My father’s was the first funeral I ever attended. His was the first dead body I ever saw. His grave was where I smoked my first cigarette, and where I met my first girlfriend.
I saw more dead bodies after that first one. Attended far too many funerals, and smoked too many cigarettes. I wouldn’t have minded more girlfriends, though.
It’s not that I hadn’t expected to ever see Alan Sebastian again, I was just trying to avoid it. Honestly I’m a bit surprised that it worked for so long.
I definitely hadn’t expected to see him show up at Nanny’s funeral.
“I think she might have been my grandmother,” I hear him say.
“She wasn’t your grandmother,” I tell him. “She was mine.”
“Oh,” he says. “Okay.”
My mother sees me and calls out to me. Usually I just ignore her but today I wave jauntily and give her the finger.
She hadn’t expected me to show up, I know. But she put my deadname in the obituary so I showed up in an outfit I knew she’d hate, just to spite her. I think about what Nanny Bas would say about that, if she knew. Which she never will, because she’s dead.
I try to convince myself that it’s only my mother I’m angry with. It isn’t fair to still be angry with Nanny. Because she’s dead. I try and stuff it down and hold it back—just like I had the last time I’d seen Nanny. Which was nearly four years ago, back when she was still alive.
“Remember Gillian Parker?” I had asked her.
“Of course,” said Nanny. “I quite liked her. I hope she’s doing well for herself.”
“Is she?” I asked. “Doing well for herself?”
“I’m not sure why you think I’d know.” She wasn’t looking at me.
“Because you know everything.”
“I’ve not heard from her recently.”
“What exactly are you asking me, Shell?”
“Tell me there’s nothing I should ask you. Tell me there’s no reason I should be curious about her. Tell me you haven’t heard from her and you know nothing about her or what happened to her after she left…”
And Nanny said nothing.
“Fuck,” I said.
“FUCK,” I said again.
“Do you really want to know?” she asked. “You won’t be able to un-know it once you do.”
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck,” I said.
“There’s a box up there on the shelf behind you. The one with the elephant on it.”
“No.” I shake my head.
She nodded. “I did have an old address for her. But it’s about fifteen years old, so it might not still be current.”
“For the record,” I said. “Since she left more than thirty years ago, fifteen years counts as recently.”
I told her I’d never speak to her again. It wasn’t supposed to be a prediction.
Four years later I don’t think she’d have wanted me to attend her funeral. Not because I’d been pissed off with her… But showing up to her funeral sort of felt disrespectful after all of the work she’d put in to mediate my relationship with my mother.
Were she here, she’d tell me to forgive myself, and mourn her in my own way. I don’t think I can do that first one.
“I really don’t want to be here,” I tell Alan Sebastian. “Do you want to go somewhere else?”
“Okay,” he says.
I take Alan Sebastian to back to the house I grew up in. To the two rooms which were always Nanny’s.
He stands awkwardly in the doorway and I sit down on Nanny’s chair. I wonder if it’s still Nanny’s chair. Dead people don’t need chairs. I hope it’s not my Mother’s chair. Maybe it’s mine, now.
“That’s Mani,” Alan Sebastian says.
He picks up a photo frame. There are three photos in it. Three babies. I’d never noticed those ones in particular. Nanny has lots of photos of babies. The babies people wanted to have.
“That’s me, and Cello.”
“Can you reach that box on the shelf?” I ask him.
There isn’t much in it. A few more photos. A letter from Gillian thanking Nanny for her help. I don’t know if I feel more angry with Nanny, or less.
Eventually we hear noises from the other part of the house. People are arriving for the wake.
“Let’s go,” I tell him. “I don’t want to see my mother.”
“Okay,” he says.
Nanny had written me a letter. Telling me she loved me and that she’d be happy to talk with me when I was ready. She told me to take my time. To take as long as I needed and that she’d be there for me if I when I was ready. That she’d be waiting. She was ninety-one when she said that and I really should have taken that into account.
I know it isn’t her fault. She didn’t die on purpose. But she isn’t here, and I’m still not ready. She isn’t waiting anymore. Because she died.
“Do you wish you’d known about me and Cello?” Alan Sebastian asks, as we walk up to the cemetery.
“Still not sure whether I’m okay with knowing now, to be honest,” I reply.
We don’t say anything else until we reach the graves.
My Grandmother recently departed; lying next to my father, long dead.
I tell Alan Sebastian about Nanny. About all of the things I loved about her. “She was the only family I had left that actually liked me. And she died before I got to forgive her.”
“I do not know you very well yet,” he says. “But I do like you so far.”
“Oh,” I say.
He looks at the date on my father’s headstone. “You must have been young.”
I nod. “This is where I met your mum.”
My phone rings. It’s my mother, so I don’t answer.
Every time she calls me, I think I should block her number. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how to do that, but I don’t tell people that because I’m afraid they’ll try and show me.
Sometimes I feel curious about how many of her calls I can ignore before she stops calling. I wonder what makes her think ‘Oh! I’ll call Shell!’. Only she doesn’t call me that. I wonder what makes her do it.
I like to think I don’t block her because I’m holding out hope that I’ll find out. But quite possibly it’s just some kind of ongoing self-harm.
My phone rings again.
“The last time I ignored a call from my mother, I missed out on saying goodbye to Nanny,” I tell Alan Sebastian.
I still don’t answer it.
“If I give you my phone number, will you give it to Gillian?” I ask. “If she wants it.”
He nods, and we go back to not saying anything.
My phone rings again. I ignore it.