Nothing Ever Ends

Entry by: maxie

25th August 2017
A Welsh Wake

Sunlight illuminated the horizons’ shadow. A low mist blew gently across the rippling sea. There was no sound save for the light waft of waves upon a pebbled shore.

The morning awoke in the slipshod, seashore village to a clink of full fat milk bottles on polished slate doorsteps. Clocks on mantelpieces counted down in reverential silence until the allotted hour when their hands at quarter to eleven, automatically opened front doors, spewing out families, women in widows’ weeds and men in ill- fitting suits and hand me down hats walked, heads bowed staring at spit polished shoes, towards Moriah Chapel.

Mam, being the one to whom the village turned to in times of pestilence and plague had two days before laid out the dead and organised the wake with military zeal. I sat in slow motion on a fine upholstered chair, staring wide eyed at the coffin of the late Mrs Stanley Sheridan, twenty-three, Balaclava Terrace, widow of the parish and a close friend of my grandfather by all accounts.

At eleven fifteen, several men, black coated, top-hatted and tall picked up the coffin and took her away. I recalled my Sunday school teachings and wondered if like Jesus on the third day; Mrs Stanley Sheridan would rise again, reappearing, rejuvenated and smelling of peppermint and rosewater.

Curtains sealed shut with Presbyterian piety were drawn open when the lamenters returned. Thankfully there was no Mrs Sheridan in tow. Men wearing drab, demob suits reeking of pungent moth balls, rolled their own with tobacco stained fingers. I, rendered invisible, buried myself away under the table which was covered in snow white Damask bought especially for seventeen shillings and six pence by Mr Jenkins Post from Pryce’s Emporium in Tenby. The label still attached, hung down as proof of his benevolence. I held my paper plate in hand, feasting on paste sandwiches, potato crisps, and shop bought Battenberg cake, looking on as the womenfolk walked in short staccato steps, dishing out steaming cups of tea from a perpetual polished teapot, pushing thick slices of home cooked fruitcake onto men who bore full fat, barrel curved stomachs.

Food reserved for pious Chapel preachers, tinned ham and summer salads, spring onions and scones with cream and jam were served while Miss Price Spinster and Mrs Price Divorcee, held a discourse on the cost of such frippery. A full fresh salmon, pink and smelling of the sea, donated by Enoch’s of Abernant, took pride of place, centre stage in memory of her weekly order.

I witnessed nods and nudges and a sharp pursing of lips from several members of the village choir over the merits of the hymns chosen and the stilted playing of the chapel organist, Mr Moc Morgan, while Mrs Protheroe Thomas, sat statuesque on a hard wooden chair in the corner, sipping tea from a transparent China cup. Her face, pinched winter chilled from years of absolution barely moved yet she saw through walls and her thin lips tut-tutted at the goings on of strangers and the gossiping of the gatherers.

As the dim radiance of an ancient afternoon slowly matured into dusk, I found myself sitting on the stairs, sipping a flat ginger ale through a limp straw, throwing an occasional glance at the English King’s castle over the water.

In the hallway, the reed-like voice of Walter Williams, village rat catcher rang out the quintessential “Myfanwy” a melody minted in heaven. Walter, stammering in speech, performed like a Cathedral cherub, with the sing-song, flim-flam words sung like gossamer chocolate. The crowd broke into a spontaneous combustion of applause and others took the stage. Rosi Rees recited poetry and the choir found their voice again.

At the dry edge of mortality, there is a spiritual oasis in the wake and as the gathering departed in dribs and drabs we left, leaving the men to their ale, their whisky breath and bawdy jokes.

We walked in silence, in the dark through narrow streets, down towards the lane that led towards the waters’ edge and I squeezed my mothers’ hand.

“What happens when you die, mam?” I asked.

“Some think you’ll go to heaven boy, if you’ve been good. And if you’ve been bad… well...” She smiled, pursed her lips and took in a sharp intake of breath. “To be honest, Davy, if you’ve lived right, you’ll never die. And if you've lived wrong...well I suppose it's the same. There'll always be someone who remembers. It's a circle, life and death, never ending see."

I wasn't sure what she meant by that, not at the time

“Was she a nice woman, mam?” I asked “Like they were all saying.”

“Nice?" She paused. "Well, they tell the truth in this village, Davey, but they tell it slant.” She replied.

I understood and as we walked across the shoreline and heard the soft lapping of the estuary waters there was no thoughts of sadness and no tears. The pale white light of the crescent moon emitted an eerie glow and Mrs Stanley Sheridan, six foot under, lay well remembered.
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