New Short Fiction: The Funeral (Rough First Draft)
My mother is talking – in that high-pitched voice she has at times of stress – about when I asked if iceberg lettuce came from Greenland. I was five at the time. I know my brothers aren’t thinking about that. They’re wondering how long it will take for their sister to go from flesh to bone to dust. I had sex once before the end. It hurt. Afterwards, I curled up small, smiling but crying, while he slept off the day’s drinking binge. The guy is here. He’s sat with his girlfriend, her hand is on his thigh.
I’ve never seen the back of so many heads before. I can see where people have missed with the hair straighteners. I can see where the brush didn’t quite reach. I can see those who slept with wet hair. There’s a photo of me, framed, on a wooden stand. It’s been blown up from a picture that was pressed into a bulky, old album, that smelt of powdered baby milk and damp. I’m little in the photo. I’m sat on an atlas, eyes kitten wide, two teeth, hair vanilla blonde. What’s going to happen when the coffin goes down, and the church empties and becomes quiet again? What happens when it’s just the bats left and the roosting starlings and me? Will I sink like a body with a belly full of stone? I like to think it’s just a deeper sleep than normal. A dreamless, deeper sleep, dark as though I’ve closed the blackout curtains on a winter night.
I wonder how many birds the cat will kill, now that I’m not around to replace his collar every morning. I touch my chest. Stillness. It’s strange to think I won’t feel my heart hard at work again. There will be no more hill climbing. No more posing at the top of mountains, face streaked red, hair matted with sweat and dead midges. No more dirty, dusty knees or blisters. My mother has adopted a new twitch. I want to cry about the fact I’ll never have my hair stroked again, or my muscles loosened by her strong fingers. I want to get in the front there, in front of all the faces and say act on things now!
I’ll never have a child on my hop. I feel bad about the mother’s day magnet that went under the fridge. I feel bad for not pulling it out, blowing off the toast crumbs and putting it back. I wonder if they’ll find and take back the library books I left muddled with all my others. How long will the brown bread stay in the cupboard for? Will someone find the bananas, under the carrots, in the second drawer down in the fridge, before they turn black? I’m nervous. I’m going to join a flood of skulls and rib cages. We had Granddad here two years ago, and I never thought…but really, it was preparation.
They leave, taking their tears and closing the door behind them. Darkness descends, like the stars have been reversed.