Actually his feet and the rest of his remains, encased in his best clothes, a rather cheap wood coffin with pretend brass decorations, (family choice) are now six feet vertically below my own. I have just carried to his final resting place a man I never knew and had never seen prior to viewing his marbled corpse laid out in the parlour this morning. His family are scattered around me. We never met till the requiem mass but greet each other again at the graveside not as strangers but maybe as contemporaries would.
The vital role I am playing in the life of this family, along with my physicality, will be forgotten by them thirty minutes from now as they gather in a local hostelry to sip their sherry and in hushed tones discuss the life of the deceased. Today is a unique day for him as he will only be spoken about lovingly and positively. His absence will encourage the speciousness of their eulogies. The truth will, without doubt, come at some later date. Today I am booked to play this part three times. The priest, wisely covered by a huge black brolly, held by an acolyte, reads the service, giving full value for money.
We have no such covering available. The rain is being horizontally driven in from the east and has trickled down the back of my neck, negotiated its way under my collar, down my spine and is now starting to attack the elastic of my pants. The mourners, many of them brolleyless, would not feel short-changed by a reduced form of service. Rain at funerals in this country is a fairly common occurrence but no one, to my knowledge, has designed a portable loggia to allow mourners to carry out their duties in a civilised fashion. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.......... " Another "soul" returning to the earth from which he came.
No one ever questions the veracity of these immortal "comforting" words. His beginning, hopefully, was the result of a passionate sexual love between a man and a woman. Their liquids joined together in her womb and in the course of time he burst free into the world down a fluid filled channel. No hint of ashes, dust or friction in the whole process. My demeanour is one of respect, probity and hopefully anonymity.
However my peripheral vision, developed over six years in this role, is quite acute. Even with my eyes focused on the coffin six feet below I can gauge the tensions of the mourners enough to speculate on the reasons for their fragmentation. An electrified wire is loose, dancing within their groupings and preventing them from blending together. As mother has preceded father to the grave, any pretence of family unity will be gone after today and they will set about resolving the conflicts that have existed since childhood but which parental presence had subjugated.
The chief mourner, white faced after four nights of quietly grieving in his father's gin, conceals the elation he feels now that his share of the estate should at least sort out the last ten year's accrued overdrafts. These have been incurred by the expense of a large house in West Wickham, Mercedes cars for him and his "housewife", private schools and ponies for the children, and the ruinously expensive tastes of Rita, his 25-year-old secretary cum mistress from Hayes. All have been essential parts of his life as a partially successful PR consultant.
Life for him takes on a new meaning. His wife, glad that the tedious visits to the nursing home in Bromley have finally ended, exults in the knowledge that she will now be able to start divorce proceedings. She cuddles her two young possessions, aware of the mistress but oblivious to the overdrafts. Second and third sons are not as fortunate as their eldest sibling in their share of the spoils having both been rescued by their father from potential disasters in property and publishing respectively.
Their wives huddle close to each other but significantly apart from their spouses. The word "chasm" springs to my mind. "............. and life everlasting, Amen. " brings my reveries sharply back into focus. As the priest concludes with a final sprinkling of Holy Water the mourners gather to drizzle fine earth on to the coffin. The plainly dressed but strangely attractive daughter of the family has, at last, gained financial and moral independence. She catches my eye and holds my attention with a look of intensity that has only one interpretation.
As ever at the time of a death the inexorable process towards creation is in attendance. I return her query with a slow vague bow of my head, which says everything or nothing and move away to my place as driver of the lead car of the cortege. Timing is of the essence on this stage. The family of Mrs. Emily Bates, 1pm at Hither Green Cemetery (no flowers by request), would think it extremely disrespectful if one of the principal players in their family drama were not to be on stage when the performance begins.