A Good Send Off...
Written by Vincent J Prince on Wednesday the 9th of June 2010
An elderly man sits upon a very plain teak chair, aside a very plain window, appearing very plain and grey, emaciated, sallow and weary.
"She always used to cut't crusts off”
The man nods towards a stale sandwich sat on a plate on his lap, the corners curling just ever so slightly, exposing a nondescript grey matter which constitutes the filling.
"I said to our Sheila, I said: 'She always used to cut't crusts off'.”
His Yorkshire accent as thick as the lenses in his glasses.
"Sheila said she din't have time.”
"She always had time.”
He brushes crumbs from the lapel of his jacket - black and now noticeably ill fitting; the shoulders remaining stiff in the last position where they were once supported by the frame underneath, now only supported by the years of heavy starching.
"Good jacket this, seen me well. I shall expect I'll get some more wear out of it yet... Well, I know I'll be wearing it at least once more...”
His voice trailing off as he wistfully picks at the stitching on the shoulder.
"Good jacket this”
"She said I should have at least had it taken in, that wer' when we went to't last... One of these... Together”
"She said it's a tatty old thing, 'in't bloody fit for't bin she says!'... I mean...said, rather”
"By hell she cun't half carry on!”
"'Bloody good jacket this!' That's what I used to say!”
"It has seen better days mind... An't we all eh? Ha!”
The laugh only perfunctory in its manner.
"It weren't always worn for such sombre occasions”
"'Gave our Sheila away in this', that's what I used to say to 'er, and Christened our Andrew!”
"Bloody good jacket this!”
"Bloody pain in't backside she wer'...”
Slight hints of scarlet begin to prick his ashen, sunken cheeks; his body's last ditch effort at a flush. He stares out the window forlorn, his glazed eyes darting back and forth, never quite focussing on any fixed point.
"I had a little slip on't way into't church, our Margaret helped me up.”
A smile breaks across his face as his cheeks begin to pleat like curtains being drawn.
"I said to our Margaret, I said, 'she'll be laughing her bloody arse off up theer!'”
"And she will...”
"Always smiling she wer'”
"'Silly old bugger!' She'd 'av said! 'Never could stand up straight!'... I remember't time we took our Andrew; that's't grandson like, good lad”
Nodding in agreement with his own statement
"We took 'im down Lotherton Hall, I remember, it wer' December, bloody bitter cowd. Sorta weather that'd mek a snowman shiver! Hehe. Anyway, we'd all got wrapped up, and went to look at't deer, they've got a load of 'em up the'er, used to tell our Andrew the'wer' Santa's, used to 'av 'im try 'n' find't one wit' red nose... We used to tell him ter look for Rudolph!”
With each word of the recollection you can see a year trimmed like a hair from the old man's face. It's the sort of tale that's been recalled countless times before, told to anyone with an ear to listen. The family, friends, the bloody butcher, the postman, even the gas man (although it must be said, that was under duress, there's not much avoiding it when your head's stuck in a cupboard reading a meter). And with each telling the antlers grow bigger, the cold gets harsher, the snow gets thicker, but there's one thing that remains constant: the smile on his face.
"Yer shoulda seen't look on 'is little face, butter w'unt bloody melt! He wer' a little bugger mind! Oh aye!”
His voice dropping baritone as he draws his neck in, an emphasis on the "aye” giving an air of gravitas to his words.
"Aye he could be a right cheeky bugger!”
Anyway, the've got a gre't big pond up the'er, all sorts o' fish in it, not that yer could see 'em like, what wi' it been frozen ower like. Anyway, me 'n' our Andrew reckoned it wer' cowd enough to walk ower, like a say it wer' bloody freezing. So't both'n us, like a daft pair of a'peth's steps on it 'n'splosh!”
And with that word, as quick as you like he leaps up flinging both arms in the air!
"The pair of us! Straight in!”
"Talk about laugh! Bloody 'ell! She wer' bloody roarin'! Rollin' around she wer'! She 'ad to drag the pair of us out, like a couple'er drowned rats. The'wer' tears bloody rollin' down her cheeks! We 'ad to sit in't bloody groundskeeper hut wi' a cup of hot Bovril each, nowt but a little Calor heater to warm us up... Oh how we bloody laughed... Oh how she bloody laughed...”
Again his voice wanes, this time descending into a contented sigh, as he drops his gaze to the remnants of the sandwich left on his lap - now no more than crescent bite marks on the inner of two bread crust brackets.
Just like a clockwork toy, no sooner had he clapped eyes on the stale remnants lain before him, he was suddenly animated again, as though some phantom figure had wound the phantom key on the back of this fading fabulist.
"Bloody 'ell that laugh!”
Both hands slapping down on either thigh punctuating the "Christ!” as he said it.
"Bloody 'ell, what laugh... What a woman”
"They broke the bloody mould wi' that one... Broke the bloody mould”
"I remember that smile, and that bloody laugh! From the day I met 'er. 'n't day we married, it wer' alus that smile, 'n' alus that laugh...”
"Aww bleedin' 'ell... I said me sen I wu'nt get like this...”
"It's ironic really; I'm carryin' on 'ere like a bloody doilem about smiles and bloody laughter! But if anything, she 'ad a right bloody gob on 'er!”
"Alus Jack this and Jack that! Aye she cu'nt wait to flap 'er gums... Aye...”
"I sez to our Sheila, I shall finally get some bloody peace!”
And just as though the unseen handler had let the curtain cord slip, the smile jauntily draws his mouth to a close, betraying his words and letting slip the truth; he would do anything to hear her voice again.
"Aye, It wer' a good send off... It did her proud.”
A silence brews as he sits and still stares at the window, as though reviewing some phantom broadcast of the day's proceedings, a personal glass projection screen, privy only to himself, and framed in UPVC. Each detail of the day combed over in reverence, nothing left to maybes, every word uttered and every movement made, scrutinised... Pondered, for an unseen approval, all without an intake of breath throughout before finally:
And once again the drapery jowls draw open, a brimming smile in toe, this time exposing a perfectly uniform row of eggshell dentures.
A contended sigh ensues from the old man followed by:
"Aye... It wer'a good send off”