pearl

…the precious core inside a hard shell, the truth which lies beneath a thick layer of reality, a secretion caused by an irritant    

Helen immediately took to public speaking.

“Aunty Molly knew few people… she kept herself to herself. Of course she had her six cats and her crippled dog… but she had a good soul. A kind soul. A soul that flew up into the sky last week and through the gates of heaven like you wouldn’t believe.”

Oscar, loosing consciousness of his immediate surroundings – six elderly ladies and an unconscious old man – followed his own soul’s progress up into the church’s vaulted ceiling, through the yellow panes of glass on the stained glass window, through layers of heavy grey cloud, intermingling with the frayed edges of the cumulus clouds and twice around the gates of heaven. Oscar had a light and fluffy soul, of similar consistency to the cirrus clouds it was now passing through, but with a glow, an energy all of its own. Oscar liked his soul. Oscar smiled.

Being unaware of his immediate surroundings, Oscar didn’t consider the inappropriateness of smiling at this point; he didn’t hear Helen progress to the tale of how Aunty Molly slowly faded away over the last forty three years, surrounded by her cats and her crippled dog. They were her consolation.

However, the concept of a crippled dog must have seeped into Oscar’s mind at this point because that was what his soul confronted on one of the fluffy cloudbanks of heaven. Reaching out his hand (his soul now having acquired the rather more substantial form which he knew himself by) to pet the crippled dog – he had been whimpering this crippled dog, he had large eyes and floppy ears and a sad look on his strangely human face – Oscar felt happy. He was still smiling, his eyes were closed, his face was turned upwards towards the church’s vaulted dome, his neighbours faced him with looks of consternation – Oscar reached out to comfort the dog, to pet his head. But a quiver of something passed across the dog’s human face. It was pain. It was anger. It was hatred. He growled. He barked. He bared his teeth. He snapped.

Oscar shook awake. Letting out a shrill cry, Oscar was back amongst the mourners at Aunty Molly’s funeral… the crippled dog, the soul of Oscar, the fluffy clouds of heaven had all evaporated. The multifarious looks of anger and consternation were all that were left.

“Of course Aunty Molly never decided to marry… she had her cats and her crippled dog. Her life was full… it was happy. She had a full life… it was full. On her death she was found to have an estimated three hundred thousand sachets of ketchup, salt, vinegar, pepper and, her favourite, tartar sauce, in her house’s various nooks and crannies. There were sixteen shopping trolleys in her back yard, twelve black wheelie bins hidden behind her overgrown hedge, six copies of every edition of every free newspaper ever distributed in the area, all in perfect condition, seemingly unread, a prestigious collection of wreathes dedicated to other people, literally hundreds of notices, notifying lost pets, local elections, flood warnings and centenary celebrations and of course her prized collection of bamboo canes which have just been returned to the park and gardens department of the council.”

Of the twenty or so people around him (he was aware of at least one old person right behind him, heavily breathing on his neck), Oscar couldn’t tell if any were even listening to Helen’s eulogy. Not that he was listening to it. He didn’t care for such things. They were seldom sincere and were never insightful.

Oscar knew that he would have to write his own. It couldn’t be left to other people. The thought of his son writing his eulogy, his replacement, delivering it to a nearly empty church – it assured him that having children would indeed be a mistake. Being replaced wasn’t a thought he was comfortable with. And colluding in his own replacement – doing the deed, implanting the seed of his own demise… well, there would certainly be none of that going on thank you very much.

Maintaining the species always struck Oscar as a terribly arrogant enterprise. But at least there would be someone to say something before he was buried in the ground – though he could always ask Helen. She seemed reasonably adept. She would at least improve with age. And he would have written it – his own eulogy. Helen seemed to struggle with the creative side of the eulogy. She seemed to be stuck for ideas. The number of pauses, all that humming and hawing, all those “you-know-what-I-means”, those recurrent “and-we-all-remembers” when nothing is being remembered – it might be good enough  for Aunty Molly, but it wasn’t good enough for Oscar’s funeral.

“As a young girl I remember visiting Aunty Molly with my parents and my brother and sister. And of course we were too young to appreciate her… her special ways. I was never a fan of Bovril and my sister went into anaphylactic shock after drinking from a dirty glass. But it was my brother who was the prime object of Aunty Molly’s attentions. She saw in him something no one else did. She said he was special. And how right she turned out to be. If only we listened to Aunty Molly with more care – she had so much to offer the world. But we never listened to her warnings… her predictions. Who knows what she might actually have predicted? Perhaps us all sitting here remembering how special she really was.”

But special was a word Oscar’s eulogy would have to avoid – it smacked of desperation. It was too general. It was too vague – who couldn’t be said to be special? Everyone’s special – that’s the problem of the modern world. Everyone has something about them, something indefinable, some little quirk, some little… a scar below their knee, a limp, a stutter, a facial tick, a way of pronouncing “ambulance”. Oscar wasn’t special. He couldn’t be when everyone else was. When Aunty Molly was.

Helen looked as though she was finished, but as Oscar knew, that was no indication of whether she was or not. She had looked liked she was finished when she started. Her staring up into the dark space beneath the vaulted ceiling most probably denoted some kind of attempt to appear thoughtful, sad… melancholy was the word.

Such a look of melancholy is essential to the successful eulogy. It’s not a celebration Oscar thought – I’ll be dead.

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