An unfortunate visit to a funeral parlour

I published my latest novel, Lucky Portbraddon two weeks ago; here is a little excerpt which I hope will intrigue you. The Portbraddons have been bereaved by the death of their beloved grandmother; now two of her grandsons, cousins Antoine and Alex have to visit the funeral directors’ to plan her their farewell to her:

It had been agreed after much debate and tight lipped discussion that Antoine and Alex would see the funeral directors and then Nick and Tyrone would join them to talk to the vicar. Nick was annoyed, but he only complained to Tyrone who was no happier. It wasn’t just that they thought they should be included, but they weren’t sure the combination of Alex and Antoine was a good one.

It had been bad enough when the four of them had seen Grandma’s solicitor, and thank goodness Garry was still in Spain and James ‘busy’. There were no surprises, Grandma had told them what she intended; the financial side of her estate would be divided between them, she had kept an account over the years of what each had received from her, so they would not all inherit the same amount. However, if or when they decided to sell Slake Hall each would receive an equal share; the same would apply to Slake House, but that could only be sold if Alex agreed, since it had been his home.

The closeness of New Year hadn’t lasted and Alex and Antoine were each ready to take offence at the slightest thing. They sat stiffly side by side in a small room at the funeral parlour as Alex insisted on calling it to the amusement of the twins and irritation of Antoine. The dark room was decorated in muted doves and mauves with a bright but tasteful display of flowers on the desk and in the grate of the small fireplace.

Antoine was in his wedding suit; he and Shane had been married for thirty years and he’d never been able to afford another one. Alex wore grey, expensive, fashionable and flattering to his stout figure.

Mrs Farthing was a middle-aged woman, in a navy trouser suit and frilled cream blouse; she was efficient, sympathetic and experienced. She had a square face and beige skin with no different shades or tones of colour, as if she’d been spray painted with magnolia matt, Alex later told Nick. He hadn’t commented to Antoine as he had no sense of humour.

Antoine remarked afterwards to Tyrone that she had a 70’s haircut, but there’d been no point him saying that to Alex, as he was too young to know. Somehow, through the family grapevine these comments came back to Alex and Antoine, and each banked them with everything else they’d taken exception to.

Mrs Farthing expressed her sympathy and then for all her experience, she made an unfortunate mistake, assuming they were brothers.

 “…and as your brother mentioned, your grandmother – ”

“My brother!” Alex interrupted, and Mrs Farthing gestured at Antoine. “He’s not my brother!” Alex exclaimed outraged. “He’s my cousin!”

Antoine was insulted, not by Mrs Farthing but by Alex. The woman immediately apologised and Alex forced a smile and apologised to her and Antoine who sat stiff and unamused.

Mrs Farthing continued and everything she said or suggested that Alex agreed with, Antoine disagreed, and every recommendation which Antoine accepted, Alex tetchily dismissed. Tentatively she moved on to choosing a coffin, already sensing a problem. She held the catalogue towards them and Alex leaned back as if not wanting to touch it. Antoine took it reluctantly, glanced at the tasteful illustrations then leafed through to the back.

“Um, there doesn’t seem to be a price list,” he said and there was a hiss of irritation from Alex.

Mrs Farthing gave a sheet to Antoine and he gave a suppressed gasp of surprise.

“Um, maybe this pine… er… A12…” he stuttered and thrust it at Alex.

Alex looked at the open page then took it and leafed through the brief catalogue.

“We don’t want that, Antoine. No, that isn’t good enough… this oak is more appropriate – or this elm…”

Antoine looked down the price list and then he passed it to Alex, pointing at the price. Alex brushed it away.

“That doesn’t matter. We’re not going to be cheap at a time like this. Only the best.”

Antoine started to say something, bit back his words and stared at the arrangement of irises on the desk.

“I don’t want to be disrespectful,” he began tightly after the silence had lengthened.

“Only the best,” Alex put the catalogue on the desk and brushed his tie.

Mrs Farthing cleared her throat tactfully and suggested they take the catalogue away, but they did need to consider the arrangements, a cremation, or a burial.

“Well, a cremation, obviously,” Antoine was still looking at the price list on the corner of the desk.

“What?!” exclaimed Alex. “No! No, obviously not! Grandma will be buried beside Granddad.”

“Her ashes can be interred with him,” Antoine said as if making the decision.

“Absolutely not. She will be buried, how could it be anything else?”

“Perhaps this is something you need to discuss with the rest of the family,” Mrs Farthing interrupted firmly.

“Grandma will be buried, and if it’s the cost that’s bothering you – ”

“The cost has nothing to do with it!” Antoine lied, flushed and embarrassed.

“Cremation! How could you even consider it? No wonder you wanted the cheapest coffin!”

Suddenly Alex was revolted by his own words, the colour rose in his face then drained away leaving him grey. He spoke to Mrs Farthing without looking at her and in clipped tones told her they would discuss it with the family, then, without another word but a look of utter disgust, he stalked out.

If you haven’t yet read Lucky Portbraddon, published as an e-book, here is the link you need:

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