We’re delighted to share another story from Martha Perriam… a real tale of the unexpected!
A Wake Too Far
Friday is a good day at the crematorium. Churches seem to be the best on Tuesdays or Wednesdays and chapels on Thursdays, but you do get a better class of funeral at the crem on a Friday.
Mike Latimer (alias John Crayfield, alias David Maloney) thought it might be because people coming down from London liked to make a weekend of it, on their way to the Cotswolds or the South Coast. On Fridays you could be almost certain that one of the wakes in the middle of the day after the service at the crem would be held at a smart hotel, with hot food and choice of wines, whereas on other days they were as likely as not to be at the nearby pub. Cold, flaccid finger buffet stuff he could do without, and besides, pub landlords tended to remember faces.
It all started after he’d buried his dear old Mum. He’d splashed out and held the wake at the Grand, she deserved nothing less after all those years looking after him, and discovered that he didn’t know half the people who were there. When the bill arrived he wished he’d checked on them a bit more carefully. A month later his Mum’s old friend Florrie died too, and at her wake no-one knew who he was this time.
He’d never learned to cook. Mum had kept him out of the kitchen. “A man’s place is in the sitting room with his feet up after a hard day’s work,” she used to say, apparently forgetting that he’d never actually had a job after they sacked him from the post office for sucking the glue off the backs of stamps when he was twenty eight. Later on he’d done this and that, but not very often. He was a sociable enough sort of chap, “inoffensive” was the word used most often about him by the neighbours. He was polite, clean, well spoken and had a pleasant face – not exactly a distinctive one though. He’d had a few girl friends in his time, one or two had been really quite keen until they got to know him better. He’d decided fairly early on that he was best off staying at home with Mum anyway.
But without her his diet had become very dull indeed. Baked beans, spaghetti hoops, corned beef and smash, and that was only when he remembered to go to the shop. He wasn’t short of cash exactly, but takeaways soon swallowed up the money Mum had left him and his pension. So it was shortly after Florrie’s funeral that he started looking through the “In Memorium” column of the local paper; at first to see if there was anyone he knew who’d be having a slap-up wake which he could attend perfectly properly to pay his respects, but soon just to sort out where he might be able to have lunch the next day.
On the Friday in question he knew he was on to a good thing. A service at the crem, to be followed by a reception at the Woodside Hotel, family flowers only. He cleaned his ancient car first thing then got himself ready. That meant brushing off his best suit, choosing a dark tie, parting his hair and combing it down in what he considered a respectfully sombre style. The deceased was one Mary Trimble. Well, he’d known Mary this and Mary that, he might well have met her sometime, the family weren’t to know otherwise. And the Woodside was a very exclusive little boutique hotel several miles out of town, he always enjoyed a wake there. As usual he went to the service first, he wasn’t a heartless man, and besides, the eulogies gave him plenty of clues about the deceased if he had to join in a conversation later on.
So he sang all the hymns sitting well to the back of the crem, listened to the life story of Mary Trimble who had apparently outlived three husbands but been a paragon of every virtue, shook hands with one or two smartly dressed young people on the way out and then got into his little car to follow the last of them to the hotel.
He parked inconspicuously near the exit from the hotel grounds, composed his features and made his way to the informal receiving line of bereaved relatives in the entrance hall. The men shook his hand, the women embraced him. He didn’t mind that at all.
“So very sorry for your loss ……..”
“Thank you, thank you……… did you know Mary well?”
“Years ago. So sad”. Repeating this several times he moved on as quickly as he decently could until he came to a very striking woman in her forties who kissed him on both cheeks and looked at him long and hard before saying:
“Were you a close friend of my Mother’s?” He repeated his mantra:
“Years ago. So sad”.
“Did you know her in her Southampton period?”
“Oh no, it was before that”.
“You must have known her when she was a student then. Did you keep in touch all these years? How romantic! What did you say your name was?”
Startled, Mike mumbled his own name for once. The bereaved usually asked him very few questions, too tearful or too busy with distant relatives.
“Funny she never mentioned you Michael. Do you live locally now?”
“Not very near,” he replied, edging off. But she still held his arm.
