Those are the words people use: “passed away.” So she starts to use them too. She hears herself saying to people in a dignified and grown up voice, “he passed away.” The words sound gentle and easy and she knows that is a lie but they also contain a sense of elusiveness, of slipperiness, and she knows that part is real enough.
She watches the coffin moving down the aisle. “My father is in the coffin,” she says to herself. She has walked down a lot of aisles in her life: plane aisles, supermarket aisles, the aisle at the Town Hall on Speech Night, the assembly hall aisle, video store aisles, library aisles. This is a defining moment but it seems like a waking dream she is having while walking to the fridge to get a midnight snack—a reflection in the night window that vanishes when she looks at it too closely.
At school, in science, her class is learning how to do scientific drawing; to properly represent Bunsen burners, beakers, and test tubes. They are also learning how to draw different liquids and their menisci: the curve seen at the top of a liquid in response to its container. Some liquids have a concave meniscus and others a convex one. For alcohol, however, the meniscus doesn’t curve at all. You have to draw a dead straight line from one side of the container across to the other.
She thinks about the tears pooled inside the fleshy container of her body and wonders which way their meniscus would curve. Perhaps she would just draw a straight line as the event has the hard and sharp edge of an inescapable fact. She has a deep clean paper cut inside her, right from one side of her body to the other. She is disappointed when her tears taste salty and unsophisticated, like a mouthful of seawater. She realises she got it wrong. She had imagined neat whisky.
An object is being thrown at her but she is not sure how to arrange her hands in order to catch it. Her life has started to come apart like a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces of which can’t be retrieved; the well-meaning voices of family friends falling off the end of the telephone line as they arrive at conversational cliffs. She and her family have been learning lines in a play without even realizing it and have all come together for the final performance. Here, in this space. Now. “That was the year my father passed away.”