“I think there should be a funeral.”
He doesn’t look at me. Just sits there with his coffee cup staring out the window. Has his hair gotten greyer these last few days? It seems like it. If I didn’t know better I would think that new wrinkles had been digging their way through his face every day since we found out. “They say that it helps.” He doesn’t want a funeral. Why have a funeral if there isn’t a body to bury? It makes no sense really, lowering an empty coffin down into the ground. “The neighbours will expect there to be something.” His hands are shaking I haven’t noticed it before, but they are. His large, old hands, shaking as if he was just a child. “They won’t understand if there is nothing,” I struggle with the last word. Nothing.
He turns towards me. Sighs. A long sigh. His eyes are still blue. I used to think they were so beautiful when he was young, but they seem more washed out now. A light blue, not the strong, colour they used to have.
“Simon,” I whisper, reach towards him, but he just gets up from the table. Leaves the plate there with his food. Two slices of bread, one with cheese and the other one with marmelade. I can hear the door slam behind him.
I haven’t eaten anything either. Haven’t eaten anything since they told me.
“Did dad leave?”
Anna is standing in the doorway. I just nod. “He still haven’t said anything?”
“No.” He really hasn’t. Not a word.
“Mum, it is going to be okay,” she has come closer, stands next to my chair now. Anna. My youngest, and even she isn’t that young anymore. 38 this fall. Two kids of her own. She is all grown up now. I can feel her hand stroking my hair, as if she has forgotten that it is my job to comfort her.
“I’ve never seen him like this,” I mumble, not even sure that I want her to hear.
“These things take time,” she whispers, “everybody mourns differently.”
She is right of course. We can see him from the kitchen window, walking in his large boots towards the fields. There is always a fence that needs mending. I remember when he used to mock his own father for not being able to sit still, but in the end he became exactly like him.
“There needs to be a funeral,” I look up at Anna when I say it.
“I know,” she doesn’t look at me. Just looks out the window towards her father.
“Your father doesn’t want to have one, but there needs to be one. They say it’s important.”
“Don’t worry, mum. There will be a funeral. Dad won’t have to do anything.”
They will fix everything. Four kids. Two of each. All grown up. We lost the second one, so really there was five. Simon won’t have to do anything, the kids they will get everyting done. He probably won’t even come.
Are you travelling, do you get on a boat and go far away?
“What do you think?” I have pressed the stop button on the old cassette player. Turn around to look at Anna.
“About the song?”
“It’s okay,” she just says. Still standing by the window looking in the same direction that her father went.
“No, I mean what do you think for the funeral?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know,” she hesitates like she wants to say something more, but doesn’t. I press play again.
Is your mind free, do you question the things that the others say?
Stop again. I used to listen to this song when I was younger, but then I stopped. I’m not sure why, but I did. I start it again.
Just get on that boat, you’ll find somebody there
I pressed the stop button down again. There is somthing about that last sentence. Maybe this song isn’t a good idea after all.
“The baby has been crying a lot lately,” Anna is saying, still standing by the window. She has looked tired I have noticed that, but she hasn’t said anything before now.
“You should bring him, I can watch him for you so that you can get some sleep.”
I press down the little, black play button one more time.
Are you all alone now? Are you all alone now?
Stop. It is not a good song for a funeral. Simon won’t like it. Anna is right about that.
“Bring the baby tomorrow,” I say instead.
I guess there doesn’t have to be a personal song in the funeral. Not really. I just wanted this one. It is silly really, a song can’t make that much of a difference.
“I don’t know about bringing him here. He will cry and drive everyone just as crazy as he drives me,” she finally walks away from the window, finds a chair to sit in.
“Nonsense, babies are supposed to drive people crazy. Just bring him.” She looks at me, smiles for a moment and nod. She will not bring him. I know that.
“Has Anna left already?” he says, when he comes into the living room. He is finally talking again. Just normal, calm words, before he goes to his chair. Picks up the remote control and switch on the TV.
“She left after dinner.”
“There is dinner?” he seems surprised. Like he too have forgotten that we need food. I didn’t eat today either. Just sat there and watched Anna eat.
“Anna made a stew.”
Is he really watching that show? It doesn’t seem like something he would be interested in. A reality show about some young kids on a beach. He really can’t be paying much attention if he isn’t changing the channel.
“Has Jamie called?” he says while putting the remote control down on the table again. He is definitely not paying attention to what he is watching.
“No, he hasn’t called.”
“You think so?”
He turns towards me. Finally.
“Of course he will,” he says.
“Ella called when you were out, she will take the kids and come see us tomorrow,” she said that on the phone. Actually she asked if I wanted them to start driving tonight, but I said it wasn’t necessary. I said that there wasn’t any hurry.
