thirteen divided by forty

Being thirteen years old is similar to standing in a small room of the big house of life; right between the back door and the front door.

Yesterday, I was in that room, surrounded by people with sad faces and pity in their eyes.

There were familiar friends and family and also complete strangers. Some of these people placed their hands on my shoulder or squeezed my elbow whilst they told me they were sorry.

A matronly woman, I’d never met before, walked past me and offered me something to eat from a plate I didn’t recognise. There were platters of small triangle sandwiches, lamingtons and home made sausage rolls. There were tea cups and coffee mugs but I don’t remember seeing my fathers favourite brown mug; the one that I had emptied and refilled for him with a dangling tea bag and just a drop of cold water. I wanted to run to the green kitchen and steal his tea mug from the overhead cupboard, walk proudly with it and place it at the centre of the table.

Make me a cup of tea love?

My father was buried yesterday, deep within the brown dry earth between orchards and tomorrow. He was buried within a mahogany wooden box, sealed from today.

As I stood beside the open grave, I prayed he wouldn’t wake up. I prayed to god to keep him asleep. I wanted to knock on the wooden box and make certain he was safely gone.

I will never forget watching the coffin lower into the freshly dug hole. The canvas and rubber straps creaked and stretched and I promise you I thought they were going to snap and split in half. I calculated the weight of my father against the belt of lowering and I hoped that someone had weighed him before placing him in that heavy coffin.

As the dirt was sifted onto the box and a man in a black cloak with a purple sash talked about dust to dust and ashes to ashes, I heard birds singing in the distance. The sun shone through a clouded sky and it warmed the side of my face. It felt like his hand.

I looked at my grandmother and I noticed the largest salted tear I’ve ever seen, slowing trickling down her cheek before sliding off her slack jaw, onto the grass of the cemetery.

A mother should never bury her children.

My father was forty years old last February and now he will be forty forever. There is no next week or tomorrow for him but somewhere, someone tells me, he is in another place.

As I stand beside the mourners with short and sharp sobs escaping from their centres, I look at my toes and wonder if I’ll be buried beside him one day. I hope he won’t mind that I have thought about the option of being cremated. I don’t want to be locked in a coffin underneath the earth where worms and slugs and promises try to escape.

In the last few moments, as roses make their way into the earth, I remember I forgot to bring his cowboy hat and toss it into the grave as I had planned. I think about his brown suede and leather hat, sitting somewhere in his bedroom, waiting for him to return home. I look forward to walking into our house so that I can hold that hat in my hands. I will raise it to my nose and smell my father again. I will trace my fingers around the shape of it and remember him using two hands to place it on his head. He would tilt it forward and back and fuss a little too much until it was sitting comfortably.

I feel guilty for forgetting his beloved hat.

I wonder if he will need it.

As we turn away, the heaviness in my chest reminds me that I am sad and frightened. I don’t understand where he has gone to but I know that there are rooms at home where I will never find him again.

He is in a new house, the priest tells me. The big house some say. But I know I won’t be able to visit him there.

I will wait for him to come to me.

I know he will.

I believe.

© ryan

thirteen divided by forty

PJ Ryan

Melbourne, Australia

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