Since my first post I have been asked by many either how did I end up in that situation or to recount what happened next. There seems to be some frustration in the fact that I started at what appears to be the middle of my tale. I can understand the frustration felt but it's hard for me to do anything but trust my mind in where it leads me. As I said before I can't start from the beginning as my memories are tangled like a ball of wool and I have to tug at strands here and there to try and unravel them one by one. I promise I will try and be more organised.
I suppose before we can go forward we need to go back. Not too far. I can't go back too far. I will, eventually, but today I will try and go back to the day of the funeral.
It seems that the more emotional the memory the more my mind has erased. I couldn't tell you what I was wearing, though something black would seem fitting. I don't know what the weather was like but I guess drizzle and grey skies would be appropriate. I wouldn't even know what time of year it was, though autumn, with it's golden leaves and chilling winds that make you feel the need to wrap your arms around your chest to protect yourself from the cutting cold would be poetic justice. But in reality I couldn't tell you for sure.
I remember sitting on the hard wooden pew in the church and feeling quite important as I was sat right at the front. It didn't dawn on my young mind that the reason I was there was simply because it was my father in the coffin before me.
Faceless are the people who surround me, I can't even see in my memory whether my brother was there or not, though I guess he was. The man standing in front of the coffin in his long robes, droned on in an old French that I couldn't be bothered to try and understand. I recall feeling perplexed that I wasn't feeling the way people imply you are supposed to. If you believe the way these things are recounted in books or films I should have been clinging to the coffin, heaving with racking sobs, distraught and unable to let go. I didn't. I didn't cry, I didn't scream, I didn't even whine a little. I just felt numb and feeling numb made me feel guilty. So there I sat at my fathers funeral feeling guilty and wondering if I should try throwing myself on the floor just to save face. Fortunately the service was over very quickly and I didn't have time to act on my concerns.
What happened next is like a misty haze. A hole in the ground, soil, gravel, staring at my shoes as we walked back to the wake. Non of this matters, it's not relevant in my mind, just a series of events that didn't leave a firm imprint on my mind. What happened at the wake though, is another matter.
They blamed her for everything. Acted like she had been the one driving the car when in reality she hadn't even been there. Three of my five half brothers and sisters had travelled to France for the funeral and they only had a few hours to make their feelings towards my mother clear and they took the opportunity with both hands. We stood in the big family room above the café. The voices from the punters below floated up to the silent room, loud, creating evidence for my siblings to use against her.
“She's left the bar open, yet more proof that she's all about money, money, money”
I suppose they were not to know that we had had bailiffs coming into the café demanding payments. Only a few weeks later there wouldn't be enough food to feed my brother and I and my mother knew that day was coming, she just wasn't able to admit it to herself, let alone them. They were not to know that by leaving the bar open on the day of the funeral wasn't because she didn't love and respect my father but that she loved my brother and I more and was prepared to look bad in their eyes if it meant keeping a roof over our heads for one more day. They didn't know these things but they didn't ask why either. They just judged her.
“Vile witch, probably killed him so she could get more customers in”
Their tear strained faces turned to me as I stood quietly looking out the window still wondering why I felt nothing.
“Don't you worry honey, we'll look after you. We won't let her hurt you.”
And then I felt something. I felt anger. Everyone else in the room was angry surely I should be too.
When she entered the room she was met by cold hard stares. Her pale tense face filled with grief and guilt didn't register with me.
“You decided to keep the bar open even during your husbands funeral. What kind of woman are you”
“you don't understand, it's our livelihood, without this we...”
“We what! We won't be able to afford another romantic evening with our new boyfriend? We won't be able to afford another packet of fags? You disgust us and I hope you get hit by a bus!”
My father had just died after a horrific car crash and here my half sister was wishing my mother to die in a similar manner. Surely you would think I would realise then that these were not the people to side with, that they were twisted inside to the point of being damaged. But their sentiments were so strong they overpowered anything else. I let myself be swept up in the crashing waves of their anger and turned on her too. As she came to me to take my hand and lead me from the room my fists clenched and my arms went rigid by my sides.
“Come with me”
She stared at me. Willed me mentally to stay with her, to leave the room, to be a compatriot in arms against all those who wished her ill. But I didn't, my resolve stayed firm and my heart like ice, I turned away from her. She quietly left the room, defeated and broken.
“Don't worry, we'll be there for you” And when my half brother said that with his hand on my shoulder, his grip firm and strong, I believed him. But they weren't. They left France the following day and apart from a couple of phone calls, I didn't see or hear from them for many years. On that day though, their actions had the same effect as dropping a pebble into a still pool of water. The damage rippled out throughout my childhood, affecting everything and everyone around me.