NO PARTICULAR REASON
The gravedigger had done his work and was leaning discreetly on his shovel a couple of trees from the hole in the ground.
At one end and next to an ornate carved coffin stood the vicar in his white surplice, the gentle summer breeze tugging at it from time to time, and ruffling his straggly and equally white hair.
The gravedigger sighed, and looked at the small crowd of mourners one at the time.
The wife, he thought.
She stood still as a statue with one hand clutching a small lacy handkerchief to one eye. She was dressed entirely in black, from her shoes, through her stockings and coat to the black scarf at her neck and a black fascinator that was perched incongruously on top of her tightly-curled white hair. Heart-broken, he thought. Carelessly so. His eyes moved on.
The son, he thought.
He stood there impatiently, wiping the toes of his soiled black shoes on the back of one trouser leg and scratching his head as if a moment wasted was a moment lost from his own life. His suit was ill-pressed with half a dozen creases mixing and merging down each leg of the trousers. His shirt collar, even seen from a distance, was soiled. His hands, when they weren't scratching his head, were shaking ever so slightly. A drunk needing a drink, he thought. His eyes moved on.
The daughter, he thought.
She was demure, a timid looking little thing, though already past the last bloom of youth. Her hands were twisting together behind her back and she was dry-eyed. Her clothing was part funereal, part dowdy, as if she never looked any different, as though every day was somehow related to death, to burial, to disposing of her life in measured daily fractions. She looked at the brother, and scowled timidly. He frowned back and hissed something inaudible. She's lost, he thought. One day like any other, just that yob to keep at bay by buying him another bottle. His eyes moved on.
The friend, he thought.
He was sorry. Every line on his face, every suggestion of his demeanour, spoke of sorrow. He stood there, black all over, barely daring to breathe lest his breath turn into tears. His eyes were red-rimmed, his face not unlike the imagined pallor of the man in the box. He's the true mourner, he thought. His eyes moved on.
The grandchildren, he thought.
A boy and a girl, dressed as appropriately for a funeral as you'd expect two children of a poor family to be. They were awe-struck and for once in their lives behaving themselves. This was a funeral and the coffin contained a body and that scared them stiff. So they stood there, he holding her hand as though the proximity might save them both from something dreadfully unknown. They'll learn, he thought.
When it was over, when clods of soil had been cast onto the wooden coffin and the vicar had mumbled his last platitudes, read meaninglessly from his tatty book, the small crowd broke up and slowly, silently, moved towards the parked cars. The gravedigger sidled up to the vicar and whispered, “Cedric, who was it?”
“Oh, just a bloke,” replied the vicar, lighting a cigarette.
“Why did he die?” asked the gravedigger. He liked to know, almost needed to, because he was part of the whole thing. It was important to him what took his people off.
“Oh, no particular reason,” replied the vicar, hollowly, “just ran out of time, I guess....”
© Peter Rogerson 16.08.2012