It was a warm day, even this far into autumn. The sun stood high and looked down upon the earth with its lonely, yellow eye. But lacking a pupil, what could it possible see? Or was it all pupil, and thus taking notice of everything?
"Anabel!" a voice hissed. "Anabel! Stop starting at the sun, you'll go blind, you will!"
Anabel lowered her gaze and turned it to the commanding voice, answering it with a low: "Yes, Madame."
"It's not a day for gazing up, but down!" the voice continued. It belonged to the funeral officiant, an old lady (Anabel couldn't decide her age, nor could anyone else) that had had this job for as long as anyone could remember. She was tall and slender as a pine tree, with arms in constant motion, as if the wind mistook them for branches. If she'd ever had a name, it was now long lost; people in Badgerbrough just referred to her as "Madame".
"Madame?" Anabel asked.
"If the sun is an eye, then whom do it belong to?"
"What kind of question is that, Anabel? That's hardly appropriate for a lady such as yourself, nor is it the right time."
"I'm not a lady of anything particular", Anabel said and gazed into the hole in the ground with a warm smile.
"That's because you're not married, which I find strange and a bit shocking, especially at your age. But now is not the time."
"No, Madame, it's not."
They stood silent for a while, looking down on the wooden coffin. It lacked a bottom, due to the old traditions of Badgerbrough; it was believed that the dead body would start to crawl to its afterlife after a couple of days, a place found much deeper in the ground. There it could finally let go of its soul and return the remains of the body to the earth. To guide it right, the bottomless coffin would force it to traverse downwards. But if no coffin is used (or it is turned the wrong way) the deceased will craw up to the surface instead, believing it to be the afterlife, and start wandering aimlessly.
"Do you have anything you wish to say to your father, Anabel?"
"No, Madame. Nothing that comes to mind."
"Really? Nothing at all? You wish to send your father on his crawl without some last words from his only daughter?"
"I can talk to him at any time, Madame, just as I have done with my dear mother my entire life. No need to rush words now", Anabel said with a smile.
"Very well. But since there's only the two of us here attending this funeral, I find it necessary as the town's funeral officiant to say at least some words about your father."
"Please, madame, it isn't." Anabel grabbed Madame's hands, and pressed them gently. "If you speak, it's a farewell. Can't we just let father continue on to his next journey?"
Madame didn't know where to start; the act of sending the deceased on his last crawl without a word of comfort was unthinkable! As the funeral officiant of Badgerbrough she felt a great responsibility, not only towards the living and the dead, but to the old procedures that always had been.
But as she was about to tell the young woman about how upsetting this lack of formalities were, she met Anabel's eyes; they soothed her, like a hush that could break through any violence.
"You're as rebellious and peculiar as your father was", Madame said, "but you share more than your name with your mother."
"Thank you, madame."
They took one last look at the coffin before heading back to town. As they started walking, Anabel suddenly said with a curious voice: "Maybe it's father's eye? The sun, I mean."
"Don't talk nonsense, Anabel", Madame said. "The sun is the sun, and that's that."
But she couldn't stop thinking about what Anabel had said. It made sense, after all. As curious as he may have been, there was one thing old Billobi never would be able to witness: his own funeral.
The 2016 Cartographic Review!
1 hour ago