2nd Place in the TSS Flash Fiction 400 Competition (autumn, 2018)
In letters, they call you the late, as if you’ve failed to turn up for an appointment on time. It feels a little insulting, since you were always so punctual. In newspaper notices, they call you loving husband, father, grandfather. These are good, solid words. Words people know the meanings of. Words that fit neatly into a slim column of print. The dead are just too good to be true, aren’t they? Alphabetically listed, one cleanskin after another, all loving, all much loved, all greatly missed.
You think of loving much. Of missing greatly. These were things you did in secret.
At your funeral, the celebrant mispronounces your name. Your wife – your widow – winces. Your son recounts a humorous story. He never feels comfortable unless everyone’s laughing. In the wreath on top of your coffin, there are roses, irises, lilies. Daffodils were your favourite, but nobody asked.
The first flowers you received from your one true love were Sweet William. A fistful torn from the garden bed of an unsuspecting neighbour, hastily arranged and tied with butchers’ string. Slung over the low front wall at your childhood home. No note. No need.
After the funeral, a clean-cut young man passes around a tray of sandwiches. They are egg and cress, chicken and mayonnaise, salmon and cucumber. You couldn’t stand fish. It doesn’t matter now. The clean-cut young man makes an announcement: at three o’clock, your wife – your widow – will be hosting a wake at the house. Family and close friends.
The last flowers you received from your one true love were placed in a vase beside your bed as you slept. Your friend was sorry he missed you, the nurse said. You couldn’t speak by then, but you wouldn’t have anyway.
At the wake, one guest will slip in quietly. He will not console anybody or give his best wishes. He will smile at your youngest grandson, the only person who will notice him. He will be wearing a dark suit with a jaunty pocket square that he has forgotten to exchange for something more sombre. Or maybe he has worn it on purpose. Because you were cheerful. You were cheerful whenever you were with him.
‘What’s your name?’ your youngest grandson will ask.
‘William,’ the stranger will say, in a voice that knows its place. ‘My name’s William.’
Alicia Bakewell is a short fiction writer living in Western Australia. Her work has recently featured in Ellipsis Zine ‘Three’, and the UK National Flash Fiction Day anthology. Her prize-winning flash fiction piece ‘Barely Casting a Shadow’ appears in the Reflex Fiction anthology of the same name. She also has work online at Spelk Fiction, Fictive Dream and others. She tweets @lissybakewell and doesn’t always watch her language.