‘Jesus, Tania--- you know that get them going. Shit--- we don’t wanna be here long but if you keep doing that, we wil never get out of here.’ I looked at my little sister. I don’t think it had quite hit her yet. I think she believed that Mum was coming back through the front door of the house where we were staying. Sure the couple who were looking after us did their best to make us feel at home, but it just wasn’t home. Tania may have only been eight, but she knew how to get me going.
‘I didn’t ask to come here! I want Mum.’ Her little face seemed to crumple up like a piece of old paper. For a while I thought she looked a lot older. I tried to calm her down.
‘Tania----- I reckon you know what’s happened. We’re gonna have to get on with it eh? We have to get ready for the funeral. Come on. Let’s give her a good send off.’ My words didn’t hit the spot, not in the way I had hoped anyway.
‘But what’s gonna happen to us then? Won’t Dad come back and get us or Grandma?’ Her voice had a pleading quality, one that I had no hope of answering without making matters worse. I could hear the couple getting ready to take us in their bedroom down the hall.
‘The social worker said that they are trying to find Granma in Aussie, but the last address wasn’t right. You know that Mum and Dad weren’t talking to them.’ Tania’s eyes were glistening with tears. I think she was just about all cried out. I had to be strong for her.
‘But can’t we go there and look for her Tom?’
‘I wish we could Tania, but I’m not old enough to get passports and get the money too. We gotta stay here for a while. I promise that one day we will find grandma.’ I crossed my fingers like Mum had taught me when I was younger, when I knew I was telling a porky. We were interrupted by a knock on the bedroom door. The couple had let us share the room--- just as well because I don’t think that Tania would have slept if she was away from me.
‘Tania--- Tom--- are you ready yet?’ Mrs Carver said as she entered the room. She cast her glance over us, satisfied that we were almost ready. ‘That’s a nice dress dear. Did you get it for birthday?’
Tania stopped her fussing around and looked at me, as if I was going to answer for her. ‘It’s okay Tania--- just answer,’ I said.
‘Mum gave it to me last Christmas,’ she said in a tiny voice and then burst into tears. Mrs Carver came right into the room and put her arms around my sobbing sister. After a few seconds, Tania’s sobs diminished, apart from the occasional hiccup sound.
‘Let it out honey. I know it’s not fare when you lose your mum, especially at your age.’ I know the lady meant it, because she and her husband had been really kind to both of us.
‘But I want to go home--- to our house,’ Tania said. I thought she was going to start her wailing again so I told her what I thought would settle her down.
‘Tania, you know what I told you last night. We were only renting the house and the landlord wants it back. We couldn’t live there alone anyway.’
‘You are very mature for your age Tom,’ Mrs Carver said as she let Tania out of her arms. Tania didn’t attempt to move away. She looked washed out and there was a look of hopelessness in her eyes. ‘How about we go to the funeral and we talk about what happens later eh?’
Tania sneaked a look at me to see if I was going along with Mrs Carvers’ suggestion. I knew the lady was right so I nodded.
‘Okay, but I mean it---- I want us to go home. Dad will come back I’m sure.’ I didn’t have the heart to break the news that things were never going to be the same for us, so I just kept quiet and pretended to tie my laces again.
‘Right ----- that’s settled then,’ Mrs Carver said, relief showing on her face. ‘How about you come out to the car when you are ready and we can head off to the church. It was a command rather than a question, so I stood up and checked that Tania was following as I left the bedroom. A few minutes later we drove out onto the main road towards town. The traffic was light and five minutes later Mr Carver parked the car outside the church. There were only about six cars there, and I suspected that most of those were to do with the running of the funeral, an ugly black Hurst amongst them.
Tania had been unusually quiet during the short drive to the church. As we pulled up a few meters away from the Hurst he said, ‘Is Mummy in there---- in that box?’ Mrs Carver hesitated before answering.
‘Yes she is dear. We’ll just go into the church shall we and then they can start.’
‘Oh--- okay then. Can we sit at the front so we can say goodbye to her properly?’ ’ I was surprised at the change in her mood, but knowing her from past ‘difficulties’, I knew that things could swing around like a puppy mid-flight in a game.
I helped Tania out of the car. Before I could stop her she rushed into eh church. We followed her and even I was shocked at the emptiness of the place. Mr and Mrs Carver approached me from behind and I felt a hand on my shoulder. ‘How about we sit in the front row? I know you’re sad about there being no friends here to send your mum off.’
