• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 06
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He Lies in Oak

When someone in our family dies there are no solemn gravestones -we celebrate - a lifting of glasses to mark a life; in this case, the life of my dear and wonderful father. Mother laid on a simple but beautifully executed meal , springy pasta flecked with ‘garden garlic’ and basil, Uncle Ted's mini black olives sulked in a home-made vessel, Granny’s purple tomatoes shine, loaded with pompous oil and cheeses of many shades of sliced yellow, lay on the large, flat serving dish splayed like playing cards. Father’s tall wine stands on its own, sweating cold basement tears. I laugh at Granny’s crooked paper hat that mirrors the angle of her stroke smile and the fact that Uncle Ted is tipsy. Sammy looks so naturally beautiful, with that ‘just got engaged’ glow. We collectively gasp as Aunty Jean brings out the glamorous, pregnant pudding layered with summer fruit, soft berries, crunchy meringue and vanilla cream. She takes a large, silver serving spoon and without a second thought dives into the centre, the pudding makes a swooning, sucking sound.

This oak table, this family bedrock, has served the family for generations. Bikes have been fixed on it. Several babies have been made on it. Endless Christmas Dinner turkeys have steamed on it. Booze has been split on it. I absent-mindedly run my fingers over its memories, some ingrained more deeply than others. Mother drops a single tear, it lingers on a lash briefly, until gravity demands another. She glances at me, nods, still smiling.

Uncle Ted tells a joke and the whole table laughs with oaken trills. I glance at the empty space where Father once sat. Stroking the table, I remember his perpetually strong, brown, bough-like arms, his lingering essence somehow ingrained in oak. Mother fingers her favourite knot, she teasingly circles it, still smiling, the tears have pooled and her long, delicate finger wades in the ocean of memories. Gran drops her teeth in her pudding! Everyone laughs with mouths shaped like O’s. Just for a moment, as if drawn by the reality of the situation, all eyes fall on the empty, oak chair pushed under the table.