Christmas at Snowflake Lodge by CP Ward

 

1

The Funeral

It feltkind of strange to be sharing a joke at a funeral, but Mavis Johns had not registered high on the affection meter of many of the people who had known her. In fact, even her sister, Delores, was having a chuckle with one of the waiters manning the heavily loaded drinks table.

Jessica Lemond started as her father, Benjamin, came up behind her, tapping her on the shoulder. ‘Do you think we should get him home soon?’

‘Who?’

Benjamin poked a finger back over his shoulder. ‘Dad. Your grandpa. He’s over there trying to pick up the undertaker.’

‘Literally pick up?’

Benjamin winced as though the thought of saying the words out loud left a funny taste in his mouth. ‘No … he’s single again, now, isn’t he? He’s on the pull.’

‘Dad, he’s ninety-two.’

‘Exactly. Not much time left. And with Mavis out of the way, he’s got the keys to the cheque book back again hasn’t he?’

‘You don’t really think…?’

Benjamin patted her gently on the shoulder again, as he might have once done when she was five, shortly before a piano recital or a school play. She considered reminding him she was twenty-nine, and the owner of her own business, albeit one of which he’d never approved, nor shown any interest.

‘Be a love and go play gooseberry, won’t you? We’ll either end up with another funeral or another marriage on our hands, and to be honest, it really is about time he put his feet up.’

‘Can’t we just let him go out with a bang?’

‘What?’

Jessica slapped a hand over her mouth. ‘Oh, I didn’t mean literally with a … oh, Jesus.’

‘Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain, dear,’ said her mother, Emelia, swanning over and putting an arm around Jessica’s shoulders. Wearing a floral dress which might have been more appropriate at a summer fair, Emelia Lemond had never bothered to hide her dislike for her father-in-law’s third wife. ‘Great party, isn’t it? I can’t wait for the karaoke.’

‘I’ll be long gone by then, I hope,’ Jessica said. ‘I have a booking.’

‘Oh, God, he’s slipping her his number,’ Benjamin said.

‘At least that’s all he’s slipping her,’ Emelia said. ‘The dirty old sod. And you can pack it in with the Gods and Jesuses as well.’

‘What?’ Benjamin frowned, then let out a huff. He gave Jessica a little shove in the back. ‘Go on, love, quick. Save that poor woman from my letch of a father. Or at the very least, save us from having to hear all about his conquest at Sunday lunch next week.’

Jessica found herself hobbling on uncomfortable heels across the dancefloor, leaving her parents to swing into a jive as the music continued its inappropriate joviality. Grandpa, propped up on a walking frame, was leaning over the undertaker, a stern, masculine woman in her early fifties who wore a man’s suit over a black frilled blouse.

‘You have YouTube, don’t you?’ he was saying, his voice containing a fluttery waver that sounded as though he could pass out at any moment. ‘All my best gags are on there. Why did my brother lose his job in a lemon factory? Because he couldn’t concentrate.’

The undertaker laughed with such sudden ferocity that Jessica stumbled, catching the heel of her shoe in a crack in the floor tiles at the same moment. She twisted, back-ending the trestle table just at the moment the undertaker thumped the tabletop hard enough to make a large bowl of trifle shudder. Jessica’s bum caught the lip, and while she didn’t see the sudden cascade of sponge, jelly, and whipped cream, she felt it soaking the back of her dress, gunk running down over her hips and thighs.

She closed her eyes. When she opened them, Grandpa was staring at her with an incredulous look on his face. ‘Oh. What happened to you, love? A party for one, is it? Hang on, I’ll just get my spoon.’

If there was a joke buried in his words somewhere, it was lost on Jessica. The undertaker, however, broke into another horrifying guffaw. Jessica closed her eyes, for once feeling envious of Mavis, now entirely reduced to dust.

‘You didn’t have to drink all of the punch, dear,’ Emilia said, taking a brief break from the dancefloor to check on her daughter, sitting on a sofa chair against the wall of the community centre, an empty plastic beaker lolling in her hand.

‘I didn’t,’ Jessica said, aware she was slurring. ‘I tried to, but Grandpa siphoned what was left into a flask to take home.’

‘Oh, he’s left, has he?’

‘With the undertaker, about half an hour ago. I saw them getting into a taxi.’

Emilia laughed. ‘Well, at least she’s an appropriate person to be on hand if he overexerts himself.’

‘Mum, stop! That’s disgusting.’

Emilia, however, was on a roll. ‘That randy old sod. At his wife’s funeral too. What a way to celebrate finally being rid of that witch, by banging the undertaker.’

‘Please, Mum,’ Jessica said, covering her ears. ‘I want this nightmare to end.’

‘Didn’t you have to go to work tonight? Cleaning someone’s pipes or something?’

Jessica groaned. ‘I’m a plumber. Can you please quit the stupid jokes? This is supposed to be a funeral.’

‘Ah, but what a funeral. Who could possibly have expected that sow to fall off a ladder at her age? She was what, forty-five?’

‘Forty-seven.’

‘And a yoga instructor, a climbing teacher, and what else was it?’

‘A professional skydiver. She presented some documentary or other on cable.’

‘So unexpected, wasn’t it? And look at him … her ashes are still warm to the touch and he’s out reliving his youth.’ Emilia leaned close, a conspiratorial grin on her face. ‘Your father won’t hear a word of it, but between you and me, do you think he knocked her off?’

As though on cue, a flashing blue light appeared outside the window. Jessica stood up and peered outside, just in time to see three police cars pulling into the community centre car park.

Emelia was still grinning. ‘Told you, didn’t I?’