'Grateful' by Laura Pearson

We stood at the back of the church. Bowed our heads. The vicar talked about him, about how good he was, how kind. On the front row, his close family held hands and tried to stay composed. Then his wife made her way to the front and stood at the lectern, looking out. I guess she was taking in the number of people, the amount of love. She cleared her throat and ran her hands over her dress before she started speaking and something in those small gestures just killed me. There was a lump in my throat and I didn’t look at you because I knew I would break if I did.

She read out a poem. I didn’t know it but I bet you did. It was about a forest, about light and shade. She broke down in the middle of it, and it looked like she wasn’t going to finish. There was a heavy silence while people wondered what to do, but then she pulled it together and read to the end. The vicar thanked her and she gave him a weak smile, and I wondered when she’d really smile again for the first time. When she’d laugh. It wouldn’t be today. It wouldn’t be soon. But it would happen.

We didn’t stay for the burial. It wouldn’t have been right. We didn’t follow them over to where his grave was going to be. We stepped out into the crisp sunshine and walked away. You can do that, when you’re not family, or a friend. When you’re a stranger.

‘I think he was a good one,’ you said.

You were always looking for a father figure. Even one who was dead.

I shrugged. ‘You can never tell, for sure,’ I said.

You caught hold of my hand as it swung forward and snuck yours inside it. There wasn’t much to say. We were sixteen, and you thought we were going to be together forever, and I knew we weren’t, and that was causing a gap between us that was starting to widen, day by day.

It was me who liked the funerals. You just went along with it. There was something comforting, I found, about a life being summed up like that, once it was over. Once the person couldn’t do anything to hurt anyone. And you seemed happy to come along. Happy to stand beside me in draughty churches, to sing along to hymns about a god we didn’t believe in. I’ll always be grateful for that.

Comments

  1. A lovely and unusual piece. So many layers to this story.

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  2. "Happy to stand beside me in draughty churches, to sing along to hymns about a god we didn’t believe in. I’ll always be grateful for that." Oh, I love this. The oddity of this couple should be creepy, but it's not. That's not easy to pull off, but you did. Great story.

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