The Funeral

A woman finds consolation in planning the funeral of her husband.

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Public Domain

Soon after we married, I began to plan my husband’s funeral. The void once filled by wedding arrangements, frocks, and favours returned to depress me horribly; I’d so enjoyed my moment in the spotlight, all faces on mine, willing my lips through the vows. A glorious day, but so brief: how well I understood the bigamist’s crime. But we live in a small town, and many of its inhabitants attended our nuptials. No, I can’t simply marry again. At least not until I’ve buried darling Bill.

It’s a popular man I married. They fought for invitations, I can tell you. “Hello, Bill’s wife!” they shout, when I trot into town, returning my library book, getting my hair done; it’s all, “Look, it’s Bill’s wife! How’s Bill? Send Bill our love, won’t you!”

I nod vigorously, smiling, always smiling, promising that of course, of course, I will, and doubtless Bill would want his love returned. I’m a one-woman sorting office for the safe deposit and collection of love. Sometimes they stop to chat so they can hear all about Bill’s antics. I enjoy that. I tell a good yarn, make them roar and exclaim, “What a man!” shaking their heads before marching away, suitably uplifted; or sometimes they’ll say, “I bet there’s never a quiet moment in your house!”

I agree that indeed there are very few quiet moments in our house, although this is a lie, Bill being away so often. Sometimes the ticking clock startles me.

Sometimes, when I’m called upon to speak, I find my voice hoarse from lack of use. That won’t do. So, ever inventive, I found some vocal exercises to perform, and sing and burble as I work through the house, dusting, sweeping, rearranging the wedding photos, picking up objects, putting them down elsewhere. “Fluttercups buttercups, fluttercups buttercups, tra la laa la lee!”

Some of the wedding guests said they could barely hear my vows. I suspect they thought it seemly I should be so choked with emotion. I shan’t be making that mistake again.

Those photos were a disappointment. I’m not sure I suit white, or smiling. I tend to hide the ones of me at the back, focus on Bill and his friends. They look so chuffed, brimming with themselves and bonhomie. My mother’s there too, very pretty and baffled. Indeed, despite the smiles there’s a vague air of perplexity about the whole proceedings. How on earth did she catch him? What the hell did he see in her? No one says anything to me, of course. His friends are very polite. But I see them staring, feel them thinking it all the same.

At the funeral they’ll be staring too, and thinking, however will she cope without him? Poor Kate. He was her life. They’ll suffer another surprise that day. I’ll cope all right. I’ll be the epitome of quiet, restrained dignity. The floor will be mine, mine alone. Bride is meant to get top billing on her wedding day, but with Bill beside me I could only ever hope for best supporting actress, and I wasn’t even a shoe-in for that, packs of glamorous women posing and giggling and gurning as though the Church were a cathouse. I burnt those pictures. There’s several of me in the background, flabby and dour, while some slutty witch reapplies her lipgloss like it’s performance art. They’ll be banned from the funeral, every last whore of them.

It’ll be a theatrical ceremony, of course, so it’s crucial I get the music right: overture, big show-stopper, huge finale. Walk them in, dazzle them, send them packing again, brimming with feeling. Not with sorrow though, nor pity, but astonishment. Never dreamt Kate had it in her, they’ll say, while the old man burns.

I shall read, of course, and give the eulogy. I suppose his son should get a poem to butcher, but given the hash he made of our wedding reading, it’ll need to be simple and quick. For me, something from Tennyson, and they’ll hear my voice break a little on the word ‘widow,’ but come back stronger for the clinching line. I’m having to practise that. It’s pretty tricky to get right. I’ve got it by heart now and added it to my vocal exercises, watch myself in the mirror to perfect the quivering lip, the downcast gaze. I suppose his brother will read too, even though he and his depression are the reason I’m not allowed children. “Not fair to take a gamble of that magnitude,” says Bill, “and we’re not young, Kate, you’re not young, which increases the risk, don’t you know?” I hate his brother and his contribution to my silence. Actually, stuff him. He’s off the billing. Who’ll be there to dispute my choices? It’s my day. And goodness, I’m not that old! If he died in the next few years I’d still have some options. I’d gladly take depression over silence before death over silence. But, somehow, it’s not my choice to make.

Then a small quiet lunch at a country pub. I’ve chosen that, and even the table, a prime spot with the window behind me. One doesn’t want to radiate too much at a husband’s wake, and anyway I doubt I’ll be in the first flushing bloom of radiant womanhood. The health of him, I’ll be flipping ancient. But they also serve who stand and wait, as Bill’s fond of telling me. Given the likely length of that wait, I’ve yet to invest in an outfit, although I keep an eye out. Gives intrigue to the endless shopping trips I must endure with his mother. Classic lines, a pencil skirt, close-fitting blouse, black stockings, a clever little heel, unlikely to go out of style.

Not cheap, funerals. I’ve started saving as best I can, given Bill’s predilection for entertaining and holidays. I wince as he orders more wine, discusses an extension; thinking, there goes another nail for his coffin.

I know I’m lucky to have him. Truly, I do. He’s a catch. Everyone says so. I don’t want him dead so much as I want that day. A day all about me, where I get to be—just Kate. On her own, not an afterthought, tolerated for his sake. There’ll be pain too, no doubt, but I think the pain will be manageable. At least, more manageable than the silence.

Melissa Todd completed an MA in creative writing at Canterbury Christchurch in 2009, and writes novels, short stories and opinion pieces.

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