The Funeral Baked Meats
Mrs Ethel Cuthbert died as she had lived. There was a moment where she smiled at her husband, and then the smile was all that was left, she herself was gone.
Mrs Ottaway galvanised the ladies’ circle, and soon Mr Cuthbert was surrounded by large glass casserole dishes, foil-wrapped plates, and a motley collection of Tupperware. He opened a random selection and put them out on a table for the Wake, though he forgot to heat up the Tuna Surprise Mrs Galveston had brought round. People gathered, they condoled with him, ate the food they (or their wives) had given him, and then left him to get on with his life.
It was the morning after the funeral that he realised there was nothing in the house that reminded him of her. The sage-coloured downstairs, with the floral prints which, now he came to think of it, her mother had ‘helped’ her choose, the bedroom which they’d always meant to redecorate but never had. Panicked and lonely, he took a notebook of hers off a shelf. As he opened it, a leaflet from a travel agency fluttered out.
Bermuda? What business would they have going to Bermuda? As he felt the strange new weight and texture in his hand, he remembered how she’d always talked about them going away somewhere. He’d ignored it. They didn’t have the money and why would they want to? He guessed she’d been saving up for tickets to surprise him, a kind way of giving him a fait-accompli. Now, staring at the leaflet, he realised there was nothing of her left, in the house, anywhere, because she’d given it all to him.
He could go, he supposed, without her, but as she’d been buried, not cremated, he couldn’t very well take her with him. He was walking through the shopping arcade thinking this, when he noticed something. He went into the shop where it was and asked if he could get one. He did.
Two months later would have been their 50th wedding anniversary. Mr Cuthbert decided to have a party, which the older women thought was in poor taste and the younger women thought was sweet. There was a general muttering and whispering as people entered the house, which suddenly became a buzz of consternation as you got closer to the lounge.
The sage-coloured wallpaper and floral furniture was gone. The room was painted bright pink, except for one wall, where a huge photo, like something out of a travel agent’s, depicted an island sunset, complete with waving palm trees and white sand. In front of it, the furniture was fire-engine red. Mr Cuthbert bustled between people, putting out exotic dips, strange flavours of crisps, the last of the ham Mrs Hildred had given him, returned casserole dishes, plates and tupperware to their bewildered owners. And when everyone had, finally, gone, he sat down in a huge red sofa, looked around the room, and saw his wife.