I wanted to do something in memory of Carla Lane, and this turned out a bit morbid, to be honest, but I don't think a fluffy Joetina would be quite right for this occasion. I don't know if I can ever do a truly fitting tribute to someone who created such brilliant fictional worlds, but Carla, for inspiring me, this is for you.
I've been toying with looking at Grandad's funeral (not the imaginary one he had in the show) for a while, and the disorientation that comes with loss, and given Carla left a wonderful legacy behind, but will still be missed, I thought about paralleling that with an event in the Boswells' lives, not just the loss of a family member but the loss of their whole family unit as they knew it. It was this, or another dark fic with Joey and Martina I have slated, but that one was a bit too dark, and still needs a huge substantive edit before it comes anywhere near the site, so probably won't be up this year.
This fic was always going to be written from Jack POV. It never occurred to me to write it through anyone else's eyes. Out of all the Boswells, I think Jack seems to be the least sure of himself, and doesn't really know what to believe in. The others all have something to hold onto or have faith in, or something that motivates them, even if they're not all that good at it. Jack tries, fails, lets go and tries something else, and has always struck me as a bit lost in terms of what his purpose in life is, but he keeps on going anyway, and so I thought his take on a major loss such as this would be interesting. There are also a few hints in this for upcoming fics in this headcanon.
Anyway, this gets quite morbid, and yes, it has death in it, so ye hath been warned: don't read this if it might be triggering.
The title is a lyric from Avicii's Hey Brother. I listened to this song a million times when writing this. I don't own that, and I don't own Bread.
Jack Boswell had been four years old when he'd found out about Father Christmas.
At four, you're not supposed to experience childhood-shattering incidents like that; at four you're supposed to be young and happy, and the world is vibrant and magical, and your innocence is still intact, hopefully for several years still to come. But not Jack's.
It had been Joey's fault he'd lost that innocence—Joey, who, with two years' more life experience under his belt, had felt he held a sort of authority over him and Adrian, which he was quick to exert.
'Go and see if the presents are here yet,' he'd ordered at half past midnight on Christmas morning, and of course Jack had gone, because back in the days when it was just the three of them, and he'd temporarily been the glum middle child, he hadn't had much capability of exerting himself. He'd gone, and Joey had smiled smugly at him as he tiptoed from the room.
And his heart had stopped when, at the foot of the stairs, he'd spied two figures in the shadows around the Christmas tree, one of whom was suspiciously bearded and hatted. The other one he couldn't have identified—Mrs. Claus, perhaps?—but Father Christmas was definitely there in his parlour, standing in front of his Christmas tree, clutching a box which may or may not have been one of his presents.
And then he'd tripped.
And that one little trip had ruined everything.
'Watch what you're doin'! Keep the noise down!' the other figure had hissed, and Jack had instantly recognised her, his confusion spinning out of control as he struggled to comprehend why she, she of all people, might be standing there bold as brass and talking to old St. Nick.
'Oh, piss off, Em'ly!' Grandad's voice had retorted, filling in the gap and making perfectly clear to Jack what a split second ago had been unfathomable. The bearded figure had slammed the parcel down with undue force. 'Them kids aren't going to wake up from a bit o' noise like that! Don't know why you keep ropin' me into this job year after bloody year anyway! They don't appreciate all this. They never appreciate it. Might as well give them daft little lads yesterday's milk bottles and a pair o' socks for all the notice they tek o' their presents!'
And that had been it for Jack's naiveté.
'Oh, you did not see Granny and Grandad down there,' Joey had said when he told him. 'You're makin' that up.'
And to Adrian, who had only really begun to understand the whole Christmas lark, and was having trouble processing information which he'd been hyped all month into believing, 'he's just makin' that up. He's daft.'
Jack didn't know whether Joey actually believed what he said, whether he was trying to convince himself or whether he'd accepted it and was just trying to pacify Adrian— he never let on. He was always a master of self-control when it came to emotions, even back then. He held onto his belief in Father Christmas—vocally, at least—for another five years, only giving it up when Nellie sat him down and told him 'officially,' because she was pregnant with Billy and could no longer afford to keep up the charade for five children.
For Jack, however, that was the end of it there and then. He could never think of anything but Grandad tripping and swearing, and all trips to Santa's grotto, all the times they were sent upstairs early on Christmas Eve to ensure they were 'asleep in time', all Christmas experiences were tainted by it.
Looking back on it, he thinks, it's funny how once you lose something you can never really get it back. Once that sense of security in something you always thought would be around is gone, you've no choice but to readjust your world to fit around that truth. You can never pretend again that you will ever have anything forever.
A bit like when Brenda Maikin left him, then a week later decided she wanted him back. Jack hadn't been able to put their separation behind him and really give the relationship another go—it was always lurking at the back of his mind— and eventually he'd given up on her altogether.
A bit like when his Dad had taken off, Lilo Lil's tremendous chest on his horizon, and he'd had to come to terms with the fact that families and marriages weren't forever, that even your parents weren't going to look out for you all the days of your life.
A bit like when he'd finally had the chance to live out his dream in America, and it had all fallen on its face and left him broke, disillusioned and in the lurch.
A bit like when the security of his job with Treasure had been taken, along with her companionship, when she'd snuffed it.
A bit like now.
The grass in the cemetery is still wet, glistening with either last night's rain or this morning's dew, and the sun pokes through a hole in the clouds in a way which illuminates one spot and leaves the surrounding areas dark and foreboding. And, of course, as always seems to happen in these grotesque nightmares that have somehow seeped into real life, the one spot that has been illuminated happens to be the one spot everybody would rather not look at.
The coffin seems to have developed its own, full-body halo; it's blinding in its unpleasantness, sunbathing in front of a freshly erected headstone on which the fateful words are engraved:
William Thomas Duvall: 1912-2000
It doesn't seem real, him being dead. It doesn't seem right. It goes against the laws of nature, somehow. Grandad has always been around, Grandad, despite how frail he might have appeared, always would be, and they took all took that for granted. Him dying was just one of those things you talked about, in terms of getting more money or benefits or what have you, or in terms of justifying a more extravagant purchase for his birthday, or in excusing his rude behaviour: oh, well, why not? He won't live forever. He'll die one day. But that wasn't actually supposed to happen. They were meant to complain about his enormous dinners and constant grouching forever. That wasn't meant to end.
Except it has.
Grandad is dead, gone, no more, nothing but a corpse in a box, and eighty-eight years of living and families and memories and hoping and loving and dreaming and eating...
…what happened to them? Are they to be forgotten? Memories go sort of foggy, don't they? Jack can't even remember Marjorie Wainright's face clearly, nor why Rachel had been so angry with him at one stage—was it to do with a boat, he wonders?—nor why he'd been camped on the runway that night in his youth. He used to remember these things, but they've slowly blurred in his head, slipping further into a distant past as the events of the present rushed in to take their place. The same will happen, he reflects, with Grandad. It's a bloody shame, that. You spend all your life collecting thoughts in your head, they fade, and then when you die, no-one will ever recover them, and you too will be relegated to just another foggy memory in the back of someone's consciousness.
