(Please note that this story and subsequent stories for the next number of weeks were composed and scheduled before Covid-19 reared its ugly head. So my apologies if aspects offend certain sensibilities. Thanks)
Neralie was adamant; when she died she was not to be buried but cremated. Sure, waking up in a coffin in the middle of a cremation would be a horrifying experience, but to wake up in the coffin and be in a hole six feet down and covered in dirt… oh the panic! The fear! The claustrophobia! Cremation did it quickly and once and for all; if you hadn’t died but had simply entered into some temporal comatose state, then cremation was the way to.
Not to be buried was simply one of the many stipulations Neralie made about the post-demise behaviour of her relatives and friends. Everyone was welcome to bring flowers, but nothing purchased. Only cut flowers from the garden. And they had to be either deep red or pure white or a mixture of both. Red would stand for the suffering she had experienced throughout her life; white would stand for light and relief and the promise of an eternal future freed from all her suffering. Oh! All the suffering! “You’ve no idea how I’ve suffered” was one of Neralie’s catch phrases.
Then there was the music to be played at her funeral. None of this namby-pamby pop stuff – she demanded the Kyrie from Mozart’s Requiem. And if some people found it too long, then bully for them. They should show some respect.
The six pallbearers should dress as befits a funeral. None of this open-neck shirt stuff; no coloured garments; black with a bit of white – perhaps a white shirt. Well ironed.
Neralie’s list of demands went on and on. It was gigantic – like she didn’t have anything better to do in the last five years of her life. And sing! Sing the chosen hymn full throttle. None of this singing into ones beard like a wimp.
And then she died.
No one came to the funeral of the lonely imperious decrepit martinet. They stayed away in droves.
What an extraordinary day it had been! First, Nola’s husband had checked the lottery ticket numbers and Nola and her husband, Cresswell, had won thirty-three million three hundred and thirty-three thousand dollars. While they were dancing around the living room, whooping and hollering, Cresswell suffered a heart attack and died.
That took the edge off the excitement. Nola had to organize and go through the funeral. After twenty-two years of marriage, she was sad. Of course she was sad. But it was also a relief. Their relationship had been strained over the last few years, and Nola had frequently dreamed of freedom. Now with the sudden death of her husband and the winning of the lottery, that freedom could become a reality. Of course his death was a shock. It was devastating. It always is. But at least she had security for the future. She genuinely sobbed as the undertaker carted Cresswell’s body from the house to the funeral parlour.
At last the funeral was over. Things began to settle. Nola, who hadn’t wanted to appear too excited at winning thirty-three million, knew that the time had come to claim the money! But where was the ticket? Oh! It was in Cresswell’s back pocket when she had him cremated.
It’s funny. After forty-eight years of marriage, Patsy and Martyn had decided upon cremation but they had never discussed what to do with the ashes. Currently, Martyn’s ashes were in a little urn sitting on the mantelpiece.
“I should really just throw them into the fire!” Patsy found herself talking to the ashes quite often. “Into the fire and be done with it!”
And then she would have a little weep and a little laugh and wondered, really, oh really! what she should do with them.
She thought of scattering them in the garden and growing plants. The thought of vegetables was disconcerting. It would be a rather round-about sort of cannibalism. Eventually she decided! She would go to the beach, wade into the water, and tip the ashes out into the ocean. That way, it was like an infinite dispersal. Free as an albatross! An eternal surge of life!
Patsy drove to the beach. She waded into the water. Just as she emptied the urn, a larger than usual wave knocked her over. The watery ashes splashed all over her dress; grey speckles clung to the fabric. She was drenched in her husband’s ashes.
Patsy drove home wet to the bone. She couldn’t stop laughing. After all these years, she thought, after all these years, the dress goes into the washing machine and the husband goes down the plughole!