The heavens had opened. It was a black day. Cold. Wet. Thundery. Black. Harsh. Welsh November rain. Clichéd dark black sky.
It was the funeral of Cai Tywysog, twenty three year old golf professional of Mynydd Eimon Golf Club. He had been accidentally shot by Aunty Mary in a freak, premeditated accident involving an army revolver. She had admitted this and everyone believed her. Aunty Mary would never lie.
‘Nice crowd’, my uncle Daniel muttered to me as we stood cold and sodden at the graveside. I looked at him in bewilderment. ‘No!’ it wasn’t a nice crowd in any sense. There were barely a dozen people present even if you included my dead best friend, the gravediggers and the priest. I checked my watch again. We had been here twenty minutes already waiting for the priest to show up. He had disappeared somewhere between the church and the graveyard.
I looked around, again. It wasn’t a particularly nice, or happy, crowd. We were lined up along the side of the grave in the cold, wet rain with not one umbrella between us. For some reason no-one like kids at a school dance – males to the right, females to the left. On the right hand side the four male mourners were staring at the ground looking like a bad marketing idea of reuniting the original film cast of Reservoir Dogs forty years later. Our black suits were, well, disparate. Mine was new and fitted the occasion with style and a certain elegance, if I say so myself. The others looked like they had been dragged out from the back of three ancient wardrobes the previous evening and shoved under the mattress to press last night. The new identical black ties were just… well too new. They were as obvious as something new on an old thing.
The men were arranged in weight order in front of me. First and weighing in at around 10 stone was the headmaster, Dr Pedwar Penn. Pedwar remarked, quite cheerfully, ‘Mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn.’ I looked sharply at him as I had a decent understand of the Welsh language but had never been that wonderful at it in school, ironically taught by him. ‘It’s raining old ladies and sticks, so it is.’ I forced a painful pretend smile then looked around. The other sodden faces hadn’t even made that much effort. Next to Pedwar, stood the doctor – Dr Amos Caddoc. Then came Uncle Daniel and finally yours truly. Not that I was the heaviest. I meant the men’s weight leading up to me. I would probably fit somewhere between Pedwar and Amos. I like things to be correct.
I looked up at the bizarre reflective image standing across from us, across the coffin. It was like two teams waiting in a tunnel to run out at Cardiff Arms Park to do mortalish rugby combat. Or, if I looked more kindly it seemed nothing more than the school hall at the first school dance. However, on reflection, I felt the best version would be that if we were on the dexter side of the coffin, the sinister side looked, well, even more ‘from the pen of Charles Addams’. This femina side contained, from the head of the deceased to his shoes; my sister, Seren; my receptionist, Lily, although she preferred the title secretary; Dr Amos’ receptionist, Rose; and the murderer herself, Auntie Mary.
It seemed that from the head end to the toe end of the crate the women had been arranged in age and height order. My sister, Seren was the tallest, and youngest. She looked like the young actress Carolyn Jones in her early days, playing the original Morticia Adams. Next came Lily, who managed to look under dressed and overdressed at the same time in a short black number. Rose looked exactly what she was – an aggressive doctor’s receptionist. Although I gathered, she preferred to be known as a secretary also. Which left the smallest and oldest – Aunty Mary. Aunty Mary was as old as the grave, which was appropriate at this time and withered like an old apple-john. She had always looked this old though. I had known her ever since I was a baby, and she looked ready to pop her clogs then.
Lily was the odd one out of these four sirens, or harpies depending on your perspective. She showed flashes of real emotion. She was sad and sniffing and actually holding back a few tears. This struck me as unusual. In the ten days she had been my unpaid, unasked for receptionist she had been solid and dependable and as emotion-free as the other mourners. Rose held her hand tightly and whispered ‘shh’ a good many times. Seren looked totally pissed off and glared at the sky and the rain. She also glared at the coffin and at Lily every time she breathed. Aunty Mary, well she was just Aunty Mary. She was emotionless, unfathomable, soaking wet and as empty as Satan’s heart.
