BEFORE JACOB'S FUNERAL.
Maria sits out by the back door of the house with her eyes closed. Prayers are needed Mother said; Mother suggested, Father insisted as he always did. She clutches her small straw hat and a small posy of flowers picked that morning. Prayers to be said inside her head. She can hear the church bells toll across the fields, the smell of flowers, and the song of birds. Mother was busy getting ready inside the house, Senta the maid was helping her; she’d calm Mother down, Maria thinks, pushing prayers aside like small pieces of furniture in the wrong place at the time. She squeezes her eyes shut tighter so that lines appear in the corners like crowfeet. Hope the service won’t be long. Dom Pillion does go on so. Father snores; Mother sits embarrassed on Sundays when the sermon goes on and on. Maria gathers her thoughts like stray sheep and pens them into the moment now. Mother’s voice carries out of the upstairs window; Senta pours her calm water voice over her mother’s moans and panics and all becomes still. Knew she’d calm her; always manages, worth her weight. Maria sniffs. Flower’s scent. She can feel the straw hat with her small fingers, sense the posy in her right hand. All for Jacob: prayers, flowers, thoughts, funeral service, not too long service and sermon, hymns and organ music. Father chose. His choice. Wonder where Jacob is now? Odd him not being here; not teasing; not laughing, not fishing. She can see him in her mind’s eye. Running, he was always running. Maria sighs. Opens her eyes. No one there. His place is still laid at mealtimes; Father insists. His chair vacant; the cutlery unused. The bowl of soup left to get cold; the main course set there until all have finished then it is taken away. The offering, Father says, must be made. Brothers are irreplaceable; Jacob is. None other. Just him and she, now just she alone. No more fishing. No sitting beside the river watching him fish. She’d go down by the river one day again maybe. See where he slipped in and drowned. So quick. Just the rush of it all; the water flowing quick; Jacob’s cry, his hand up waving, then gone; nothing. Some nights she sees his hand waving from the water in her dreams. Helpless she watched; stood up called out. But he couldn’t hear; just the rush of water; the bird song. Maria hears Father’s voice bellowing from the yard. Thunderous. Temper driven. Son lost. She clutches the posy tightly. Strokes the straw hat. Rough edges. Fingers feel. She turns her head. The church in the distance; the bells still tolling; birds in the sky. Son drowned, only the daughter remaining. What’s worth? Father’s words, not hers. Overheard as she stood outside their bedroom door a few nights before. Raised voices. Senta came and took Maria back to her bed; settled her down, soft voice calmed; gentle hand stroked to sleep. Father’s voice echoes through the trees. Time for the service soon: the hymns, organ, voices, sermon not too long and the coffin coming through the church doors carried aloft. A gift. To God returned. Too soon, Mother had said. Maria breathes in the air. Takes into her lungs. Jacob kissed her once on the ear where her small earrings hang. She feels them. The kiss or memory of the kiss wet there. Fingers touch. Fondle the earrings. Prayers needed, Mother said; Mother suggested, Father insisted. Stern and stiff he comes out of the back door with Mother behind him. Senta lingers behind rubbing her hands, raising her brows, pulling a face, giving a warning. Maria stands and puts on her straw hat and holds the posy in her right hand gently. Senta raises her finger to her lips behind Father's back. Say nothing. Prayers said inside her head. The bells toll from the far fields. Father sighs. Mother cries and Senta takes Maria’s left hand in hers and squeezes fondly, whispering a soft Ave to take them through the dark hours of the depressing day.