It doesn't seem strange to me, at all, that I was thinking about the future while lowering the casket.
Each inch of the rope slipping through my cold fingers felt like working my way backwards along the thread of time. The past is a half-blind thing. Every centimetre of the rope represented another year buried. I held chord 5; the only girl, surrounded on all sides by men of all ages. The descent was not as smooth or graceful as she deserved. My great grandmother would have huffed in indignation at that comment though, and said it was ae good enough for the likes ae her.
Afterwards, we threw soil on top of the casket. The minister didn't offer us numbered clods, although that would have been nice, given how much my great-grandmother liked the uniformity of orderly queues. I inherited many similar traits and personality quirks from her – my willingness to bide my time, my tendency to take other people's pain more seriously than my own, and my desire to find any small silver lining in an otherwise dreary situation. Jean always referred to me as her golden girl. I stood in front of her grave, wishing for the first time that I was truly golden. Wishing for a metal heart, made of cogs and screws, pumping ceaselessly in clockwork unison without complaint. Perhaps a metal face too; eyes that were always dry, lips which were incapable of trembling. Stone teeth. They'd sit implacably in my mouth, queuing patiently. Never ground in fury or grief.
'It's a lovely day,' someone said.
It was true. Despite the chill, sunshine hammered the top of my head. The gift of fire from a blue, cloudless sky; the steady white light forced me to squint in oder to read the names already inscribed on the tombstone. A husband and a son, already at rest. I could see my breath dragoning out in front of me, twin-nostrilled-plumes of smoke. I felt like Smaug atop his heap of treasure. Loving with the ferocity of hate. Unable to leave. One does not simply walk into Fauldhouse.
'Aye, I know.' A moment of silence. I couldn't stop myself from adding, 'she would have bloody hated that.' My mother choked, a twinned noise arriving a split second later from my aunt. As a family, we collapsed into giggles. It was the kind of hysterical laughter that grips you at terrible moments of tragedy, the kind of laughter that hooks under your lungs, yanks down your centre of gravity. Makes it hard to stand up straight. The kind of laughter, far from freeing, that bricks up your grief and leaves it to perish alone in the walls. I wiped the tears from my eyes.
'She would've been better pleased if it'd been raining today. Maybe even a wee storm. She loved a good aule storm. As long as everyone she cared about was warm and cosy and safe.' Always asking me what kind of jacket I was wearing, if I'd remembered to bring a scarf.
'Grandma, it's the middle of April,' I'd say, and she'd reply darkly 'well, ye never know, dae ye?'
My great-grandmother is a house I will live in forever.
I picture her sitting in a highbacked chair, the colour of which was a strange indeterminate rust pink. The colour of a woman's blood. She wore a lot of florals; always neat, prim, but quick to laugh. Never stern. She was a matriarch who ruled by love, and was obeyed by love. She never once raised her voice to me in anger, nor chastised me in any way that I can remember. I compare myself to her endlessly, wonder if I can ever be this compassionate, this patient. Is it learned, or innate?
I picture her in the kitchen, where she taught me to bake. Floured surfaces, the sound of old country music on her stereo keeping time to the slap of dough on the counter. The past always had a place at her table. She loved to remember events and recount them in minute detail; I loved to listen to her retellings of weddings, birthdays, and funny moments. Deaths, tragedies, and heartbreaks. A plain vanilla sponge. Nothing too fancy. Yet the future was marbled through every bite. She encouraged all my dreams, no matter how implausible. She shook her head in wonder at my successes, and made sure everyone who visited or called was regaled with details about each new venture.
I picture her on the phone, leaning against her walker. I called her every week for a catch up. She loved our chats, would often have all my latest gossip before my parents did. She was housebound in her early nineties, and only went outside for her 100th birthday. I finished every phone with a warning that she should avoid a particular sport or athleticism; I changed it up every time just to hear her laugh.
'No paragliding, now,' or 'you'll have to lay off the jujitsu for a wee bit, aye?' When I ran out of sports I googled new ones. Jean ran out of life before I ran out of jokes.
When I think of my future, I think of my great-grandmother. She was a poor maid servant with eleven siblings, whose opportunities in every area were painfully limited. But as she'd say, kindness disnae cost anything and there's them that huv it gey wurse. I'm grateful for the potential of my own future, and the chance to make her proud again.
So, here's to Jean. Long may she rest.