The heavy silence clung to Lila’s skin, she could feel her chest working harder at taking in breaths and his eyes watching her but she determinedly kept her gaze to the ground. He was saying words that she couldn’t make out. Wrapping her arms around herself, she dug her nails into skin, and bit her lip trying to keep the tears from her eyes. She didn’t want him to see her cry. She didn’t want him to see the mess that mascara made when it ran mixing with the foundation and snot down her face. “Lila? Lila?” his cracked voice broke through her thoughts. “Yes, of course, no I understand” bizarrely she felt something that could be a laugh bubble on in stomach, how could she say she understands when she knew she could never understand anything ever again. Nothing would ever make sense ever again. She could feel his awkwardness as he shuffled his feet and if she had a spare emotion she would have felt pity for him. He had come and done the deed, said what needed to be said, and now wanted to leave, exit this scene and never play a part in it again. He needed her permission she mused. She was meant to say something that could release him of his responsibly and free him back into his world, a world she would no longer be a part of it. Coughing, he took out of a packet of tissues, and offered her one. The tears where kept prisoner in her eyes, but she took one all the same. “Lila, I am very sorry” He awkwardly patted her shoulder in what she imagined he thought was a comforting gesture but he never was very good at comfort. As he began to walk away it hit Li la harder than any hand ever could; she had no idea how to organise a funeral.
She watched the undertaker with interest. He moved confidentially and smoothly, answering all of her questions and easing her concerns but she was not sure how he did this. His face marked with deep wrinkles but kind green eyes sparkled against the black suit. “I’ve never had to – I’ve never had to organise a funeral before ” Johnston Snr, of Johnston Funeral Homes nodding in the calm understanding way that somehow soothed her. He explained in a soft tone the arrangements she hadn’t even thought of, prickled her with questions until she felt woozy from making so many choices. There was a silenced, and Lila realised she has missed her cue to talk, startled she reached into her bag pack and pulled out her wallet which held a pile of notes that came to exactly one thousand, three hundred and forty euro. Her sweaty hand clasps the roll of notes as she awkwardly handed them over to the undertaker, he ’s calm composed face broke just for a second and then he composed himself to say “Miss. Jones, we can arrange payment afterwards, installments and –“ Lila broke him off in a panicked high pitched voice “I don’t – I don’t have a lot of money – But I can pay obviously I can pay of course, but this is – this is my first installment” She could feel his eyes scan her outreached hand with the sweaty pile of notes to her face, and then as cool and calmly as he did every movement, he nodded and moved to get Lila a receipt. Lila found the concept of a receipt for a funeral bizarre but she didn’t say anything, happy she was allowed a moment by herself after the whirlwind of questions and choices. While waiting for the undertaker to return and to hopefully tell her what to do next, Lila pondered how both the undertaker and the doctor who came and broke the news that her world would never be the same again, how both of them walked with death with such ease. She supposed it wasn’t an nice job but someone had to do it, but she wondered what that someone had to be made of watch to walk with death so close on such a daily bases.
She found her face contorting into a smile as she remember a joke they used to have “The last person to let you down is the undertaker” he would say let a great laugh out from deep inside his belly. He would tell this joke regularly and yet his laughter never faded, in fact his laughter would grow every time he told. The smile slipped off her face when she realised that finally the undertaker would leave him down, forever. He was gone. Over the past few days it kept hitting her like that. She knew but it was as if she was finding out for the first time all over again, he was gone and wasn’t coming back. Ever.
The following few days Lila felt like she was in a play, that everyone knew their characters and where to go, and their lines and she…she…didn’t. Relatives came and knew what to say, along with friends. The kettle broke it was boiled so many times for cup s of tea that would be left undrunk and to grow cold. Someone, her aunt perhaps who always insisted on being dignified and proper and grief was no excuse to cry in public or have shabby clothes, had laid out a black dress Lil a had a faded memory of buying but never wearing. She slipped it on, and was placing her feet in polished black shoes, followed the procession to the black car, and hoped everyone else would be kind enough to show her where to go and when to stand and when to sit.
It was only afterwards, after everything, after all the rituals, after everyone had tea and left crumb s of scones baked by some kind neighbour when Lila was left alone, and now she was so very alone, that it hit her, he was really gone.
The next few weeks was like trying to learn to live all over again. As time often goes, so cruelly, it moved on. Everything seemed slightly out of place, or the colours of her world were too faded like she was seeing everything in a memory she couldn’t quite recall. The seconds, turned to minutes which held days in them, and the days turned to weeks which held months in them, but for Lila every tick of the clock was just a reminder of his absence. The tears had dried up, Lila wondered vaguely if she had cried the col our of green eyes out. She wondered was there anything left in her to cry, she felt hallow and empty mostly with the exception of sharp pain that cut through her and the oddest things. When someone order Lyon’s tea instead of Barry’s a wave of emotion came over her and she could almost hear him scoff. When she found his scarf buried beneath the pile coats in the hall that still smelt like him. Listening to the radio and hearing an ad for the latest gadget, her face would contort into a smile as she would ponder how he would give out about all these latest gadgets. Every morning as she dipped her hand in the holy water font, she wondered to herself, does she really believe or did she simply keep up the ritual followed on by him. She continued to do it, because it was a memory of him and she believed in him and that was enough. In the Sunday paper. In the jingle of the tune of The Sunday Game on RTE. In the ritual of lighting a candle in the local church. In the common phrase that everyone would say but he seemed to have said first; “Grand Stretch In The Evening Thanks – Be – To – God”. In the daffodils poking the heads up among the weeds. In the song the radio played innocently not knowing it absolutely floored her because she could see him, doing the wash up, singing along with his own made up lyrics.
In the Birthdays, and Celebrations, and all the important missed days, but mostly in the not extraordinary days, the everyday normality, the ordinary extraordinary where she still kept expecting to see him reading the newspaper by the fire or drinking tea or simply doing nothing at all except being him.
Years passed by in the blink of eye and she somehow wished it became easier or the pain lessened. It didn’t. Instead she had simply learned to live with it. She had to learn how to live all over again in a world without him, with this gaping hole that couldn’t be filled. She was surprised to learn, she no longer dreaded finding him lingering in everyday objects, she sought it out, the beat, the pause of the day of her life, when she would be caught of guard by a song, or the Sunday Paper, or by Waterford’s Hurling Team making Semi Final, and she would be overcome with memories of him and could and hear and see him as clearly as if he was right there. “Do you believe in ghosts?” her counsellor had asked her when she had explained all this to her. “No” she replied. “But I believe….I believe his love is there” “Where?” her counsellor had asked “In everyday objects he used, and left with me. His parting gift. I like to believe…need to believe. Besides even if it’s not true who cares? I walk with grief everyday he is gone, and wherever I find comfort, is only a good thing” Lila hung on to this thought as if her life depended on it, because for her to get through one day at a time, it did.
Martina Collender is a playwright, Drama & Creative Writing Tutor, Writer and Stagemanger. She has had her plays produced by Red Kettle Theatre Company, RigOut Productions, Comeragh Wilds Festival, Imagine Arts Festival, Waterford Youth Arts & Garter Lane Theatre. Her writing has won The Lonely Voice Competition and she recently read at The Irish Writers Centre WomenXBorders event. She was awarded The Theatre Bursary Award from The National Arts Council.