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J_Hutton
January 27th, 2011, 01:16 AM
Hi

I would appreciate any critique on this piece. Thanks in advance, J


She died after a road accident and today she will be cremated. I have been sitting on the kerb in my street for over an hour. It is an unusually hot autumn. My hands are clammy; my body is coated with a thin sheet of sweat and my shirt collar has fashioned an ungodly rash around my throat. It stings terribly and I had to wedge my fingers under my shirt to alleviate the pain. The hearse carrying the coffin has arrived now but my car is late. I am forced to sit and stare at my wife’s coffin while I continue to wait on my own transport to the crematorium.

My driver signals me to approach the car. I slowly stand up, finish my drink, readjust my tie and creep towards the car. Sweat is burning my face before I even reach the hearse. I convince myself that today will be over soon. I walk to my car as the driver holds the door open and then step inside. The driver walks around the car, gets in and prepares to drive. He acknowledges me in the mirror and nods. I smile back.

“You bearing up?” the driver asks.

“Just” I reply.

The silence leaves me vulnerable for a moment but I realise I am smiling. Today her body will be incinerated and yet I am smiling! By the evening my wife’s body will be gone and her remains will resemble cat litter.

“She died after a road accident,” The driver stares and smiles apologetically.

“Caught the guy yet?”

“How’d you know it’s a guy?”

The driver checks his mirrors, signals and begins our journey toward the crematorium.

My face has turned a deep red and my hands are sticky from the searing heat. It is difficult to open the car door. The driver comes to my assistance as I stare out of the window; family, friends, former lovers, former friends and many strangers are in attendance. I can feel their gaze yet no one has made direct eye contact. Instead a compulsion has taken hold of the people outside my black cocoon which forces them all to inspect their shoes. Some kneel down and remove dirt with their fingers, while others polish their shoes on the back of their trousers. There is silence as I walk slowly in to the crematorium.

I stand under the arch of the entrance door and music begins from inside the hall. The quality of sound is dreadful and the speakers produce a clanging noise which reverberates around the hall. Every drum beat sounds like and iron bar crashing on a radiator. The room is large with grey painted walls. There is a large stain-glass window depicting the resurrection behind the pulpit.

The funeral directors carry my wife’s coffin purposefully up the central walkway. The military style in which they do so bears no relation to the event which is unfolding. Their feet are pound against the floor and echoes bounce around the room. My wife’s body is inside that box. I can’t remember what she looks like. I feel sick.

Her remains are only feet away from me. The wooden box is displayed at the front of this faux-church. The funeral directors had walked to the rear of the room to admire their woodwork. They seem proud of this overpriced box. I stand up and shamble toward the coffin but the heat is unbearable again. My mouth is dry and my neck muscles are taut. It is difficult to breath. I have to force my thumb behind my shirt collar to loosen the knot around my neck. Slowly, I place my hand above her coffin but I can not bear to touch it. Her head should be inside that box but it is not.

The minister stands at the pulpit. He is tall and old and dressed in black. The congregation listen attentively as he begins the eulogy. I wonder how my character would prevail under the scrutiny of such a man. How would he eulogise me? Would he outline my success as a husband and a father? Might my scholastic achievements be discussed? But would he discuss what really matters? The congregation are transfixed. Quietly, they deliberate his assessment of the deceased.

“Be seated.”

The man in black descends from the pulpit and shakes my hand. He stares at my dishevelled suit and clamps our hands tightly together but I wrestle free. The coffin is lifted on to a crudely disguised conveyor belt and music begins again. Slowly, my wife’s body moves toward the orange fires of the furnace. She is leaving me now. The fiery glow provides no heat.

Outside of the crematorium I have avoided the handshakes of well wishers and do-gooders. I have not read any cards nor checked the flowers.

“Take me home, driver,” I said.


Her ashes arrived home today. The same driver from the cremation delivered them an hour ago.
“Have we met?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I said.

“You look -”

“Thank you,” I said, and closed the door.

I have been sitting here holding the cheap plastic urn to my chest, contemplating where best to exhibit her remains. I decide my wife will reside in the trophy cabinet beside the others. There are three urns now: mother, father and wife. They all died after a road accident.

garza
January 27th, 2011, 02:36 AM
Hello J - Concise is good. However in this instance my belief is that somewhat more detail might be added to advantage.

You have two characters, one identified, quite simply, as 'she', which, given the overall brevity of the piece is quite adequate. Assuming there was a second vehicle involved, then we can also assume there was a second person involved. This second character, without even a pronoun for identification, becomes a person of mystery.

Who was this enigmatic stranger, this shadow we glimpse, as it were, from the corner of an eye? Were the two acquainted? Were they lovers, perhaps, their star-crossed romance destined to end with the crash, she never to know the irony, he, perhaps, plagued by guilt, taking on himself the responsibility for the crash, a successful career now in tatters as he sinks deeply into the morass of self-flagellation, turning to drink and to drugs to salve his wounded conscience, finally ending his own life while in a drunken stupor, stumbling blindly into the path of a speeding vehicle, thus bringing the story full circle. I congratulate you on your ability to bring this kind of closure to the drama that attended the death of 'she'.

Also to be noted is the element of suspense at the very beginning. 'She died after...' After what? We are at once brought to the edge of our chair, our curiosity driving us on to discover the fatal circumstance. We are finally rewarded with the solution. At the very end we find it was a car crash that led to her demise.

But the 'after' raises other questions. How long after? Did she suffer? Was she conscious of the approaching footsteps of death? Did the flame of her life flicker out as she lay on the muddy roadside as the curious bystanders gaped and commented and waited for the ambulance? Or did the end come later, in the sterile confines of a hospital with doctors and nurses doing their best, but all in vain?

This is a delightful story, with suspense, mystery, intriguing characters, and a perfectly constructed plot.

Very good work.

garza
January 27th, 2011, 08:01 PM
Sorry. When I looked the first time, 'She died after a car crash' was all there was. My comments were based on the assumption that this was a six-word story exercise. My mistake. Now I see you have filled in the details. I'll take another look.