I sat in the car with my wife and travelled up to the cemetery where I’d been buried not long before. She didn’t know I was there, of course, I was now the silent passenger; the observer, the helpless carer whose love for her continued on like an afterglow on the planet where we had both lived: my presence gradually fading as the last embers of my emotion vanished from this place.
She seemed to be disoriented and walking up the wrong path. At last she arrived at a grave. “Frank Sutherland, Father to Christopher and Cecelia. 1954-2011”. . . My name was Phillip. Pausing briefly she then knelt and laid the flowers on his grave. I had known him well; a local care free drunk and party man who had left a litter of children across the locality and died in a moment of reckless euphoria at the wheel of a borrowed car. On one famous occasion he had run for mayor.
I became aware of a presence and now here he was beside me, cheery as ever, and standing in death by his grave smiling down at my wife. “We first slept together twenty-three years ago.” he said by way of explanation “Sorry, but, bloody hell, she was a goer and half wasn’t she”. I would have raised my eyebrows if I still had any, but I could still feel surprise.
After the rare episodes of love-making with my wife, where our hands moved only as much as was necessary and without undue familiarity, there would be a pause. A feeling of shyness mixed with embarrassment and then it was always the same. I would roll off and she would say “Thank you”. Not in a cold way, but in a clear and deliberate voice, as though I’d just bought her a cup of tea. That was it, followed by slumber. The routine was unchanging. She was my one foray into intimacy: perhaps I had missed something.
I was a surveyor, on the neighbourhood watch committee, golf club member and local historian. I attended church regularly and made every effort to support my family. I’ve no idea what Frank did. He always seemed to get by on a wing and a prayer, somehow evading responsibility and defying the normal laws of economic gravity ,and the downside of reckless living, till he had one escapade too many.
Work frequently required my absence from home, but we always talked on the phone, and her reliable calmness was a constant source of pride to me during my journey through life. “She could dance”, continued Frank, “as if there was no space or time, you know: urgent, wild”. There is no anger in death, only love and regret so regret it was: waves of it. “Didn’t you feel any shame” I said, ”Destroying the bonds of another family”. “Life’s too short for regrets. At least mine was” he said, visibly, or invisibly amused, depending on your circumstances
The object of our affections was now kneeling in an act of fruitless prayer for his soul as we stood beside the grave. I, feeling more and more like a guest in her life, rather than a part of it, turned to him in sorrow and said,” At least I have my child. She goes on”
“Have you ever studied your daughter’s eyes?” he said, “They are my colour” and as he spoke his frame rocked in silent laughter. He seemed to be finding death as amusing as life. I stared down at the woman I called my wife and said “Does the truth set you free?” but when I looked for him there was no one left to answer.