tagRomanceFour Funerals

Four Funerals


(This story isn't true, but it's based on some real events. I just put them together.)

Tottenham Court Road on a busy Friday lunchtime is not the tine to start playing Frogger for real but the young woman in front of me obviously didn't realise that. I was moving before my conscious brain kicked into gear, my hand shooting out and yanking her back by her shoulder as the taxi swerved to avoid a bike courier weaving in and out of traffic. It happened in slow motion; the taxi screeching into the space she would have occupied a millisecond later, her foot flying up and banging into the bodywork, the taxi speeding off as I pulled her back onto the pavement, her shocked 'ow!' as the pain registered.

I sat her down on the bench at the bus stop outside Goodge Street Station and had a quick look at her foot. Bruised and not broken. I asked her if there was anyone she wanted to call. Distracted, she shook her head. I told her to sit still for a moment as I dispersed the concerned onlookers. I asked if she thought she needed an ambulance. She checked her watch, clearly late for something. And then she was gone. I hardly saw her go it happened so fast, disjointed, and a moment later she was swallowed in the crowd.

I know what you're thinking and you're wrong. To my knowledge I have never seen that woman again. I never got her phone number. We never went out to dinner. I never charmed her pants off then went down on one knee. We never walked down the aisle together. But in its own little way that brief snapshot of London life determined my future, because someone was watching.

Later that day I met up with the gang at a cellar bar near London Bridge. Don't ask me the name of the bar because I've forgotten it, but I haven't forgotten how we used to take advantage of the happy hour; Dominic chatting up the barmaids, Jo giggling at one of Richard's terrible jokes, Swanney piling up the drinks on our table, me being all too serious as I set the world to rights. Every Friday night for nearly two years.

Steve and Tara walked in after we were settled but we'd saved them seats. Tara was lovely, tousled auburn/ginger hair, long shapely legs, big (bloody huge) baby blue eyes. She was an eyeful, but also my mate's girlfriend, so that's where my appreciation stopped: Never crap on a mate. They sat down and Tara looked directly at me, amusement in her eyes.

"Well, Mr Samaritan, you didn't get her number, did you?" she asked me, enjoying my confusion.

"My office is on the first floor overlooking Goodge Street Station," she explained, "I happened to be looking out of the window and saw it all. I think it was rather unfair of her just to dash off like that."

So I had to explain what had happened to the rest of them, the lads groaning at my missed opportunity, Jo looking at me as if this really should be the beginning of something big; perhaps if I put a personal ad in Private Eye, hoping to track her down. I rolled my eyes, embarrassed. It was nothing really, I acted without thinking, and it's just what you do, isn't it?

"Well, I thought you were sweet," said Tara, leaning across the table and kissing my cheek. Aw, shucks!

"Careful, babes, he might explode," joked Steve, "he hasn't had a girlfriend in months. Or is it years?"

So the discussion turned to my tragic lack of a love life. Full disclosure; I am absolutely hopeless with women. I never pick up if there are signals, and if I try to talk to a woman I blow it. My romantic dalliances always took me by surprise, fuelled by beer, and I never knew what I had done to result in a girl lying in my arms. What's worse, I was a romantic, never able to distinguish between a one night stand and the possibility of a real relationship. I was intense and that scared a lot of girls once they had actually got me to realise that they were right there in front of me. Like I say; a tragic case.

"We'll have to set you up with someone," said Steve, and I knew he meant it.

"Fuck, no! Please! Not a blind date. She'll hate me or I'll hate her and we'll be stuck somewhere wishing we were somewhere else."

"Your loss, sunshine! Anyway, want to meet up in the week?"

"Sure, bell me and we'll sort it."

The conversation shifted away from me and the night got much, much drunker. We all went home (me alone, of course).

I never met up with Steve. On the following Monday evening he dropped dead from an undiagnosed heart defect as he was training with his local amateur football team.

The funeral was bad, but not the worst I've been to. Steve was young when he died, just twenty-three. We had a wake and sent him off, sad for his family and angry that life had been stolen from him. I barely spoke to Tara at the funeral. She'd only been seeing him for a couple of months, and I guess that she'd been having fun rather than tumbling into the arms of love's young dream.

