Stories from my Den are a collection of my writings. Some are short, some long, and some are excerpts from my books.
Wonders Of The World is a full length novel I’m currently writing. I welcome feedback and suggestions.
You’ll find the first part to Wonders of The World here.
London, November 1987
Skye stands beside the open casket. Her mother’s skin is slightly shiny, like wax, free from the lines that creased her mouth and eyes at the hospital. Somebody has dyed the gray hair at her temples and fanned it on a silk white pillow. There is a dusting of rouge on her cheeks and pale lipstick on her lips. The electric light illuminates the skin, making her appear angelic.
She holds a jewelry box. Handcrafted. Dark, solid wood, it has delicate red and green flowers painted around a plump partridge. Skye’s never seen another like it. Not even at Greenwich markets where her mum sometimes took her. For as long as she remembers, the box sat on top of her mother’s Bureau, next to the one good French perfume she reserved for special occasions or when she needed to lift her mood.
Her mother’s cancer announced itself with a sudden swiftness, surprising everyone. It zapped her of her health till her cheeks sunk and her breath turned putrid. They sold the Bureau along with everything else of value to pay for the medical bills. This box once filled with ribbons, and cheap, colourful jewellery, is all she has left of her. At the very bottom, there’s a second compartment. And this is where her mum kept the ring and the three photos. Getting ready this morning, Skye took out the photos and leafed slowly through them. The realization these few mementos are all she has left of her mum sinks slowly but no less sharply. Mrs. Doughty saw the box in her hands and said nothing, understanding Skye needed something of her mother’s on the day she’s to say goodbye to her.
The funeral director, who has only met Skye’s mother in death, stands by her casket and speaks of her to a near empty room. Skye sits between Sally and John Doughty in the front pews. A short, squat woman with large sagging breasts and calloused hands, Mrs. Doughty makes wet, loud noises into her handkerchief, occasionally reaching over to squeeze Skye’s hand. Mr. Doughty intermittently pulls at his necktie, stiff and awkward in his starched shirt and black suit. Annie, their daughter, sits to the left of her mum. She’s in Skye’s year at school and her best friend since both of them can remember. Skye sees Annie in her peripheral vision, turning her eyes to check on her, seeing if she’s okay.
Following the service, still holding her box, Skye’s ushered to a room at the back where she’s left alone with the casket.
‘I thought you might need a little time to make your final farewells.’ The funeral director tells her in a soft, silky voice. Straightening, he touches her shoulder. ‘My deepest condolences for your loss,’ he says. His eyes are genuinely sad and Skye wants to believe he is sincere in his words.
Somewhere in the back office, someone turns on talkback radio. The muffled voice of the announcer seeps through the panelled walls.
‘Take your time.’ He frowns at the wall. ‘I’ll be waiting outside.’ He disappears through the doors and a moment later, the radio switches off.
Skye looks down at her mother laying still, her face the same white as the interior of the casket. She looks asleep, peaceful. It makes Skye’s stomach heavy, like it’s filling with stones. Panic creeps up her spine as she contemplates a life without her mother. She fights the urge to shake her awake – demand to be taken home.
For all her teenage bravado, Skye’s afraid of being alone.
Pressing the box against her, Skye boroughs her face into it – searching for a scent. Her scent. The room’s dark-paneled walls press around her in a claustrophobic maze. There’s a strange smell: a mixture of oils, incenses and fragrant flowers, fight for dominance.
Part of her wants to escape the room. But another, bigger part doesn’t want to leave her mother.
‘Mum?’ she says and tentatively reaches for her hand. It’s cold and waxy. Tears press behind her eyes. They are not the hands she remembers. The woman in the casket is a wax replica of her mother, like the figures in Madam Trousseau.
She wants her mother back. Something thick is stuck in her throat, making it hard to swallow. Tears blur her vision and she moves to catch them with her sleeve. There is a chair beside the casket. Holding on to it, she eases down on to the stiff upholstery.
Hearing the door open, Skye half expects the funeral director arriving to tell her it’s time to leave. She listens to the soft treading of shoes over the parquet floor.
The footsteps stop behind her. She smells the aftershave, strong and musty even at this distance. She closes her eyes.
The scent is familiar – an old memory.
She recognises the Essex accent even though it’s been ages since they’ve spoken on the phone. She turns to look over her shoulder. Standing in the middle of the room, his face is masked with grief.
‘Dad, you came.’
That’s the end of Part 2.
You can find earlier posts from The Wonder of The World here.
Also, take time to check out My 3 Tips posts. Better still, subscribe and have my posts delivered directly in to your inbox.