Thursday, 3 April 2014

Portrait of a Victorian funeral

I follow the empty coffin up the old, sloped stairs to the church on the cliff. The black coffin sways as the pall bearers stumble in the wind.
I look out to the sea, its iron waves churning with spit foam in the howling gale. It dashes against the harbour wall; spay arching up over the lighthouse.
No one speaks to me. They speak to my mother. She drops a lily behind her back, and I catch it with my hand.
We stand on the desolate headland by the gouged-earth grave. I think it is morbid to bury an empty box with all of this ceremony, when the bones of my father are rotting on the ocean floor. 
There is an expensive carved headstone. Mr Granville feels guilty, so he’s paid for everything.
He wouldn’t feel so guilty if he’s listened to my father.
‘A sailor knows the sea,’ my father mutters in my ear. ‘Knows when to leave her well alone.’
But Mr Granville didn’t listen.
‘Profit,’ Mr Granville had said to us, ‘is the beating heart of all society. Without profit, there would be anarchy.’
There is no anarchy here. Just grey faces, and the sombre words of the reverend.
My mother’s tears fall silently. They haven’t stopped falling since she heard. She holds her head high, her face cold and unforgiving as stone.
Far below us, the boats are all lashed down in the harbour. Their masts look small from up here, clinging to each other in the gale. I remember the feel of the rope running raw in my hands, the burn of salt in my eyes.
I turn to look back at the steps, and I see my own coffin carried up towards me.
‘Today is a bad day for a funeral,’ my father whispers.

S J Menary

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