Wooden Boxes

Ah, it was a week for funerals. On the Monday afternoon, my friend Johnnie the Fox was buried. It was a fine winter afternoon, and I walked out of town to the cemetery, along the path between the river and the sloping hills. Johnnie had died at the beginning of December, but the funeral wasn’t until the end of January. For whatever reason. However, I was the last to enter the little chapel as the service began, and the local vicar looked up and raised his eyebrows in recognition as I slipped into one of the bench seats running along the side of the room, where I could spend the next half hour or so watching the coffin.

My heart felt a certain gladness to see that there were at least a couple of dozen mourners there, as apart from two or three cousins and his daughter, whose ma had taken her away to the West Country as a toddler, he had no living relatives. Carly the daughter was there, grown to a lovely tall woman with John’s stunning blue eyes and fine fair hair. The service went quickly, luckily there were no hymns to be sung, but a couple of pieces of music were played and we said a few prayers, inside and out loud.

Then we all walked up the hill to the grave which had been set aside and paid for years before, his parents on one side and the paternal gramps on the other, overlooking the river and the valley, the poplar trees which will cast a long green shadow over John on summer evenings to come standing tall and grey at the edge of the field nearby, naked apart from a partial winter coat of ivy twisting up the trunks. A brief continuation of the service, a few nice comments about the dear departed and the surroundings in which he would spend forever, and the coffin was lowered into the chalk. Years ago I met John at the cemetery when I was there to visit a grave, and he’d been there lying on his plot, trying it out for size. Oh how we’d chuckled.

So, John settled nicely into the ground, I had a few words with Carly, then with Jo, the current lady friend and Maurice her dad, who had played hockey in his youth with some of my uncles and aunts, and then M the vicar, who wasn’t surprised to see me there as he’d come to the conclusion that I seemed to either know or be related to everyone who’s died round here lately, which sometimes seems to be true. Maybe he secretly thinks I’m nowt but a funeral junkie, a middle aged Harold looking for a Maud of my own.

Then Maurice grabbed me. “A word, please Graham” he whispered and ushered me along the path to a silent spot.

“You know about some of John’s bequest to you don’t you?” I did. John had left me his music, he told me he would years ago. There’s lots of it to listen my way through. Which is what I told Maurice.

“Well. There’s more, as you can imagine. We’ve had valuers in, and you can have either the cash value, which is a rather handy amount, or you can have the actual items. But we’re happy to send the items to auction. If you prefer. Obviously, it’s up to you. Probably not what you might want in the house. You do know what I’m talking about, don’t you?” he asked, probably because there was a look on my face that indicated that I didn’t have a clue what the fuck he was talking about.

“Sorry Maurice, I don’t have a clue what the…what you’re talking about?” I said. He sighed.

“The guns. He’s left you the guns. You understand me?” I did. John was a what you might call an enthusiast. One day in the late seventies when we worked together, I had walked into the porters’ room of the hospital where we worked, swigging back a can of Heineken with one in my apron pocket for John, and he was standing holding a .303 rifle pointed at the door, I suddenly went deaf and the can exploded in my hand. I eventually saw the joke and nicked some filler from the maintenance stores to cover up the damage to the door frame. When the building was demolished in the early nineties, I wondered if we’d see a story in the local paper about wartime relics found embedded in the woodwork, but no, the demolition company must have just gone in and smashed the place up. Vandals. John thought the whole thing hilarious. But in later years when he started hearing voices and the paranoia became a bit overwhelming for him we gave the rifle and half a box of ammo a decent burial at sea, to spend eternity as a seabed curiosity for lobsters, crabs and dogfish to ponder over, in their own fishy and crustacean ways.

So there’s more. And it/they is/are my inheritance  from my old mate. I told Maurice that it would go against the spirit of Johnnie the Fox’s wishes if I were to soil his memory by cashing in on his enthusiasms. So I’ll have the gun(s) to add to my small collection. Thanks John. Trouble is, you have to go farther and farther away over the hills to find somewhere secluded enough to blast away at unsuspecting tin cans and innocent tree trunks without worrying people unduly.

The next day a regular lady customer who only ever comes into the shop late in the afternoons came in at ten in the morning for a cup of tea, left, came back at twelve for lunch, left, and returned again at three for a hot chocolate. “Lin, what’s going on?” I asked. Three visits in one day is a record.

She told me she’d spent all day at the funeral parlour, sitting in vigil over her dead brother in law.

“Maggie’s husband?” I asked. I vaguely know her sister Maggie. As sisters go, they’re not close. I always thought they hated each other.

“Yerrrs, Alan. He’s died. We didn’t have much to do with each other while he was alive, so I’m making up for it now. The funeral is on Thursday. I’m not going. You know Maggie…..and me. So I’m saying my goodbyes now.” Makes sense to me. And she always says yerrrs instead of yes.

“Why don’t you go to the funeral?” I asked. “Mend some bridges with your sister, it’s the ideal opportunity, is a funeral. Emotions are heightened, Maggie will be at her most vulnerable, it’s the perfect time to exploit the tragedy of the moment and try to get close again?” She shook her head.

“No. Maybe another time.”

Ah well. I was only trying to be helpful. John. I’m only dancing.