Jack stands in a row with the rest of his siblings, all of them quiet and reverent with their matching white wreaths and their sombre attire—even Joey has given up the leather today, and Aveline the short skirt, in favour of more solemn choices—waiting as the new young priest stumbles through the I am the Resurrection and the Life speech for their moment to lay the wreaths on the old man's grave. This is so different, Jack is aware, from the disaster that was Uncle Cyril's funeral, so many years ago now. No-one save Joey actually took that seriously. The others were too engaged in their little squabbles and complaints, and Nellie, throwing the handbag containing their deceased relative into the river had set a new standard for funerals gone wrong. They hadn't really cared much about him, to be honest. Jack wonders now what Cyril would have thought, had he known his final respects involved being slung with considerable force into the Mersey. It's only now, now he's losing someone he really cares about, that Jack has even stopped to consider such things. Grandad had wanted everyone to remember him, to still think on him with love, he'd said.
Probably, Jack thinks now, that's what they all wanted. Treasure wouldn't have wanted to be forgotten, Uncle Cyril, their Granny, Uncle Eddie, people he's never met...they all had lives and aspirations and now they haven't. They're just dead.
There is, of course, the possibility of Heaven, but Jack doesn't really understand all that. It's not that he doesn't believe in God, as Father Dooley always seemed to think, as Nellie used to Cross herself and moan about when he didn't want to say prayers at meal times, it's just, he doesn't really know what to make of Him. He doesn't see why there are rows between Catholics and Protestants, he doesn't see why prayers are a thing of ritual to be said round a table when hands are clasped, nor why Confession exists, when wasn't the whole point that your sins were gone anyway? He doesn't understand why people like his Mam are thankful for the basic human components; health and having two legs and breathing, when most everyone has those things, and why he can't be thankful when good things happen and not thankful when they don't, because you don't say thanks when you don't get anything, do you? Do you come out the dark tunnel with your pride and dignity intact, or is it the dark cloud? If you live then you die and are forgotten, did you ever really live in the first place? Jack doesn't know.
'…earth to earth, ashes to ashes and dust to dust…'
He asks now, silently, if God would be so kind as to give Grandad a comfy chair and a good meal when he gets there, and turns back to the grave in time for the Mexican Wave of dirt-clod-tossing to begin: first Nellie, then Joey, then him, then the others, one by one in down the line.
It doesn't seem right, this ritual, either. Someone you love is lying there and you're chucking dirt at them as if they're nothing. As if they're a pile of compost. He doesn't really agree with burial. Not that cremation seems particularly nice, either, but leaving someone's body to transform into a skeleton underground is a bit creepy to him. Grandad has been put next to their Granny, and Jack has a horrifying image for a second of two skeletons reaching out of their coffins and holding hands six feet below ground, then, when his mind flashes backwards for a moment, an image of a skeleton reaching to examine a candlestick and then retreating to his box. He hadn't had much respect when he did that. He hadn't been thinking of anything, really, save his own fear. He wonders if Granny forgives him for that, but then, he thinks, she wasn't around to see it; only her remains, and remains can't see you, can they? Did she watch him do it from above, though?
'Oswald could've done this,' Aveline whispers down the line, loud enough for Nellie to hear from her place at the head of it, cutting into the treacle of thoughts that's slowly congealing in Jack's head.
Nellie peers round his brothers at her, glaring at her daughter, or perhaps that's just tears making her eyes squinty.
'How dare you?' she hisses back. 'Have your Grandad—your Grandad—buried at a Proddy service, would you?! HE WAS MY FATHER—' she's shouting now, 'HE WAS YOUR-GRANDAD, AND YOU WOULD HAVE HIM TOSSED IN THE EARTH BY A COMMON PRODDY!'
'Mam, Mam,' Joey says, wrapping his arms around her as she starts to sob. ' You'll 'ave to excuse her; she's a bit bereaved,' he says apologetically to the priest, to the collection of guests round the grave site who are all silent and staring now.
His Mam's outburst is embarrassing, as they usually are, but it occurs to Jack, another thing to add to his growing list of life-and-death related ponderous questions, that now Grandad's gone, now their founder member, the head of their herd, as Joey called him, is gone, that pushes Nellie and Freddie to the front of the line. They now take up the reigns as the oldest, wisest Boswells, and given Nellie's outbursts and the fact that Freddie is barely around most of the time, that's a slightly daunting prospect. His mind travels further— they can't have all that much long either, and then what? Who takes care of the Boswells then? Joey? Not really, anymore. Him? Not much of a chance. Adrian? Oh, God forbid, and Aveline and Billy are too self-absorbed. Who keeps their family together now? Grandad had been a sort of anchor, one of the few things that has brought them together in recent years. Yes, they'll have the odd Sunday lunch together, and they'll throw money in the pot which used to be a chicken, when it still had a head. Yes, he and his brothers do a pub quiz together on the third Thursday of every month, get drinks in and lark about acting as immature as if they were teenagers (except Adrian, although, with two pints of Guinness in him he's not so hoity-toity as he likes to act ordinarily). They'll still get on the phone if one of them has a crisis— for at least a token eh, you all right? call. They still squabble like children if you get two or more of them in the same room. But things have changed. They're not the same five children that they were before, aren't as tight-knit, what with them all having their own families, and Billy usually having a girlfriend to disappoint. But they'd all come to see Grandad, and they'd all stuck together when it came to caring for him as he neared the end, had had meetings together about treatment options and carers, all sat together around his side, talking and reading to him. They'd all united to preserve the founder member's life for as long as they could.
And now he's gone, and there really isn't much point in continuing to meet up.
If the founder member of your family is gone, Jack wonders, are you really a family anymore?
They can't really pretend things are the same. They're all moving in separate directions, away from each other, away from their life together. Their time as a little unit has been tapering off for a long time now, probably ended a while ago, but the loss of Grandad seems to spell out The End in big, red letters, with a few harsh underlines for good measure.
And it's only really now, now it has dawned on Jack that it's truly over, that he actually misses it. He'd been glad to be shot of Billy when Billy had got married, glad to be striking out on his own, even if it only was over the road, glad when his siblings started having kids and stopped hanging around him so much, but a part of him had always still been far too eager to accept an invitation to dinner at Number Thirty when it comes his way, partner and kid with him or no, a part of him had still counted down days til organised gatherings with his brothers and sister, part of him feels, now, like he might cry. He'd resented mealtime prayers; now he'd give anything for just one more, preferably with Grandad interrupting it and demanding his tray.
It's like losing Father Christmas all over again. Grandad is gone, the life they had once is over for good, and when things are over, there's no getting them back, the memory of how things were is tainted with the knowledge that they ended and the knowledge that things are just going to keep changing, that more things are going to end, until eventually life itself ends. And what's the point in that, then? What's the point in having anything, in doing anything, if this is what it all comes to? It doesn't seem right, somehow.
It just doesn't seem right.
They hold the wake in Joey's house—fitting, as it's the only one of their houses that could actually fit everybody into it—and Jack wanders aimlessly around the lower floor, passing from the kitchen to the living room and back again, unsure where to put himself. Everyone is milling around in the usual sombre amiability that accompanies a funeral, segregated into little cliques—Adrian and his poetry mates standoffishly hogging one corner of the room, Irenee looking bored at their conversation, Carmen, who has ingratiated herself into Adrian's circle of friends to (successfully) snag his best mate Neil for a husband, hanging off every word as if she's interested (and perhaps she is, for all Jack knows. She's not the same person she was back in the bush-bonking days.) In another corner, a handful of old people, May Mathieson among them, sip tea and don't speak to one another, Martina, Joey and Aveline are clustered around Nellie, comforting her, and Jack suspects Oswald and Freddie would have joined in this conversation, has his Mam not been shooting glares at either of them every time they attempted to approach her.