“Oh, okay,” he smiles again towards me, but it doesn’t feel quite right, maybe cause of the loud noise from the kids partying on the TV. Simon likes the news and crime series. That’s it. He tends to fall asleep in that chair if I put on someting else. Not that he seems to mind.
“We could ask Trev and Anna to come as well, make it a family dinner,” he has this strange businesslike tone to his voice now, to be honest it feels worse than when he didn’t say anything at all.
“Get the family together,” I say nodding, “except for Jamie, he won’t come.”
“Don’t think about it,” he says while one of the young ladies on the TV seems like she is trying to drink a whole bottle of some strong alcohol all at once. “He has always been a mama’s boy, you know that. This is just becoming a little too much for him.”
“No, I know,” and I do know. After all he is my son. I raised him and all. Not that Simon didn’t help, but I did the biggest part of that job. Raising the kids.
“Do you regret anything?” he doesn’t look at me. Just looks towards the TV.
“You mean if we could rewind?”
He turns around. Big, blue eyes, and in the dim light of the living room they look the same strong colour they used to be. If I could start over. I would probably get a job. I always wondered how it would feel to have a job, and I would travel. I always thought about it, but never did it. There was never any time. I was 23 when I moved to the farm, and before that I really hadn’t seen anything. Would I have married Simon if I could go back? Married him all over again if I had known that even the bluest eyes grow old? He is still looking at me, waiting for an answer, with those eyes that once upon a time could spellbind me.
“Would you change anything?” I can see his eyes getting shiny in the light from the TV. One of the kids on the TV throws a chair against the bar.
“No,” I say smilingly, “No, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Everyone is looking at me. “Riiiiing.” I can feel my heart beat too fast in my chest. I look down at the dinner table. “Riiing.” If I don’t get it now it might stop ringing. I can’t expect it to ring forever. “Riiiing.” I get up. Walk towards the phone with wobbling feet. They are still looking at me. Nobody is eating anymore.
“Hello,” my voice sounds hoarse.
“Oh hello Mrs. Johnson, just the person I wanted to talk to.”
“Really?” I feel faint, feel like I could fall over at any moment.
“Yes,” I can hear the surprise on the other end of the line, “I have a product to offer you that I don’t think you can say no to.” I put the phone down, or drop it, I’m not sure. I pick it up again and then just hang up. Look down on my feet when I go back to the table. Nobody is eating. They are all just looking at me. I sit down. Take a deep breath and pick up the knife and fork. Force myself to to carve a little slice of the meat, and put it into my mouth.
“Grammie, are you alright?”
Little Joe is looking worried. Big, blue eyes just like Simon, the spitting image of his grandfather as a child.
“No, no, I’m fine. Don’t you worry,” I say trying to smile.
They are still not saying anything. I can just hear their knifes and forks scrape towards their plates as they start to eat again.
“How many days have gone by?” I can hear Ella ask Anna.
“So it is still early then,” she says more to herself than anyone else.
“Yeah it is still early,” Anna is saying.
“You didn’t bring the baby?” Ella is asking, again to Anna.
“No, he would just cry. He is not in a good mood these days.
“But Anna, don’t you think …”
“No, Ella, there is no rush,” she hesitates. I can feel her look at me. “Like I said, it has only been three days.”
I just look down on my plate. Carve a small piece of potato. Dip it in the brown sauce.
“Are you smoking?”
Ella turns towards me as I am carrying the last plates into the kitchen. “I thought you had quit?”
“I guess I’ve started again,” she just says.
Sitting by my kitchen table like she has done so many times. Telling me things, sometimes more than I wanted to know. She turned 49 in June, but she looks strangely young sitting there with her cigarette in the kitchen, for a moment or two it feels like she is a teenager again.
“So they haven’t called again?”
I put down the plates next to the sink. Start tapping some water.
“And they haven’t given you a time frame?”
“No, they haven’t.”
I start scraping the leftovers off the plates. Right into the trash. I used to save everything before, if there were leftovers I would make a meal of it later in the week, but now it just doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
“So you don’t have any idea how much time you have?”
“If they call I want to talk to them.”
They won’t talk to her, even if I would hand her the phone. They wouldn’t say anything to her. She knows that.
“Somebody from work saw your name in the paper.”
“Oh,” I just don’t know what to say.
I can hear the kids fighting in the living room, can hear Sophie starting to cry.
“You should probably go check on them?” I nod towards the living room, but Ella doesn’t seem to notice.
“How is dad doing?”
“I don’t know.”
I look at the plate as it slips under water. Look as the water washes away all the traces of the meal. Makes it all clean again. How many dishes have I washed in my life? How many thousand? Probably too many.
“You don’t know how he is doing?”
“Has Jamie been here?” She takes a long drag from the cigarette as if to steady herself.
“Is he okay?”
She frowns. Ella only has two kids, she doesn’t understand how it is to have four.
“If he starts drinking again …”
“Then you’ll get him out of it. That is how things work.”
