My father died today. I was in the Subway in Anglia Square when my mother rang and told me. I was eating at the window. Pop music was playing. Buses rumbled by. A drunk was sitting across the street next to Poundland waving his hands. I’d finished my work and done my errands. I was feeling free.
At first it’s just information. You hear some words and answer them; I was still thinking about where to find a lampshade for the living room. I got up and walked down the street. My limbs felt weak. To passers-by I must have looked angry. I was self-conscious. I thought, we’re so busy judging each other but you never truly know what’s in the other’s head. Miserable thought. I ended up walking through various alleys I used to take as shortcuts to pubs, then down Marriott’s Way, along the path the tree surgeons have cleared by the river, across the footbridge, down the dirt path behind Aldi, across the carpark, up the hill and down through the streets to my house. A long, roundabout walk.
I’ve tried to prepare myself for this for a long time: the day he’d be gone at last. I was never naïve enough to think it would be a relief, but how do you prepare for something that’s never happened to you before? How often didn’t I tell myself he was a bad man? How often didn’t I wish him dead? So what was I trying to steady myself for? That his death wouldn’t make a difference to me, that he was in my head either way.
This is an odd kind of grief. My mother says his face was white and his mouth was open; if they don’t get there in time, they can’t close it. If they offer to open the coffin at the funeral, she says, don’t do it. I won’t mind that, I say, that would be the least of it. And you know they do all sorts of things at the morgue to make them look normal.