“ …came as soon as I could… the… it was hard to get a taxi… I”
The door bounced off the wall and back into Alex’s side, full of the same fraught energy that had opened it so fast.
His mum was sat in the corner of the darkened room on John’s old chair. Her eyes were red, her body hunched, thin. He’d never seen her looking so old, so frail.
“You didn’t spend too much did you?”
“Oh, I … yeah, I mean it was… at this time of day, the distance…”
“Here, take some money”.
His dad started to take his wallet from his trousers.
“Oh no, please…”
“Go on, you don’t get hardly anything to life off, I know what it’s like being a student”
“I… no really it’s…”
His words were lost already, sucked into the void around his grandfather’s bed. His breath, his voice, his heart. John stared at the ceiling, his eyes shut. His cheeks sagged unnaturally. They were red, mottled at the edges, yet the centres were an awful, awful pale white. His mouth remained open.
“What did…” Alex said after a near endless ten minutes of silence. “what happened?”
“We… we don’t know yet… we’re waiting for the coroners… they should be along any time…”
“where’s…. where’s Jo?”
“She’s… round at a friend’s, we didn’t think that… she didn’t… well, she’s still very young you know?”
“She… she didn’t want to be here?”
Alex’s dad came over and put his hand on Alex’s shoulder. Never before in his life had he felt so connected to his dad. Feelings of sorrow, inevitability and a fear of mortality, both in the real and the abstract, flowed from the body of the old man; through ever inch of Alex and into his father through that slight physical connection. Three generations bound to a single moment.
His mother remained sat in the corner, saying nothing, just staring quietly at the body of the old man. Little quirks and foibles of the building became both deafening and dissipated into insignificance against the silent white noise of grief.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
The three of them turned around to face the door. A man in a suit was already walking through, as if knocking was a formality and not something you had to wait for a response from.
“Oh, er, oh” said the man, before turning back to the care worker who was stood behind him.
“Oh, I thought, er, the, er, family were gone”
“Oh, I didn’t know that they were in here…”
The official looking man, who must have been from the coroner’s office turned back round to the family.
“Uh, well, take as much time as you need. We’ll just be out here or upstairs when you’re ready and we’ll take away the uh, uh gentleman”
The official man said ‘gentleman’ in a way that was clearly a substitute for ‘body’ or ‘it’. Later Alex would be hateful towards this man. Later still, understanding of the separations and objectification that one must have to go through in such a job, for the sake of one’s sanity. Right now, he was just trying not to weep.
The door was shut on them again.
“well…” said Michael, looking up at Lucy.
Lucy nodded and began to get up. She walked slowly over to the same side of the bed as the two men. Her two boys.
She then turned and faced the old man and sighed. Not cried, not stifled tears, just sighed.
“Poor old man” She said. “Poor old gent”
She leaned over and stroked his hair and kissed him on the forehead and walked towards the door without saying anything. Michael stroked his hair as well, before turning around and leaving.
“Come on son, let’s go”
Alex nodded and started to take baby steps to his grandfather’s body. Weights were tied around his ankles and the hands of the dead clawed at his feet, but still he walked. He reached over his grandfather’s body and brought his hand to his head. He looked so real, like he could wake at any moment, yet like nothing he’d ever seen before. Like looking and one of his dad’s digital approximations of a building, it was both real, and so obviously an imitation of what it was supposed to be. Remnants. A memory. Nothing.
He slowly stroked his grandfather’s hair.
Alex shut the door behind him.