“Funerals, always good opportunity for a catch up.” I shuffled trying to get comfortable on the moss-covered wall that ran around the perimeter of the churchyard. I was a regular here; this was my spot, sheltered from the weather by the old Yew tree. I came here often to observe; weddings, baptisms and funerals – all provided a curious insight into the human condition. Today, however, I was a participant. I was here to say goodbye to one of my oldest friends. We had been close since our early school days, and now, at the grand old age of thirty, she was gone with no warning.
I had arrived purposely early so I could maintain my role as observer. My observations had taught me that of all the shows a churchyard staged, a funeral was always the most sincere affair. Today should be very interesting, “give me a good funeral to a wedding any day” I said to myself.
“Here here to that one, weddings, pfft, all that expense for what eh?” there was no mistaking that voice; it was louder and cheerier than the Town Crier’s. “False promises and double the money to undo twelve months down the line”
“Jeez you scared the crap outta me there, how long you been here?”
“Just got here, I wanted to see the show for myself”
I grinned knowingly at my friend. “Great minds and all that. How many do you think will come?”
“Oh at least a hundred!” she replied excitedly.
“That’s a bit optimistic isn’t it?” I teased, “The sun is shining and its giro week, it’ll take something special to drag that lot away from their doorstep cider drinking.”
“There’s food …. And a free bar!”
“Well in that case I’d at least double it, and double again for the wake when word gets round.”
We both laughed at the truth of it. Once people knew that the booze was free they’d be queuing at the doors, even if they’d never even spoke to Sarah before. They’d be inventing reasons they should be there, maybe they’d once nodded hello at the school gate, which was enough to justify a free drink in her memory surely.
“The beer garden will get its use then” my friend continued, “it’s a lovely day for it. Poor Mike’s gonna have a right bill to settle.”
“I don’t think he’ll mind, he’s not exactly skint is he?”
“I know, he always said his luck would come in one day, mind you this business is gonna take a fair chunk of his winnings, I heard he got the horse and carriage.”
“Only the best for his little girl, you know that.” I said quietly, remembering how Mike doted on his only child. Nothing was ever too much for her. “It’s even a burial, not the usual run of the mill cremation.” My cheery voice cracked a little as I realised the reality of the situation. How would Mike ever come to terms with this?
The smell of freshly dug soil hung in the mid morning air and we both looked over at the freshly opened grave. It was a lovely spot close to the church, which would be in the sun all day long.
“He picked a gorgeous spot didn’t he?” my friend said sadly.
The sound of car doors slamming shut interrupted us and we both looked up, both thinking the same.
“Who’s gonna be first to arrive then, has to be Jo surely?” I changed the subject expertly.
“Who else?” she laughed, “the nosy bitch she is, she’ll only be here for the head count.”
“Well they do say, your funeral is the ultimate demonstration of your popularity.”
“So sad, but oh so true” she chuckled.
The sound of stilettoes scraping on gravel confirmed our prediction; we both laughed quietly as Jo took her position by the church doors. She might be the first one here, so she thought, but we both knew she’d be the last to enter the church. This way she would get a good look at the coffin and flowers and by sitting at the back of the congregation she would secure an accurate head count. She was an expert when it came to funerals.
The two of us sat quietly for a while and watched the guests arrive. It was a sad observation, and maybe a sign of society, that most hadn’t even bothered to dress for the occasion. The crowd was now at least a hundred strong yet the smartest there, except for me of course, were a couple who had at least bothered to change out of their normal attire and wear proper shoes instead of trainers.
My friend had also noticed, “Bloody hell. I know it was requested to not wear black, but you’d have thought they’d at least changed out of their trackies and trainers.”
“I was just thinking the same mate, death doesn’t even warrant a wash and tidy up with this lot.”
“It’s embarrassing!” she exclaimed, with a tone of desperation in her voice.
The clip clop of horse’s hooves, accompanied by the low hum of slow moving vehicles sent a hush over the waiting mourners. At least they had the decency to fall silent at the arrival of the coffin, I thought to myself.
I attempted to console my obviously affected friend, “It’s not embarrassing.”
“Yes it is, look at em, they look like scruffs”
The horses and cars drew to a halt and the congregation prepared to enter the church. As they lined up behind the pallbearers, Jo as predicted, took up the very last position in the line.
I attempted to lift the mood, “they are scruffs why should they be any different today?” I joked. “At least the family look smart, look at Mike, he scrubs up well bless him.”
“I suppose so” she replied unconvinced.
I needed to reassure her and fast, I hated seeing my friend so distressed.
“Look here lady, if I were you I wouldn’t stress about it. Look how many have turned up, scruffs or not they’ve dragged themselves away from their cider to come and say goodbye. Ok so maybe the free booze tempted them a little bit but who cares eh? What matters is that they’re here, at least a hundred of em and I dare say that’ll treble at the club so by those standards you, my dear friend, are the most popular dead woman I know. Now come on I need to get inside so Jo doesn’t miss me on the head count.”
I saw the beginnings of a smile as what I had said sank in. I made my way to the back of the line and started the slow journey into the church. Jo looked over her shoulder wiping an imaginary tear from her cheek. She whispered conspiratorially, “What a turn out this is eh, I can’t believe how many have turned up. This is the biggest funeral I’ve been to this year by far.”
I had one last look back at my old friend and gave her the thumbs up as she grinned back at me.
“Yeah, she always was a popular lass was Sarah.”