The collective children of his siblings are zipping around the room in hyperactive irreverence, ignoring all parental warnings to behave, clearly too full of cake and squash and not full enough of understanding of the seriousness of the occasion. At least, Jack notes, watching them, Francesca is noticeably absent. He's not the only one whose child isn't here and for some reason, he feels good about that—a bit less like he's letting the family down. Leonora hadn't wanted to come—funerals are still triggering, apparently, still set off painful memories of losing Ray and her first child—and though he still feels a twang of jealousy every now and then at the thought of his beloved still pining over a deceased husband he can never live up to, he can understand that. He wouldn't want her to put herself through that. And Ryan, little Ryan, named after Ray and Leonora's dead son Brian—well, Jack had always tried to get him to get to know Grandad before it was too late (a difficult task, given by the time the lad was old enough to comprehend what was going on Grandad's memory was already failing, and by the time he departed from the world he could hardly tell any of his grandchildren apart, let alone his great grandchildren). But letting him go to a funeral, making him suffer that, both of them had decided, at this age, wasn't a good idea. He's only eight.
Somehow, though, not having him here now makes Jack feel he's failed some duty towards his family. The others have all dragged their offspring along, and they're coping—they barely seem to understand the trauma of the event at all, judging by the game of chasey Ursula and Annabelle have started and the ensuing giggles. Jack doesn't know, now, whether he was wrong, but he thinks of Ryan's small face, round and full of that innocence Jack lost far too young, and he wants him to be able to retain that for a bit longer. Life is always better, he concludes, when you're still taking things for granted—life, Christmas presents, the notion that everything will always be the same, that you'll have a family you can take for granted for the rest of your life. He still wouldn't bring him, on the off-chance that it wouldn't go over his head, as it has done the others. If he's anything like his parents, Ryan will be quite quick to accept a harsher viewpoint on life, realise that not everything is perfect, and Jack wants perfection for him for a few years more.
He wanders into the kitchen, still in a state of flux, but Billy is in there, his tongue holidaying in the mouth of his latest girlfriend, Emma, and when she breaks back to protest that his earring has inexplicably got caught in her nose ring, Jack decides he'd rather not while away the afternoon with the two of them for company. He returns to the living room, dejectedly taking a seat in one of Joey and Martina's mismatched armchairs (they hadn't been able to agree on furniture, apparently, and having one leather chair and one rose-patterned one and a fairly nondescript sofa had been their compromise) and slumping until his head meets his hands.
This is getting him down more than he'd thought it would, and he can't work out which he's pining for more: Grandad, or the last shred of his old life that had remained as long as Grandad was alive.
A large framed photograph of the old man is sitting on the coffee table in front of him, and Jack picks it up, studying it. It's one from his younger days, obviously—he's got more hair, and it's not all white yet – and he's smiling for once, his canary perched on two of his fingers. He was happy, sometimes. When people were paying him attention, mostly, or when he had something trivial to complain about. What does all that happiness mean, now?
'What was the point, Grandad?' Jack says out loud to the photo, not caring if anyone hears—not that they're listening to him anyway. 'What was the point of you doin' anything? Is that all there is for me—livin' til I end up sittin' in a wicker chair at the end o' me days, and then dyin' and…then wha'?'
The picture doesn't answer him, but Jack looks at Grandad's younger face, frozen behind the glass, wondering how long it'll be before he needs something like this permanently around to remind him of what his grandfather looked like, and suddenly he wants to know where Grandad is, what he's doing now, whether or not everything he did matters or whether the old man is in a place where he no longer cares.
'I 'ope you've got a cup o' tea, Grandad,' he says to the picture, replacing it on the table and standing up, 'and that you've got a cream sponge, so the custard doesn't fall in your cuppa.'
He looks around the room and spies Oswald with a biscuit in his hand. Oswald would be a great person to talk to about all this—all this confusion, all this wondering what the point of anything is when things change—being a vicar and all, but his Mam is still snuffling, and sitting too close to Oswald for the exchange to go unnoticed. It's not a good idea, he decides, to further upset his mother today of all days, but he does want to talk to somebody. Just about anybody would do. He just wants to know, wants a few precious seconds of insight into how the others cope, how they're living with the knowledge that Grandad's gone, that one day Nellie and Freddie and all of them will be gone.
Adrian appears to have torn himself away from his little gang to get himself something to eat, and Jack sees and opportunity and makes a beeline over there. Adrian probably isn't the best choice, too full of A-level pomposity to ever have a conversation with him on equal footing, too ready to lord his 'education' over him and not just accept they're just two men exchanging ideas, but Jack goes to him anyway.
They may not be as close as in the old days, but he's still his brother, and for some reason, the tenuous connection to days of old and arguments about briefcases and riding together in his van, and that, for some reason, is as good as any. He just wants to talk to someone, connect with them. Feel they're sharing something deep and meaningful again. Adrian will do that. Adrian will do.
'That poem you recited today, Adrian, was the best you've ever written. Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone…genius. Really great.'
Jack's compliment doesn't have its desired effect. Instead, his younger brother flushes bright red and dons an expression of pained humiliation.
'You'd better tell W.H. Auden, then. It was his poem.'
Oh. Jack immediately drops the grin from his face and pulls it into a look he hopes covers up his embarrassment.
'Well,' he laughs edgily, 'he's a clever bloke, your mate Auden—not that you're not, but…'
'Oh, for goodness' sake!' Adrian has just picked up a quiche from the buffet table, but he now flings it back down on the plate, contaminating the others in the process. Jack reminds himself not to touch the quiches, lest he gets the one that his brother's hands have been all over.
'He's not my mate—he's a poet! A proper… er, a renowned poet!'
Seeing as most of Adrian's mates are poets anyway, and he's a little sketchy on the definition of 'renowned,' Jack gives up on that discussion and gets round to what he really wanted to talk about.
'Adrian, what's your take on Heaven?'
'Yeh—that place with the clouds and people playin' harps. What d'you reckon?'
Adrian pauses, and Jack immediately wishes he hadn't asked.
'It's all about the soul, isn't it?' he begins. 'About the transcendental states we find ourselves in, and the way...'
'Billy, do you… oh, hi, Emma.'
Emma's lip gloss has mostly been transferred to Billy's mouth, but she seems to be annoyed with him at present, her arms folded, her glare alternating between Billy and Jack, as if he is equally to blame for whatever argument she's just had with his brother.
'It's, erm…' Jack runs a hand through his hair, 'it's erm…it's nice to see you, Emma. How are you?'
Emma ignores him.
'I'm goin' out there,' she says in Billy's direction, standing slowly, walking with dignity to the doorway, 'to get myself some coffee.' The last words are spat as if this action is meant to be some sort of revenge, though Jack can't fathom why it would be.
'Well , all right, then! See if I care, Emma!' Billy snaps back, slumping forward as if this were the kitchen table at Kelsall Street, and this had been a row between him and Julie at dinner time. 'She's got no sympathy, 'er! No sympathy!'
'So if you're this upset, d'you reckon Grandad's not…'
There's no point even attempting to have a serious conversation with Billy. He shouldn't have tried. Billy cuts across his question, yakking on without even having heard, desperate to get his own agenda on the table.
'Julie should have let Francesca come to this! She has as much right as anyone else to be here, at her own Great-Grandad's wake! She's stolen my child, she 'as! Stolen her! Made her one of them unfeeling Julians instead of a Boswell. And Emma doesn't understand! She doesn't get it! I bet if I 'ad a child with her she'd be just the same as—'
'Jack, do summat helpful, take these cakes round, would you?'
