They had all been prepared for this moment by their father. He wasn’t the kind of man to hide his hurt. A rarity some might say. Once he knew the diagnosis was definite and there was nothing else the doctors could do. The family went through exactly what would happen. Right down to his last breath. And this was where they were now. The last breath. Emily went up to her father and touched his hand. She was in a profound state of shock as all the family members were. Her father’s hand was warm but weak. She felt the lightest of grasps and then he tugged her towards him. As she walked towards her father she held her father’s silver cross in her other hand. Tightly. The sharp edges of the cross dug deeply into her skin. He seemed to be trying to say something to her. She leaned in a little bit closer while her grandmother touched her shoulder reassuringly.
‘I think he wants to say something,’ said her Grandmother.
Emily placed her ear close to her father’s face until she could feel his warm breath against her cheek. She then stepped back feeling a little confused.
‘369’ she thought he said, but Emily seemed unsure.
Her mother looked at her as if her father had offered her a last word but Emily just shrugged her shoulders. Uncomfortable with the situation.
‘Must be the medication,’ said Emily, and stepped back. She swallowed hard fighting back the tears. She had promised her father that she would not cry when the time came. She said she would save her tears for outside when she had the whole sky to comfort her.
The family seemed to unconsciously step back and form a half circle daisy chain. They held each other’s hands as if in prayer. The tightness of their grip was the only thing holding them together. The Doctor turned around to look at Emily’s mother as if looking for approval. Catherine gave a slight nod and a resigned smile.
The Doctor walked towards the machine and switched it off. Silence was an unwelcome visitor for the next few minutes. It forced everyone else to form a tighter chain. Everybody squeezing each other’s hands for that extra comfort. No one said anything for what seemed like hours. And then the Grandmother’s tears broke the silence. A gentle weeping that broke the chain as each person turned towards someone else for comfort. Emily just continued to stare at her father’s body. It’s stillness. She was looking for signs of life leaving the body as if she might notice a faint whisper of his spirit rise up and out of the ceiling but the white sheet that now covered her father’s face was a frozen shroud. She whispered her prayers silently. Confident that he was now in heaven. Her thoughts took her to the last time they had moved to a new house and that final look down the hallway when you close the door. All the memories that you shared and that deep sadness you felt when you realized you were never coming back.
Her Mother put her arm around her shoulder and pulled her close into her. The soft touch of wool against her face comforted her as did the tears that dropped onto her head from her Mother’s cheeks. The family were then shown into another room where Emily was left with her Grandparents while her Mother went to discuss things with the doctor. Emily picked up one of the half-chewed magazines and flicked through the photos as a distraction.
Her mind should have been on her move to secondary school this September. Becoming twelve was supposed to be a turning point in her life. This summer should have been one she’ll never forget, and it will be, but for all the wrong reasons.
Her mother walked into the room and nodded to everyone giving a faint smile. Emily’s Grandfather looked up and said, ‘Done?’
Done, seemed such a cold word but somehow relevant in its immediacy. Yes, it had been done, and they could all go home and try and get on with their lives.
‘Just some paperwork to sign and we can go.’
After dropping off her Grandparent’s. Emily and her Mother drove home in silence. As they arrived home. Her friend Alexis and her mother were parked outside and Emily allowed herself a smile to balance out the serious expression on her friend’s face. Hugs were exchanged as the Mother’s headed into the kitchen while Alexis and Emily went into Emily’s bedroom.
‘Are you OK?’ asked Alexis.
‘Sure fine. Not much to talk about really. Shall we watch a film instead?’ said Emily.
‘Ok you pick one then.’
Emily selected Peter Pan and placed the disc into the DVD player. Alexis grabbed the duvet and they both curled up on Emily’s bed. Emily held the pillow closely while Alexis occasionally glanced across at her to make sure she was ok. It wasn’t too long before Emily fell asleep with the numbers her father spoke floating through her mind. 3-6-9.
Emily’s house was of the modern pre-fabricated kind. The external style was a nod to the Victorian era but with the solid reassurance a modern house could offer. Her bedroom walls were painted white and the posters on the wall reflected her tastes in strong female heroines from Katniss to Angelina Jolie. Her room was surprisingly clean for a girl her age and furniture and ornaments were placed neatly and in order. The odd picture of Ghandi or Einstein would also be there but only at the insistence of her Dad, to inspire her.
The cross and image of Christ by her bed had also been given to her by her father but she considered it part of her faith and her way of connecting to her Dad. It was his faith that was getting her through this traumatic experience. Her mother Catherine walked in while she was praying. Catherine didn’t follow her husband’s faith but if it kept him away from the alcohol she was more than happy.
‘Oh sorry Emily. Didn’t realize you were,’ Catherine sat on the edge of the bed. Emily sat up too.