Tara drifted away from the gang once Steve had died. She was Jo's friend, really, though I'd always got on with her, making her laugh when I wasn't being too serious for my own good. I occasionally heard about things she was up to, boyfriends she was seeing. I wished her well, and thought nothing more of it.

Years passed and the gang spread out a bit. We were pushing towards thirty and in a lot of ways we were different people from the young idiots who drank themselves almost insensible every Friday. Richard and Jo got married and settled down to grumbling but happy domesticity. Dominic kept chasing the ladies, a different one on his arm every time I saw him. Swanney? Well, sadly we lost touch with him. I'd love to know what he's doing these days, and whether he ever slowed down on the booze.

I stupidly got married as well. The whole thing was a case study in what I do wrong. Again, I have no idea how she ended up kissing me in the street outside the pub (alcohol strikes again!), and I have no idea why I overlooked our serious differences and decided to try and make it permanent. After three years she made the perfectly reasonable point that she didn't really love me any more, and that was that.

Of course, I called her every name under the sun. I had gone back to University to actually get some kind of education and she had felt the pressure of supporting us both financially (although I had sworn I would return the favour), but I was suddenly facing my final year, homeless and hopeless. I basically broke down.

There were moments when I was close to begging on the street, days when I didn't eat because I couldn't afford to. Mentally I was fucked up. I alienated a lot of my friends, and finally I found myself sitting in Victoria Park one Tuesday evening eating a load of pills and shuffling back into some bushes so that it was less likely that some kids would find my body. Fortunately I was so screwed up at that point that I'd got hold of the wrong kind of pills. After three hours I still hadn't fallen asleep and I called myself an ambulance. They took me to the Royal London Hospital and the staff there were brilliant, the doctor even holding my hair out of the way as I hurled up the charcoal and pills into the basin. I was there for three days and came out to a new world. I'd hit bottom and the only way was up.

One of the first contacts I had was a seriously pissed off Jo, yelling at me down the phone.

"Don't you ever fucking try that shit again," she ranted, "I hate funerals and there's no way I want to go to yours."

I mumbled some apologies.

"Anyway, someone else wants to talk to you," and she grumpily passed the phone over.

"I'm really sorry you felt that way, honey," it was Tara, and her voice made me smile for the first time in... I've no idea, "you should've said something. Asked someone for help. It isn't a crime, you know?"

I mumbled again. I was being told off and I deserved it. It began to dawn on me that there were people who would actually miss me. It sounds pathetic but when you've been really, really down hearing that kind of message is incredibly important. If you have a friend on the skids, tell them you love them. At the right moment it works wonders.

We didn't meet up then. From nowhere I got two offers I didn't want to refuse. A university friend who knew I was down on my luck got me writing freelance articles and reviews for the portal he was running. And I found that I was good at it. I had some money again, a real foundation for regaining self-respect. Then a Czech friend offered me the long term use of his apartment in Prague. It didn't matter where I worked out of: the office was just an email away. And I hated London now, couldn't wait to leave.

Time ticked on again and I settled in Prague, moving a couple of times but seeing, feeling it as home. My mind cleared and the clouds drifted away. I was still crap with women, but these were Czech women and therefore 'exotic'. I made a couple of mistakes but I wasn't so worried; nothing was as bad as my divorce and suicide attempt. I began to think of life as a single man and I started pushing forty, content enough even though I knew I could have more, making a little circle of local and expat friends and starting to frequent a Friday night hangout near the castle. Reverting to type.

In the long intervals between short flings with Czech women I masturbated furiously. In the right kind of romantic tale this is where I tell you that I could only think of Tara when I wanked, thinking of her hot, wet kisses as she climbed on to me, her nipples brushing my chest as she lowered her tight, willing pussy on to my raging erection. Well, sorry, but I'm a bloke, so I fantasised about threesomes with nubile young nurses, or French maids, or stuff I'd seen in porn. The usual stuff really, and before any women complain, well, you fantasise about firemen, don't you?

Tara was married now to some guy I'd never met. I sometimes thought of her, but only as a special friend from almost a previous life.


