Uncle Timothy’s eyes released me.

They’d crawled over every inch of

my skin like horrible spiders. Uncle

was telling Mrs Eames how he was

staying at a boutique hotel in town.

He’d very much like the opportunity

to meet William and I in more intimate

surroundings. It sounded entirely creepy.

Mrs Eames, however, smiled and was

obliging, suggesting we all gather the

next day. William had sauntered up to

us now. Uncle Timothy introduced

himself in his slimy effete voice, and

squeezed my brother’s hand weakly.

William appeared mildly disgusted.

I could have sworn that Uncle flicked

his red tongue over his lower lip. I knew

danger now. I knew that we were in peril.


I stood slurping a soft drink, wishing it

would all end. Mrs Eames had insisted

we hold a wake, to honour Mother’s

memory. She was handing out dainty

egg sandwiches with the edges trimmed

off. The curious strangers I’d seen at the

funeral home spoke together in hushed

voices. There was this small, grubby

unshaven man who kept throwing me

dirty looks. Mrs Eames brought him

over for introductions. Natalie, this is

your Uncle, Timothy Skerritt, she

announced very gently. The man held

out his hand like a limp fish for me to

shake. His eyes bulged horribly. Hello

Natalie. Let me offer you my sincerest

condolences. It is so sad about Paula,

he piped in a high, wheezy voice. Mrs

Eames nodded and hemmed. Something

sinister was going on. I understood.

This bizarre man was our nearest relation.

From now on, he’d be wheedling his way

into our lives.


A close huddle of mourners occupied

the front seats. I knew very few of the

faces. William looked immaculate,

Mother would have been proud. The

priest was whining some shabby,

insincere words. He was a complete

stranger. Sentimental music tinkled

in the background, I thought it was

gross. Mrs Eames was weeping, and

wiping her nose. After a final morbid

prayer, the priest sprinkled Mother’s

coffin with holy water. My eyes went

misty. My head spun. This was the

horrible moment. The coffin was edged

into position. I felt sudden heat. And

Mother’s body was consigned to the


Pale Lilies

We visited the funeral home. A sombre

man guided us around the floor. He had

buck teeth and a fake obsequious smile.

There was a peaceful seating area for

mourners. My stomach quelled when I

saw the curtained alcoves where the

cremation ovens were hidden. Mother’s

body was already here. She would be

lying in one of the chilled back rooms.

Mrs Eames and I had chosen a simple

coffin, and some appropriate pale lilies.

I think all the money came from Mrs

Eames’ life savings. I began to shiver

uncontrollably. I felt nauseous. Mother’s

funeral service was the next day.


William stayed home. Mrs Eames

accompanied me. We sat in a white

basement hallway. The morgue was

a chilly, sanitised place. After what

seemed an interminable time, we were

called in. Mother lay on a slab. Balls of

cotton wool had been thrust up her nose

and into her ears. Her face was entirely

devoid of colour. I identified her. The

mortician drew up a white sheet, hiding

Mother forever. Mrs Eames stroked my

shoulder. It was done. It was time to exit.


Mrs Eames organised everything. She

was a tower of logistical strength. I would

need to identify Mother’s body. It was a

distasteful, archaic ritual. It had to be

done. But it belonged in B-grade horror

movies. I kept remembering I’d need a

black dress, and William would require a

perfect black suit. Mother’s body was

being transported back to London. I was

glad. We wouldn’t need to undertake that

horrible journey. Her body would be laid

out at the local funeral parlour. Mother

was to be cremated. Apparently this was

her last wish. A note had been

discovered. I wondered what it could

possibly say. Had Mother written a final

farewell to her daughter and son? I would

know soon. Because all of Mother’s

belongings were being released to me.


The facts were sketchy. Mother’s

psychiatrist suspected she’d stolen

drugs from a locked medicine cabinet

on the ward. How in the world she’d

procured the keys he couldn’t explain.

Mother was found in a shower cubicle.

She’d consumed around sixty pills. Mrs

Eames hugged me. My body shook.

I could utter no words. I was numb.

William would have to be told.

Arrangements would need to be made.

I’d have to hold back the grief. Otherwise

it would swamp me, like a black fog.


I opened the door. It was Mrs Eames.

Leaves swirled and gusted high into

the air. There was something apocalyptic

about it. Maybe I’d seen a similar scene

in one of those bog-standard end-

of-the-world movies that William so

loved. The chilling image lingered in

my head. Mrs Eames was talking

gently, rapidly. It was something urgent.

I struggled to focus. Mrs Eames grew

tearful. I understood now. Mother

was dead.


I decided we’d take regular walks, to

improve our fitness. William baulked

at this. Sis, you’re acting all weird, he

said, profoundly unimpressed. But I’d

mapped out a route around our housing

estate. It was exactly three miles. It was

perfectly flat, an ideal circuit. We didn’t

have appropriate footwear. William

insisted on wearing this baggy T-shirt

full of gaping holes, despite the nippy

weather. I had an old baseball cap. I

thought I looked fetching in it. As soon

as we started, William began to pant

and wheeze. He was terribly out of

shape. I slowed the pace. William was

already mumbling and complaining.

We hadn’t even done a mile.