It doesn’t break for breaking implies noise, suddenness, unexpectedness.
This fades in (or fades out). This steals upon you. One minute it isn’t there and the next it is but it seems like you missed “the moment”, like the moment happened whilst you weren’t looking. I realised this when I could see the mist hanging low over the fields as if the earth was still in bed and hadn’t yet rolled back the covers. But it was time to wake up. Although, of course, I’d already been awake for some time.
In fact, I’d been awake since 2 a.m. Sort of. I guess I must have dozed a bit. The clocks did their thing at every quarter hour. I remember most of them. Then came 4 and I was worried that I would oversleep and miss the alarm set for 4.30. I nearly got up but thought that some rest was better than none, even if sleep was not possible.
The alarm went off and the dogs were there, waiting to be walked. For them, it doesn’t matter what the time is. Middle of the night, middle of the day, it’s all the same. The alarm means a walk. Except if F is here. But he’s not and they seem to know that and seem to understand that the alarm is different when he’s not here. I don’t have so much time. I get up and take them out. It is dark, of course.
I get back, make coffee (I will need coffee) and get ready. I leave. It’s a little after 5.30 and I know I’m a little bit later than I wanted to be. The navigator says I’ll be there about 10 to 8 but I’m hoping I’ll make up a little time. There is little traffic. I make it to the motorway.
And, it’s as I’m driving that I realise that dawn doesn’t break at all but just slowly, imperceptibly, comes into being. It’s not summer but it’s not so cold. Cold enough for a coat though, which I have forgotten. Well, I can’t go back as I have no time. Anyway, I think, I’ll be in the car or the church or somewhere for most of the time so it’ll be OK.
So, I’ve started in the dark and now it’s light without any fanfare, without any sudden break, just quietly daylight and sun and clear blue skies. I smoke too much. I am tired but awake. I drive. I wonder, at one point, if I shouldn’t have gone down the day before. This is crazy. But I couldn’t go down the day before. I have the dogs and J is here. I am already leaving her alone for the day. But this has to be done, even if F had said that I don’t need to come. I did need to go. I’d thought about it sometime between 2, when I first woke, and the alarm gong off. I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for permitting me to join the family. And a big thank you for giving me F. And, for that, I would have left at any time to travel down.
I arrive a few minutes earlier than the navigator had said. There was hardly any traffic to speak of and the journey was one of the easiest ever. I text him that I have arrived and he texts me to come up. I go up. I give him a quick hug and then his mum comes out and I give her a hug. It’s all subdued, of course. His mum makes me a quick coffee, for which I am grateful.
I follow him to pick up his sister, brother-in-law and niece. The BiL and niece get in my car and we drive to the hospital and find somewhere to park.
We go in to the small chapel-like place. We enter the room on the left. I don’t really know what to expect but I immediately feel like I’m on the set of some horror movie. The waxwork-like figures have what, at first glance, seems like cobwebs all over them. It’s as if they’ve been there for years and nobody has cleaned them. In fact it’s a white netting but the effect is quite surreal and I’ve never seen it before so it’s all so strange. The first woman, I note, had a huge, pointy nose. Well, she still has that but the thing I’m looking at is the wrong colour like the creator of the model didn’t have the right colours to make a human colour or the dyes were so old that they had faded. There are two coffins with these waxwork figures in them with the cobweb-like netting draped over them. Then we go past to another room. And there is PaC. Except, of course, it’s not him but, rather, a model of him. A likeness of him without really being like him. He too has this netting over him. I realise it’s probably to keep flies off, for if it was summer it would already be so hot. But this is not summer and it is cold. There’ll be no flies.
We stand around. People touch his forehead and then kiss their lips with their fingers. Except his sister who strokes his forehead and cries nearly all the time.
I don’t do this – neither cry nor touch the waxwork. I’m not sure that I could do that for anyone. I almost seem outside myself. I worry, sometimes, that I have no real feelings.
Worse still, we are in the mountains and it is damp. Although it’s light and bright, the sun doesn’t get over the mountains and into this part of the valley until a little later. My hands are cold. My feet are cold. I go for cigarettes. People wander in and out. Hearses arrive. There are at least five waxworks here. It seems most are going today. F suggests we go for a coffee with his brother. It is welcome.
Back at the chapel, F’s sister sometimes seems as if she’s gong to jump into the coffin. I’ve heard of it. F shows me that he’s put a cigar in one pocket, a pack of playing cards in another and, down the side of the coffin, a Toto DVD. It’s his way of making this lighter for him and everyone else. I smile. He is so sweet. Eventually, they close the coffin (although everyone except the sister are outside by now, in the sun which has breached the mountain top) and load the hearse.
