I stood still, refusing to smile. Funerals are not the place to take photographs. There was nothing here I wanted to remember and the only reason for having a photograph was to remember the occasion. At least the children behaved themselves. No crying and yelling in the church. Joseph’s ‘I’m bored’ had been stilled with a look and Lillian seemed intrigued as she watched the solemn faces around her. When Angela’s mother burst into embarrassing tears, Lillian jumped in amazement. Angela had done a good job on the children. They were a credit to her.
Once the dreadful camera was slid back into a handbag, we could relax. I could drop Joseph’s sweaty hand and wipe my own on my jacket.
‘You should have worn a suit,’ my mother whined. ‘Not even a black tie. Where are your manners? I didn’t bring you up to dress like this for a funeral.’
I did not reply. Perhaps it did not occur to her that I might not have more suitable clothes and lacked the money to splash on new ones. Especially now. No one seemed to consider that I might be in need of money. My life was a mystery to them.
We went back to the house. I packed the children off upstairs with a couple of sandwiches and a glass of orange squash each and poured myself a stiff whisky. I was in need of it, had been since the will was read. Thank Heavens for alcohol. People patted me on the back and said how wonderful we all looked together, what a lovely family. What was I supposed to reply to that? All these silly women gushing around me. I wished they would go, especially mother. There was no hope of that yet: not until the women had partaken of gallons of tea and the men had finished the whisky. I poured another and lit a cigarette.
‘It’s so sad. Those poor, little, motherless mites upstairs. Edward, my darling boy, taken so cruelly from us.’ Mother dabbed at her eyes with a pink lace handkerchief which I thought much less appropriate to the occasion than my jacket.
‘And Angela. Don’t forget my Angela. If only he had never bought that car.’ Mrs Brown started blowing her nose again, accompanied by terrible wails.
‘It was the bus driver who was at fault. The coroner said so. No blame could be attached to dear Edward. It was just a terrible accident. Thank goodness Arnold is able to step into the breach.’
I blew smoke at the ceiling and tried to be invisible.
‘And will Arnold be able to step into the breach?’ Mrs. Brown asked.
‘Of course he will,’ mother replied. ‘How could you doubt it? Arnold knows his duty, don’t you Arnold? And it was Angela’s wish. You heard the will.’
I heard it too, but I was only half listening and it took me a moment to digest what the solicitor was saying.
‘Arnold could look more pleased about the situation,’ Mrs Brown said.
‘Why should I look pleased when my brother and my sister-in-law are dead?’ That shut her up. She opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, like a goldfish, and then lapsed into the dreadful wailing. Mother sent me a withering look, of course, but I ignored it and searched around the room, trying to find someone more suitable than me to take on the job of looking after two small children. I had no wife and no intention of marrying. At least I was to have the house so we would have somewhere to live; that was something.
My stomach growled in hunger and I studied the triangular sandwiches of thin white bread and fish paste with their turned up edges, laid out on the silver platter. Perhaps not. I lit another cigarette and considered telling the assembled company the full facts. They would be shocked to their middle-class cores if I announced that my partner was a man and therefore we were unable to live together without risk of prosecution. Graham would doubtless be delighted at the idea of children. He would want to knit endless sweaters of palest blue and nauseating pink. He was a homemaker. If it were just Graham, then things might work out. He had amused me for a while, but I liked my social life more varied than that, with the smell of danger and the spice of LSD. As a result, our relationship had been foundering for some time. There had been someone else in the background for a few weeks now. Graham was very much on the way out.
But so it would appear was my social life. My new friend could hardly come back to the house. How could I involve my seedy lifestyle with those two upstairs? I considered Joseph’s face and the reaction it would have on some of those of my acquaintance. My stomach heaved with disgust at myself, the people I mixed with and the pleasures I could not forego, even for Graham.
It was impossible. However much I might want to, I would not, I could not change. I knew with absolute certainty that the time for secrecy was over.
With sudden resolution, I stubbed out the cigarette and decided to tell them, to tell them all. Now, while fortified with whisky, I would deliver the reason why other arrangements would need to be made for these children. Whatever it might mean for them, I was neither a willing nor suitable person to take on the responsibility and if I did, if I allowed it all to go ahead, no good would come of it. I never intended that my parents would know anything of my life. I had kept it from them for more forty years. I hoped the truth would not kill them and I had no doubt that Angela’s mother would faint clean away in shock.
I picked up a teaspoon and tapped it on the side of my glass. The clean crystal ringing brought the chatter to a halt and I cleared my throat, standing tall, determined for once that I would tell the truth.