It felt like bleak midwinter, the earth standing hard as iron, even if no frosty wind made moan.
For Gerry, it couldn’t have been a bleaker day. Was it midwinter? He didn’t really care if it was or it wasn’t. He stared into the rectangular hole at his feet, a gaping black gash in the snow. The snow that had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.
He thought on all those wooden boxes, the smell of floral tributes decaying in the sun – or rain. He saw the huddles of people. Families holding it together for the occasion, passing acquaintances crying their eyes out, men hiding their fears behind hands or handkerchiefs. And now it was his turn. He looked up.
The sky, a billowing canvas of tainted grey, was stretched with snow that had yet to descend. The child in him hoped it would fall in great flurries, with giant flakes icing the hats and bare heads, whiting black coats, denying the mourning.
The bell began its dull tolling. He stamped his feet, turned and walked towards the church.
The vintage Triumph was where he had left it. An old man had stepped inside the church’s garden to look.
‘Ah, good morning, Father, I thought I recognised it. She’s a real beauty.’ Then, realising why Gerry was there, he shook his head and assumed a grim expression. ‘I was sorry to hear about your dad. Is it today?’
Gerry nodded. ‘And I’m going to be late if I’m not careful, promised I’d go in the car with my mum and my sister. Will I see you at the Mass, Joe?’
The old man looked a little sheepish. ‘No, wife’s got the dinner on. But we’ll be thinking of you.’
He gave a sort of nod of his head and hurried off down the road.
Gerry kicked off his dad’s old turquoise Triumph, its silver trim gleaming despite the gloom, and rode the short distance home. There would be crowds at the Mass. His dad had not had the chance to retire, to lose the contacts a headmaster made. Dropped dead at the end of the school’s nativity play. Ironic, really.
Yes, all those years of dedication to the children of the town had made him not just a well-known figure, but a well-loved one, Gerry liked to believe.
Old Joe would not be missed in the crowd. Would not be welcome, some would say. His son had murdered Gerry’s uncle, his dad’s baby brother. He corrected himself. His dead dad’s baby brother.
None of them would ever forget it, especially Gerry. The image never faded. But it was a priest’s duty to forgive.