Jack gives up.
He resorts to doing something he wouldn't attempt in a normal social situation—proof, he thinks, of the fact that he's getting a bit desperate to hear something that will help him understand…anything.
His target is stirring sugar into her coffee, facing away from him and utterly focussed on her task, and she jumps and spills half the bloody thing when he approaches her and puts a hand on her back.
Martina takes a moment to admonish him about the coffee stain on her blouse before regarding him with surprise and curiosity. She and Jack don't normally interact—not that they still carry the old prejudices from the pre-Joey-marriage days, it's just they have very little to talk about. They have managed to have the odd moment— notably when they'd been having dinner at Kelsall street a few years back, and the two of them had sat round the table watching a very preoccupied Joey and making bets on how long it would take to notice Billy had taken the vegetarian rissoles and mushrooms from his plate and replaced them with chicken.
And she and Leonora still phone one another frequently—an odd friendship formed by the fact that they had both fallen pregnant later in life than most, and an intervention on Joey's part had got them talking about it when Martina was having anxiety about giving birth two years shy of forty. She'd come round several times a week at one stage to receive words of encouragement from Leonora, but Jack had never really been a part of it. He'd always just sat on the sidelines, not listening while the two of them talked, or wandered off into another room. He could have stayed, he could have tried to strike up a conversation with her, but he just…well, he didn't see much point. He and Martina…it's not that they don't like each other, per se, it's just…they're different people. They don't click.
'Erm,' says Jack at his sister-in-law's raised eyebrow. 'It's really nice to see you, Martina. How are you?'
He's resorting to his usual desperate phrase.
Martina snorts and shrugs. 'It's a funeral. Naturally I'm grinning and gigglin'.'
'Oh,' he's not sure how to take her sarcasm. 'Yeh.'
'So…' she's stirring what's left of her coffee with her little finger. 'Ryan not with you?'
'We thought 'e was…' Jack curls his lip, 'too young for summat like this.'
A little bit of silence.
'You brought our Belle, didn't yer?'
'She's got to learn about death one o' these days.'
That seems a bit bleak—the kid's only three, for pity's sake—but exactly what Belle's parents would do, Martina with her woe-is-me attitude and Joey with his stern insistence that people face the world. In some respects, they're more suited than people give them credit for.
'Jack, you didn't come over 'ere to talk about my daughter.'
Well, at least she knows he's heading somewhere with this, and he can stop with the pointless small talk. He takes a sigh of relief and plants his feet a sturdy distance apart.
'I just wanted to ask somethin'.'
'Go on.' Martina leans back against the wall and crosses one ankle over the other.
'D'you, er…do you…' Jack puts his hands in his pockets, takes them out, adjusts the hideous tie Leonora had tied for him this morning while he wonders why this was supposed to be a good idea. It's not wise to start asking deep, philosophical questions of someone you've hardly said two words to outside of a Social Security context, but a part of Jack wants her response perhaps more than anyone else's. She's one of those glass-is-half-empty people, is Martina, and that makes her take on it all the more fascinating. Far too many of his family blither on or resort to the optimistic point of view when he chats with them.
'Do I what?' Martina looks down at her watch, only to discover she isn't wearing one.
'Do you…' he tries one more time, clearing his throat, 'do you believe in Heaven?'
She's utterly taken aback. Jack doesn't blame her—if he were her, it'd be the last thing he'd expect to hear too.
'Hmm,' she bites her lip, leaning her head right back against the wall as she breathes out through her teeth. 'I believe in Hell.'
Oh, that is classic Martina, that is.
'I've seen enough evidence of that.' Martina takes a sip of her coffee and hums. 'But stands to reason, doesn't it, if there's a Hell, there's got ter be Heaven. Doesn't it?'
'Yeh,' Jack isn't sure what she means, but he nods anyway. 'S'pose. I just never thought…I've seen you go to church with Joey, but I just didn't know if you were all that…if you...'
'Oh. Yeah,' she says, seeming to catch his drift. 'Yeah, I do, yeah.'
'Our side or the other side?'
'Both and neither.'
Jack really doesn't understand that.
'How can you be both...and neither?'
She shrugs. 'It's like coffee and tea, isn't it? You can drink both; you don't have to 'ave a preference for one over the other. As long as you're drinkin' something.'
'I don't get talk like that. I could've talked to Adrian if I wanted to hear talk like that.'
Martina rolls her eyes. 'All I'm sayin' is, the basic principle is the same, so why should I pledge loyalty to one side over the other? I'm perfectly all right with sittin' on the fence, goin' to Mass or to a service, listenin' to a priest or vicar. Doesn't make all that much difference in the end.'
'Our Billy's Julie was a bit that way.'
'Was she.' It's not a question. She's not particularly interested. Jack tries to get back to his original topic.
'So you do think then...when somebody dies...even if they do go to Heaven... everythin' they lived for 'ere isn't just sort of...wasted? Once it's gone? D'you think there's any point in carin' about...in havin' a family if they all go eventually?'
She chews on this briefly. Martina doesn't have a family, apart from the Boswells, by marriage. Her father is dead. She doesn't speak to her mother. She won't say what happened to her brother, though Jack's guess is he's dead too. If they were ever close, and if they're not now, she must understand what it feels like to have that end.
'Do I think there's any point,' she mutters under her breath, then pauses.
Her eyes flicker in a different direction, and Jack easily spots where her gaze has gone— to her Annabelle and Adrian's Davey, the former trying to climb on the latter's back, Aveline's Nick screeching something at them in an immature excitement that denies proper understanding of where they are, what this occasion actually is.
'Yes,' she says at last, her eyes still on the three of them, and it's not what Jack expected to hear from her at all, Martina, who cares about nothing except how to survive from one day to the next. 'Yes I do.'
It's a bit hard to reconcile this answer of Martina's with her general outlook on life, but at least he has a straight answer from someone. Martina thinks squeezing out a new generation and keeping the bloodline going is enough of a purpose to make a family worthwhile, and maybe that should be true, Jack thinks, but that doesn't take away that something is missing.
Anyway, Martina has, from what he's gathered, set the bar low for herself. She has such appallingly low expectations for her life that being put up the spout is the one and only real highlight of her existence. She has to believe creating a new generation is enough, because it's the only thing she's ever done that means anything to her. But what about when Annabelle grows up and leaves home? What happens if she outlives Joey? What if she gets no grandkids to carry on her and Joey's legacy? What will it all have meant then? She'll never get Joey and Belle back, will she? What will she do then, live in hope she meets with them in Heaven? Top herself to get back to them? (She might, actually, he thinks. Joey's told him in confidence she's been that way inclined before.) Even if she doesn't, even if she does get a grandkid one day or she and Joey do stay together and miraculously die at the same second, things won't always be the same. And she'll miss it, he reckons, even the bits she didn't like, just as he misses the old days with his siblings.
He shakes his head, trying not to think about it all again, turning back to the gloomy party and trying to occupy himself simply observing everyone, focussing on what he's still got, as Martina seems to have done.
The children—their children, the newest generation of Boswells, to grow up and drift apart in their turn—are getting more restless, Jimmy and Harris even starting up a tussle seemingly only out of boredom, which both Adrian and Irenee, despite ferocious looks and hand signals, do nothing to stop. The others gather around, smelling a full-blown fight, eager to see the results and beginning to holler at the pair for the sake of being involved.
