They came out again flanked by my father and the sergeant. My father held by the door and the sergeant moved ahead of the two women to get through the gate first. The short man hugged his sisters. My father rubbed his shoes on the overgrown grass in front of the house. I threw him a nod and he slinked past the crying women, who were now hugging each other, and moved to me.
“Get the gloves there.”
“I have them in my pocket. Mam rang. She says Mrs. Reidy is dead and John Ryan is coming.”
The Sergeant came around the hearse putting on white, plastic gloves.
“We’re ready to go.”
My father and I put on our gloves, blue, and placed the coffin on the trolley. Just as we got to the front door, my fathers phone rang. I had it on me still from when he had me ringing the priests. At first I thought it could be my mother but it was a man.
“Yes, hold please.”
I handed it to my father.
“Hello --- Right --- No. Nora is there --- No, that’s alright. Bless you.”
“Here”, I said, “I’ll take care of that.”
He gave me back the mobile.
“Put the coffin lid on the ground”, my father said to the brother who had put it resting against the wall. “We don’t want passers to see it.”
We had to leave the coffin just inside the door, in the porch, because there wasn’t enough room to manoeuvre it into the house. We couldn’t bring it in the back. It was boarded up somehow.
The first room inside, the sitting room, was dark even with the light on. It must have been a low watt bulb. My father, standing directly below it, glowed from the light as if it had emanated from him. The rest of the room remained murky and seedy. I could see through a door into what I thought was the kitchen. There was a mess of wood entirely plugging the space. To our right was the bedroom the corpse lay in. My father entered first, then the sergeant, then me.
The room was small with half the space taken by the bed, pushed length-wise against the wall opposite the door, and a wardrobe perpendicular to the bed. My father and the sergeant stood shoulder to shoulder beside the bed. Through them I could just make out the torso of the corpse and his knees. He was in the foetal position. The side of the mattress was busted out and the rest was in tatters. At first I thought the corpse was in his clothes but I realised he was just wearing heavy sleepware. The heating wasn’t on, and I could only guess that it was never on. On the ground, where the man would have put his feet were he to awaken, was a sticky pool of vomit.
“Watch out for that”, my father would say.
The floor was wooden but black with smudged dirt and soot. In the corner, to my right, were old clothes and plastic bags. The bags were not quite transparent but I could see through them well enough to cardboard boxes with cheap beer logos. They were all empty.
The radio was on. I could hear Justin Timberlake sing a song from his first album.
Spider webs had formed up every corner. Little triangles of web parallel to ceiling, four or five to each corner, each emphasised by a light layer of dust. A single fly buzzed around the bulb above our heads.
Rigor Mortis had been and gone so there was no trouble straightening his legs. I know he could have been in a worse condition but the weather had just turned cold and there was no heating on. In that respect, we were lucky.
My father and the sergeant got the corpse on a sheet, or got the sheet under the corpse to be exact. Immediately a spot of blood appeared on the part of the sheet covering his face. I stuck my arm through and grabbed the centre. The sergeant had the legs and my father the head. I lifted and felt a tear. Then nothing. I thought the sheet was going to give but the corpse was light and it held. We moved quickly through the sitting room to the coffin and placed him in. My father was breathing heavily and I got the first, faint whiff of shit but it passed.
“Do you see this often?” I ask the sergeant. He wriggled his moustache and, with some relief perhaps of being able to share, nodded.
“Yeah. A good bit. But this isn’t bad. You should see them after a week.”
My stomach made the appropriate face.
We loaded the coffin into the hearse and my father made arrangements to meet the family after. The sergeant would follow us to the Regional. As we pulled away, my father looked over to the cottage.
“The woman who lived there before kept that house very well. She did a good job.”