hands but I’m dizzy and swaying and I can feel cold sweat on my upper lip. My sister pushes a glass of cold water into my hand. I look through the open kitchen door where my son Jacob is pouring whiskey for the mourners and this time he catches my eye.
He smiles at me with eyes that are mud brown with a fleck of grey.
(From The Waxed Lemon Issue 2)