Joey gets up and storms over to them.
'Eh, cut it out! This is a funeral, all right?' He doesn't shout, but his low, stern tones are enough to have the whole group of them sitting up and taking notice. 'I've noticed you all actin' up all afternoon and I'm warnin' you kids now, the next person to start messin' around is in enormous trouble. No more scuffles, no more squealin', no more runnin' around like you were raised in a farmyard—just behave yourselves. Okay?'
The little group nods guiltily.
'Show some respect!'
From her position on the floor, Annabelle looks up at Joey, big blue Martina-eyes wide and innocent, and then she crawls over to him, clutching his leg in a cuddle.
If Jack weren't upset and confused, he wouldn't be able to help a laugh. That kid is a master of the 'but I'm cute' act, already adept at turning on her charm to try and get out of a telling-off or a punishment. He remembers Joey being the same as a child, trying it on with their Mam—come to think of it, Joey employs a similar, though more mature tactic, on Martina, with limited success.
Today, though, in the bad mood that he is, Joey isn't having any of it.
'No, Belle,' he says, unwinding her arms from his leg, 'that applies to you as well. If a single one of you acts up again, just once…'
'Eh, come on, mate,' Jack hears himself say, his voice box going without him instructing it to, 'they're only bloody kids.' He's over there before he knows it. The children look up at him in mild astonishment.
'Jack,' Joey says, and he sounds tired, frustrated, grief-stricken, 'they're old enough to know better.'
Really? Belle is three. Ursula's the oldest one here and she's ten. He thinks of Ryan, not that far off in age from her, not even here, and before he knows it Jack's tongue is moving again.
'They're young enough not to feel the pain the way we do yet. We should let them 'ave that.'
Joey frowns at him, scared by this sudden bout of philosophical thought. Not that Jack isn't a little bit concerned by it himself, and apparently, he still isn't finished, what's more.
'You're tryin' to make them lit'le adults. They're not. You only get so much time before you realise things in life aren't as great as you thought, and you can't go back after that.'
'What are you sayin', Jack? I should let them run wild?'
'Er…' Jack isn't sure what he's saying. 'No.'
'Just…if they're not grievin' like we are, 'cause they don't get it…don't make them grieve. They're still at that age where nothin' sets you back for long, before the world starts draggin' you down. You don't wanna take that off 'em, do you?'
His mind is wandering back to Father Christmas, the first in a long line of disillusionments that have clouded his life.
Joey gives him an odd look, then turns back to the children, his voice softening. 'If you want to play, go in the garden, and don't make a lot of noise. Okay?'
They nod, grateful for the concession, scramble up from the floor and slither towards the kitchen and the way out.
Annabelle pauses, goes and hugs Joey round his legs again.
'Yeah, okay, sweetheart, okay,' Joey says, ruffling her hair. She flinches away from this gesture for some reason and he rethinks and leans down to kiss her forehead instead. 'Okay. Just simmer down, all right? Play nicely.'
He still sounds slightly annoyed, but his usual gentleness has crept back in just a little. He sighs, shoulders heaving, pats Jack on the arm and wanders back over towards Nellie, looking, Jack thinks, a little too disillusioned himself. Perhaps Jack ponders, he's not the only person whose entire sense of certainty has been thrown off-balance by Grandad's passing.
They're about two hours into the wake, nearing the state when the food is all dwindling and everyone's getting a bit on the tipsy side, when Joey clinks a spoon on his glass and raises his hands for a hush.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' he begins, and everyone's conversations die down to a lull, then a silence, 'I'd like to say a few words, if I may.'
They've already given him permission to do so by not interrupting him, and so Joey goes on.
'Before I start, I'd just like to thank everyone who helped prepare for today and mucked in with the arrangements—we sent off our Grandad in style, and I think he'd appreciate that. It's certainly a far cry from the funeral our Uncle Cyril had—and I think Grandad would be happy to know his final restin' place on earth is somewhere a bit more comfortable than inside a handbag floatin' to Blackpool and back forever.'
A ripple of laughter makes its way round the room, those who remember genuinely affected by Joey's reference to that disastrous day, those who don't joining in out of politeness.
'I think I can speak for all of us when I say Grandad will greatly be missed. It'll take some gettin' used to, not listenin' for the inevitable phone call about dinner and bein' told to piss off every time we pass his 'ouse.'
Another few titters, but mostly out of obligation. Joey is trying too hard to keep it light-hearted; his smile is fake, his tone of voice too affected. He's inwardly devastated and it seeps through the cracks of his exterior attempt at cheerfulness and pleasantness. Jack has seen him like this before- mostly following his separation and divorce from Roxy-but it touches more of a nerve now. It's another sign, he realises, of the fact that things are changing, that they already have and Grandad's death seals the fact. Joey was always the stern older brother, the strong protector, and even though he's slipped in both these duties from time to time, it really only hits home now that he's not looking out for his siblings the way he used to, that his own life now comes first, that his own pain needs addressing before theirs, that he can't pretend to take everything in his stride all the time, and Jack and the others certainly can't depend on him to sort their problems anymore.
'No, but...in all seriousness...' Joey drops the faux-cheerful voice, his deflation showing through even more, 'we will all miss him. He's been the leader of our little pack for such a long time, the founder member of the family we've built for ourselves today. Without him, we wouldn't all be here together now, but, er...' Joey flicks something out of his eye, 'but I know that we'll all go on to do him proud. And I know that Grandad, right now, is happy, and is lookin' down on all of us with love.'
He sighs deeply and raises his glass. Everyone hastens to copy.
'To our Grandad.'
An echo of our grandad ensues and everybody drinks.
Jack can't take it anymore. He clunks his glass down on the coffee table and leaves the room.
The kids are still in the garden, but they take no notice of their uncle, too enthralled in their game, and so Jack feels sufficiently alone to have a bit of a cry. He sits down on the garden bench, worried momentarily it might give way underneath him- it's a hideously old, rusty thing, and knowing Joey, the fact that he hasn't replaced it with a shiny new one means it must have some sentimental value- sighing when it doesn't and leaning against the arm.
It's still treacherously sunny out here, but the long afternoon shadows creeping across the grass now seem a bit more fitting; thieving tendrils of darkness poised to snatch the light and colour out of his surroundings.
Jack doesn't turn around as Joey's footsteps through the grass get closer. He hears his brother exhale as he sits down beside him, and doesn't know what to say. Joey can't help him at the moment. Joey can't even help himself at the moment.
'What'd you come out 'ere for, then?'
'Just wanted to be away from all that.' Jack glances over his shoulder at him. Joey is crying. The sight unnerves him; he can count on one hand the number of times he's seen Joey cry; and so he turns away again.
'All what?' Joey asks through a mouthful of phlegm.
'Everyone in there. The whole lot. Everyone gathered in there talkin' about 'ow great Grandad was, when he's gone now and there's nothin' great about beggarin' off and leavin' everyone you love to mourn yer, and you with that rubbish speech banging on about all of us doin' 'im proud, and what are we doing? Schmoozing and getting drunk, and then goin' 'ome to our own families where we won't see each other again until the next time somethin' 'appens to one of us, and living lives of nothing in the meantime.'
Joey is silent for a while, perhaps surprised by the outburst, perhaps simply thoughtful, taking the points in.
'Do you remember,' Jack says, quietly this time, 'when we were little and you made me go and see if Father Christmas was there?'
Joey chuckles half-heartedly. 'Yeah.'
