Carry on with the show
Father Orburn hoped he’d show before Beethoven stopped, or at least during his introduction, the formulaic words ingrained into his memory, just names to be slotted in.
As the last few bars of Moonlight Sonata rang out, the doors to the crematorium hall burst open and a drunk Frank staggered in, still clutching a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels.
“She’ll be coming round the mountains” weren’t the words Father Orburn had been hoping to come out of Frank Bristow’s mouth but they certainly lifted the mood… that, and Frank’s pink pyjamas.
Father Orburn wondered if the brothers had made a pact to see each other off in style… a dare, or a simple case of Frank not taking Tom’s death very well, or perhaps too well.
Frank slumped down onto a half-empty pew, winked at the vicar and put up one thumb, to which Father Orburnbegan his introduction. As he spoke, he wondered whether he’d be best to miss out Frank, move on to Tom’s son or the neighbour, but Frank was looking so earnestly at every word that the vicar decided it was worth the risk, despite Frank’s wiggling bottom.
Had there not been a schedule to keep to, Father Orburn would have suggested a nature break, so it was service as normal, or abnormal in this case.
“And now a few words from Frank.” The two men looked at each other. “Frank?”
Frank turned round, looked back at the crematorium doors, then faced front, to the vicar. “Oh, right!” he said in his loud Irish accent and went to stand up but swayed like a toy Hawaiian dancer stuck to a car’s dashboard and immediately sat down again.
“Perhaps Tom’s son…” the vicar started but stopped as Frank made a second attempt to stand. A lady further along the pew rushed to his aid and walked him slowly up the aisle to the front of the hall.
Once in situ, the lady returned to her seat, leaving Frank leaning heavily against the lectern, almost tipping it over. Father Orburn lunged forward to save it but Frank pulled it back and stood upright, as if on parade.
Taking a deep breath, Frank went to speak but closed his mouth again. A child in the congregation began laughing but was swiftly quietened.
Frank looked at the vicar as if for a cue.
“You were going to say a few words about Tom…?”
Frank nodded. “Tom…” He paused and looked down at the lectern.
The vicar was about to speak again when Frank resumed.
“Tom!” he boomed, “No-one knew Tom like I knew Tom.”
The vicar and Dermot, Tom’s son, exchanged glances, both men stepping forward, ready to take over if necessary, Father Orburn hoping that Frank wouldn’t burst into song.
“Tom!” Frank said even louder, but stopped as Dermot tapped his arm. “I’m sorry, son,” Frank bellowed, “I should have told you all those years ago. You had a right to know.”
“I think we should go outside,” Dermot said, pulling Frank’s arm.
“No! I want everyone to hear this. That you’re Tom’s son.”
“I know Uncle Frank.”
“I know you know.”
Dermot screwed up his face and tugged at Frank’s arm again.
“It’s OK.,” Frank continued. “Everything’s going to be fine. You come home with me and…”
“Uncle Frank. I have my own house. Have had for…”
“Oh, that’s right.”
Father Orburn coughed dramatically and Frank put up his right index finger. “Sorry your honour. Won’t be a minute. Now, Dermot. The time has come for the truth, for everyone to know that your father… that your father…”
“Yes?” Dermot said.
“That Tom… I… the coffin.”
Everyone looked at the coffin.
“That the man in the coffin isn’t Tom.”
“What?” Dermot growled at Frank.
“I mean…” Frank continued nervously, “It’s Frank in there, not Tom.”
“Dermot,” Father Orburn interrupted. “I think you’d better see your uncle…”
“I’m not his uncle!” Frank shouted. “I’m his father! I’m Tom!”
The child who’d earlier been laughing promptly burst into tears accompanied by gasps around the congregation.
“He…” the newly-confessed Tom pointed to the coffin, “Frank was called up, you see, and well, he didn’t want to go. I wasn’t, don’t know why, but I wanted to go so we swapped places. He said he’d look after Sylvia and… you were only a nipper. Turns out he looked after her too well and they… she knew but never said anything and by the time I came back you were a family. Everyone believed them… wouldn’t believe me when I tried to tell the truth, they said the war had damaged my brain and… I loved you… loved you both, even Frank despite what he did, so I went along with it. I still got to see you but wasn’t the same…”
“So why now? Why the pink pyjamas?” Dermot asked.
“It was your mother’s and my song… it was playing when we met, Frank knew and…”
“I’m sorry,” Father Orburn said. “But we should…”
Dermot smiled. “My father or not, Dad would have loved to have seen you in those so, sure, Father Orburn. Carry on with the show.”
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.