Monday, April 13, 2009
All eyes fell on the coffin.
So small, it could have floated away.
As the bearers laid it down on a plinth of lilies, the first yelp of anguish broke the hush, and tears streamed into the void.
The girl’s parents held each other close. But they could not touch her.
After the service, the mourners walked from the modest chapel into the unforgiving August heat. The girl’s parent’s shuffled at the centre of a dark cloud, drawn from one outstretched hand to another like there was nowhere else to go.
The father made a brief announcement. Sandwiches. Tea. Back at the house.
‘There should be room in the street to park,’ his wife added awkwardly as her partner’s words petered into a mumble.
Family, friends, teachers, neighbours: everyone had come.
But there, at the back, stood a woman no-one seemed to know. Poised and dignified, she alone wore white. And she alone did not cry.
When the father reached her, he proffered his hand.
‘Thank you so much for coming,’ he said. ‘How...how did you know Susan?’
The woman bowed her head, shielding her face with the brim of her hat. ‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ she replied.
‘Thank you,’ said the father, ‘thank you,’ and with eyes glazed red and silver, he moved on, directionless. Lost.
The woman stood watching till the cars trailed away, breathing the heavy air, then sat on the low wall circling the crematorium. She laid her hat on her lap, removed her white gloves and stared at her slender fingers.
‘Again,’ she whispered to the starling breeze. And waited.
A stabbing pain cut her into a stoop and she thrust her hands forward, fearing to clutch at her heart. She fell from the wall onto her knees. Formed her palms into a cup. And wept a single tear.
It glistened in her hand like a star. Seemed to capture the sunlight and the sky’s glaring blue. Then its sheen grew dull, turned to lifeless wax.
She peeled it from her skin like a petal stuck to water after a storm and set it inside a tiny jewellery box.
Rising slowly, she brushed down her skirt and composed herself just so, and as a church bell chimed the hour, she passed into the haze flickering over the gravestones.