- Vol. 05
- Chapter 05
No-one tells you what it will be like, after. After the funeral. After the body is burned. You imagine all that will be left to be merely a small pile of pure, smooth grey ash. What they don’t tell you is that the human body incinerated is far more substantial. That there are colours, so many colours. Flecks of blue, purple, even green. If you look closely it will shimmer. And there will be parts of the body that won’t disintegrate. Heavy bones, like stones. So that when you put your hand in the urn, you will pull out what you imagine to be a radius or an ulna. It will have a certain heft to it. You grip it hard and your eight-year-old self will imagine these to be the most stubborn parts of your father. And the fact that these still remain fill you with a kind of relief. And you will laugh and laugh and laugh.
Cremation in those days is still taboo. Seen as a savage ritual for heathens. One puckered-lipped girl will tell you she has heard that your father is being ‘burned to a crisp’. Burned to a crisp, as if your family were cannibals, cooking him, doing a bad job of it. An oily shame rises, and you repay her by vomiting on her shoes.
Your gran arrives grim-faced, sleeves rolled up. You remember your mother saying that your grandmother is like a dog with a bone. It is true there is a basset hound quality to the wrinkles on her face. Now your gran colonises all the parts of the house that your mother has retreated from in favour of her bed.
BonesThe kitchen smells of food designed to put meat on your ribs. Dumplings, cabbage, potatoes, all the root vegetables. You will give the impression of eating. Chew, chew, chew. Bite, bite, bite. But you will not, cannot, swallow.
At night your dreams take on a rare quality of reality. You do not know if you are awake or asleep. In your dreams your grandmother is still cooking. To keep all that is unspoken at bay. There are pots and pans. And mouths and teeth. Sticks and stones. And bones upon bones upon bones.
The day after the funeral it is your mother who is up and making noise. She is like a nearly ghost, gaunt and pale. She holds herself tall and comes and smooths your hair. She then gathers the urn and herds you all into the car and drives. To the sea, to the land’s edge.
You all take turns, reaching into the urn and grabbing a fistful of ash. You throw it. The air is so still that the ash stays suspended, then falls. There is a wild abandon to it all that frightens you a little. But then it is raining and the drops fall on your face, down into your mouth, so you taste salt and earth and grief.