While Audrey was still intact and dragging the ancient Labrador along through greasy grass, her handbag was laying open on the seat of her car. It contained her Filofax, wallet, housekeys, some long forgotten peppermints right at the bottom, a notebook and pen, hairbrush, emergency make-up, lip gloss and miscellaneous bills that she had been carrying around with her for some days, unopened. There was also a pair of expensive sunglasses, newly bought with yet another credit card and a forgotten bottle of perfume which was almost gone and its recipe out of print. Her mobile phone was in her pocket, the battery on red. She was all set to return home and would just give the dogs a little stroll to save her friends the trouble of coming out into the dreary damp afternoon. She walked briskly but unhurried, cosy in the thought of her warm house in London where there were no dark corners, cobwebs, dead flies or putrefying mice under the bed. The windows didn’t breathe cold air throughout the night and there were no dead viney stems tapping at them and scaring her with thoughts of Cathy and Heathcliffe.
The car’s keyfob, where it had been carelessly tossed, was beside her handbag. Her small weekender bag was in the boot along with Angus’s ashes in their box. The thought of this proximity, this closeness to him made her smile as she walked. Something curiously abstract about the touching of her bag and his box comforted her. Angus had been a large man, tall, amply padded, jowly and with enormous hairy ears and enormous hairy hands and a heart far to big for its own good. The combination made for a lot of ashes, so the box was rather heavier than one might expect. She was ready to go back to town. The last minute offer to take the dogs for a walk had been spontaneous and she expected her helpful gesture to take fifteen minutes max. She should be home in time for Country File which she wouldn’t watch having had quite enough of rural idylls and their exhausting joys.
Audrey had arrived in Great Leigh the day before, so that Margaret and Stephen could pay their last respects to Angus. Rather than carry the heavy box into Margaret and Stephen’s house, Audrey had invited them and their daughter out onto the driveway. There she had conducted a little service, coming close but not too close, to a parody of the ceremony Margaret and Stephen had been unable to attend, due to a combination of various confusions and lack of stamina.
On what should have been the day of the official funeral at Roehampton Crematorium there had been an unfortunate complication stemming from Deirdre’s inability to drive the car to the motorway or even in its general direction. She had decided that her parents couldn’t possibly know the way to London, despite their protestations to the contrary. Stephen and Margaret sat huddled together in the back seat, clinging to their seatbelts as they swayed from side to side around roundabouts and unexpected corners. Feeling slightly sick it was easier to just smile and nod, supressing occasional screams as Deirdre narrowly missed yet another wobbly cyclist. Deidre’s confusion combined with impressive determination not to follow the advice of her terrified navigators lead to four complicated trips to Sainsbury’s, instead of the relatively uncircuitous journey to the motorway. The trips to Sainsbury’s were followed with absolute confidence by another slightly more direct and traffic clogged journey, ending up at the post office. Added to this were the difficulties of parking which Deirdre insisted on at each unintended destination, for reasons of safety and so that she could double check that they hadn’t somehow arrived at Roehampton Crematorium after all. There were also multiple discussions about getting out of the car: who should get out, who should stay in, why should anyone get out at all as we aren’t there yet, and so on. The process was very slow and involved numerous repeated and generally inaccurate manouevres. Two more tries to find the M25 eventually brought them to the local dump, where they had to finally admit defeat. Altogether their excursion had taken several hours.
Relaunching the journey from the dump to Roehampton had required slow and painful deliberations mostly in their heads as conversation and discussion had proved useless so far. Stephen and Margaret didn’t want to be discouraging but the day’s driving had so sapped their meagre strength, that they finally insisted Deirdre drive them home following their instructions whatever they were, “You are being very naughty Deidre and now it must stop.” Margaret had said, her tone firm and unexpectedly loud. Tears welling, Deirdre hunched silent behind the wheel, waiting for instructions, picking at threadbare patches of once fluffy steering wheel cover. Stephen and Margaret waited for her to forget about feeling sad. It was a short pause and forgetting the crisscross patterns, with tears dried Deirdre started the engine, with a flourish. “Where to my lords and ladies” she demanded joyfully revving the engine and, switching on the indicator and wipers with another flourish.
Her parents peered cautiously at one another, and as Stephen waved an imperious hand to indicate forward, everyone understood that today was not the day to tackle the Roehampton journey. Since the dump was quite close and still within some part of Deirdre’s frayed memory, they could shout out “left here” or “right” with the occasional “no, you’ve missed the turning” thrown in for good measure. The homeward journey proved as exciting as the outbound one: circuitous with frequent reversings and overlooked traffic lights. Unexpected but exciting diversions took them the wrong way down one way streets. Stephen and Margaret held on tight to one another staring hard at the road, shouting halfhearted directions. They were tired and with the question of Roehampton resolved, didn’t really mind if they spent the rest of the day touring around Great Leigh and its environs. It was good practise for Deirdre, Margaret mused, even though Deirdre passed her driving test some fifty years ago. It never hurts to have a little bit more practise she reasoned and wondered if Deirdre might be in need of new glasses.
Their efforts to get to the funeral had in fact been somewhat previous, by a whole day. Stephen had discovered this when they arrived at the dump somewhere on the outskirts of Great Leigh. He had looked at the invitation card to check how horribly late they would be and was quite relieved that they would not be late at all. Not keen to tackle the challenge again, he kept the information to himself. He couldn’t face the possibility of another mystery tour, preceded by another horribly early breakfast, getting rigged out once again in deathly premonitiony black. He suggested they send a telegram instead to apologise for their absence. But no one could quite remember how that worked, so in the end Stephen decided it was best to just not show up. He was confident that Audrey would ring them after the funeral, and so she did the next day in a state of considerable anxiety. Deirdre had told her with absolute certainty that they were being driven to the funeral in a yellow taxi, “not a submarine, a taxi” she had said. But this had no basis in fact. Stephen explained the confusion, and Margaret nodded at the telephone in agreement. “The thing is, it’s been so long since we’ve been to town, that Margaret and I weren’t much use direction-wise you see”. It wasn’t much of an excuse but Audrey got it.