Running On Empty
The dream was the reason I was late. It was one of those long, very intense ones where you could swear it was really happening to you. I could still hear the squeal of the brakes, it felt like the scorching smell was actually in my nostrils, all the lights seemed real and intense and the man’s voice…it was the man’s voice that had woken me up.
I was still in a daze when I stumbled into the churchyard. I could see from the gate that the church doors were shut. I was obviously last to arrive – again! “You’d be late to your own funeral,” my dad was fond of saying, and he had a point. I’ve been late as a bridesmaid, late to exams and late to job interviews. I was even two weeks overdue when I was born.
I felt hungover – I must have had more to drink the night before than I’d realised. I wasn’t in any pain, but everything looked fuzzy and distant. My legs were carrying me towards the church on autopilot, it barely felt like my shoes were making contact with the wet path.
I couldn’t even remember what I was there for. I was in such a daze; I’d got a suit on at least, and I knew it was something really important – some big family do. The car park was full. I waited with my ear pressed to the old, thick door until I could hear singing and then I slipped inside. No one turned round.
I could see my family – my parents, my brothers and sisters, their girlfriends and boyfriends, all up at the front of the church. Not ideal, but I hoped I could sneak up the side, behind the pillars, without anyone noticing.
The hymn came to a close as I slipped onto the pew next to my dad and whispered, “Sorry,” in his ear. He didn’t even look at me. God, I thought, he must be really mad. What was I missing here? Who was getting married or christened?
Then I saw it. The coffin in front of the altar, topped with white roses, the vicar looking solemn. Ok, this was really bad – I thought my bridesmaid act of turning up after the bride was a low point, but this took the biscuit. No wonder dad wasn’t speaking to me.
What made it worse was that I had no idea who was lying there in the box. How could I not know who’d died? At least it couldn’t be anyone important if I couldn’t remember, must be someone really old, some great uncle so-and-so. Although when I got brave enough to look around, a lot of people did seem to be crying their eyes out. My parents just looked like numb robots, but my siblings were all really upset; one of my brothers sobbing. What the hell?
My dad’s Order of Service fluttered to the floor but he didn’t bat an eyelid so I stooped down to pick it up. And I was met with a photograph of my own face. It was from years ago, a holiday I had in Wales with friends, but I looked happy and, oddly, tanned. The dates were underneath my name – my birthday and then a date which I had thought was today’s date, but that couldn’t be right.
“What’s going on?” I shouted, turning around to glance wildly from face to face. But there was no answer. It dawned on me that they couldn’t hear me – not my best mates who were on the opposite front pew to my family, not my work colleagues, not the old chums from university sitting towards the back. Then I realise my dad had been right and I was late for one last, final time.