Angel 70 (burying the living)
The guards were running late, and the taxi ride took forever, but Angel was just glad she’d got the chance to say goodbye to her wee girl. Church hadn’t cuffed her and the other guard was younger and took her lead from the boss, hanging back and trying to blend in.
Dalmuir Parish Church’s Gothic architecture and vaulting roofs cloistered cold and damp was filled with the unused smell of decay. When they got to the church, the mourners were already inside. Not many, just a scattering of people. Lacquered pews at the front and back two rows were worn by use, but those in the middle lacked the varnish of bums shining them as parishioners got up and down to praise God. Hymnals were stacked into the back of each seat.
Angel carried Adam in her arms, he screamed to get loose from her grip, short heels clicking as she hurried to the front pew. The undertakers had placed the coffin on a little trestle in front of the altar. A splash of white, little more than the size of a footprint in snow among the backs of heads and mourner’s black clothes.
She didn’t see the Reverend. He’d been sitting in the front pew, chatting to Bruno, but he stood up to face her. A tall man with deep eyes and a hard looking face with cropped grey hair.
‘Welcome,’ the Reverent reached out and patted Adam’s leg and smiled, his grey-blue eyes lighting up with Adam’s antics. ‘I often have to wait for the bride, but not so much for a funeral.’ His working-class accent surprised Angel more than his rough appearance. ‘God is with you at this very sad time. And I’ll do my best to make it as easy as I can.’ He held his arm and hand out, guiding them into the front pew.
Bruno and Tony shuffled their bums and bodies along to make space. Pizza Face, beside them, frowning at the guards and looking aggrieved, not moving, or creating enough room for them.
Angel slipped into the row behind them, guards bookending the pew. Adam clung to her chest, he looked knackered and near sleeping, but with the new surroundings was fighting it.
Angel heard Bruno whispering to Tony. ‘I’d shag him in a minute – God help me.’
Tony bent his head and face into the lapels of his black jacket and brought his hand up to disguise his laughter. Out of the side of his eyes he spotted Angel watching him, half turned his head, and held a hand up in half-salute, his cuff sleeves in his coat too short on his wrists, suggesting a borrowed coat and his white shirt sleeves frayed and yellowing.
Pizza Face’s suit fitted better. Black shirt, black bow tie, he inhabited his long-weekend- bouncer regalia. He leaned over Tony, putting his hand on his mate’s knee, to growl at Bruno. ‘Fucking, shut up, you. A bit of respect!’
Bruno opened his mouth to say something, but the service began with the organ striking up a hymn, Abide With Me, and Adam howling.
‘I’ll need to take him out,’ Angel said, to Church. ‘He’ll no’ settle.’
Church shook her head. ‘You cannae.’
The woman beside Angel asked, ‘You want me to take him?’
‘No,’ Angel was grateful, but didn’t believe it would work.
She recognised the gruff voice as Pizza Face’s mum. What had once been a solid mound of flesh had over the years grown tiered like an acrylic cake falling sideways, pasty face and banded, black hat. Her eyes were watery and she held a hanky up to them.
‘That my grandson?’ she asked and ruffled Adam’s hair.
Adam put his hand up to his head and rubbed where she rubbed and she rubbed his hand and his hair, and they played tic-tac-toe for a few minutes which calmed him.
Angel didn’t reply and wasn’t really listening to the service. She stared at the wee coffin, with her infant inside it and hid her eyes as she cried.
Pizza Face’s mum slid closer and put her arm around her back and patted her shoulder. She offered her hanky.
‘Thanks,’ sniffed Angel.
She remembered when Pizza Face’s mum had been kind enough to take her to school on her first day, when her own mum would have allowed her to miss out. She looked sideways, searching for her mum in the seats.
Karen was sitting in the opposite row, clutching the hand of a drinking buddy. Some large woman with pan-stick face, too much makeup, and big boobs. Angel couldn’t remember her name.
The vicar’s sermon made her cry even more, even though Bruno made her smile with his camp voice rising to the suggestion ‘I do love a bit of doom and gloom’.
‘Death and Judgement,’ said the Vicar. ‘We put it somewhere at the back of our mind and try not to think of it at all. If this life is the rehearsal for the next life,’ he chuckled. ‘Some of us might still have a bit of work to dae.
‘The parable of building bigger barns and reckoning we have put enough away and now it’s time to enjoy ourself. Isn’t about money. That’s two-a-penny idea. Scratch the surface and you’ll find a very different reality. You might think you’re a holy Joe. You’ve kept all the commandments and you’ve no done anybody any harm. Now it’s time to have a little fun, a litte flirtation with life. For after all, all that God stuff gets a bit boring. You want to have what other folk are having, but you’ve hedged your bets. But when Jesus and the Devil turn up on Judgement Day with his tick-book to fight over your soul. The big book opens and you point out where, when and how often you’ve served the Lord. You’ve got a big barn full of that stuff, all ready to be inventoried.
And Jesus says, “I searched your heart day by day, minute by minute and you weren’t serving me, but yourself.”
‘The devil rubs his hands. That barn full of stuff is worthless and you know all hope is gone. Then you are reliant on the mercy of God, and that’s the beginning of life and faith. Because God is Love. The universe is Love. Everything in it is Love. Including us. Sometimes we’re too busy living our lives and storing things away in a big barn and we forget about that. Forget about God. Where you put your heart, there shall you be.
‘We were born in perfect love as Lisa was. She was loved by her mother and taken by God. On Judgement Day no mark of sin will be found on her. What is sin? But selfishness, in thought, or deed, or word. And no child has selfishness in her makeup. They are truly innocent of the way of this world.
He looked across at Angel with compassion in his eyes. ‘For his mother, Angela, that is not enough. She doesn’t care about God or Judgement or all that malarkey. She just wants her wee girl back. Perhaps, she’d want me to explain why God took her.’ He paused and took a deep breath, a pained look on his face. ‘I cannae. Nothing I can say can make it right. What I can say, hand on heart,’ he placed his hand over his heart. ‘God isn’t the God of the dead, but the living. Nothing that lives in him can die. Lisa is alive to God as the day she was born, the day she was conceived and beyond that to the day when she meets up her mother again. Lisa will meet her mother again, when the time is right.’
He nodded to Angel and carried on with the liturgy. Adam had fallen asleep on her knee and Pizza Faces mum stroked his fat cheek.
‘Mmmm,’ whispered Bruno, ‘he’s tasty, that big boy can fill my barn anytime. Day or night. I'm always open'.