The garbage men worked slowly in the rain over by the interred ashes of Scunthorpe residents who never expected it to come to this. Industrial waste bins were full of decomposing flowers and water-smudged cards saying things like ‘God Bless,’ and ‘Rest in Peace.’
Nobody was resting here.
The overflow car park filled up while I sat in the car on my own fiddling with a chewing gum wrapper and watching the dirty white bin lorry and the orange men tending it like a fat silk worm. No-one looked happy to be here, not the garbage men, and not the mourners. From morning toast and into the only suit you’d need for years: orange or black. Dusted off and now here in this clinically manicured garden. The mainly elderly people in the other cars looked bored staring out from rainy windows towards where the funeral would take place. Waiting for the unscripted right moment. Short walk over at a respectable pace, men jingling keys and change in suit pockets. Heads slightly bowed as if they were afraid to look up.
At the building the tall brick chimney feathered out white smoke. Some gaps, then big clouds. Someone was being burned down in there somewhere. You hardly ever get to see this and you can’t take your eyes from it easily. Another service had just finished. Rain beat down the cloud until I thought it would cover the latest smear of black-clad mourners waiting under an asphalt roof in a kind of ‘Now what?’ moment outside of the exit. Awkward handshakes, the compulsion to smile and shrug. Grey and white hair and tottering footsteps. The only chance some of them got to see each other until next time, but somebody would be the one in the box with the fake brass plastic handles when this same crowd met next time. Bye. Bye.
The Hearse arrived on time but the flower tribute had fallen against the window and I couldn’t read it until the scruffy funeral guy slammed it back against the coffin. “Nan.” Not my Nan. My friend’s mother. I was there because I owed him. Some kind of tied respect that told me this would be the right thing to do. I felt out of place; detached. Like everyone else I’d seen that day knew a secret I didn’t. The smoke from the last cremation flowed out up into the Scunthorpe air. There were no birds. No weeping either.
The service was fast. Dumb prayers and pauses in the right practised places. The Vicar told us stupid lies about the woman. I stood at the back thinking she must have been worth more than the fact she used a computer and liked The Archers. What a life. What an end. No-one left quickly. We were log-jammed by the fear of appearing to leave too soon. Like the group before us, we lingered under the asphalt roof as the rain came in on the breeze.
Afterwards I hugged my friend. I knew he missed her. She’d gotten him out of more shit than anyone would ever know. Now she was dead I feared for him. The last safety net was gone. ‘Take care of yourself please mate,’ I said.
‘Listen,’ he said. ‘I’ll get some resin and we’ll get blasted, eh.’ He laughed hard, too hard for the rain and the crowd.
As I drove away the white cloud billowed heavily, bulging into the sky. That’s all.