A Murder of Crows

This is the story of a man who is asexual and falls in love. it is about how we define ourselves in the modern age, and what love means to those who have no physical avenue to explore. It is about the way we interact with our families, and how echoes of past lives filter through to us.

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6. In memory

And that kiss too I would have long forgotten
Had not the cloud been present there
That I still know and always will remember
It was so white and came from on high.
Perhaps those plum trees still bloom
And that woman now may have had her seventh child
But that cloud blossomed just a few minutes
And when I looked up, it had disappeared in the wind.[1]

 

I have an attraction to churches. I am not religious, not in the slightest. I cannot believe in a God who would make one of his creations feel so alone. But I am fond of churches.  I think the way sound plays in their cavernous bellies, it reminds me of the washing machine and the fridge, or maybe something more primeval.

 

We approached the church, and my feet got progressively heavier. I could feel my suit changing on my body, from a black sombre coverall into something more transparent. R____ sensed my unease, and stepped closer so our shoulders were almost touching. It was a spring, the early morning frost had gone, but there was still a scratchy bite in the air, like thin nails scoring eddies on our cheeks. It was the first time I was to meet R____’s family, and I could feel my palms become clammy.

 

The sky was brightening, with dew covered spider webs highlighted in the bushes and trees that lined the path up to the church. They wafted in a gentle breeze, like the blinds in my aunt’s house, shooing us to building on the hill. Milling around the entrance were some people smoking, talking in gentle tones. All saying similar platitudes and pleasantries, all nodding solemnly, with the occasional awkward hug. The emotion sat raw in the air, and clutched around the blood shot eyes of long faced women, and puffy, ruddy cheeked men. The sea of black reminded me of bitumen roads, and poisoned arteries. I looked to R_____, I should be more supportive I thought, but I was so scared. My trivial little paranoia’s were overwhelming my reason for being there. Funny how selfish people can be. I put my arm around her, but it felt so strained. I wasn’t sure if it was just a physically uncomfortable action, or if the emotion I was trying to show was just alien to me, and so my body was creating these phantom pains. Her head turned into the nape of my neck, and I softened and the tension in my arm relaxed.

 

We were greeted by R____’s grandfather in the doorway, the arch of which vaulted over him like a horse. He seemed cowed by an invisible hand above him, I suppose that must be what it feels like when you lose the person you love. The weight of the world which was shared crashes down on you. As if the pain alone wasn’t bad enough, everything changes. Colour drains out of the world. I imagine.

 

‘R____’ He stared into her eyes, they were a blemished copper green, but they were clear, without any sign of tears. He came from a similar place as my father, a similar school of thought. For a second I thought I saw smile slide under his skin, but the gaucheness of the act stopped it ever flowering. But I am sure I saw it.

 

‘Grandad, I’m so sorry…’ He had taken her hands into his grasp, and he clung to them like a fruit monger. Then they broke away, and we went to sit at the back of the church.

 

And that was it. She only said another 8 words. The total words spoken by R____ to her entire family that day numbered 12. I didn’t know anything about her. I was at a stranger’s funeral, with a stranger. The ridiculousness of the whole thing crashed into me like a maternal rhino. Was I doing the right thing? Why was I there? R____ turned to me, and in the lowest volume possible, she began to tell me about her grandmother.

 

‘She had grown up during the war in London. All the stories you have read about it are true, the gallantry, the horror and the sadness. She used to tell me how she would see planes streak across the sky, open their stomachs, and unload their cargo over the city. She used to say she thought it so odd that those little black dots in the sky, the bombs that were falling, could do so much damage. She lost her father, an air raid warden, to a bomb. It fell at the end of the road, and killed 6 of her neighbours also. I remember her saying that it might as well have fallen on her. Her best friend died in another raid 2 weeks later. I suppose they were all instilled with an indomitable spirit. That is what war does to you she used to say. That is what war does. She got married, and had two kids, my dad and my Uncle H____. They lived with her, till they were married, and then they left. My Grandad was quite high up in a bank, and so she had a comfortable life.’

 

She stopped and fell silent. The vicar was recounting sections of her life. A woman who was strong, and fearless. A woman who had time for all, and judged people individually, never as a collective. She did judge though he said, smiling, and this brought a crepe paper laugh from some of the congregation, remembering a stern lady. People stood to sing her favourite hymn. I saw her family turn to look at R____ at the back, she held the hymn book in her hand, and mouthed the words. No sound came out though. When everyone was in full flight, their lungs rattling out the words, shaking out the pain, she continued her story.

