Mitch’s funeral was a modest affair. The invitation stated that normal comfortable dress should be worn, and no formality was desired. Everyone was invited to the funeral service in the morning before lunch, friends to a buffet lunch in the afternoon at the community centre where Mitch had worked, then a more intimate close friends and family gathering afterwards in the evening.
The day couldn’t have been more perfect for an autumn funeral. The sky was clear blue, unseasonably warm and sunny, with no more then a gentle breeze blowing through.
Harriet arrived with Sarah at the small memorial chapel on the outskirts of Lower Theraton and chatted to some of the other attendees before taking a seat. She felt a little self conscious not knowing anyone else there but that didn’t matter so much, she didn’t feel she was there to socialise but to pay her respects to someone she had never known.
Two musicians began to play, Shostakovich Prelude for Cello and Viola, according to the programme on the invitation, Tom Ellison on the viola and Linda Morgan on cello. The pallbearers arrived and gently placed a wicker coffin on to a low stand.
Harriet could feel the tears well up in her eyes. The gentle mournful music punctuated by the soft creak of the wicker as it settled. She swallowed hard trying to retain some composure but allowed the tears to roll down her cheeks.
A woman, in a cream suit with a pale blue blouse, stood and walked to the dais. Ellie spoke openly, thanking everyone for attending, for remembering her late husband, for giving and receiving love, for supporting him in his life, in his illness, and finally in his death. She talked of those who knew him well, of those who were acquaintances, friends, work colleagues, of those who had only just known him in his final days….
Harriet sobbed quietly.
Ellie remembered her first meeting with Mitch, their marriage, their life together. She spoke of his pleasures in life, his hobbies, his cycling, his love of animals. She joked that although the coffin might creak a bit during the service, they did check and Mitch was definitely dead. She invited people to come up and talk, share memories and stories of Mitch.
An older woman stepped up and spoke of her son, the light of her life, the young man her late husband was so proud of, the daughter in law who brought out the very best in him…
A man stood and walked up to share his thoughts, about how Mitch had changed his life, had listened to him when he needed someone, had helped him out of a rut…
Women and men stood and stepped up to speak, to share. Some spoke little, others lots, a poem was read, a story shared.
And then it was over. Ellie invited everyone to follow them outside shortly to the grave side if they wished. Tom and Linda picked up their instruments and ‘Bach concerto for two violins (adapted for viola and cello) in D minor’ was played to lighten the mood as the pall bearers returned to lift the coffin and carry it out to the graveyard.
As the music played out people got up and slowly drifted through the chapel doors and gathered around the grave side silently as the coffin was lowered into the ground. Family members gathered together, a rose was dropped into the grave, shoulders were patted, hugs offered and then people started to drift. Sarah was going to the lunch at the Community Centre afterwards, so she invited Harriet to join her. It seemed petty to send Harriet home on her own at that point, and it was only a short walk away.
Harriet had never actually been to the Community Centre before, Marie didn’t approve of it. She felt it was ‘common’ and full of old people who had nothing else to do, and made sure everyone around her knew of her opinion of it. It was built about the same time that Harriet and Marie had first got together and Harriet was shocked and ashamed of herself that through all that time she had dismissed it because Marie said so.
The building was a contemporary design in red and buff brick with stone details, mimicking the more traditional design of the town but with the modern sharp lines and large areas of glazing. The lobby was open and welcoming with a reception desk and signs pointing to the main conference rooms, smaller meeting rooms, the gym, and the café. It sounded much bigger then it really was but it was sufficient to serve the community it was intended for at the time it was built. All the larger spaces were on the ground floor, Harriet followed the rest of the guests up the stairs to the first floor where the smaller rooms were situated. This was where Mitch worked, with Sarah. Harriet felt a flush and a shiver come over. She was in a place she had never visited before, where a man she had never met until his funeral had worked. She felt out of place and a little uncomfortable about being there, but Sarah chatted away beside her pointing out something about the building.
“I’m sorry, Sarah, I was lost in my own space for a moment there and missed what you were saying.”
“Oh, that’s ok, I was just saying how funny it is coming into work, as a guest, on my day off! And I really shouldn’t get side tracked by work either.”
Inside the smaller conference room Harriet milled around with the other guests. People were collecting paper plates and shuffling along the side of a long table for the buffet. Harriet joined them picking up sausage rolls, and sandwiches without really thinking about the food. There was much less of a crowd then at the chapel and that allowed Ellie to talk with each of the guests in turn. As Harriet saw her approaching she realised that Ellie might not know who she was given that she was only invited by Sarah.
