in memoriam

‘Normally I’d be outside, soaking up the rays,’ says Jack, nodding at the patio window. Outside in the middle of a rough patch of grass are two white plastic chairs and a rickety white plastic table.
‘That looks like a sunny spot.’
‘It is!’ he says, and resting his walking stick against the side of the armchair, stretches both arms out and turns them this way and that. ‘I bet you’ve never seen such a healthy-looking invalid!’
Jack’s house has that warm but slightly muffled air of a family home that was once filled with people but now has only one. As it happens, my visit has coincided with the district nurses, and I think Jack’s enjoying all the fuss.
‘Jean died a few years ago,’ he says. ‘And I’ll tell you what – this’ll shock you…. Just a couple of days after she’d gone, I got a phone call from an undertakers, not the one I was using, just someone chasing business. What arrangements had I made for the funeral? they said, because they had a space or some such nonsense. After I’d got over the shock of it I thought right, I’ll play ‘em at their own game. I said I didn’t have any money, and I couldn’t afford the usual kind of thing. Oh don’t worry about that, they said. We’ve got some very good deals. How much were you thinking of spending? Not much, I said. As little as possible. In fact I’d been in touch with the council to ask if I could bury her in the garden. In the garden? Yes, I said. The council said that was fine, so long as they provided the gravedigger, because it had to be a certain width and depth. Oh the woman on the phone said. And how much did that cost? Sixty quid all in, I said. Oh! she said. So….is that what you did? You buried your wife in the garden? Don’t be daft, I said. I’m not stupid. I buried her in the garden next door. And she hung up!’
Jack laughs, jabbing his walking stick up and down on the carpet.
‘Jean would’ve appreciated that,’ he says. ‘But look at me! You’ve been here five minutes and I haven’t asked if you want a cup of tea.’

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