It feels as though a lot is expected of me today. Strange, because there is really nothing left unresolved. The coffin awaiting its descent into the frosty ground is testament to that. It lies there, a timber cuboid. The ultimate full stop.
What then, is there left for me to say? What is left to commentate upon? I’ve no doubt my lack of words is being explained away behind hands and between murmuring lips. They’ll say it’s numbness. Maybe they’ll say that I’m drunk as usual. Who gives a fuck what they say?
The morning has assumed an unreal quality. I feel as though the scene is captured by one of those time-lapse cameras. Clouds scud across the wintery sky at implausible speed, whilst the yews lining the cemetery bow and raise their bristled heads in time with the rhythm of the wheeling, watery sun. Friends and family are doing odd things with their hands. They clasp them in the manner of someone who should be holding a flat cap or lace them behind their backs as though pondering the great mystery of life. When they are not doing either of these things, they offer weak, dry handshakes to me over my father’s grave, as though fearful that prolonged contact might result in them catching my addiction.
It is difficult not to replace the bland words coming from their mouths with other more suited to their expressions. Many, if not most, believe that I drove my father to his death. My habit consumed his money, his marriage, and finally his health, they would like to say. They are not far wrong. My problem is social convention. It dictates that I should wail and sob. At the least I should sniffle. That would grant me enough good will from the mourners to get me to the end of the service. I can find nothing to work with.
Something is expected of me. People are staring. The undertakers are preparing to lower the coffin into the ground on clean, white ropes. I put my hand on the pine. Still not enough. A kiss? A kiss on the top of the coffin? With a dramatic pause before I rise? Who says regular drinking isn’t good for cognitive ability?
My hand slides over the brass plaque and onto the wood. A splinter jags into my palm but pain cannot take away from this performance. Now for the finale. I press my forehead against where I imagine Dad’s noggin to be and scrunch my eyes up for effect. I breathe deeply, half expecting to smell formaldehyde or whatever it is they use to preserve the body.
All I get is the smell of freshly dug soil. Nothing nauseating about that. It is a smell that reminds me of football boots getting laced by the side of a pitch on a Sunday morning, of shin pads that were too big for me, and of Dad stalking up and down the touchline and barking at me to get stuck in lad. It strikes me that no-one ever really got anything out of those Sundays. I was certainly never making it as a pro, and my dad can’t have been delighted at having to cut short his Saturday drinking to get up at God-only-knows what hour to drive me to some windswept pitch in the arse end of nowhere and to pick me up after another shite game and to sit me down on the back seat on a towel and to tell me that the coach had me playing in the wrong position and that the man had no bloody football brain anyway.
There are hands on my shoulders. I realise that my sight has gone blurry. Comforting snippets cluster around my ears – phrases like ‘Let it out, lad’, and ‘You know he loved you, don’t you?’. I let myself be pulled back, supported as I am enveloped by well-wishers and aunts with handkerchiefs.
As Dad is lowered down into the ground, I reflect that this is better. This is how a funeral should be. Thank goodness for the football memory. How much longer that will be good for I don’t know but it has never failed me yet when I need to put on a show.
Now, don’t these wakes usually come with a free bar?
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is an absentee member of the Glasgow Writers Group, a PhD student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.
Not necessarily in that order