In the morning of the twenty seventh of August 1982, the phone ringing wakes me.
I’ve had a disturbed night, despite spending the evening at the Flyer – ‘Another pint!’ I pump money in the jukebox. Happy music only. Norma makes a comment. ‘You look like the cat what got the cream. You won the pools?’ Hands me her glass. ‘A G and T. Double.’
I’m woken once in the dark from a dream where I’m surrounded by impenetrable, steepling hedges; a maze. I can hear Fizz’s voice. ‘I’m in the middle! Come and find me!’ I stumble and curse at each dead end, until, sensing her just a hedge away, I fling myself time and time again against the branches, skewering myself, trying to burst through, until collapsing exhausted on the floor. ‘I’m here!’ she calls.
My bedclothes are on the floor, screwed and patched with sweat.
Now, I race downstairs to the phone and yank, heart already hammering. Huge smile. Expectant. Eager. Happy as Larry. In love. Its purest form.
‘Hello?’ I exult.
‘Robert. HM here. Sorry to disturb you.’
‘Have you heard the terrible news?’
The chapel’s full to bursting, but the atmosphere’s artificial. Forced smiles. The story’s being relived everywhere. ‘He fell asleep at the wheel. Driving through the night. Into a ditch. She was killed instantly. Could happen to anyone. Lucky no one else was hurt.’
There are staff and kids from Fitzie’s, and scores of other folk, family and friends. ‘She’d have wanted us to be cheerful,’ says someone. ‘Like her.’
Fizz’s dad and wife are sat in the front row; dad trying to remain stiff upper lip, his wife holding his arm. The last time I saw him was at the hospital mortuary. Ashen, stooped. A broken man. ‘All my fault,’ he repeated. ‘All mine. Should have taken a break.’
The Balls twins come up to me. The girl’s eyes are red raw. Balls himself has fresh tears as he shakes my hand. ‘I’m heartbroken, sir. Heartbroken.’ He wipes his cheeks. ‘I know you are as well.’
Later, Twinkletoes comes over. Puffy eyed. Of course she and Fizz were tight. ‘How are you?’
It seems perfectly natural that we should hug. After, she reaches into her bag and drags something out. ‘I’ve got this for you.’ A photo. A smiling, cheery face. Blue blue eyes. Magnetic and magic. ‘I took this last term. She was talking about you.’ She hands it to me, then pulls me into a hug again, closer and tighter. Whispers. ‘Always you.’
When we pull away I’m welling, lip trembling. A mess. Nod. Wipe away bitter tears. Clasp the photo.
‘I’m giving the address,’ I manage. ‘Her dad asked. Said he couldn’t bring himself…’
The Big Cheese ushers me into his study. Grave faced, he puts an arm round me. ‘Are you OK? Going to be able to see it through? Can I get you something? Tea? Coffee? Something stronger?’
I shake my head, can feel more tears welling up, though I’ve shed a sea over the past days. Need to get a grip. But my voice won’t behave. ‘It’s difficult to be upbeat.’
‘You’ll need to bring all your acting and teaching skills together. It’s a huge undertaking.’
I try to gather myself; try to contain the quivering in my voice. That bloody trembling lip. Watery eyes. ‘So unfair.’
For the service I stand at the back of the chapel; fidgety, looking down the nave to the lectern. My breathing’s in snatches, cheeks in, out. Beating, beating heart. Guts a gurgling geyser.
The coffin looks tiny laid out in front of the altar.
Eventually a hymn comes to an end and I must walk to the lectern. I’m taking deep breaths, trying to manage contortions and contractions in my chest. When I reach the lectern, I take another enormous gasp; glancing at the casket once more.
‘“I was asked by a local radio station to describe Fizz and I said she was full of life.”’
I look up briefly. Figures; faces upturned. The glimpse of a hankie. A snuffle.
‘”I’m humbled and honoured to give this address, but I also have a sense of dread, here in school chapel. Here, where Fizz will have heard about a just, loving and merciful God.
After I heard about the accident, I went to the hospital mortuary. Met the Chaplain there. I was angry. Told him I had no faith in a God who couldn’t protect someone like Fizz.
He listened to my rant, then said, ‘Robert, sometimes God is a bastard.’”’
I glimpse up. And back.
‘”Her room mate here put a different spin on it. “I guess God needed another angel up there to keep him company; you fitted his prototype.” It’s a prettier picture.”’
It’s towards the end of the address, delivered increasingly in a Zen-like trance, that something deep within begins to stir. Disturbing any equilibrium. Have to stop for a moment. I glance once more at the coffin and take another deep breath.
‘“I worry I can’t do her justice; can’t speak with the authority of her friends; or her family; because she did so much, and meant so much to so many people from so many different spheres.
She could play any stage role with conviction, but I’ll remember her as the real, beautiful Fizz, and I shall miss her and the light she brought to the darkest of places.”’
Suddenly, I have to stop and take another huge gasp. I can sense a tear beginning to well over; bloody, bloody thing. Can barely focus; can feel myself shaking. From the core. Blink again at the film of tears as my voice cracks, snatching at the words.
‘“Fizz. If you’re listening. We all miss you.”’ I blink massively at the sea over my eyes.
‘”And if there is a God…”’
The coffin’s a blear and my words barely form.
‘”Well he’s a lucky bastard.”’
I walk away from the lectern, head up, blinking angry tears, blinking, blinking, blinking down the nave until I’m out and can wipe them away. Outside, I cradle and kiss my photo. Wracked. Empty.
I hope I’ve done her justice.
Later, the sun’s beaming down as I stride out through a gate into playing fields. I’ve earphones in. Pat Metheny playing. There are vehicles still parked on the grass, an overspill car park for the funeral. People mill about in smart clothes.
A woman I don’t recognise is waving at me, hurrying over. Oh please. Can’t you leave me alone? I have to remove my earphones.
‘Mister Hopebourne! I just wanted to say how lovely your address was.’ She’s breathless. Middle aged. Tubby. Dressed in black. Cloudy eyed. ‘I believe in God, but I completely understand. And I think you were very brave. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were half in love with her yourself.’ She takes my hand and squeezes it; searches my eyes; a faint whiff of alcohol?
‘Well,’ I say.
Let me go.
The woman now rubs at her nose with a tissue from her sleeve. Something chinks in a pocket. Glass. ‘Sorry. Mustn’t keep you.’ Raises her eyes to me again. ‘I loved her too, you know. Mothers don’t stop.’
Birds are singing, larks up in the sky, as I stride away. It’s warm, the faintest smell of cut grass. Cotton wool clouds. Nature boasting.
I’m half way across the field when I give in, gasping, to great moans, wrenched from profound depths, loud, tears coursing, snot dropping from my nose. I fall to the ground. Pawing. Retching. Blubbing. A helpless abandoned baby.
In Paradisum - Faure Requiem
A life spent teaching at Cathedral schools means I was forever hearing choral religious works. Not all of them left me cold and this excerpt from Faure’s Requiem was one of those that worked some magic for me. It was probably the hardest piece of music to choose for the novel…and the following Pat Metheny track could so easily have kept the music secular, but somehow, I felt the episode needed this kind of sound. Hope you agree.
September Fifteenth - Pat Metheny
From the album “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls” which I’ve already featured, this is a beautiful song to finish the saddest part of the novel.
About the Author: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!