My dad's funeral was a bit of a hoot, in my mind anyway as I did a very good job of not laughing out loud. The pall-bearers had tripped on the way into the chapel and in my minds eye I saw them drop the coffin, the lid flying off and my dad's body slithering across the floor, all pale and hair nicely combed. You may well guess that we had zero relationship and regarded each other as strangers. The rest of the funeral was similar. Me, and my mother were given all the condolences, which was a chuckle; she'd left him thirty years before and I was the only son who he never talked to.

"So, what are we going to with the house," my mum asked after we had finally shaken off the well-wishers and settled down in the corner of a pub.

"It's in a shit state," I replied, "we'll only get half what it should be worth. I'm not keen on losing out on one hundred thousand if we don't have to."

My mum thinks like me (or the other way around!) and we quickly agreed that I'd come back to London and stay in the house, keeping an eye on the repairs as they were done. When all was ready the house would be sold and I'd go back to Prague. I figured on a year and reckoned I could just about stomach it.


I'd not even known Tara was pregnant. I only really hung around with Dominic out of the old gang and he was never much on social gossip. But I heard snippets here and there and one of them was that Tara had an eight month old son. Good for you, I thought, and there it rested for a month.

Jo was already crying when I answered her call; she'd probably been crying before she even dialled the number. Tara's son had died of SIDS in the night. I've no idea why she called me, particularly, and I suspect that she was calling people at random. I happened to still be in her phone book. When she asked me if I would go to the funeral I accepted without a second thought.

It was terrible. I don't really want to describe it in detail.

Tara was absolutely broken. I'd murmured the usual condolences and she hadn't said a word, staring over my shoulder into the middle distance, her lip trembling. I'm not sure she even saw me, really. Outside the chapel I pulled Jo to one side.

"Where's Giovanni?" I asked (Giovanni being Tara's husband).

"No one knows. Some of his clothes and his passport have gone."

"Oh shit. Just when she needs him most."

"I don't think she's even really noticed he's gone."

I made a momentous decision on the spur of the moment.

"I'll look in on her for a few days. The house is almost sold and work's light at the moment. It's the least I could do."

"I knew you would. Shame you can't be a bit of a bastard sometimes," Jo smiled and pecked me on the cheek then went to talk to Richard.

Tara lived on the other side of London to me but at least I didn't need to go through the centre to get to hers. For the next week I'd leave after the rush hour and get to hers around midday. I always brought some food; Jo had warned me that Tara wasn't cooking for herself and barely eating. She was barely talking either, and she spent her time looking at nothing, breaking down. It hurt me desperately to see her like this; she was the fun one, the one with life and energy, and it had been ripped from her. And there was absolutely nothing I could do to help take that pain away. It's not nice being helpless, but I was.

I would make some food and bring it to her. Sometimes she picked at it, other times she just left it. I fixed a few simple things around her house and garden, made sure the place was spotless and generally kept out of her way. She needed to grieve but I wasn't going to make her talk. To be honest I was scared at how strong her grief might be, and I was conscious that I wasn't strong enough to bear it.

On the Friday of that week I arrived at her house and let myself in (Jo had given me a spare key). Tara was sitting in her living room with an album of baby photos spread out on the coffee table in front of her. Tears were flooding down her cheeks but she made no sound. I stopped, heart in my mouth, then told myself not to be such an arse. I forced myself over to her, sitting next to her on the sofa and putting my arm around her. She sank into my chest and began to wail. She wept for what felt like hours, sometimes bellowing or screeching as I held her. I've never seen such heartfelt loss and I pray that I never feel it myself.

When she'd calmed a little I began to stroke her hair, letting her use me as a pillow for as long as she needed. She put her hands around me and held me, and we stayed that way for an age, until finally she pushed herself up, wiping the remains of her tears away with a little empty laugh. Then she got up and went into the kitchen as I stared at her wall and blinked back one of my own tears. She came back with a mug of tea for me and leant over to me. Just like a few years before her lips brushed my cheek and this time she murmured a sincere thank you.

