Two days later we have the corpse at his sisters house, formerly their fathers. They have him placed in a front sitting room. It’s small, packed with too much furniture, but fresh and homely. There is a piano against one wall with photos resting on top, some from forty years ago. In this room there is no television or radio. There is no form of entertainment but music by piano, reading (books are scattered and piled around) or conversation.
My father situates the side-sheets in the coffin, gently caressing them down into place. I rest the lid against the wall, directly opposite the door, and at the foot of the coffin. The family just watch with apprehension. Some tap at their eyes with handkerchiefs.
“He’s looking much better now. Much better. The sunlight isn’t in his face? No, no. Much better.”
“Yes John. That’s perfect. Look David, from here, look. Doesn’t he look good?”
“Can we move his hair John? He usually wears it as a fringe, not all…humph”
“Well, um, I wouldn’t. His head, you see, there is a wound from the PM, um… the, the post-mortem. It’s the hospitals wound, you understand. Not one of ours. They did a full PM.”
“Yes, we know. Yes. But he doesn’t look… David, get a comb there.”
A sister begins to paw at his hairline, bringing it over his forehead. I take a deep breath.
“Here, put my glasses on him.”
“We’ll find his pair now.”
“Put these on him for the moment.”
“Ah, much better. Oh God.”
“Thank you, John. God bless you John. He looks… Oh.”
“Well, you’re the boss now. I only do what I’m told.”
“Ah John. We’re so grateful.”
My father, a humble man frequently praised, just nods and crosses his arms at his chest.
“David, will you get father?”
“Ah yes, I’ll get him now.”
Their father, in his eighties, stays at a local nursing home.
“You’ll wait for him John, will you?”
“Of course, if you want.”
We were eager to go but my father is the obliging sort. The nursing home wasn’t far, so it wasn’t terribly disruptive to wait. There is silence at first as we inspect the corpse, then:
“This isn’t your first tragedy.”
“Your mother died… didn’t she?”
“Ah yes, when we were little. I was seven, I think. 1959, October 15. Yes seven.”
She taps her brothers’ forehead in the coffin.
“He would have been nine. David was four. Grainne was two. I remember Bill was minding us. Mom had gone down to the river for some water. I remember… I remember, what I remember is mom coming to the door. I remember her falling spilling the bucket. And it gave me a terrible fright. I remember the two of us had to carry her to a seat. She was just mumbling. Bill ran for Mrs. McCormack, our neighbour. She came and put mom to bed and told William, Bill, to run for father. He was out logging.”
“That was a real tragedy at the time. Your mother.”
“Yes. What I remember most then is mom stumbling out of her bedroom asking for her other shoe but she was wearing both of them, you see. An ambulance was called and she died that night in hospital.”
“What had happened?”
“Cracked skull. She took a fall. At the river.”
“A real tragedy at the time.”
A car could be heard outside.
“I don’t think he ever recovered from it.” She was brushing her brother hair.
“He, you father, remarried soon after, didn’t he?”
“Yes, 1961. Two years later.”
David just came in then, helping his father.
“Oh David, we were talking about mum. Our real mom.”
“Just about the tragedy.”
“Ah yes, I remember her at the door. Then…”
“Confusion, yes. I was only four. I was taken away then to Gort to stay with our Aunt. I remember they had a bucket.”
“With the blue rim.”
“Yes, it was white with a blue rim and it was right outside my bedroom. I’d wake up and see it and bawl crying. They had to take the bucket away. It reminded me of mum, you see.”
Their father stooped over the coffin, aware but unaffected. He turned to me at the foot of the coffin still.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Johns son.”
“He’s John son Dad. His youngest. The baby.”
My eyes begin to roll. I catch them mid-tipple, just in time I think.
“You shouldn’t roll your eyes to heaven”, says the sister smiling. I can only smile back.
My father finalizes the funeral arrangements while I take my leave to sit in the hearse.
In conversation with Ian later:
Ian: how very incredible...so what did he die of?
me: being a bachelor drunk in rural Ireland. Only 57. Last week we had a similar thing. Call to a house and all that... he just died so there wasn't any weird shit... but he was a drunken bachelor aged 56. Looked like his was 70.
Ian: crazy fuckers
me: What can you do?
Ian: not drink
me: Precisely... and make sure you have a fine healthy woman who is sure to outlive you
Ian: ok, I have to be up in 6 hours. I am going to bed, to sleep and regenerate. Thank you for the heart warming story.
me: Yeah... I have to blog something hopefully... so good night paedo.