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August 9, 2016 / hbrowne4

Whatever You Say, Say Nothing by Stephen Brady

From a prompt ‘Little Margaret had never been to a funeral before’

Little Margaret and her Mammy stood in the rain under a big black umbrella, and watched the train of mourners file slowly out of the chapel, toward the open grave beside which they stood.

Mammy had been too upset to go into the church – Auntie Jude had been the last of her mother’s family, and her departure had been so sudden that she was still numbed by it.

“I can’t believe it,” she repeated, squeezing Margaret’s tiny hand. “I just can’t. There she was last week, full of chat and mischief. Giving out all round her, like always. I just can’t believe it.”

Little Margaret had never been to a funeral before. She was rapt by the details, the arcane paraphenalia. It was all so dark and different.

And she was glad it was Auntie Jude that was going in the ground. She hadn’t liked Auntie Jude. As far as she knew, no-one had. If it wasn’t for the rain and her mother’s grip, she would have been cartwheeling through the graveyard.

“She was clumsy,” Mammy blurted. “A big lady, of course she was. And she didn’t always look where she was going. But this…” She blew her nose. “I just can’t believe it.”

Auntie Jude had fallen down the stairs. The thunder of her unplanned descent had woken the neighbourhood. The stairs in the old house were near-vertical, and with her brittle bones and sheer mass there’d been no hope of survival. And it was Margaret who’d found her. Heaped at the stairfoot, her fat old perm twisted right around, one last glare of disapproval frozen on her countenance.

Little Margaret had prodded the corpse with her foot. She considered reaching down and snapping shut the gaping gob. Finally, out of a vague sense of duty, she started bawling, and the noise had brought the neighbours.

“She did things,” Mammy said. “She was all tricks. She’d break things and blame the cat. She’d hide things on me. And tell lies. For the attention, you know .”

Margaret was watching the coffin approach. She loved the way the rainbeads gathered on the sallow surface, and trickled down the sides. She liked the light that twinkled on the brassy handles.  It was all wonderful.

The mourners gathered at the graveside, and the men laid the coffin down. Some of them, the women and the men, nodded to Margaret’s Mammy, and some made sympathetic gestures. But most just stood, their heads bowed against the slanting rain. And the old priest cleared his throat and spoke thinly to the air.

“We are here gathered to bid farewell to our dear departed sister Judith. A woman who was known and  loved”(Margaret stifled a giggle at this) “by many here among us. And whom we now commend to the bosom of our Lord Most High. Judith’s departure from this life was a cruel accident, and it reminds us always to be mindful that none of us knows the hour that our Lord, in His wisdom, might call us home.”

Margaret’s Mammy held her close.

The priest said some prayers, and the people muttered in response. Then the men began to lower the coffin into the pit. Margaret was sorry to see it go, such a pretty box, to be sealed in the darkness of the Earth. It made her sad.

Then the priest sprinkled some water around, as if they weren’t all wet enough.

“And now,” he intoned, “let us take a moment, each within himself, to make obeyance and confess of our sins to God, that when our hour comes He might accept us as he now accepts our sister Judith, into the unending fellowship of Paradise.”

The word “confession” had seized Margaret’s attention. She drew a breath and said:

“I pushed her.”

People stirred, and looked at her. A man’s voice said “whaaa-aaaat?

“I pushed her. Down the stairs.”

Mammy hooked an arm around her and smiled weakly at the mourners. “No you didn’t, sweetheart. Hush now.”

“I did I did! She was giving out about my toys being on the floor. She said I’d grow up to be pure useless like my Mammy. So when she went to the top of the stairs I went up quiet behind her and I pushed her.”

All eyes were on her now. She tried to think of something else to say.

“She done a big fart going down!”

The priest blessed himself and droned an incantation.

Margaret couldn’t understand why they all seemed so upset. She was about to say more, but Mammy had clampled a hand across her mouth.

“She doesn’t mean it! She’s mixed up, that’s all.”

An old man appeared beside them, all ruddy and creased. He bore a trace of dear departed Auntie Jude on his ruined face.

“Aaaaaaah if only we’d all the courage of youth, what?” He palmed her a coin. “There ya go, love. Buy yourself a sweet.”

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