She disappeared upstairs after that and I didn't follow. Upstairs was somewhere I hadn't been invited, and really, what kind of sick fuck do you think I am to try to take advantage of a woman at that point in her life? We will get to the sex, ok?

The next day I left for Prague and I soon slipped back into my old routine, satisfied that the glass was half-full. After a couple of days I got a really nice email from Jo, saying that I was a knight in shining armour and some other such guff, but a real thank you, nonetheless. It's nice to be appreciated. And a few months later I got an email from Tara, though I didn't expect or require one. She was still lost but she wanted me to know that I'd really helped her let the first of it out. She wouldn't forget that. I was really touched and we started to email each other quite often. I regaled her with stories of disastrous dates, and she told me how her life was moving on, now divorced, little by little. And within her emails, of course, she dispensed little words of wisdom, telling me that I should appreciate myself more for who I was. I packed up the drinking for a while.


"Dominic's in hospital and it looks desperate," Jo told me over the phone, trying to keep her voice level."

"Tell me."

"His organs are giving out, the next twenty-four hours are critical, but there's a good chance he's going."

I didn't know what to say. I was truly stunned. We were roughly the same age and there was Dominic dying. Not of some crazy accident or misbehaviour, but just because his body didn't want to work any more.

His funeral later that month was very well attended. Most of the old gang were there, along with a lot people who'd been won over by his easy charm and basic decency. I was even asked to speak during the service, and I hope I did him justice, focussing on his energy and his inspiration. I held it together almost to the end but I knew what was coming, and when it hit, it hit like a hammer. One of the most well known features of Dominic was his constant driving with his stereo blasting. And I knew which song it would be. And then, as the curtains opened to reveal the empty plinth the first bars of 'Don't Fear the Reaper' kicked in. I was gone. Strings of snot tumbled out of my nose as I sobbed, wanting to fight it back but desperate to let it out.

After a minute or two I felt an arm around me, comforting me. I accepted it and let myself cry for my best friend, the man who had (metaphorically) done his utmost to slap me out of the bad times and push me forward. He'd been the first one to tell me to go to Prague, telling me it would be the making of me. He was right, too.

After a couple of minutes I started to pull myself together.

"It's alright, honey, if you need to cry some more, go ahead," it was Tara's arm around me. I hadn't even seen her in the chapel and was surprised to see her now. She'd never been a particular friend of Dominic's and I don't think they'd seen each other for ten years.

"I'm fine now, but thanks." I said, feeling that I'd gone through the wall; things would be better although I would always miss him.

"I'm in Jo and Richard's car and there's space for one more if you want a lift to the wake," she said, and I nodded. We walked out of the empty chapel and you won't believe this, but I never noticed for one step that she was holding my hand the whole way.

The wake was a riot as it always should be when a larger than life character is laid to rest. Having the wake in a hotel just outside London with an open pool was a stroke of genius, and I laughed like I hadn't in years as people started bombing each other and the hotel staff fidgeted. Whenever I caught Tara's eye I would smile and nod, and now I think about it, I was catching her eye a lot. But at that moment it was 'lads' o'clock' as we told tales of the improbable things Dominic got away with. Someone lit a *ahem* 'herbal' cigarette and that went round, along with the beer, the whisky, the vodka, the tequila... You get the picture. Personally, I lost the picture big time after a while.

I woke up and turned, heaving, almost choking as the puke flowed out of me into a bucket someone had thoughtfully placed on the floor next to the sofa I found myself on. It hurt, and it had every right to. I had no memory of the end of the evening and I had no idea where I was. And at that moment I didn't care, praying for death, or at the least to be wrapped in cotton wool and carried to a comfortable nirvana. I lay still and controlled my breathing, cold sweats and trembles all over me, seriously hoping that the room wouldn't begin to spin.

I heard bare feet behind me and Tara appeared, wrapped in a dressing gown. She gave me that feminine look which said 'men are twats when they're drunk' and disappeared. She was soon back with a glass of water, a couple of aspirin and two slices of dry toast. The toast looked evilly at me so I contented myself with the water and the aspirin. She stroked my forehead and went back upstairs, leaving me to sleep it off a bit more.

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