Two other shapes dressed in Reservoir Dogs attire appeared pathetically holding their collars against the rain. These were two characters I had been forced to attend Balaclava Road School (mixed) with for just over a decade. They were brothers. They were twins. They were twin brothers. They were Dai Proper, the eldest and Dai Copy, the next eldest. I went to Balaclava Road School (mixed) with them for the best part of sixteen years. They looked nothing like each other. They were of similar disposition though – both filled with that traditional Welsh miserablist outlook on life. The outlook where poets write of, ‘Dead man naked being one with the man in the wind and the west moon’. They were both, as my sister, Seren described them, in less poetic terms, ‘as thicker than pig shit and twice as loathsome.’ They worked for my Uncle, Daniel, and ‘helped out’. I dreaded to think what that entailed. But, they seemed to like it. Well, as much as they appeared to enjoy anything in their strange, curious entwined, little lives. They moved together toward the coffin in that oddly affected Liam Gallagher walk they have been practising since they were twelve. Then they separated and locomoted to either side of the coffin. Dai Copy plonked himself between Amos and Uncle Daniel whilst Dai Proper shrugged and elbow a gap between the set of secretaries. They took up the ropes that lay under the coffin and gently, gently, breathtakingly gently they astonishingly, almost scarily, lowered the box skilfully into the hole. The only sound, apart from Lily’s intermittent sobbing, and the quietest of squeaks from the ropes, was the fitful grumbling and cursing of Dai Proper as he worked. With the tiniest bump it was over, the eagle had landed, and they moved away.
We all exhaled as one. I looked up and Father Barry had appeared and was speaking. Father Barry was tall and skinny. He looked like a very tall, angry praying mantis with rain dripping off his nose. He was dressed all in off-white priest garb and had the three day stubble of a tramp, or a reunion tour rock star. He mumbled and looked down, always down. I was mesmerised – not in a good way. He was another Mynydd Eimon person who looked any age between seventy and three hundred and seventy. I was close enough to smell him. He smelt of whiskey, incense and the bible.
He slurred and stuttered and spoke, not loudly nor quietly. He spoke in an apologetic conversational voice that people could hear, but needed to strain themselves to separate one word from the next. If anyone not from the village were listened, which would never, ever happen, they would just hear a drone, a hum of soporific white noise.
The first sentence I picked out was, ‘Man is full of misery.’ With that bombshell he stopped. He looked down at a battered, bach, black indeterminate book. He paused. He looked up expeditiously then back down. He continued, ‘He cometh up and is cut down like a flower.’ He paused again. He put his hand into his pocket and blindly sprinkled dirt onto the coffin. ‘In the midst of life they are in death.’ Another pause. ‘Deliver them not into the bitter pains of eternal death.’ A longer pause as he looked at his book for inspiration. ‘Oh man, thou wert dust and hast returned to dust today.’ He stopped. He looked exhausted.
I recognised that I was irritated and getting more and more and more annoyed. I was wet, not that much of a surprise for someone born in a South Wales valley village, and annoyed, irritated and pissed off. I was annoyed at the fact that I had had to wear a new suit and shiny black tie. I was irritated that Father Barry had taken a long, long time to turn up for the ceremony – thirty three minutes. I was pissed off with my best friend Cai for dying. Still, I couldn’t blame him really. He was dead. And well it wasn’t entirely his fault. He didn’t ask to be shot.
Father Barry continued, ‘Happy from now on.’ Another pause. ‘Sweat of thy shiny face. Bread.’ He stopped. He looked at the eight miserable, wet faces around the coffin and shrugged apologetically to us. He charged on, ‘We commit the body of Cai Twswygog to the ground.’ He stopped one more time, took a deep breath and charged at the finishing line, ‘earth to earth, dust to dust, eternal to life. Mercy. Bless him. Amen.’
There was a general mumbling, grumbling, rumbling chorus of ‘Amens’ from the mourners. Then a rather too loud ‘A fucking men.’ from Seren.
I needed a cigarette.