It’s an open-casket funeral. I only notice once I’ve clutched at D’s suit and left creases and tear stains in the silk after I hug him.
Don’t look, says the crow.
A dozen nightmares of animated corpses eyeballing me flood to the surface but I hunch on the pew—not quite in the middle of the church but not at the back. I’m not family. I was the daughter of the next-door neighbours. No one important. Today my funerary attire is not out of place.
The people I remember from a decade ago are older, balder and fatter. The kids are all grown up, like me. I struggle to marry faces to names. The projector displays its slide show and the dearly departed is broadcast for all present and I can’t stop the tears. I’m not crying for the departed. She is gone. I cry for myself, for the fact that I’m the one who hurts. Selfish.
A nasty little voice suggests I could have gone to visit more often and reminds me of others who will shuffle off this mortal coil next, each taking another fragment of my past; my childhood cremated to ash and scattered to the four winds. But I know the truth of it. We grow up, we grow apart. We can only mourn that which has passed. We cannot force branches together that have grown perpendicular to each other.
The sermon is bland, staid words repeated a million times before by parish priests in dry whispers that wash over those gathered like a river of sand. Vague notions of guilt remind me of the faith I’ve cast aside.
It’s all lies, it’s all lies, my atheist grandfather says from his death bed while my mother prays for his salvation.
I can’t go back. I’m the acorn that’s germinated and grown into an oak with twisted boughs warped by the wind. It’s impossible for me to fold myself back into that easily contained package that will match the dozens stacked away into neatly regimented rows.
People wonder where the soul goes upon death. They would like to believe that a new body is prepared for an afterlife. It lets them feel better about the fact that we all bear the black mark on our foreheads. It’s wishful thinking. Tooth Fairies in which big people can believe.
They play Don’t Cry for me Argentina, but the music fails to move me the way it did when I was a kid. I used to dig Andrew Lloyd Webber. Now the tune seems hackneyed, worn out from overplay. It was the deceased’s husband’s favourite song. They played it at his funeral too, though he was an atheist and they held his funeral in this very same church more than a decade ago.
We get a last chance to view the deceased once the service is over. I can’t help but think she looks pinched, a dried-out husk and the placeholder of the woman who taught me to love my garden. Why is she so small? I could lift her in my arms. The coffin is heavy lacquered wood with shiny brass handles. It seems incongruous when compared to the features of the woman who taught me to plant avocado pips and steal cuttings from botanical gardens.
I want to yell at them that this is wrong. I want to scoop her up and run with her and plant her beneath a spreading ficus so that its roots can tangle with her hair and worms can dance beneath her skin. The white satin is sterile. It is death.
Afterward, I sit on a bench beneath a cypress and watch as the family carries the coffin to the waiting hearse. The funeral director is a thin, upright man with precise movements. He shakes hands mechanically after the family have slid the casket into the back of the vehicle. Faces are expressionless, thoughts blown away with the Southeaster that shakes the plantains and rips the clouds into tattered shrouds. This isn’t really happening, is it?
The leaves are turning and summer draws to a close. I wonder about the deceased’s garden, about the plants growing there that hail from Singapore, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Mauritius. They planted her husband beneath an Iceberg rose, but so far as I can remember, the plant died within months. Will she return to the earth or will her family keep her locked away in an urn so that they can keep her near? Does she even care now that she’s gone, her essence flown to star stuff?
All that matters is here and now. My husband comes to fetch me after I’ve had too-sweet mango juice and endured people telling me the last time they saw me I was a wee sprog that was so high. My husband and I talk about normal things, like what we’re going to do later, about fabric that needs to be bought for a photo shoot and pictures he needs to print out. I lose myself in his words and dream about my garden. I need to plant more trees.