“But his been sober for years now, and …”
“It will be fine,” I say, looking down on another dish that is about to get clean with my help.
“Will it really?” She sounds young, sounds like the teenager she will never be again.
“Yes, it will.
“I’m with dad,” Trevor is walking beside me. The fields are still green. It is still summer. A part of me almost thought that summer would end when I got that call, but it seems to be never-ending. Like fall can’t get a grasp on it this time. “I don’t think we should have a funeral.”
It was he who suggested that we should go for a walk after dinner. I said yes, even though I was tired. It has been a long day. Too much family. Too many conversations. Anna cried today. In the middle of dinner, for no reason. The phone hadn’t even rung yet.
The grandkids keep looking at me as if they seem to think that I suddenly will evaporate.
“So don’t have a funeral,” I can’t be talking any more about funerals. I need to be done with that conversation.
“And that song you picked,” he hesitates, “dad didn’t like it.”
“It’s fine Trevor.”
He looks down. Wearing his long, green boots. When he was a kid he wanted to have red boots. Wouldn’t leave the house before I let him put them on, even if it was a sunny day. Now they are just ordinary, green boots. Not ketchup-red like the old ones he had. I saw them when I cleared some stuff out of the attic. They were so small.
“I’ll help dad with the farm.”
I nod. I knew he would. “Jamie, hasn’t come around?” I shake my head, I don’t think that he really thought that Jamie had been here. He knows his brother. Jamie has never been much for change. The drinking started when Molly left him. Took the kids and moved to the city. “He needs time,” he says, and I can feel him looking at me. “But you don’t know if you have time?” I don’t answer. “What did they say, when they called the first time?” I have gotten mud on my boots. Thick, brown mud, and now this question.
“Very funny, mum. What more?”
“They asked for my name.”
“And you just said it?”
I was 23 when I moved to the farm. They asked about that as well. It’s a long time they said. They asked how long I have been married, and I answered the same again. Just like that.
“A lot of people don’t even live until their 74, Trevor, you know that.”
He looks ahead towards the green fields. I have always found them calming. Rolling, green fields.
“I know,” he says.
He doesn’t look like his father. He looks like me. The same brown eyes, the same brown hair.
I look out into the dark room, don’t really understand where the sound is coming from at first. “Riiiing.” I stumble out of bed. Can’t find the door for a moment. “Riiiing,” the light in the hallway seems too bright. I can see the phone now. “Riiiing.” I hurry towards it.
“Is it Mrs. Johnson?”
“It is time to pack that suitcase that we talked about.”
My hands feel sweaty and for a moment I’m afraid I’ll drop the phone again.
“And you remember what I told you, don’t you?”
“To keep it light.”
“Very good Mrs. Johnson, I will see you soon.”
I have already packed my suitcase. Very few things like I were instructed. No pictures.
He is standing in the hallway when I come out of the bedroom still in my nightgown with my little, blue suitcase.
“You were gonna leave without saying goodbye?” he says.
I don’t answer. “Can’t we just sit for a while and talk in the kitchen?” I shake my head. It needs to happen quickly, like when you rip off a bandage. “You knew didn’t you?” he doesn’t sound accusingly, only sounds tired. “You knew that you only had three days?”
We can both hear the car that is driving towards the house. Time’s up. The car is honking. Standing outside the house waiting. In a few minutes they will come into the house.
“If it were the other way around, I would be happy for you,” I say. It is a lie. The worst kind, but he nods, as if he actually believes me.
The sun is hanging in the middle of the sky. Big and yellow. It is too hot. I have pushed the stroller all the way from the train station. I need to sit down. Need to find a place in the shade. I’ve packed some sandwiches. I can’t just be standing in the middle of the street eating them. I pick the first bench I see. Sit down. Quickly. Wipe the sweat of my face. Wait.
Bessie is starting to move in the stroller. Stretching her little hands out in the air. Somebody is coming out of the store. I can see him. He walks quite fast along the sidewalk. Faster than I thought he would. I get up, but don’t say anything. Just start rocking the stroller. Bessie seems more startled than reassured by this, and she starts crying.
He is about to pass. I turn my purse upside down. Don’t know what else to do. Can see all my things fall down on the sidewalk. Right in front of him.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” I say a little to loudely. He stops. Looks at me. I can see that frown, that he always used to have when I would ask him to do something for me as a child. He starts picking up the comb, the wallet, a pack of gum and all kinds of stuff that I have put in my purse.
“No worries,” he says smilingly.
Bessie is crying even louder now and I pick her up. He gets the rest of my stuff into my purse and seem like he is about to go.
“I have an extra sandwich if you want one, you know as a thank you.”
“Oh,” he says, but he looks at his watch, is going to say that he has to go.
“It is peanut butter with jam.”
He opens his mouth, I can almost see that the no starts to form, when he stops himself.
