Exercise two The funeral a short story written with Jojo Thomas and friends. The subject is a funeral. I chose to do a piece of fiction loosely based on the preparations for my mothers funeral.
We gather around the fireplace and wait. We drink coffee and tea and watch the flames climbing, escaping. No one speaks, we are waiting for the priest.
I can’t quite remember him but I think he is a tiny little fella with grey hair and flaking skin. I never much liked him, but mum loved his visits. She used to say that he always had the gossip!
We hear a car make its way up the hill. By the time I get to the door, its parked and a tall slim man is walking towards the steps. It’s not Father Joe, so I don’t know how to greet him.
‘Good evening father. Is father Joe coming later?’
‘Father Joe had to go to Dublin. Lucky divil!’
‘Oh, and you are?’
‘Father Gordon. New to the parish. I met your mam a few times. Lovely lady. So sorry for your loss.’
Father Gordon is about six foot four with dark hair, chiselled cheek bones and the brightest blue eyes. Without the getup, he could pass for a rock star. He shakes my hand and I lead him into the lounge.
‘Will you have tea father?’
‘Sure tea is grand, but a drop of whisky is better.’
‘Oh, yes, of course. Sorry, I didn’t think…’
‘What that priests drink, in Ireland?’ His bright blue eyes look into mine for a moment too long.
‘Oh, sorry, yes, stupid of me I will get that in a moment. Let me introduce you to my sister Hanna, my brother Alfie and my husband Jacob.’
I point to each of them. They stand in turn, as if being presented to the Queen, at one point I thought Hanna was actually going to curtsy.
Everyone is quiet as the father drinks his whisky. We are waiting for instructions for the funeral on Friday. The priest looks at each of us in turn and I instantly start to feel a little like Red Riding Hood in the sights of the Big Bad Wolf!
He addresses all of us. ‘So, where do you all come from?
‘London’ It’s a chorus as we answer together.
‘Ah a great place. Spent a few years there when I was a novitiate.’
It seems he is determined to chat, I nod and try to conjure a smile.
I start to flick through the papers I prepared for his visit. I look over at my husband hoping he will register my feeble smile and see it as a call to arms to take over the conversation. As if reading my mind, Jacob leans in and asks Father Gordon about his time in London, where he lived, what he liked to do, where he went after London. I watch Jacob conduct the conversation drawing in Hanna and Alfie at key points. He is like a skilful conductor, slowly but precisely drawing in each instrument of a very small orchestra.
My neck aches from all the time spent leaning over my laptop researching poems and hymns, I should know what her favourites are, but I don’t. It took me back to the last time I attended mass.
I stopped going to mass when I was about 14, it was after a long conversation with dad when he told me I had a choice about whether or not I attended. So, the very next Sunday I declared my intention to stay at home. Mum was not pleased and made me look after Hanna, I complained and mums retort was that it was better than the punishment I could expect in Hell for missing mass!
I move my head to one side and then the next, slowly, so I don’t draw attention. I don’t want to discuss my faith or lack of it. Jacob is still managing the conversation so I can tune in and out as I choose.
Father Gordon is explaining that he was a military chaplain in Bosnia. His smile has faltered and my husband lets the conversation die, much as the fire is dying in the crate.
We are silent while Father Gordon reads the notes I prepared for the service. He then advises us on the hymns and readings, we are attentive and almost compliant. He is talking about Holy Communion, do we want it. I want to shout at him that I really don’t give a fuck about Holy Communion but, instead, I say that its up to him to decide, I wont be taking it. Hanna can’t resist poking the priest.
‘What about Jacob father, he isn’t one of us you know, is he allowed to take it?’
He thinks for a minute and then answers her, ‘only if he doesn’t swallow! ‘I nearly cover him in the tea that spurts out of my mouth. Hanna looks shocked and excuses herself.
Father Gordon now has Jacob in his sights. ‘Sure I have no problem with other religions, you can take it if you like, it wont hurt you and it may even do you some good.’
Jacob is smiling. I can see he likes the priest; anyone who can get one over on Hanna is in his good books. Jacob replies to the priest, ‘I will give it a miss, but thanks for the offer.’
Father Gordon leans in and his head almost touches Jacobs when he says. ‘You know you’re not going to heaven, don’t ya?’ He sits upright again waiting to see how Jacob will respond. I am tempted to rescue, someone, anyone, but stay silent. Quick as a flash Jacob responds. ‘Maybe not; But then, maybe your not getting in either father.’ Alfie’s sharp intake of breathe expresses my thoughts exactly. I don’t want Father Gordon to take against us, he has vast swathes of power in the pulpit. Seconds later Jacob and Father Gordon both burst out laughing and shake hands. Now, I can breathe again.
As he gets ready to leave, Father Gordon points to the three cars parked outside the house. ‘Those cars out there, are they yours?’
The worst winter in a decade meant we were all driving four wheel drive cars, Hanna has the Mitsubishi, Alfi a luxurious Range rover and we have an Audi. They did look impressive all standing to attention.
Alfie answers. ‘Yes’
‘What will happen to your mam’s car when you leave?’ I forgot about the bright red Hilux parked around the back of the garage. How does Father Gordon even know it exists?
Alfie, who hasn’t spoken much this evening takes control. ‘Now father we haven’t decided yet. Sure we want to help people out an all, but you wouldn’t be edging for one would you?
Father Gordon is not one to be put off lightly, ‘If there’s one free, I wouldn’t say no!’
We all laugh, pretending that Father Gordon is having the gas with us, but we know the score. The church expects and most people deliver.