Mary died in the kitchen before she put the cherry pie in the oven, which was unfortunate as Rod wasn’t sure what temperature to select, or how long it needed to cook because she never used a recipe book. When he got back from the hospital the pie was sitting on the counter, all raw and pink; the juices had crept through the pastry in his absence. The next morning he could see her finger prints in the pastry. The following day he found a recipe on the internet and cooked the thing. When it was cool he wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge. Every time he opened the door he thought about the finger print swirls of Mary that the oven had seared away.
He pretended that Mary was on holiday, told himself she was sleeping in, or tending the garden, but the fist of his heart only allowed momentary relief before it thumped the truth at him. When he poured milk on his cereal he read the use by date. He opened a kitchen cupboard and methodically stacked pasta, flour, rice, tins of peaches, baked beans, soup and custard on the worktop, checking the date on each. The peaches had the greatest longevity – 2 years and they would still be edible, 2 years without Mary and the peaches would remain moistly conserved in their protective coat of syrup. The milk wouldn’t even make it past the funeral, but the peaches would outlive Mary by 24 months, approximately 740 days. He put them back in the cupboard.
The postman slid fat bundles of commiseration through the letter box. Rod opened them - poems, thoughts, wishes, muted pastels and flora. He lined them along the mantel piece, the sideboard, the windowsill and the bookcase. Delivery drivers stood on his doorstep holding spring bouquets. He was a lucky fellow and many happy returns were proffered. The festivity of the lounge disoriented him. A neighbour brought a casserole in a small ceramic bowl. Rod emptied the contents onto a plate and mechanically shovelled the meal into his mouth. Mary wouldn’t approve of eating out of the dish.
When he awoke in the newly bright spring mornings there was a brief moment of consciousness before remembrance revived the membrane of disbelief and nausea. People called and said they knew how he felt, which was more than he did. They buried him in an unwelcome pile of chin-up, time-healing, blessing-counting clichés. He forgot to brush his hair, the silver waves tangled in a nest of neglect. He paced. He made tea for two. He didn’t change his underpants. He watched the news, astonished at its irrelevance.
He called Susie about the funeral.
‘I’m not coming Dad, it’s too expensive, too far.’
He felt a new, cold coil of disappointment unwrap in his already congested chest. Susie’s name used to sway out of his mouth on a smile, but he barely said it anymore. Mary used to type it and wait as it zipped across the world to Santa Cruz in an instant message. Susie’s replies were prefaced by the announcement Susie Said: as if Mary might forget who she was talking to mid conversation. Susie Said: Hi! Mary Said: Hi love and occasionally, Rod Said: Hello Susie. He didn’t feel like this Rod she infrequently wrote to - should he have called himself Dad instead? Sometimes it wasn’t even her, it was one of her boys, Matthew or Michael. There was a photograph of them next to the computer. They were standing on the beach, a pair of straggly, dandelionish boys, sleek and shiny like porpoises in their wetsuits, laughing into the camera. They looked like their father. Rod knew it was one of them when Susie Said: Hi G. They called him G, not Grandad. He felt abbreviated.
He sent Susie an instant message.
Rod Said: Hello Susie.
Susie Said: Hi Dad.
Rod Said: Please come, love.
Susie Said: I’m so sorry I can’t be there - I think mum would understand - r u ok?
Rod Said: I don’t know – I’m woolly. What if I send you the money?
Susie Said: It’s just not a good time, I can’t really afford the time off. The boys need me around – they’re up to all sorts – I need to keep an eye on them. Chris lets them get away with murder, it’s just so far away – I wish I had come at Christmas.
Rod Said: I just want to see you - remind myself that part of her exists in you.
Susie Said: Ah Dad. You should buy a webcam, they’re not that expensive xx.
He tripped over one of Mary’s slippers. He opened one of her drawers then closed it quickly before her aroma could escape. He studied the impossibility of her appointment diary. He found her library book and read the last page. He watered the vegetables she had planted. And a week after the funeral he took the pie out of the fridge, slid it into the bin and prickled at the thudding split as it landed on a bed of sympathetic envelopes...