#fridayflash, wordbunches on a Friday. I wrote this in a cafe last month, because felt guilty for not writing much, but I couldn’t be bothered to revise it heavily. We need to come up for a word that means “enjoy” but suits more serious stuff. Answers on a postcard. Also, yesterday was my two-year blogging anniversary!
I was dressed in black, obviously. Black suit, black tie, black shoes, even a black shirt, though I thought a black armband would be a bit too much so I went without one. The tattoos my father hated poked just above my shirt collar, a splash of colour against black clothes, black hair, grey eyes, and pale skin. I thought about putting concealer on them for his sake, but whenever I’ve tried I’ve just looked badly photoshopped, so he’ll have to suffer the sight of them. I forgot to have a haircut, and flattening it down makes me look like a mid-noughties emo teen, so I resorted to hiding it under a Blues Brothers hat.
The car was late, so I paced the hallway, fiddling with my rings and obsessively checking my speech. I had copied it onto cue cards, which was starting to feel a bit pretentious, and was near the point of chucking them away and grabbing a print-out when the doorbell rang. It was the driver, a little too fat for his uniform, but seemed genial enough. I joined the women of the family in the back of the car. They didn’t seem to want to speak to me, but Mum wouldn’t hear of it when I suggested that I was big enough and ugly enough to make it to the crematorium by myself, so I was forced to endure an awkward, repressive silence as the car pulled out of my road.
It was a sweltering summer day. The sun beamed upon the tinted windows and the inside of the car was scorching. We were all sweating and stinking up the vehicle, so I opened the window to audible tutting. I stared out at the trees and the terraced houses as we slowed to join the procession at a T junction. The hearse pulled past, and we entered the train directly behind it, to my grandmother’s loud insistence. The outside world crawled by, and she began to prattle about builders and her conservatory and, while I appreciated what she was trying to do, I scrunched my eyes closed, leant my head against the window, and wished Nan would just shut her fucking mouth for once.
After far too long, we arrived. The previous service was running late, so the congregation had to mill around outside for a while. I shrugged off my jacket and lit a cigarrette. The irony of the situation didn’t escape me. My father was a man who ran his life like clockwork, liked the world precise and neat and ordered and, most of all, on time. He passed this mircomanagement obsession on to me, one of my gentler little inheritances.
I texted my girlfriend while we waited. She could have been my plus one, but she suggested that it would be easier for both of us if she stayed away. She hadn’t met any of my family yet, and we didn’t relish the thought of having to explain the word transgender to innumerable great uncles and aunts, so we agreed to delay the introduction. I have a big family, and I don’t talk to any of them much, which suits me fine. I intended to remain as invisible as possible, save for the speech.
I guess the family felt obliged to force me to write one. Mum was doing one, as was Uncle Steve, and apparently my sister had written a poem for the occasion, so delivering a speech became a stipulation for my attendance. Problem was, I didn’t have a clue what to write about my father. My uncle was first, so he got to leave it at establishing the simple facts with a sprinkle of sentiment. Mum was inevitably going to spout a few lines of nonsense before breaking down into tears and becoming unable to continue speaking.
My sister, however, was being very crafty. In poetry, you can say precisely nothing, as long as it seems artful enough to seem intellectual and you perform it well enough to make it seem filled with great feeling. My sister and I were the only people in the entire room who actually got poetry, so she could have said pretty much anything that rhymed and it would have done. In the event, her poem wasn’t bad – certainly far better than it needed to be, but not as good at the material she gigs with. She even included a few of our private jokes, which soared over the heads of the congregation and made up for the icy reception in the car. I made a mental note to rebuild some bridges at the wake.
Inevitably, after yer another interminable hymn – although we weren’t actually in a church, we apparently needed to recreate some of its bollocks – it was my turn at the pulpit. I can’t remember what I said, and I’ve long since lost the original speech, but I do remember that the reception was as indifferent as the content. It was hardly the occasion to speak my mind, and enough of the crowd recognised my restraint to give me some grateful applause for avoiding it. After three cards of empty nonsense I resumed my seat, and suffered through the rest of the service in silence. The only bit of character to the whole affair was when they played my father’s favourite song, by his direct request. After his body was received into the welcoming bosom of the fire, we shuffled out to the strains of the Monster Mash. It took some effort to remain dignified.
It was getting late, but the evening sun still shone brightly on the gardens of the crematourium. The gravestones erected around the grounds seemed unneccessary, but custom was custom. Most of the congregation moved quite quickly towards the wake, which promised to be loud, boozy, and inevitably dull. I had to wait for Mum to retrive the ashes, but I wasn’t in a particular rush to join them anyway. I stood there, gazing at the cloudless sky, and thinking about my dead father, a man who talked forever, then coughed himself to death. I couldn’t hate him any more than I hated myself, which is hardly the highest of compliments but was definitely the sign of progress. I had made my peace with him in the hospital, where he lay with a tube in his throat, struggling to breathe. It’s hard not to feel sorry for someone in such a state, so even I managed to pity him. We didn’t say anything. He took my hand, squeezed it, and nodded. I nodded and squeezed back, and that was enough. Still, on that hot summer night, it was hard not to look back on my father with mixed feelings, nor ahead without being aware of a profound emptiness.
My sister walked up behind me and took my arm. She always was the bigger man. We walked silently back to the car. Tears were streaming down her face and I wondered when mine would come. (They did, in time.) A single cloud passed in front of the sun as we stepped back into the car and drove away.
Transmetropolitan: Year of the Bastard by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, and others (1999)
Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! (2014)
If you want to join in with #fridayflash, great! Around 500 words is best, but I’ve gone on a bit this week. Either send me a link to its page on your site, or as a .doc or .rtf attachment. Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject header SUB: #fridayflash, and I’ll post it up. No money involved, all rights remain your own. There are no restrictions, but if you want a prompt, leave a comment.