This is the first draft of the last chapter of the novella I thought might one day spring out of my very first story for the Group. I wrote it at the beginning of the month and I’m not sure I like it now as I’m thinking of wrenching the whole longer story around – been mulling the story over. But here goes…..
It was a grey autumn day with violent blustery rain showers, matching Marion’s mood. People said funerals were supposed to be a celebration and, yes, she wanted to celebrate Mike’s life – or, selfishly, those bits of it she’d spent with him – but she felt overwhelming sadness and loss at his departure. Out in the churchyard she listened to the mournful toll of the bells and tried not to shed a tear.
She had arrived at the Church in Leckhampton in good time but hung back, put off by the funeral directors with their cards at the door, reluctant to give her name or to appear too publicly. She lurked in the background noticing the back door through the church tower was open. Then when the undertakers arrived with the coffin and family, she darted through the tower door, apologising to a churchwarden.
“Sorry, I’m a bit late. Please excuse me, I don’t want to disrupt the funeral procession.”
The churchwarden nodded courteously and showed her to a seat at the back and procured her an Order of Service.
As the procession passed, the Vicar intoning the customary prayers, Marion held back the tears and looked at Ginnie, who she’d never seen in the flesh before, and the two boys, standing strong with their wives. And there was Dave, ever loyal but looking older, with his wife following dutifully in the procession. But most of all she gazed at the coffin and thought of Mike, now decomposing flesh and bone, but once vigorous and, at the same time, gentle and considerate. She thought of how, less than six months ago they’d been making love – passionate yet utterly tender – and now he was suddenly gone. He’d been so attentive to her needs, whether as a young student or later on as an older man.
Mike’s brother Jim gave an address praising his brother’s dedication to the medical profession and his work in retirement as an adviser to GP practices around the Midlands as well as increasing “devotion” – as Jim put it rather sarcastically, Marion thought – to art. She detected a hint of Ginnie in the voice as she had never come to understand Mike’s love of drawing and painting – although Ginnie would probably never know that quite a bit of Mike’s activities had not involved architecture or art. But that said, Mike had really become quite an accomplished water colourist, as some of her own clients would readily testify.
At the end of the service, as the family filed out behind the coffin, Marion had her first real look at Ginnie’s face in the flesh – as opposed to the odd photograph Mike had shown her – and saw her face, undoubtedly pretty once, but seemingly grown harsh she thought and her dark hair flecked with grey. It fitted with what Mike had said about her.
Outside in the churchyard, the family and congregation gathered around the grave for the committal though Marion hung back observing from a distance. As the coffin was lowered into the ground, the vicar intoning the words of commendation and handfuls of earth being thrown in by the family, Marion felt a surge of emotion at the realisation Mike was now gone for ever, and tears welled up and her shoulders shook with sheer desolation and loneliness. She stood rooted until the mourners turned away when she too turned to go but not before she happened to catch the attention of Dave who recognized her. He whispered to Ginny who hesitated for a minute as if paralysed by shock. Then Marion felt the full burning gaze of someone searching for an answer to questions perhaps lurking in the back of their mind but now suddenly thrust to the foreground. Ginnie started to move towards her, but Marion turned swiftly and fled.
It was later, back at home, the mourners departed, that Ginnie remembered the pictures the family had unearthed in the past week. There in the old family album was a yellowing picture of Mike with his friends, including Dave, at Medical School and next to Mike was Marion the nurse she knew to have been his old girlfriend; and then, from eighteen months ago, the press cutting from the Shropshire Chronicle of Mike with two of his watercolours and his upmarket client, easily recognisable as the mysterious woman in the churchyard. And as she pondered numbly, she finally began to understand.