Fiction

The eulogy

When you were little, you dreamed of a man in uniform. A man who would woo you with his charm and sweep you off your feet. You read a lot of Jane Austen.

Underage and overeager, you and your friends would frequent the bars nearest the barracks. Stories of the strapping American soldiers with their sharp jaws and Southern drawls were too hard to resist. But it was an Aussie digger who met your eyes across the bar that New Year’s Eve. A Townsville local who went to school not far from you.

The fireworks on the wharf were the most beautiful you’d ever seen, and as the clock struck 12 and you kissed him that sticky summer night, you knew you were going to spend the rest of your life with him.

 

Just don’t do anything to make him mad.

Don’t take too long in the shower. Don’t spend any money without his approval. Don’t be out late without letting him know where you are. Don’t be in bed after him. Don’t go out with people he hasn’t met before. And for the love of God, don’t take too long to tell what he considers to be a simple story.

Just don’t do anything to make him mad.

He won’t hurt you. Gosh, he would never hurt you.

But it’s the little things.

That sideways look of disdain. A roll of the eyes. A shake of the head.

When he doesn’t say “I love you” back.

That always stings.

He won’t let you touch him, and he hasn’t touched you in years.

 

When you find him hanging in the shed, a part of you is relieved. And when the paramedics arrive to help cut him down and lay him in front of you, you see the same blank and unloving expression you’ve grown so accustomed to. Only this time under a shade of mauve.

On the hottest day of the year, people come from near and far to pay their respects to the man you pulled down from the rafters of what was meant to be your art studio but had instead become his woodworking station. It’s a big turnout. Lots of shiny brass and colourful ribbons. The men sweat in their olive-green uniforms. You cry because you know you’re supposed to, but when it’s your turn to speak, you’re not as nervous as you thought you’d be. A sea of faces you don’t recognise are masked by swooping hand fans. You talk about his army days and that time you went to Bali. Dozens of people come up to you afterwards and tell you how brave you are. But his mum can’t bear to look at you; she blames you for what he did.

PRESENT. ARMS.

Cringe at all three of the rifle volleys.

BANG.

BANG.

BANG.

 

A week after the funeral, the flowers start to die and reek in their vases. You throw them in the green bin and the cards of condolence in the yellow recycling bin. Today is the day you start cleaning out his stuff. Better to get it done now before you put it off any longer. People tell you this is the hardest part of the grieving process, but you already hired a paper shredder and have all the bin bags on hand ready to be filled and sent to the nearest Salvos.

His desk drawers are locked, but you find the key buried at the bottom of his stationery pot. Loose pages of lined paper are strewn throughout the top drawer. Most contain barely legible notes from conference calls or scribbles planning an overhaul of the veggie patch in the garden. Straight into the shredder. But one piece of paper catches your eye. The sheer volume of words strikes you as odd considering his taciturn nature. When you pull it out, you realise it’s several pages stapled together, and you begin to read.

I’d like to thank you all on behalf of our family for joining us here today as we remember our dear friend, and my beloved wife, Linda Cartwright.

You pause for a moment, feeling the blood drain from your face. You continue reading.

My name is Peter, and I was lucky enough to be married to Linda for 36 wonderful years.

You skim over your achievements and how much you meant to your family, friends, workplace and community. You feel the bile rising in your throat.

Linda and I shared many things together. Incredible memories with amazing people, journeys around the world and our home that we built together. But Linda did keep one thing from me – just how much pain she was in. Linda always had a sensitive soul, and there was always a deep sadness inside her, but she never wanted to make it anyone else’s burden. (Pause for tears) And although it breaks my heart that the darkness overwhelmed her, I know that we can rest assured in the knowledge that she is now at peace. I’ll finish with a Jewish prayer.

Smile at the thought of him searching for a Jewish prayer.

“When I die give what’s left of me away to children and old men that wait to die. And if you need to cry, cry for your brother walking the street beside you. And when you need me, put your arms around anyone and give them what you need to give me. I want to leave you something, something better than words or sounds. Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved, and if you cannot give me away, at least let me live in your eyes and not your mind. Love doesn’t die, people do. So, when all that’s left of me is love, give me away.”

Thank you all for coming today.

Stare at the wall for a few minutes.

You beat him to it.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 18, 2022 as "The eulogy".

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Brodie Wilkinson is an Adelaide/Kaurna-based writer and screenwriter.

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