Compulsory Text Michael Kerins

 

Father’s Funeral

The vacuum left after Raymond’s father died never left him. Sixteen years had passed, both his sons had been born and he knew that they would never be dazzled by Granda Joe’s stories, dancing, juggling and other circus skills.   Raymond remembered that his father had not been jailed after his court appearance for disturbing the peace. The judge showed discretion since the high wire walk had been to raise funds for a neighbour’s funeral. 


FUNERALS, thought Raymond.

Funerals. 

In a moment he was back in his childhood, loving those memories, reliving them in delicious silence. He remembered Mrs. Kerr The Potato Woman, who owned the two back-to-back bed and breakfast cottages that neighboured his family’s but’n’ben.  She had been christened The Potato Woman long before he was born. His parents had been met by her the first day they arrived on Millport to take over their inheritance. Given the chance, Mrs. Kerr would have bought their cottage.  She appeared outwardly grumpy, but the large sack of potatoes she presented his parents with was proof of her generosity. Millport had been baked for several days in a sweltering heatwave . The scorching sunshine was unusually long-lasting and probably stretched well over a fortnight. In the time before sunscreen was popular, Mrs. Kerr’s face was bright pink. His parents were not cruel bullying name-callers. No, it had just happened 

His mother had said, talking about her complexion, “Mrs. Kerr’s Pink!” and the nickname “The Potato Woman” was born.

The Potato Woman was exceptionally kind and very generous, despite obstinately cultivating a reputation for being cantankerous. She hid smiles from view, and her spectacles had fat wads of Smith and Nephew sticking plaster wound tightly around both legs. The joints were more than secure.  More often than not she had a biscuit or two for Raymond.

“Be a darlin’, darlin’” she’d shout over the fence to Raymond “and hang my sign o’er the wall. They posh Londoners are leaving on the lunchtime ferry.” She never understood why that family drove from London to Millport in a swanky motorhome only to leave it empty overnight in her yard.  She liked them and they were the first and longest continuous customers at her bed and breakfast. 

She watched Raymond leap over the stane-dyke, and when the sign was hung she always shouted as he jumped “Aye – yir a great wee jumper!”  Then she’d give him a Wagon Wheel, maybe a Blue Riband, sometimes she even gave him a packet of Spangles.  Spangles were indeed a treasure, his memory recalled the peculiar paper tube with individual sweets cellophane wrapped. There were no other sweets like Spangles. So easily distinguished with their square shape rounded at the corners and a circular depression on each face. They came in a wide variety of flavours. Both brothers loved barley sugar, and they were not averse to blackcurrant or strawberry. The strangely named Old English had a nippiness that, although not medicinal, had what The Potato Woman called chest-clearing properties. 

He would suck them until a hole appeared in the depression. On two occasions he was enthralled when she presented him and his brother with a special-edition pack. The print of an oversized question mark bamboozled him and his younger brother. 

Mrs. Kerr’s-Pink was a generous woman indeed. 

In the aftermath, Raymond’s mind was filled and emptied in equal measure.  The sign simply read VACANT. 


FUNERAL, thought Raymond.

Funeral. 

The train was late leaving Wemyss Bay and the anonymous, adenoidal voice croaked “10:15 to Glasgow Central delayed until 11:36 – departure expected at 11:36."

And after a bout of coughing and spluttering “Scotrail apologies for any and all inconveniences. ”

He was glad that further bouts of coughing and spluttering were silenced by the switching off of the tannoy system.

A thin woman was standing, legs akimbo, ranting at the booking clerk. Her pointless, senseless complaining got on Raymond’s nerves. 

Why harangue? he thought. 

So Raymond took himself off the platform, down the concrete slope to see the ferry that brought him to the mainland disappear over the horizon. Tiny now, and far away.

He strolled down to the beach and skimmed stones across, thinking Granda Joe never did this with my boys. Blood appeared and dripped painlessly onto his shoe and some stones. His right hand had been grazed by barnacles, and he wondered if these were the very same ones that lived on that beach when he was a lad and his father was a giant.  His thoughts went back to pool dipping and beach combing.  A sudden onslaught of jellyfish, thousands of them and they arrived in spectacular numbers. All uniform, creamy white with intricate patterns of ultraviolet, purple, aquamarine, turquoise, cerise and green. On certain tides there would often be the occasional Portuguese Man-o-War. They were much more rare and much more spectacular than the run-of-the-mill jellyfish. 

The time passed slowly.


The railway company, though sympathetic, could do nothing to speed up the chaos. Pretty much the whole line was affected west of Cardonald. Vandals had thrown a metal ladder onto the tracks and derailed a limited stop commuter train.

The upheaval was felt across the whole region. People missed their driving tests, others were late for much anticipated medical examinations at the enormous new Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The huge fourteen-story building had a most peculiar design, which intrigued the population since construction altered the city skyline. 

His eldest son had christened it “BIG BETTY’S”.  The other nicknames Bizzy Lizzy’s and Death Star did not have the finesse that Glaswegians needed. Big Betty’s had stuck. 

Raymond dropped the few flat stones he had gathered and sucked his own blood in a bid to stem the flow. His memory jumped to and fro and the sucking reminded him of the Spangles. How time played tricks on the senses. He checked his watch and scampered up the shore, back up the concrete slope and settled himself on the 10:15 (now 11:36). 

Despite the situation he would not allow his broken heart to sink too deeply. It was a time for being positive, a time for remembering. A time to keep his chin up. 

He remembered the surprise when he heard from Mrs. Kerr’s lawyer that his two boys were to inherit her property on the island.

“They’ll be great wee jumpers too you know," she said the last time he had seen her. 

He reflected on the 16 years that had passed. How time had stolen his Dad from his duty as a grandfather. The wondrous skills that his father possessed included an ability to mould marzipan fruits and interesting characters. These changed with the seasons, for Christmas there was always Santa in bold red and white, witches and warlocks for Halloween, Easter bunnies and rabbits. Regardless of the season there were always all sorts of fruit shapes. The one thing they all had in common was that they were delicious. The other better thing was that they were the cast of a story Dad would weave from the air, introducing each character in turn. The whole cast would eventually be eaten.

Just as eventually he would arrive at Cardonald Railway Station, and take the bus to Big Betty’s to the mortuary to identify the remains of his eldest son.  Raymond felt the choking sensation as he approached the hospital on foot. Tightness garnered round his chest, as the boa-constrictor of pain and anguish squashed him. The tightness a most unwelcome additional to the misery that lay ahead.

Leukaemia is a bastard. 

Time would deny him the chance of fatherhood and Raymond of grandparenthood.  Everything was now up to his younger son. 


Michael Kerins –

This text was written as part of the Partick Writers’ Group homework programme.