The Eyes of a Child
The overriding memory Rachel had of that sad day was that it was raining. Not a few drops of light rain or even a giant thunderstorm, but that miserly rain that turns everything grey and permeates right to the very bone.
Rachel didn’t like rain like that; her mother had dressed her in waterproofs and wellyboots, yet wouldn’t let her even go near the puddles that gathered at the side of the path. This was an important day, she kept telling her, and one she should remember. She had to say goodbye to her grandpa and he wouldn’t like her boots to be all wet. Rachel didn’t understand that herself. Grandpa loved to watch her stomp in the puddles.
Her mother ushered her into a cold room, both in temperature and tone. The walls were white, with plain black chairs lining the outside. Right in the centre was a table with a few flowers and a bunch of leaflets. Rachel tugged on her mother’s hand until she relented and let the seven-year-old go investigate. Rachel screwed up her eyes trying to read the first leaflet. The writing was very small and contained lots of words that she didn’t know. The one on the right was no different. The one in the middle however, that one Rachel could understand. It was jut a list of times and names, and there, at 2.15 was her grandpa’s name. Or at least she thought it was him; Rachel was a little hazy on what names he had other than ‘grandpa.’
It was at that point that Rachel noticed the other people in the room. There was an elderly couple sniffling in the corner, her auntie Millie and uncle Bob. They used to come visit a couple of times a year, but they never stayed very long and only brought small presents for Rachel. Hovering by the far exit looking uncomfortable was a man Rachel sort of recognised but didn’t know his name. He didn’t seem to be looking at anyone else in the room and tried to keep himself to himself.
And then there was the family in the corner, a stringy woman with pulled back hair and a man with a shaved head and an empty look in his eyes that did not look with it at all. In front of them sat a boy who was probably a little younger than Rachel and who was engrossed in rolling little model cars back and forth across the tiles. With a lack of any other options, Rachel started to make her way over there, thinking that playing with a few cars would be better than just sitting there. No one seemed to be in a rush to do anything.
She was barely a few steps away when her mother halted her sharply. “Rachel, come back here.”
Rachel swivelled on the spot. “But mum, I was only going to play!”
Her mother shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Come and sit with me, please.”
Rachel didn’t even have time to move before the stringy woman had leapt to her feet, sending small metal cars skittering across the floor. “Oh, yeah, that’s right. You don’t want your precious little daughter near me and mine, do ya? What are we, diseased or something?”
Whatever she might think privately, Rachel’s mother managed to keep her composure. “I just… I just don’t want any fights, not today.”
“Like you give a damn! It’s not like you were ever there for him! Who looked after him after mum died, huh? Who took ****ing care of him when he got sick? Me, that’s who! Where the **** were you when it mattered, eh?” She was practically dancing
At every swear word, Rachel flinched, though the boy didn’t even look up. If the room had been quiet before, it was deathly silent now. The stringy woman was glaring daggers Rachel’s mum, who seemed intent on staring at her own expensive shoes. “I did my best, but it’s a long way to come all the time. I can’t help that I live so far away. I sent money, didn’t I?”
“Money? What the ****’s that got to do with it? You’re so stuck up you think that’s all anything’s about, don’t you?”
There was that word again. Rachel really wished she had just stayed reading the stupid leaflets.
Slowly, Rachel’s mother lifted her head up, but still did not look directly at the stringy woman. “Please keep a hold on your language in front of the children, Carlie. This isn’t the Jeremy Kyle show.”
“Oh, that is ****ing it!” The stringy woman veritably flew across the room, almost knocking Rachel out of the way as she headed for her sister.
The only thing quicker than her was the uncomfortable man from near the door who had been eyeing the exchange warily throughout. “That is enough,” he thundered. “Both of you! Can’t you just keep your mouths shut for one day? Not even that, a couple of hours? Let’s get through this and then you can go back to sniping and snarking as much of you like, okay? Okay?” The two women looked slightly ashamed of themselves and murmured an agreement.
* * *
And that was what Rachel remembered most about her grandpa’s funeral. The teary faces of loved ones or the beautiful eulogy faded into the mists of time, but the argument only became clearer and every time she visited her grandpa’s grave to lay flowers by his headstone, she relived the whole thing. She saw it repeated again and again over the years, but the subsequent repetitions never managed the same impact as the first.