'But I saw Granny and Grandad doin' the presents. And it ruined it for me. It's...you can't keep holdin' onto somethin' once you know it's gone. This feels like that.'
Joey leans forward, elbows on knees.
'You did wha'?'
Joey turns to look him in the eye.
'I held onto it. I believed you, when you told me what you saw. I knew you had to be right. That it was too good to be true. But...I didn't want it to be. I told meself you were lying. Sometimes I even convinced meself. I wouldn't accept it until Mam told me straight from the horse's mouth.'
'But if you already knew, why'd you bother...'
'Because,' Joey says slowly, 'that way I still had hope. It was easier to live with. It's probably not real, but it might be, you know? It was the 'might' that stopped me despairin'. I still do it, you know. Hope. Even about things that're pointless. One day the phone might ring, and it'll be Oscar Hartwell on the other end. One day Martina might recognise that she's depressed and go and see a doctor about it, and leave that job for good before it destroys her. One day Dad might move back in with Mam. One day Shifty might give back the money he stole from Grandad. One day Grandad himself might appear from behind his front door again as if he was never away.'
He blinks slowly, trying, Jack thinks, to control his tears before they start falling again.
'None of those things are gonna happen, are they, Jack? But if I let meself accept that for even a minute I'd go mad. You know what I'm saying?'
Jack nods, sort of understanding. That's the difference between him and Joey, he realises. Jack lets go of things—grudgingly, but if something is lost to him, it's lost forever. Joey, for all his talk about facing up to reality, deep down will never give up on anything that matters to him, even if the possibilities of achieving it are long dead. He's being a bloody hypocrite, but that's not uncommon for Joey.
Jack wonders briefly which of them is better off. Joey spends his life willingly allowing himself to be deluded. But he's slightly happier in his delusion, in his little self-confessed fantasy bubble where someday, somehow, things might work out. Jack is miserable, can't see the point in much anymore, but at least he's not setting himself up for disappointment.
'I think I'd go mad if I tried to do that,' he says. 'I can't pretend something's okay when it's not. I normally get by, though, try to find something else instead, but...' he considers, 'it's just really getting to me today. Nothin' we've been through together means anythin'.'
'I wouldn't say that's true.'
Jack continues. 'And knowin' that...well with Grandad gone, we're not the same, are we? We're not the same family as we were. I mean, we weren't for a long time 'cause we've all moved out an' all, but... Grandad bein' gone sort of makes it permanent. That doesn't make sense, I know.'
'It makes sense,' says Joey. 'I wouldn't agree with it, though. We're still a family, just more...spread out.'
'It used to be the five of us against the world, though, didn't it? All of us gatherin' round tryin' to figure out how to stop Mam findin' out about Aveline's topless photoshoot and givin' Adrian money 'cause 'e was redundant and getting even with Yizzel and Charles 'cause they'd left a candlestick in me van. And goin' to those idiots in Phythian Street to get Grandad's canary back, and rippin' that bastard photographer's clothes off because he'd pushed our Aveline into posin' nude, and... we haven't done them things for a long time, I know. But it just occurred to me that we're never goin' back. Maybe I had that idea, like you, that one day we might, but now that's gone.'
Joey is thoughtful.
'It doesn't have to be.'
'You would say that, wouldn't yer?'
'But...just because Grandad's gone doesn't mean we can't stay close, now, does it?'
Jack shakes his head. 'We aren't close anymore. Not like we were. Grandad dyin' just seemed to make that more obvious.'
'What's goin' on?'
Adrian has now come up behind them, his black velvet waistcoat looking impressively shiny in the sun.
'Nothin' much,' Joey answers for the both of them, though Jack wouldn't necessarily agree with that statement. 'We're just chewing the fat. Thinkin' on life.'
'You know, I have to say,' Adrian says, 'I'm not taking this whole thing all that well.'
'Welcome to the club, sunshine,' says Joey, moving over for Adrian to sit down beside him. 'Welcome to the club.'
A moment of silence.
'What were you talking about?'
Joey and Jack look at each other.
'Just...what exactly Grandad's passing means to our family.'
'Apart from him bein' dead, of course,' Jack says, and then winces, because that didn't exactly come out right.
Thankfully, Adrian doesn't make some sort of superior comment, or reprimand him for not making sense.
'Yes. Well. I've been thinking about that, too.' He pauses, but both Jack and Joey sense something else is about to follow and don't bother replying.
'Harris's appendix burst a few weeks ago.'
The thought seems to come out of nowhere.
'What's that got to do with anything?' Jack says, and Joey kicks him for his insensitivity.
'He could have died,' says Adrian dramatically, angrily. 'And today is a recognition of death. Now— Grandad was old, and his time was about coming anyway. It doesn't mean it's good that he died, but it's a bit more natural, isn't it? The old hand in their lives, like passing the torch. But the young—it's like cutting a ribbon and watching it fray.'
'Is this a poem or wha'?' Jack moans, and Joey kicks him again.
'I suppose what I'm trying to say is… the night you phoned, Joey, and told me Grandad had passed away…I didn't cry half as much as when I did when I watched Harris in pain, and when I sat with him in the ambulance, and when they wheeled him off to have his appendix out. And I feel…I suppose, guilt, that I didn't weep for Grandad enough. Just because the old are expected to die…we take it for granted, don't we? Their time has come, they say. But they still had thoughts, didn't they? Dreams. A life. No matter when that life ends, it still mattered, and I still should've…' Adrian is having trouble articulating. He puts a fist to his mouth, shudders, sighs.
Joey's tears have started flowing again.
'You don't have to feel guilty, son,' he says, putting a hand on Adrian's shoulder. 'I think we'd all be in that position.' He inclines his head to where the children are playing as the fiery flash of Annabelle's hair streaks past. 'If anythin' like that happened to her…it's natural, son. It's bein' a parent. And it doesn't mean you didn't love Grandad, does it? It's a different sort of love. But it's still strong, sunshine. It's still strong.'
'It happened around the time Grandad first…well, when they diagnosed him. We didn't mention it, not with everyone needing to be there for Grandad. But when Harris was waking up from his operation, and Irenee was there by his side, and I'd come to Grandad to keep up appearances in front of you, to be there…all I could think was how I wished I was with my wife and son instead. And now Harris is all right, and Grandad is dead, and I could've been…I could've spent that time…I didn't know he was really and truly on his way out…my heart is just...'angin' by a thread. Hangin' by a thread.'
'Why didn't you tell us, son?' Joey wipes his eyes. 'No-one would begrudge you the time to be with Harris and still have been with Grandad…and we'd have understood you still loved him…we would have, Adrian!'
'It's what I was saying, isn't it?' Jack says, finally seeing a point to the story he can tie in with his own troubles. 'We're none of us close anymore, are we? We don't tell each other what's bugging us anymore 'cause we don't wanna interrupt each other's lives. It's as if we just sort of...died. Not us, us, but as a group who understood each other, well, yeah. We lost that.'
Adrian is crying too, now, the grief of Grandad's loss finally hitting him, or perhaps it's just the overwhelming guilt, but he's crying all the same. That makes three of them. Joey puts an arm around each of his brothers and they just sit there, each despairing for their own reasons.
'My shoes,' comes another voice from further up the garden, 'are getting ruined from this mud! Aw, 'ey, Joey, you wanna do somethin' about out here. I can barely walk!'
