Ben Warren was standing outside the Church entrance. His Father, John Warren, was lying in a cheap, wooden coffin in the back of a Hearse, waiting to be taken inside for his funeral. Ben watched as
the various guests arrived, he felt guilty for not going over and speaking to them. He didn’t want to speak to them, he wanted to go home and get back into bed. It was a day that bore little
significance for him.
His girlfriend Mandy came over to try and talk to him.
“You sure you’re alright with all this?” Ben asked when he saw her standing next to him.
She took his hand and placed it in hers. “Don’t be daft. You feeling any better than you did this morning?” she asked. “Has the sickness gone?”
“Yeah, it’s all fine,” Ben said. “Thought it might have lasted longer but I had some tea and toast, seemed to go after that.”
Mandy smiled at him.
“You sure you didn’t mind coming to this?” he said to her.
“No,” she said. “I just try not to remind myself about it.”
Ben pulled a scrunched up packet of cigarettes out of his pocket. He removed the foil and saw he had two left. He took one out and placed it between his lips. Mandy watched what he was doing. She snatched the cigarette from lips and dropped it on the floor, “Are you kidding me or what? You said you’d stop.”
Ben looked at her bemused. “Oh come on,” he said.
“I see why you might want to,” Mandy said. “But please Ben, if you start now, you’ll want more.”
“I doubt that,” Ben retorted.
“I know what you’re like,” she said. “You give in to things too easily.”
She reached over and removed the packet from his hand. She screwed the packet up and seeing there was no bin, placed it in her handbag.
“Jesus Christ,” Ben said. “Anything else you want to confiscate Adolf?”
She refused to reply. She smiled at him sarcastically and looked away.
“It’s for your own good and you know it,” she said.
Ben watched as she walked off and began to mix with the other guests. He shoved his hands in his pockets and took a deep sigh. He appreciated having her around at the moment; he knew how tough this must be on her. He had told her that he felt guilty for his lack of remorse or sadness about such a day, she said she understood. He felt that he had let her down, especially of late; he wanted to make it up to her, even if it was only a token gesture.
He took a small box from his inside pocket and opened it up. He smiled to himself. It was an engagement ring. It wasn’t the best one he could find in the shop, but it was the most suitable for the money he had available. He took it out of the box and examined it closer; smiled again, put it back in its box and inside his jacket pocket. As he looked up, he saw the Vicar coming towards him.
Ben checked his appearance fearing his suit might look cheap or inappropriate for a holy house. He smoothed his hands over his jacket and then over his hair and considered what he should say.
The Vicar smiled at him and shook his hand.
“Thank you for doing this Father.” Ben said, immediately regretting his words.
“My name is Ken, there’s no need for such formalities,” he said.
“Cheers Ken,” Ben said.
“How are you feeling?” the Vicar asked.
Ben shrugged his shoulders and smiled gingerly.
“Not as bad as I thought. I didn’t really know him that well.” Ben said.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Did you not live near him?” the Vicar asked.
“It was nothing to do with the location.” Ben said.
There was an awkward silence between the two before the vicar smiled one last time and entered the church.
Mandy walked over to him, buttoning her jacket and putting her arm through his.
“You ready?” she asked.
Ben and Mandy were sitting in the front pew. They listened as the organist started to play a hymn Ben had never heard before. However the tune seemed familiar as it was laced with a common sadness he often noticed in this type of music.
“You know if this gets too much you can go outside.” Ben said.
Mandy turned and smiled at him, nodded her head and held her hand in his.
“I don’t want to have to come here again.” Mandy said.
“You might not have to for a long time.” Ben said, squeezing her hand tighter.
“Are you alright though?” Mandy asked.
“I just wish I could feel something.” Ben said.
Ben felt strange knowing his Dad was in a box. He wasn’t aware he was ill, which was why the call from Bill, the landlord at his local pub, came as a shock. He had collapsed from a massive heart attack during a lock in. Ben had felt partly responsible. The relationship was even tougher in the final weeks.
Throughout the ordeal, Mandy had offered her support because she had seen this before with her Nan. However her way of dealing with the situation was different to Ben’s. She never spoke to anyone about her Nan; she never confided in her friends the worry she felt. As she was only twelve when it happened, she feared people would think she was too young to understand. Ben appreciated her support, though sometimes he found it difficult to talk to her about it. He made comparisons between his Dad and her Nan, but when he did, she became irritated and would end the conversation.
The Pallbearers marched the coffin with slow, ease to the front of the church. He felt like he had been punched. He started to cry. He felt foolish in front of Mandy who put her arm around him.
“It’ll be alright,” she said.