“Near enough to care though, it’s good that you’ve come.” He muttered something about paying his respects. “Were you very fond of her all those years ago?”
“Everyone was ……… she was a very special lady ………” After which, much to Mike’s relief, her attention was demanded by the next person in the line and he slipped off into the dining room, but not before he heard her saying something like “Well, she was a bit of an old bat really ……”, which might have struck him as odd if he hadn’t just been distracted by the sight of the welcoming tray of drinks. A well chilled white quickly restored his equilibrium. But he couldn’t disappear into a corner in his usual manner because he’d have to miss the canapes as they were whirled around by the waiters, and he was very fond of little titbits, especially with a second glass of wine.
“Ah, there you are!” The daughter greeted him again like a long lost friend, smiling broadly. “We’ve been working so hard on Mother’s family tree, she had such complicated family connections. You’ll be able to fill in some of the gaps!” She seized his arm once more and steered him to the side of the room where a large easel had been set up to display a collection of Mary’s family photos with an enlarged one of Mary looking young and very glamorous in the centre.
“I’m afraid I didn’t know any of her family at all …….”
“But you might recognise some of her old friends. Were you there when this photo was taken? Isn’t this you on the left, holding a glass?”
“Oh no, not me I’m afraid. But,” and here it must have been the wine talking, “she was very beautiful and you look just like her”.
The woman raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps you were in love with her? Many men fell for her. I’ve always wondered ……..”
To Mike’s relief she was interrupted by a young man with fair floppy hair.
“Hi Ma, are you all right? I’ll get you another drink in a mo, but first explain all the husbands to me. I’ve never seen these photos. Which one was my grandpa?”
Then turning to Mike: “Did you know any of them?”
Mike was being drawn into a conversation he’d rather have avoided.
The daughter sighed, pointing to a smudged picture of a man beside Mary and two little girls. “I always thought this one was my father. She left him and dragged us away with her when I was only 7 and I never saw him again. But my aunt, that’s her in a long dress,” pointing again, “told me only yesterday that he was not my father. We grew up with Uncle Tommy actually, a lovely man I thought of as Dad, but I always knew he wasn’t really my father. Jim, the one in between, didn’t last long, and I do vaguely remember him. He was supposed to be a stockbroker, but he played golf morning noon and night. My mother confided in her sister about most things, but apparently she wouldn’t say exactly who my real father was”.
Mike was rather shocked but the young man laughed and shrugged. “Never mind Ma, perhaps you’ll find him today if you look around”. He smiled broadly at Mike.
“Yes,” she replied pensively, “I’ll have to have a go at that”.
“My name’s Sam”, said the boy, holding out his hand to Mike. “The Grandson. I’m hoping to go to Uni in the autumn, but it’s so f……. ing expensive these days. Ma might look well off but we live hand to mouth you know, don’t we Ma? I couldn’t expect you to sacrifice your life savings for me, could I?” He turned a winsome smile towards his mother.
“If only I knew my grandfather he might make all the difference between a decent career for me and stacking shelves………….. Couldn’t you give me a clue in that direction?”
Mike was terrified. He tried to thrust his empty glass into the hand of a nearby waiter, tripped over his own feet and upended the whole tray of drinks. There was a hubbub of shattering glass, squeals from the women, curses from the men and a flurry of waiters. Mike squirmed his way through the crowded room to the hallway.
“Oh, are you going so soon?” he heard as he reached the door. Three people were chasing him; the woman, her son and the hotel manager in dark suit, identity badge to the fore, who was shouting something about breakages. He ran down the steps as fast as he possibly could, catching his jacket on a bush and tearing the pocket in his haste to pull himself free. His hands were slippery with sweat as he fumbled with his car keys. The car kangaroo hopped down the drive: he didn’t dare look back.
If he had he’d have seen three people rocking with laughter as they watched his ungainly retreat.
“I knew he was the one,” said the woman. “Thanks for tipping us off,” to the manager. “It’s worth paying for the breakages just to see that! We got a laugh out of the old girl’s funeral in the end!”
Mike had escaped, but that was the end of the freebies for him. Taking everything into consideration, he decided that baked beans were by far the safer option from now on.
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