Joey removes his arms from them, squeezes against Jack in time for Aveline to set herself down between him and Adrian, raising her feet in front of her and examining them in disgust. She may have opted, for once, for a skirt that reaches below the knee, but her stilettos are as hideously tall as ever, and are currently coated right up to the heel in mud. Jack smirks in spite of himself, picturing the little holes he's sure are now all down the garden, indicating where she's sunk.
'At least if you can't run from your attackers you've always got yer whistle,' he quips.
'Oh, very funny, ha,ha.' Aveline folds her arms. 'I haven't worn a whistle since I was a young girl.'
'Now you're an old girl.' It's too easy to fall back into the old ways of teasing her.
'Well if you're not young and you're not old, what are yer?'
'Oh, Joey, tell 'im...'
'Okay, that's enough of that,' Joey says half-heartedly. 'So what's the matter with you, then, Princess? What's hit you hardest about today? While we're sharin' out the grief. So far Jack's disillusioned about both the meaning of life and the dissolution of the fam-i-ly, Adrian's feelin' guilty he hasn't mourned enough yet...'
'And 'e's got false hope,' says Jack, jerking his thumb at Joey.
'Yeah, that,' Joey says, in a way which betrays there's more on his mind.
'Go on,' Adrian has picked up on it, reaches over and rubs his arm. 'That and what?'
'And Shifty.' Extraordinarily, Joey looks heartbroken as he says this. 'He didn't come.'
'Well, so wha'?' Jack shrugs. 'Good riddance to the bastard, I say. No-one wanted him 'ere, did they? And you said yourself when we were workin' out the arrangements, Martina would've 'ad a fit if 'e was here in her 'ouse.'
'Grandad wanted him,' Joey says sadly. 'That's all that matters, isn't it? Grandad wanted him, and he wasn't there. Not even at the hospital. He called for 'im, on that last day. Kept askin' for him and askin' for him. I tracked down his phone number...must've left about ten messages on 'is answerphone. Didn't turn up. Didn't even say goodbye. Grandad died feelin' rejected by 'im.'
'That's somethin' I didn't wanna know.' Jack feels depression set in even further. He'd hoped that at least Grandad would have found peace, gone to his rest having looked back, if not on a meaningful life, on a loving family. Shifty is a bloody little ratbag, he really is. And it hurts Joey worst of all, he knows, because Shifty and Joey were best friends, once upon a time. Inseparable, before Shifty's life of crime devoured him.
'I don't know if it was…' Joey inhales, the sound almost a hyperventilation, 'to get back at me, or…'
'You mean because you nicked his girlfriend?' Jack smirks but it's forced, an attempt to cheer Joey.
'I didn't nick his girlfriend,' Joey says, exasperated after the umpteenth time of hearing it. 'She left him for me of her own free will.'
'That's what Lilo Lil said to our Mam. Lilo Joey.'
'Stop it,' the frown on the eldest Boswell's face becomes more pronounced. 'I'm serious.'
'Yeah, we know,' Jack says, clapping him on the back. 'We know.'
'I didn't mean just because of that anyway… it might've been because I told him he couldn't come back after he took Grandad's money…or because Mam locked him out that night when he tried to get in through the window…I don't know why, but whatever the reason, Grandad was the one who suffered for it. He loved Shifty—and I thought Shifty loved 'im. It doesn't seem fair he'd take it out on a dyin' old man.'
'I couldn't believe it, even of him,' Adrian says. 'If—'
'Eh, what's all this secret gathering stuff about?!' Billy suddenly appears in front of them as though having teleported there, his face red. 'Why've you left me out of your discussion?'
'Steady on, son. No-one's left anyone out,' there isn't any more room on the bench, so Joey waves his hand vaguely at one of the arms, 'come and join us.'
Billy ignores the indication to sit on the arm of the bench and inserts himself between Aveline and Adrian, the result being that in the ensuing crush one of Joey's legs ends up on top of Jack's, and Aveline ends up in what's left of Joey's lap.
'What are you lot all conspiratoring about then?'
'Conspiring,' Adrian rolls his eyes. 'And we're not. We're just sharing feelings. Problems. Difficulties.'
'I've got feelings to share too, you know!' Billy says crossly. 'And problems, and the other things and all!'
'Well, go on then, son,' Joey says, 'spill yet guts.'
'It's Francesca, isn't it? Julie wouldn't let 'er come! Shouldn't she be 'ere, shouldn't she be with her family today? But no, Julie won't let her be a Boswell, Julie won't let her be 'ere with everyone else when her Grandad is gone…'
'He's her Great Grandad,' Adrian says quietly.
'That an' all.'
'My daughter is growin' up not knowin' her family, and now they're goin' and she'll never get a chance!' Billy joins the others in crying. 'Sometimes I wish it was Julie in that box instead of Grandad.'
He hesitates, inclines his head towards Joey. 'Is that bad?'
'I don't believe for a minute you mean that, son,' Joey says, reaching over to ruffle his hair. 'You're just angry and upset. The same as I don't really wish it was Shifty in there, either. It's just easier to take the hurt out on those who hurt us, isn't it?'
'Erm...yeah,' Billy says, not really sounding like he understands. 'S'pose.'
'And it's okay to feel hurt about Julie,' Joey says gently.'We've all spilled out different reasons for hurtin' today.'
'I haven't,' Aveline pipes up.
'Well, what is yours, then?'
'I just...' she pauses. 'I just really miss him.'
She bursts into tears and Joey folds his arms around her.
'The way he used to call me 'duck' and complain about his birthday presents, and phone us up from next door, and give daft advice when we were strugglin'…'
There's something alarmingly touching, Jack thinks, about Aveline's admission, about her tears. He and the others are all missing Grandad, but at the same time, they've all got their own, slightly more selfish reasons for grieving, whether it be a loss of sense of security or grief about their own children. Not that that makes their pain any less important, not that it doesn't matter that Adrian's facing yet another moral dilemma and Billy's daughter didn't come and Shifty didn't turn up; those things are still relevant, should still be counted. But there's something quite nice, Jack reflects, about the fact that Aveline is mourning just because she misses Grandad. She misses him simply for who and how he was, and though he might not have done anything particularly noteworthy, his life as it was mattered to her.
If someone values you, Jack considers, just as you are, if they can see value in everything you did, no matter how daft or insignificant, perhaps it's not much of a legacy, but just perhaps, Jack thinks, it means your life was still worth something.
He drifts into a strange thought coma, the notion of this blanking his brain to everything else for a while as he wonders, weighs this up. He thinks his siblings are still talking, but he's not making out any words. He watches an image of Grandad burn its way into his vision, replacing eventually with an image of Leonora and Ryan, and he studies both mental pictures, not really forming any coherent thoughts but simply observing what his mind is conjuring up.
The others drift out of the conversation too after a few minutes, the five of them staring in different directions as they ponder. It's just like the old days for a brief moment, all of them absorbed in their own reasons for despairing, all of them taking comfort from the fact that they can, in turn, tell the others about their particular problems, even if no-one comes up with a solution to any of them. It's not going to be like this much anymore, Jack knows. It hardly is now, and they'll leave here today and go off on all their separate tracks again, back to their own stations. But if they can have this, if they can still have this sometimes, if they can still converge in times of trouble or times of joy, perhaps that might be enough. They're never going to go back to the way they were, and Jack knows that full well. But they still love each other, the five of them still do congregate, forsaking the others and automatically drawing near to each other when they need guidance, and even on a lesser scale, that's still something to treasure. It might start tapering off even more as they get older, Jack realises— Jack is sure, actually, has already accepted that fact— but that's all the more reason to hang onto what they still do have now, before it's gone, rather than mourning its loss before that loss has occurred.