I must admit that I hadn’t thought about it before then, but now as I surveyed the empty church I felt tears welling up, threatening to overflow onto the floor. I knew that we hadn’t really made friends in the district. Mum and Dad had always kept to themselves. Uncles, aunts and cousins, all lived in other towns and cities or in Aussie, like my grandmother, so we were quite alone. Now, when we faced Mum’s funeral, it really hit me that Tania and I were the only family members. Tania must have had a similar realization, because once again she set up a wailing that bounced off the hard surfaces of the little church walls. I attempted to calm her.
‘Come and sit down Tania and Tom,’ a man dressed in a Minister’s garb said quietly. His voice had an immediate effect on Tania. Once again she flipped her mood. She slowly moved towards the front pews and sat, quickly followed by the Carvers and me.
The sound of the Hurst being opened and the coffin being placed on a trolley could be clearly heard from the front where we were sitting. I turned around and was surprised to that only two men pushed the ungainly trolley down the aisle. I had always imagined about six people bringing the coffin in for a funeral. I turned to Mrs Carver but she must have anticipated my question.
‘They carry the casket out later dear ,but today we don’t have enough people to help, so we’ll mange won’t we?’
‘I am sure I can help with that,’ a voice said from behind us. We all turned. A middle-aged man with long scruffy hair had just sat in the pew behind us... ‘I’m your mum; s cousin from down the line---- Mick’s the name.
His eyes were steely blue, reminding me of a guy in a horror movie I had seen a few weeks ago on Television. A shiver snaked down my spine. I didn’t remember Mum ever talking about a cousin called Mick. But there was something else about him. Those eyes twinkled and made me want to know more about him. Now was not the time.
After the coffin was suitable placed the minister addressed us. My mind retreated to somewhere else. I’m buggered if I remember what he said but all of a sudden the three men, including Mick were taking the coffin back to the Hurst. Mrs Carver told us that we were going straight back to their house where she had a nice meal in the crockpot. She whispered something into Micks ear as he slowly accompanied Mum’s coffin back to the Hurst. He nodded and they disappeared out the front of the church.
‘Aren’t we gonna burry Mum?’ Tania asked. She didn’t seem too upset----yet.
‘No dear---- it’s all been arranged. They are taking your Mum to the crematorium and then she can go to heaven.’ My sister wasn’t stupid. Maybe it would have been better to have told her something more like the truth.
Tania stomped her feet, so hard that I thought she might injure herself. ‘I want to see where they put her!’ She ran out through the door, just as the Hurst started to pull out of the car park. Tania didn’t stop. She tore out through the entrance and we could hear her screaming, ‘Mummy---Mummy!’
A shadowy figure whisked past me and followed, narrowing the gap between my fleeing sister, finally catching up with her. He swept her off her feet, just in time, as a car veered away from them, nearly colliding. The driver shouted abuse and carried on down the road, passing the Hurst and accelerating away. Mick brought Tania back to us, set her down and winked at me.
‘Thanks----Uncl----Mick,’ I said.
‘Just call me Mick--- that’s fine. Now young lady, you don’t want to be running on that busy road---what with all those crazy drivers around, you could have been bowled over.’
Tania actually looked a little guilty. She looked up at Mick, unsure how to respond. Finally she said, ‘Where’s Mummy going?’
Mick didn’t beat about the bush like the rest of us had. ‘Look princess---you know that when people die that they have to be buried or cremated--- you know what cremated is?’
Tania shook her head, looking up at Mick towering above her. ‘No---do they put cream on her?’
Mick kept a straight face while looked away, just about busting. I think it was the first time I had smiled all day. Mrs Carver took the opportunity to bring a bit of order to the proceedings. ‘No dear--- some people like to be burnt when they die and then they have a little headstone or plaque in a place they loved. Perhaps that’s what we will do in a few months when you are feeling better.’
‘But I’m not sick----does it hurt--? I suppose it doesn’t eh, cause you don’t feel anything when you’re dead---right?’
‘That’s right little one,’ Mick said. You’re a big girl; now so you understand.
‘My names Tania --- not little one or princess,’ Tania replied. ‘What are we gonna do now?’
‘We’re all going back home now--- you too mick. I think you may want to get to know your young relatives.’
‘I was hoping you’d say that. I’ll bring my missus too, if that’s okay.