Picture this: rain aslant, wind moaning, sky darker than the lyrics of a Nick Cave ballad. In other words, the perfect day for a funeral.
We came in out of the deluge, dripped our way down the aisle and sat in the front row, the one reserved for family.
An organ wheezed out lament as some men in black wheeled a box down the way we’d just come. Inside the box was my father.
I was just thinking about something when there was a tug at my right sleeve. I turned my head and there, tugging, was Edith, my five-year-old. ‘Mummy,’ she said. ‘Who’s that?’ Edith nodded upwards. Hanging above us was a life-sized statue of the Messiah, affixed to the cross, arms taught, ribs out like a metal rack, agonised expression. I guess it was made of some sort of ceramic, it was brightly coloured and that skin looked like it had been rubbed with chalk, like my father’s on the day before I got the call from the hospice. The blood, though, it was bright, sanguine, oxygenated, oozing from ruptures in the hands and feet, from a forehead scratched, a back scoured, a side rent. Strange, I hadn’t noticed it on the way in. I guess my mind was elsewhere.
‘That’s our lord Jesus Christ,’ I whispered to Edith. People were filing in, the sound of shuffling footwear now all around us.
‘Oh,’ said Edith, stretching out the sound, and nodding.
We both rose to let Aunty Stevie past. She muttered something about galoshes. We sat again and I was just thinking about something when I felt a tug at my right sleeve. ‘Yes?’ I asked in a low voice. Edith jerked her head up in the direction of the Son of God statue. ‘Yes?’ I said a little louder, a little less patiently.
‘Is he all right?’ said Edith.
I looked up at the figure, into the eyes, blank but yet seemingly conscious, looked at the parched lips, the blood flecked in the beard. ‘Yes, he’s fine,’ I said, with a wan smile.
‘Oh,’ said Edith, again stretching out the sound, and nodding. I patted her arm and glanced over to where the vicar was standing looking at his notes. He caught my gaze and smiled, I tried to return it but it might have come out wrong, more a grimace than a smile.
I was just thinking again when I felt another tug at my sleeve. ‘He doesn’t look fine,’ said Edith, rolling her eyes at the icon.
‘Well, he is, ok?’ I said, somewhat louder and sharper than intended. People in the pew opposite, the one for friends and those who’d worked at Industrial Tech Ltd, had their heads turned.
I looked back at Edith. ‘He’s fine, ok?’ I said, firmly. ‘Now, no more talking.’
There was hush, the vicar began to speak. I was just thinking about something when I felt a tug at my sleeve. ‘Mummy.’
‘What is it?’ I said stiffly. The vicar stopped for a second, looked up, took a breath and then continued eulogising. ‘Are you all right?’ Edith whispered, her hand on my elbow.
I stared into her eyes. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I’m fine.’