 

‘When my parents told everyone about how I didn’t want to get married, I was summoned to my Gran. No one gets summoned anymore, but I was. When I went to see her, she was sat by the window, she must have seen me walking up to the house. I went in, and she gave me a large hug, and a shaky kiss. She asked me to sit, and I did. She told me about how she had heard, and whether there was a reason. I told her there wasn’t a reason, I just didn’t want to get married. She then said she thought I might be one of those lesbian types. I told her I wasn’t, and she seemed happy with that. I then told her I didn’t find anybody attractive, and she fell quiet. She looked up and asked if I wanted to be alone. I told her no, but that I had friends and family. She nodded. She then said that she knew everything would change soon enough, and that whatever happened, that she wanted to see me once a month. It wasn’t that big a sacrifice.  So I agreed.’

 

The hymn stopped so we sat back down again. Members of R____ family were getting up and saying bits and pieces. She went on.

 

‘I kept my promise, but it was hard at the end. It is sad when you seen someone you care about breaking apart. That slow chipping away of the person you know, until all that is left is a dried chrysalis. The shell that represents us when nothing else is left. You catch glimpses of that person, when you look at a mirror when you are alone. When there is no one to stop you remonstrating with yourself. I remember her being the person all these people talk about. I remember her being stern, yet the only memory I can see, the only memory is those final few years. The broken years’

 

She paused. We were sat now and the droning voices of choked up people reverberated around the church. People at funerals always talk in a sturdy formal vernacular. I know it is sad, but no one really celebrates the people they loved lives. They just want a vent, something that lets them prove how much they loved the lost person. That they knew them in some intimate way that no one else did.  Clouds were moving past the stained glass windows like drunken sailors, all clattering, and inconsistent as the light shifted in the aisles, picking people out, plunging others into shadows. She continued

 

‘Its strange. The older you get, the less feedback you seem to get from your memory, and so you clutch to the idiosyncrasies you have because that is all you are. An accumulation of ticks and foibles. That is what my Gran did. She smelt of cherry drops because people told her they were her favourite, so she ate them all day every day. She stopped drinking coffee, not because she wanted to, she just forgot. Someone gave her an Earl Grey once as they had no coffee, and so she clasped it. A fresh memory, something that would define her.  She must of repeated it over and over in her mind, she only drank Earl Grey after that.’

 

People were standing, and being ushered out of the church. The organ was playing long, flabby notes that drowsily floated to the floor. We went outside, and the sky had clouded over a bit although it was punctuated with little flecks of blue. People had reverted to the low level murmur of a far away train. Hisses and tshks, hums and ahs. We walked over to a budding oak in the grounds. There was a scant glance between R____ and her mother and father.  Who seemed to nod at each other imperceptibly and then move on.

 

‘I suppose over the course of your life you change so totally that you don’t know who you are anymore at the end. The cumulative weight of our lives caves into our brains. Life, and all those series of insignificant moments, are all you have. My Gran became the new curtains in the living room. She was moved to a home, and so she became a resident of that home. Nothing more. At the end all that was left for her was the taste of chocolate, probably her last memory, her last thought. And that happened in the morning, and she probably only vaguely had that.’

 

Someone was coming over. It was R____’s father. ‘R____, who is your friend?’

 

‘This is A____, a close friend of mine’

 

‘Mmmm, your mother asks if you are coming to the wake.’

 

‘No, I don’t think so.’

 

‘Ok.’ And with that her father left.

 

R____ continued, as if the last exchange didn’t happen.

 

‘Those little moments get quicker I imagine at the end.  A torrent you can’t swim in. It washes over you and your mind is taken from you. I wonder how much she knew at the end. Whether she could remember anything. Did her life flash before her, or did she just give in to the blackness? Did she feel sad that she couldn’t remember her life before? Or maybe she was glad? Glad it was all over.’

 

R____ stopped, and I knew instinctively that she wasn’t going to speak again for the rest of the day. I guessed the day must have been very hard. I was never going to press her regarding her family. Her relationship with them was hers, not mine. I realised she barely knew me as much as I didn’t know her. But now I did. Through her Gran I seemed to know her better than a million phone calls. I put my arm around her, and it didn’t hurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Recollections of Maria A Bertolt Brecht

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