“Well, it is my favorite,” he says smilingly.
“Jamie,” he holds out his hand.
“Alice,” I grap his hand while holding Bessie on the other.
“She’s a sweetheart,” he says, rubs one of her fat, little cheeks.
He takes the sandwich, sits down on the bench.
“You’re from around here?” he says.
“No,” I hesitate, “no actually I live abroad these days.”
“In France right now,” I take a bite of my sandwich, “but Bessie was born in Sweden.”
“In Sweden,” he laughs, “so you’re both a long way from home.”
“Kind of,” I smile. “But you’re from here?”
He nods. “Yeah, born and bred.”
“You work over there?” I nod to the store he came out of
“Yeah,” he has almost finished his sandwich, still a fast eater. “Nothing fancy, but I like it.”
“How about you?” Soon it will be over. He will leave.
“Actually,” I hesitate, “I make computers,” I can feel my cheeks blushing, “always been fascinated by them.” I don’t know why I’m blushing, I do make computers, it just feels strange to tell him.
“Really?” he says. “I can never seem to get a grip on those computers, too old probably.” He laughs. The sandwich is gone, but he is still sitting there. I might not have more than seconds left.
“But you come from a farm?” I regret it the moment I’ve said it. Bessie reaches her fat, little hand forward to my sandwich. Manages to get it out of my hand only to drop it.
“Yeah, I do,” he hesitates for a moment, looks down on my sandwich, “my brother lives there now.” He looks up again. The same blue eyes, just like his father. “But I visit quite often, when the family gets together.”
“A big family?”
He frowns again. Looks at Bessie’s fat, little babyface, and then back to my face. Bessie looks like me, I know. We are similar. The same red hair. The same green eyes. I have always liked red hair and green eyes.
“Yes actually it is. I have three siblings, and between us we have gotten 10 kids,” he chews on his lip for a moment.
“10 kids, any of them yours?”
Bessie grabs at my hair, gets her little hands tangled in it, and starts pulling now that she can’t focus on the sandwich anymore.
“Actually,” he stares into my green eyes. So green. No hint of any brown. “Three of them are mine. Two from the first marriage, and then I got a boy with my second wife, Amanda.” I try to get Bessie’s hands out of my hair, but she just won’t let go. “Brian, he just went to college,” he smiles his crooked smile, the one that used to remind people of me, “all grown up.”
“And your siblings?”
“You want to know about my siblings?” sweat is dripping down from his forehead, but he doesn’t seem to notice. “They are all fine,” he narrows his eyes, as if he is trying to peel away the red, curly hair, the green eyes and the pale skin. See what’s inside. “We are a close family,” then he finally looks down. “When my dad died,” again he hesitates, seems insecure, “8 years ago,” he struggles with the words, but doesn’t stop, “I went through a rough patch, but they got me through it.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it,” I get up. Bessie is tired of sitting. Soon she will start screaming again. “It was very nice to meet you,” I say while I strap Bessie in the stroller. “Jamie, right?” I smile as I’m about to leave him, “Maybe we’ll meet again.” He nods, as I turn to go.
“They had a …” he doesn’t finish, but I stop. “30 years ago now probably…”
“I’m sorry?” I turn towards him.
“They had a funeral.”
“Oh,” I just say.
I will have to go now. All the way back to the train station. Then to the airport, and then back over the ocean. Back to France. Then we’ll leave for England in May. I have always loved to travel in spring.
“They played that song,” he continues, but I can’t turn to look at him. “I don’t remember the name of that song anymore, but my sister got a tape with it, and sometimes she plays it for the family.”
“Do you remember the name of that song?” he says, and then everything seems so quiet. I can’t come back. I know that. I turn towards him, try to smile.
“Well it is hard to say really. Hard to know the name of a song I have never heard, but I know that a lot of good songs are about travelling.”
He nods. Smiles. Looks down just for a moment before he looks up again.
“Then that must be it, The Traveler, I think my sister called it,” he says.
I look down on my watch.
“You know, I have a train to catch,” I reach my hand towards him. “But it was very nice to meet you.” He takes my hand, squeeze it, but just for a moment.
“Yes it was,” he lets go. “Safe travels then.”
I nod. “Always.”
I hope you have enjoyed “The Traveler”, the story as well as the song, and I really hope that you would like to hear more songs and read more stories.
About the song: Vocals/music composition/lyrics/ukulele: Therese J (Me)
Mixing: Dan Grubbs
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If you like the that have been used to illustrate this short story, they are all from morguefile.com. All the photos have been edited, the first photo in this story is by fellowdesigns, the second photo(the SoundCloud photo) is by xandert, the third photo is by rupertjefferies, and the fourth is by pedrojperez, the fifth photo is by Grafixar, the sixth photo is by terryballard, the seventh photo is by ryndon and the eight picture is by lightfoot.
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