‘It’s ok just a few words to help him on his way. Catherine looked away and bit her lip. She didn’t want to upset what was important to her daughter. She stroked her daughter’s hair.
‘I just need to focus on this funeral. And the paperwork.’ Emily sat on the edge of her bed. Waiting for the funeral was painstaking. The numbness through her body was hard to describe and she was lost for things to do except re-arrange an already tidy space and be distracted by as much pointless television or ‘youtube’ clips as possible.
‘When are you working next?’ asked Emily. Catherine asked for two weeks off but was told only one week was doable due to staff shortages. She could have done without the back breaking work. Dealing with elderly patients was trying at the best of the times. Never mind the low wages that she was hoping to change with the computer course she had been taking at nights. That would all have to take a back seat for now. All she could focus on were the bills that were in Michael’s name and finding the telephone numbers to various insurance companies that he had. The thoughts about how they would manage on one person’s wage didn’t come into the equation.
‘I’ve got the week off then back to work I’m afraid.’ Emily held onto her tightly. She wished her mother didn’t have to work but knew things would be tougher from now on.
Funerals tended to come quickly. Once the person had passed away there were but a few days before they had to say goodbye again. Emily barely slept as the days passed by and a heavy weight wrestled in her stomach when that day came.
Catherine buttoned Emily’s black jacket up to the top and placed the dark blue beret on her head. Catherine was tugging too hard at the top button her own frustrations showing through. Emily pushed away her hand.
‘I can do it myself Mum,’ and she pulled herself away from her. They were both understandably tense and looked at each other for a second.
‘Will I see his face?’ asked Emily.
‘Yes. You will get a chance to say goodbye. He will be at the front of the church.’
Emily thought about seeing her father’s face again but decided against it.
‘I think I’ll just stay at the back.’
Emily’s mother readjusted her hat nervously.
‘The car’s outside now. We best hurry up.’
They both walked outside and Emily saw the hearse in front of her car. A long dark dragon for her to ignore. She quickly ran into the other car holding Alexis’s hand. Alexis squeezed Emily’s finger.
‘He’s looking out for you. I’m sure of it.’
But Emily just stared at the hedges lining the road side trying to distract herself from the hearse in front. Her Mother got into the front seat of the car and closed the door. The driver radioed to the car in front and then started up his engine. As he started the engine the radio blasted into life.
‘3-6-9 The goose drank wine. The monkey chewed tobacco on the sweet Caroline, the line broke the monkey got choked, and they all went to heaven…’
Emily and Alexis burst into laughter and immediately clasped their hands over their mouths as if they had committed some terrible sin. Catherine stared at the driver in stony silence as the driver quickly switched the radio off. He then turned the radio to a classical music station and they fell back into sombre mood as the cars drove off.
Emily thought briefly about the numbers her father had whispered to her and then brushed it away. She whispered to herself unconsciously as the car drove down the high street, and they all went to heaven in a little rowboat.
As the car drove down the high street elderly ladies and gentlemen like her grandparents, either stopped or tipped their hats out of respect.
One old lady took out a hanky and wiped her own tears and for the first time Emily started to cry herself. They were silent tears that inched slowly down her cheeks as she passed the old lady on the high street. Alexis touched her back as Emily’s shoulders started to shake. She looked up at the sky begging for its comfort.
As the hearse pulled up outside the church Emily got out of her car, and with Alexis, went inside the church with her mother. She looked at the ground with occasional glances up to see where she should go. As the coffin was carried in by friends and family Emily was ushered to the front of the church and waited for the sermon to begin. A gangly man appeared who reminded her of one of the Shakespearian characters she had seen at a school play once. A skull and a soliloquy would seem relevant at this point but the eulogist offered an eccentric speech that seemed to touch everyone.
‘Michael he was full of joy and never short of a joke. He had a lot of ‘joie de vivre’ yet acted like a bloke. We’ll never forget how hard he fought, with courage hope and vigour. We’ll never forget you Michael Scythes and your insistence on intellectual rigour.’
For the first time Emily’s Mum smiled and so did most of the guests. The eulogist had done what no one else could do and allowed them all to try and feel some sense of joy from an otherwise tragic event.
When they got back to the house, Emily and Alexis sat on the living room sofa while black and grey suits and skirts whisked past their eyes, offering condolences to Catherine. Emily just felt like she was in some kind of hypnotic haze as if somehow she wasn’t feeling as sad as she should. Alexis was sat there hardly moving just chewing slowly on the sausage roll. Emily nudged her. ‘Probably get Vol au Vents’ at your house.’ ‘Stop being paranoid. We’re no different from you.’ Emily elbowed her gently but Alexis knew she was just joking. Alexis lived only a few streets away, which in London, was the difference between rich and poor. Not that Emily considered herself poor. More moderate but Alexis had a much larger house. Not that Emily felt that money mattered although with her Father gone she was worried for her Mother who was now being consoled by friends at the dining table.