There are no hymns or prayers, as I had expected, and nobody gives a speech. I wait to see what happens next with interest. I can’t see any hatchway through which the coffin can disappear on its way to be cremated. There isn’t a priest and there’s no eulogy for Clara. All I know about funerals is what I’ve seen in films, and usually the relatives and friends make speeches, heartfelt but with a touch of humour as if to emphasize the sense of common ties which bind everyone there to each other and to the dead person. I had expected it to be like that, but no one says anything except – I’m almost sure of it now – to talk about me being there.
It occurs to me that the lack of any ritual may be because this is not the final act but a preliminary one. We’ll go from here to the room where they’ll carry out the cremation, and there will be speeches and hymns and masses and whatever in honour of the deceased.
The deceased. That sounds like the death of an older woman. Mourning clothes, wrinkles, slightly scaly skin, pigmentation patches on her hands and face, bulging veins, hidden grief, rooms with lowered blinds, the smell of medicine and disinfectant.
An employee approaches the two older couples I was watching when we arrived. He stoops slightly, as if he actually wants to whisper something in their ears. The man and the woman I followed to the room move a few steps away and leave the employee alone with the couple that I assume are Clara’s parents. The mother bursts into tears. Her husband, who is shorter than her, with red hair that is thinning on top and an expression wavering between indecisive and terrified, looks unsteady on his feet and tries to find a more comfortable position, nodding his head as if receiving instructions.
The relative silence is broken by someone scraping back a chair. One of the pair of men who had been chatting by the door starts walking over to me. He’s wearing a dark-grey jacket, black tie and has a neatly trimmed beard and clenched jaws. He’s quite a lot shorter than me, with a slight build and, perhaps because of the way he’s walking with his legs very close together, as if he was trying to make sure that both feet always follow a line traced out in front of him, I think he might be gay. When he’s a couple of steps away from me I hold out my hand, too soon.
José Ovejero is a renowned contemporary Spanish novelist. He has published seven novels as well as several collections of short stories and essays. In 2013 he won the Alfaguara prize for his novel La invención del amor (Inventing Love).
Translated from the Spanish by Simon Deefholts & Kathryn Phillips-Miles
Spanish original copyright © 2013 by José Ovejero
English translation copyright © 2017 by Simon Deefholts & Kathryn Phillips-Miles
Peter Owen Publishers ISBN 978-07-2061-949-2
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