'Anyone wanna get anythin' else off their chests?' Joey asks after a time, tightening his arms around Aveline's waist. 'Or more of the same? Princess?'
'No,' she says, stretching her legs out in front of her, making a face of distaste at her shoes. 'Not really.'
Aveline pauses and twists around to look up at him.
'You do think he's happy now, don't you, Joey? In the Catholic Heaven, do you think?'
'There's only one Heaven, sweetheart,' Joey shakes his head fondly and kisses her cheek. 'It's the same one for all of us.'
'That's what Oswald said,' Aveline gets up and smooths down her skirt. 'I told Mam!'
'Anyone else? Billy?'
'I still wish Julie would swap places with Grandad,' Billy says, but mercifully doesn't elaborate.
'And Adrian, I'll come round tomorrow, if you like. We can talk…I'll drop in with somethin' for Harris, make up for not bein' there for his operation.'
Adrian smiles weakly. 'Thanks.' His heart doesn't really sound in it, he sounds, if anything, a bit as though that's the last thing he wants, but Jack can tell he appreciates the gesture.
Jack thinks about it for a few seconds.
'Nah.' He'd just be repeating himself, and at the moment, he isn't despairing quite so much. A strange sort of acceptance has settled over him, perhaps slightly more pleasant than the grudging resignation he'd succumbed to before. They're all here. Then in an hour or two, they won't be. Then, perhaps, in a few days, or weeks, or months, they will again. It's the way things are now.
'Shall we head back in, then? I'm sure our lovely ladies will be missing us.' He considers and revises for Aveline's benefit. 'And lovely gentlemen.'
They sigh, they stretch, they stand up. The sun has disappeared behind a cloud, and soon will have disappeared behind the horizon as well. Jack glances at his watch and realises it's later than he thought.
'You lot might wanna come inside now!' Joey calls over to the children. 'It'll be dark soon.'
'Aw, Daaaaaaaaaad!' comes a voice that probably belongs to Annabelle.
'Hurry up, now!' he calls again, and then turns to his siblings. 'Shall we?'
They don't do anything drastic, nobody grabs anybody's hand, nobody looks at each other in any meaningful way, they fall out of step into a ragged cluster and their return to the house is punctuated by children pushing in between them and fighting each other to be the first in the door, but still, for just the smallest of moments, it's as if they're still connected by something, as if they're going in there together, a united little team ready to take on the world.
Nothing much in the way of anything happens after that. Martina gets a bit fed up with playing hostess and starts clearing people's cups and glasses away. Most of the kids doze off. Nellie gets out a photo album which nobody is really interested in looking at, and slowly, the numbers dwindle as everyone pushes off, promises of picking cars up tomorrow floating through the air as those who've had a few too many impinge on the hospitality of those who haven't for lifts home.
Jack goes home, stumbles through the door of Number 41, kisses Leonora and grabs Ryan in a hug. He's worn out, his head still buzzes, but after a harrowing day like the one he's had, he reasons, that's probably to be expected. He picks at his dinner, despite how good it is—much as he tries to take care of things at home when Leonora works long hours, cooking is never going to be his forte. He hasn't got the skills. At least Aveline seems to have inherited the same food preparation dyslexia he has.
'Are you all right, darling?' Leonora finally asks when they're gathered in the parlour afterwards, Jack having stared at the wall for at least half an hour for no particular reason.
'Well, I just went to a funeral today,' he says absently, still staring at the wall, or perhaps through it, because he's really not focussing on anything in particular, 'so I suppose I'm just a bit knackered after all the excitement.'
It occurs to him he's copying Martina's earlier sarcastic statement to him, but Jack has always taken to repeating others when he's too tired, too nervous or too confused to come up with something on his own. It annoys Adrian no end, but he's a verbal person, is Adrian. He could be physically exhausted but always come up with something new to say. Jack is the other way round: his mental energy expends more easily, but he can always find the strength to communicate through a gesture, an action. Right now, even as he lets someone else's words do the talking for him, he's got his hand on Leonora's arm, trying to convey something more through the motion.
Leonora looks from him to Ryan.
'I think it might be time you went to bed.'
Ryan makes a face. 'It's awfully early.'
It never ceases to amuse Jack that his son has picked up his accent but Leonora's eloquent way of speaking. It sounds odd, mismatched, but at the same time, he loves it.
'I think Mother's right,' he tells him. 'You've got school tomorrer.'
'I don't have to go every week.'
Jack and Leonora look at each other.
'Well, yeh, you sort o' do, don't yer?'
'You just want to talk about things when I'm not there. I miss everything important.'
'No-one is going to miss anything, darling,' Leonora says, taking his hand and pulling him up off the floor. 'It's just time you got some sleep, that's all.'
Ryan doesn't look convinced, but he obediently leans up and kisses her goodnight all the same.
'Eh, c'mere, son.'
Jack opens an arm to him, pulling him close.
'Love ya, pal,' he whispers. 'You won't ever forget me, will yer?'
Ryan gives him a strange look.
'Why on earth would I forget you?'
His lad is dumbfounded. Jack studies his face and decides to let it go.
'Nah, you wouldn't, would yer? Doesn't matter, does it?'
The strange look Ryan is giving him increases in intensity. Jack releases him, claps him lightly on the shoulder.
'Go on, you. Off to bed with yer.'
'Oh, rot,' Ryan says, but he goes all the same.
'What's the matter, Jack?' Leonora cajoles, coming and seating herself so close to him they're practically glued together. 'What's bothering you?'
'It's just life, isn't it?' he says faintly. He's not really sure what else to say. Life happens. Then it ends. And the lives of those connected to yours sort of splinter. Being with his siblings today was like gluing the pieces of splintered wood together—they hold together, but they're not as strong. Or is it that they're not as strong, but at least they hold together? What they used to have is lost. But they still have something. They still have something. But what they used to have is lost. It's complicated, is death. Is loss. Is going on after.
It's too much effort to articulate this to Leonora, so he doesn't. She already knows, anyway. She's been through this before. Things aren't ever the same. But in time, you get used to that, and you get on with things, no matter how changed they are.
Leonora doesn't push him to say anything, just rests her head against his and sighs. She's far away, and Jack wonders if her mind is harking back to the life she'd had before him. That was a family gone. And yet here she is, on the other side of that, with him and Ryan. Here he is, on the other side of Grandad going, and he has to accept that.
But accept that things won't go his way is something he has always done. He lost Father Christmas. Granny. Marjorie and Brenda, even though he can't remember exactly why anymore. He lost the ring that could have made him a fortune. He lost the business opportunity of a lifetime in LA, he lost Treasure, Rachel, Uncle Eddie. And he's never really got over any of them, or what it's meant to have to adjust. But, unlike Joey, he doesn't cling to delusions of returning to the good old days. He plods on, and he'll plod on again, sigh, accept it, go on.
Grandad is gone. But Jack isn't. Grandad's blood still runs through his veins. Jack will still go on, be one piece of the family they have left, the new family that's being built where the old one once stood.
When you lose something, you can never get it back. But you're still there, and you're still something to someone, and, Jack supposes, that's enough. It'll do.
He sighs, wraps his arm round Leonora, and resigns himself to going on.
Sorry. Don't hate me. RIP Carla. We can't have you back but we are forever grateful for the legacy you gave us.