Funeral Games

Not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you. Rest in peace, Vera Schenider.

On the day of the funeral the man stood, head bowed against the driving rain, watching water roll off the waxed canvas of his flat cap. A figure unmoving, as though cast in stone, a cigarette held lightly between first and middle finger. Were a passerby to glance casually at the sparse congregation gathered on that melancholy November day, the figure would have looked like any other statue in the graveyard. The church bells rang out, marking the occasion. Some glanced up at the bell tower silhouetted against the heavy clouds, but all turned to the party advancing towards them: four men dressed in black overcoats, shouldering a small coffin covered with wet flowers.

*

‘A troubled child’ the psychiatrist had described him to the grey haired man now looking concerned at the boy across the kitchen table, spectacles resting on the tip of his nose. He had married in his fifties when he inherited the farm and never became accustomed to it. His young wife was a stranger to him and their child an enigma. He had never bothered much with the child, but when the fever came and coaxed her away, he had sold the farm and moved to the town where the boy could go to school. It had become a routine for the young boy to sit every Saturday at the window of his attic bedroom, precariously perched on a tall, mahogany chair and watch out for funeral processions. His father worried that it was a morbid hobby for a ten-year-old. The psychiatrist had recommended that they moved away from the farm and the boy should have more company of his own age. Had the boy ever mentioned the games they played after school, he would have been even more concerned than he already was, by his curious and worrying interest in death. His chin resting on his upturned palm, the boy gazed out at the figures standing miserably in the rain. Pat O’ Donoghue, only twenty one years old trapped under a capsized boat. ‘Foolish young man’. The boy had overheard the conversation between his father and some women from the village. ‘Just too far out to sea!’ So many others had gone a similar way. Tommy O’ Neil, Jake Murphy, Kieran McCarthy. The boy recalled the names endlessly like a mantra. But today the boy saw the rain forming runnels along the side of the sodden path drowning the shining petals of buttercups. The slanting rain causing streaks of clean granite to be drawn across the dirt on neglected gravestones. He noticed how the six figures stumbled up the path, and thought it sad that the man’s last moments were in the hands of strangers.

*

A November funeral. A man in his sixties with grey hair curling under his flat cap stands motionless; curiously disconnected. His gaunt face is gazing up at the one ray of sun forcing its way through the Celtic gloom. He lifts his hand and takes a laboured drag on his cigarette. And if the boy had been watching from his attic window, he would have seen his father’s lips curve upwards in a smile.

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