“Hello.” Ellie smiled at Harriet. “I’m not sure we have met properly, you came with Sarah so I guess you must be Harriet?”
“I am. I am so sorry about Mitch…” Harriet stumbled over her words, she didn’t know what to say, or if she should just apologise for gate crashing a very personal gathering.
“Thank you. Sarah told me about you when she picked up Mitch’s Brompton for you. I suppose we both have big changes coming in life. Mitch was very happy that his bike might be able to help you, and I am too.” Ellie smiled and reached out to put a hand gently on Harriet’s shoulder. Her smile was genuine but tinged with sadness. “You are a carpenter? Sarah said you make furniture.”
“I am… well, I qualified as a furniture maker last year and I have a workshop I am… I hope, I am going to be moving into soon. I can make stuff, but I don’t work as a carpenter yet.” Harriet bit her lip feeling a bit uncomfortable talking about herself as if she really was someone. She looked at her shoes and shuffled a bit.
“Sorry, I put you on the spot. Maybe we can keep in touch? I will be moving house, I don’t know if Sarah explained, and I will probably need some things making or doing if you would like, no obligation if it isn’t your thing. Can we exchange contacts?” Harriet agreed and they both took out their phones and swapped numbers. “I am glad you came and we had the chance to meet up. If I can help you get started with your business I will do, even if it is only a few small things.”
They chatted together a while longer, getting to know each other a little more before Ellie was whisked away by another guest.
While Ingrid and Fran were watching TV in the evening Daisy browsed the estate agent listings. She had her search parameters set but still, for fun, extended them every now and again to see what else was out there that was beyond her means. It also gave her an idea of what sorts of houses, and price ranges, were popular in Theraton. There seemed to be a rise in prices and sales of the more expensive properties in Higher Theraton, mostly four and five bedroom homes, but not so much in the more affordable homes in Lower Theraton. Daisy had the feeling that it was a good time to try to buy somewhere as prices will only rise further over time, and if the Higher Theraton prices rose too much then some of the not quite so wealthy buyers will start looking to Lower Theraton and pushing the prices up there too. And she really didn’t want to end up buying a short lease on a flat in a converted house.
“So, have you ever own a house before?” Ingrid asked “In Germany, and most of Europe I think, most people rent apartments.”
“No, I moved from my parents house to sharing with friends because of work, then friends moved on, to live with boyfriends, go abroad, and stuff like that. And other people moved in, then I moved on going where the work took me, living with new friends… You know how it is.
I did move in with a boyfriend for a bit. But that didn’t last. So back with house sharing.” Daisy explained.
“And you not think of just renting a house or apartment of your own instead of buying?”
“Nah, if I was going to keep paying rent I would stay here with you two!”
“What happened? With the boyfriend I mean.” asked Fran.
“Are we back to the ‘boyfriend’ thing again?” Daisy scowled.
“No, no, just wondering. Being a little bit nosy?”
“Right, sure. Anyway, well we were only together a couple of months and he had a house, a big one in Higher Theraton, so it made sense for me to move in. It’s how I ended up living in Theraton. We had split up within a few weeks and I found this place to move to. How do people live with men? They’re a pain!”
“You can say that again!” Fran added. “After Mum left it was just me and Dad and I had to take over Mum’s role, cooking, cleaning, shopping. I was sixteen years old and Dad, Dad had no idea how to look after himself, or rather he had no idea why he should! It’s why I left as soon as I could. I could see why Mum did.”
“I didn’t know that, Fran. But that’s the thing, I know some men, like my Dad for example, do their bit around the house and behave, well, like decent human beings, but I’ve yet to meet one like that myself, well, not one that I’d be interested in. And don’t start that again, please!”
“I didn’t say a word!” Fran protested “Anyway, I know what you mean, they’re ok for, you know, but hell, I’m not sure I’d want to live the rest of my life with one. I mean, fifty or sixty yeas with only one person. It’ll be boring if nothing else!”
“Are you beginning to see my point of view now?” Laughed Daisy!
“Yeah, hooking up with another woman would be more fun!” Teased Fran!
“That’s not what I meant! And you know it!” Daisy retorted in mock horror! “Seriously though, given the smell and the mess… and the ‘other stuff’… how does anyone live with a man!”