We drive to the church. The same one for the Aunt. This is not like the UK, at 5 miles an hour but, more or less, at normal speed. We park up and arrive at the church as they wheel the coffin in. F, bless him, comes to find me and we go in. I’ve learnt that he (the deceased) was a well-respected tailor here. I didn’t know. We go and sit in a pew. We are on the front row again. The big fat priest is there as before. As is the uncle priest who has flown in from Sicily last night and the cousin nun.
The big fat priest does his stuff. The church is freezing and everyone wears coats except me and F’s brother. I regret forgetting my coat.
At one point during the service, we all sit down and F remains standing. I lightly touch his arm and, after a few seconds, he jerks a little as if just waking up, turns to me and sits down. He was lost in his own thoughts. I understand. I want to give him a big hug but can’t. At another point, as we’re standing, I look at him and, suddenly, I see him as an old man, slightly stooped, bearing the weight of life. Again, I want to hug him to tell him it’s OK. I realise that, in some years he will look like this – an old man. But then, so will I. And still I love him. But, for a moment, when he seems so old, I’m frightened both for him and for me. It won’t be the last time today that I feel like this but for different reasons.
The service drones on. Again I am struck by the absurdity of this religion thing (sorry, Gail). As if the suffering of this guy years ago, should it be true, has even the slightest effect on us, now, at this time. But the priest drones on about some point in the story. I am grateful I don’t understand so I don’t get too angry. I do wonder how it is possible for all these people to believe in this fairy story. Especially the priest who always looks so bored by it all. Who drones on in a way that says he’s so bored. Who says this is nothing and just a story. Who says everything as if he is an unbeliever.
The service ends, and everyone files outside. I move away, into the sun. People come over to me to say “hello”. I know quite a few people there now. There are kisses and “how are you”s. As I’m with these people, different people, like a changing of the guard, I watch F being greeted and consoled by people I know and people I don’t know. His mum too. I watch and feel part of it and not part of it. I’m grateful that people seem bothered to come and greet me. All this, in Italian, of course, which limits me as to what I say; as to what I am able to say.
At one point, E, his cousin – the one whose mother died in September, the sister of PaC, the sister of the priest uncle, the aunt of the cousin nun, the aunt of F – says to me that soon, we should come, at a different time, a better time, to eat. She smiles as she says it. My reputation as someone with a “good appetite” is written in stone.
The uncle/cousin/second-cousin? doctor tells a funny story about PaC, in Italian, to the group I’m with at the moment. I don’t really understand. He can speak English but prefers to repeat it slowly in Italian. I do get it. It’s about the fact that they ran (PaC and F’s mother) a laundry and PaC said that he could clean any mark. Any mark that is, except one. But, the doctors tells, I said to him but what? You always said you could clean any mark! Ah, yes, PaC replies, except the marks (scars?) of the heart. People laugh politely. I smile. Is it true, this story? And, anyway, does it matter? After all, the truth of the story is not the point.
F comes to me from time to time. I am there, for him. For his mum. For PaC, though not for him since that is too late.
People drift away. We go to the cemetery with the flowers. The body will be cremated in some place over 2 hours away. The ashes will be interred in the tomb with the aunt. It’s why they haven’t finished off the tomb yet.
There are too many flowers so some are distributed amongst other graves of relatives.
F tells people that I am going to go soon. He’s going to get a coffee with me and then I will go. That’s OK for me. I don’t want to go round to his sister’s where they will cook and talk and I will feel guilty leaving. But I must leave soon. I am tired and I have to drive back and J is waiting at home for me and so are the dogs.
We leave, being almost the last to leave. We go to our usual café in the Marina. We have sandwiches and coffee and cake. On the way, I ask him if he spoke to PaC when he arrived down, before he died. Apparently he wasn’t awake. But at least F was there.
We eat. He thanks me for coming. I think he appreciates it but I didn’t really do it for him. Or, not only for him. I got to say thank you, even if it was to a cobweb-covered waxwork.
He drives me back to my car and I leave whilst he goes up to his sister’s where the family are waiting.
I drive back. Now it hits me how tired I am but I arrive back in good time. I park the car. I get home and J makes me cups of tea. Several. I am exhausted but I can’t really rest.
Whilst we’re sitting, relaxing, my niece texts me. She wants me to find a hotel. She’s coming over to stay in April and she’s staying with V. Or so I thought. And then, that was the other thing that was frightening. But that is an entirely different reason and an entirely different post ………..by