All stories

Welcome Back, Again

‘Welcome to the Bruntwood Funeral H… ah, you’ve let yourselves in.’

The ‘ah’ got my hackles up. Combined with the fact my brothers and I were looking into an empty coffin meant that, by the time the pallid old man had finished, I was ready for a fight.

‘Where’s Dad?’ the words spoke themselves. I didn’t turn around.

‘About that…’

I could feel my brothers’ eyebrows raise in unison with mine.

‘This better be good, vi,’ I always wanted to call him a vicar but he wasn’t. He was just a man who handled the dead for a living. I didn’t correct myself.

‘Yes. You see…’

I hated everything this dusty parasite stood for. If they’d only let us throw our deceased into the sea or feed them to the beasts as nature intended, we could take all this death industry space and solve the housing crisis. There was a murmur of thunder and raindrops began clacking against the roof.

‘Where is Dad?’ my youngest brother repeated the question. I could hear the familiar scratching of steel on steel from the penknife he was letting his fingers familiarise themselves within his pocket. I needed the grief merchant to say anything other than the one thing I knew he was trying to find a way to make a floral presentation of.

Lightning cracked. The funeral director failed to choke a shriek. My brothers held like granite.

Back at the house - the one from where the meat which had previously been our father had been removed only days before - dials were turned and switches were thrown; a woman flicked her gaze between a skylight and a table.

‘We asked you one thing,’ our older brother spoke now, out of patience with the charade.

‘I know,’ the ghoul sounded defeated. ‘I.. I couldn’t. Legal…’

‘Legally?!’ my baby brother didn’t say the swear word which preceded his exclamation but we all heard it. By the time I turned, his knife was open and held to the man’s throat.

‘We have to go,’ I said as the priorities of the situation dawned on me, I watched as my brother weighed up the time it would take to open our betrayer’s throat. He folded up the knife, leaving nothing more than a shaving knick, and ran to the door just a step behind us.

Rain peppered our faces like buckshot as we sprinted pointlessly from the funeral home towards our mother’s house. Two of us froze as lightning hit the rod which stood tall on its roof, one of us splashed two more steps before dropping to his knees.

Inside the house was caged static. Eyes and lungs dilated against their will and a man looked with horror into the face of a woman.

‘You,’ he said, consumed by agony. He tried to recoil but he was restrained.

‘Welcome back,’ the woman spoke calmly; victoriously.

Stepping away from the table, she pushed buttons on her phone.

‘Hello,’ she said when the line clicked open. ‘It’s Mrs Frankenstein. I need to take out a life insurance policy on my husband. No… wait,’ she looked to a list of company names on the wall, half of which had been crossed out. ‘No, I don’t believe I have taken a policy with you before.’

Do Not Enter

We will start with the Welcome Mat. There it lays at the doorway, multi coloured sisal bearing the legend “Mi Casa, Su Casa” in black. It is clean, never hither to touched by boot or shoe, the function of cleaning soiled footwear denied it, in preference to its role as a bearer of platitudes.

In a glance I am profoundly aware that I am not welcome.

Now we look up at the door. Navy blue UPVC with chrome (coloured) door furniture. It has a small crescent shaped window light at the top. All of this gleams. I can clearly see the distorted reflection of my face in the door knocker.

Look up yet higher and there is the canopy, affixed with 2 wrought iron struts to the wall. From these struts hang 2 baskets of flowers, Marigolds neat and trim and no other sort, with their smallish spherical orange tufts equidistantly placed.

It is all perfectly symmetrical. I cannot find a flaw or a mark, not a hint of wear and tear.

Here it comes, the wave of crushing fear, the surge of crisis that this house never fails to spark. My hands shake and are sweating. My heart is beating out of my chest, my breathing becoming wild and I have an urge to run. It is always this way when I visit her. My mother. Her.

She is in there.

When I was 5 I had a place in the garden, a soft bushy shrub close to the hedge that made a small secluded hideaway. In that little green spot I felt safe. Its where I would deposit myself after an “episode”. One day whilst hiding in this corner I saw an ant and I laid on in my tummy, the better to watch it. More ants joined and I observed them at close quarters, as they defeated the obstacle course I made for them. I did this for a long time and lost myself for a while. Then she called for me, space shattered and I went inside to her.

There were grass stains on my t-shirt, green smeared across the Persil white cotton. She put her finger on the stain and poked me repeatedly, whispering “dirty, dirty, dirty”. I was sent to my room and not fed that evening. When I looked out of my window the next morning the shrub had been dug up. Over the patch of bare earth was a miniature concrete replica of Nelsons Column, with his hat as a bird bath.

One memory. There are many more and at this doorway they crowd me, rush at me like hooligans. One day I won’t go in, one day I won’t even come. She is inside slightly withered now and disappearing. Somewhere there is an empty coffin waiting for her and I do get some courage from that.

See me now as I screw my fist, cover it with my cuff and knock the door, making sure not to leave any smears.