“I don’t know if I can do this Mandy.” Ben said
She looked at him and smiled.
“I know I said I didn’t feel anything outside and now look at me,” he said. “Maybe it isn’t to do with this at all.”
The closed coffin was placed down for everyone to gawk at. The Vicar’s hushed voice filled the church. Ben felt the tightness of the knot in his stomach increase further because soon, he would have to talk. He had not written a speech, fearing it might sound too contrived. He was relying on a spontaneous outburst.
“Ben,” the Vicar announced, “I know you wanted to say a couple of things about your Dad.” Ben walked, hearing the sound of his footsteps echo throughout the church. He worried his flies might be undone; concerned his trouser leg might be tucked into his sock. Ben arrived at his destination, the Vicar offered the same sympathetic smile he probably used everyday and moved aside.
“I did want to speak, but I can’t now. It’s all becoming a reality for me and I can’t do this.” Ben said.
Walking back to his seat, he glanced around the room trying to find some form of reaction. Every face was blank, the eyes expressionless. Only Mandy smiled as he arrived back. She took his hand once more.
The wake was held at the Queen Arms Pub. John the landlord and friend of his Dad provided the buffet. Sausage rolls, dips and a variety of different flavoured crisps mixed together. Ben watched as the guests staggered back with their overcrowded plate of snacks. Even more amusing was the look of despair on his Uncle’s face when his little cheese stick fell onto the floor.
Mandy came over to speak to him.
“You looked worried,” she said.
“I can’t help it,” he said. “The pressure that’s going to be on you, it won’t be fair,” he said.
She looked down into her glass.
“Do you think I did the right thing today?” he asked. “You know, by not wanting to speak about it?”
“I can understand why you did it,” she said. “I would have done the same.”
“I wished I got to know him better,” Ben said. “There were loads of things I wanted to say but even when I had the chance I never had the courage to. What does that say about me, eh?”
Mandy smiled and rubbed his shoulder.
“I only ever told him the one thing and it killed him.” Ben said.
“That’s bollocks and you know it.” Mandy said.
Ben looked down and shrugged.
The pub bell started to ring and as Ben looked up, he noticed Bill the landlord, was about to speak.
“Jesus, I don’t think I can be doing with this.” Ben said, placing his bottle of drink on the side and leaving.
“I just wanted to say a couple of things about our dear friend John.” Bill began.
Mandy left the pub.
Ben was sitting on the little wall outside the pub, watching the cars drive by.
“Why are you out here?” Mandy asked.
Ben turned to look at her and shrugged; she walked over and sat next to him.
“What am I going to do Mandy?” Ben asked. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to cope with it.”
Mandy rummaged through her handbag and produced the screwed up cigarette packet. He watched her as she did this.
“I take it you’ve still got your lighter?” she asked.
“Give it here,” she said.
He reached into his pocket, took out his lighter and handed it to her. She took the final cigarette from the packet, lit it and handed it to Ben.
“You sure?” he asked.
She shrugged at him.
“It’s like you said, what have you got to lose?” she said, handing him the cigarette.
He took it into his fingers, examined it and placed it into his mouth. From the first inhalation, a look of relief swept over his face. He removed it from his lips and held it in front of him.
“It’s like some irresistible mistress,” he joked and blew a cloud of smoke in front of him and watched it dissolve. He turned to look at Mandy and noticed her eyes were filled with tears.
“What is the matter?” Ben asked.
“How am I going to cope after you have gone?” she said.
He reached over and held her hand. This was the first time Ben had seen her like this since he visited the Doctor and discovered the bleakness of his future.
“You’re a stronger person than I am,” he said. “You’ll be alright, I know you will, you’ll be glad after a while.” Ben smiled at what was supposed to be a joke.
“You bloody idiot,” she said. “How can you take the mick like that?”
He stood up and walked to the curb of the road and back again. He stood next to where he was just sitting.
“It’s all I can do Mandy,” he said. “I don’t know how to deal with something like this in any other way. The thought that in a couple of months I’m going to end up where my Father is, the only time we’ll have something in common.”
He walked over to Mandy, knelt down beside her and held her hand.
“I need you to help me Mandy,” he said. “I realise this is probably tougher on you than it is on me, but I’m terrified. Every day since I found out I’ve tried to keep myself occupied, I’ve tried to stat positive, but the nearer it gets, the less I know how to deal with it.”
Mandy looked at him, squeezing his hand tightly before standing up and going back into the pub.
Ben maintained his kneeling position, trying to compose his thoughts before sitting back on the wall. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the little box and opened it up. He stared at the ring, realising it would probably remind her of more bad memories than good.
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