Wednesday 16 May 2012

'Ashes' by Alison Wassell

She is dry-eyed at the funeral. Later, she passes round plates of sandwiches and slices of a cake she baked herself. People exchange glances and clichés. She  is bottling things up. It hasn’t hit her yet. They wait in vain for the deluge. 
     Her son ceremoniously places a ceramic monstrosity on her mantelpiece. So much nicer, he says, than the plastic one from the undertaker. He embraces her awkwardly. 
    ‘He’s still with you, Mum,’ he whispers, a tremor in his voice. With her face pressed into his jumper, she swallows the urge to laugh.
     Alone, in the evening, her eyes keep returning to the urn. She shifts uncomfortably. Then, defiantly, she slips off her shoes and leaves them lying carelessly on the carpet. She curls her legs beneath her and reaches for the remote.  For five minutes she flicks through the channels.  She settles on a soap opera.  She is sure she hears his tut of disgust.
        Her appetite has never been better.  She opens the kitchen cupboard, in search of a late night snack. She gazes at the meticulously aligned tins of soup, oldest at the front, alphabetically arranged by flavour. Giggling like a schoolgirl she reaches to the back. She removes all the tins and replaces them haphazardly. Pleased, she heats up her soup and takes it into the living room, where she eats it in front of the television, slurping occasionally. When she has finished she sticks out her tongue at the urn.  She leaves the bowl in the sink.
      She lies on her back and stretches out her arms and legs into his space. She reads into the early hours, one arm around the cat who, allowed onto the bed for the first time ever, is scarcely able to believe his good fortune. 
       In the morning she makes toast and returns to bed with it. She allows crumbs to drop onto the sheets. She showers, dresses, and leaves the house without applying make up.
     In town, she enters a shop she has never dared to visit before. Ignoring the sniggers of teenaged shop assistants she purchases her first pair of jeans. She wears them as she cleans. She lifts the urn as she dusts the mantelpiece.
    ‘Mutton dressed as lamb’ it sneers. She slams it down a little too hard. A crack appears from top to bottom. She lifts the lid and peers inside. Grey dust stares back at her. She is shocked by how little remains of him.
     She inserts the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner into the urn, and switches on. Her husband disappears in a brief, satisfying slurp. She replaces the urn, turning the crack to the wall. Later, she fills it with Jelly Babies.
     Early on Friday she watches from the pavement as the bins are emptied.
    ‘All right, love?’ one of the men asks.
    ‘Never better.’ She gives him her brightest smile. She is still smiling, long after the truck has driven away. 
    ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish’ she whispers.

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