So, when Diane says, they’ll pay their respects but leave after the mini sandwiches, Dave doesn’t disagree.
Their drive to the crematorium is going well, but Dave is tapping his knee, and maybe it’s because they both need café lattes, it’s getting to Diane. Then Dave says, he isn’t looking forward to the boring eulogy part.
That’s not very sensitive, Diane says, I’m sure everyone finds that hard.
You’re the insensitive one, he says, I’m not like everyone.
Dave sucks in air, like he might cry, but instead he sings—belts out Amazing Grace in a baritone. Diane shouts, For God’s sake Dave, because she’s never seen Dave like this, and the acoustics in her Subaru aren’t designed for it, the sun visors are vibrating. He puts his fingers in his ears, la la la la la, which doesn’t help Diane’s headache. He opens his window, he sings, I once was lost, but now I’m found. Shoppers are looking.
It was Dave who said it would be neighbourly to go to the service. Ever since the woman next door’s baby came along, he chats with her at the wheelie bins—it’s her mother who died—All very sad.
Dave knows the neighbour’s name is Esther, but he gets a mental blank, he calls her Mary. Dave’s birthmother was a Mary. Dave has no memory of her. She gave him up as a newborn. When his birthmother didn’t show up for their reunion, Dave sat in his car on the driveway afterwards. There’d been eighteen months of his nail nibbling during the search for Mary, his fingertips were bulbous and raw. Diane boiled the kettle three times waiting for him to come inside. Dave went straight to his veg patch. She took his mug of Nescafé out to him in the end. That’s life though, Diane said.
The day Esther told Dave and Diane of her mother’s passing, they were all in the bakery section at the Sainsbury’s. Esther’s baby was sleeping in a backpack, head lolling in a train-print cotton hat, Esther said, There’s a weight to the emptiness. And though Diane kind of knew what Esther meant, she couldn’t help looking into Esther’s shopping-basket—just a seeded bloomer. The baby sighed in his sleep. Dave nibbled his fingernails watching the little boy’s dribble ooze into a crescent on the shoulder of Esther’s denim jacket. A good innings though, Diane said.
They should stop for coffee, but the sat-nav is taking Diane and Dave near that empty shop that used to be Mothercare. Dave hangs out the window. There’s a couple of teenagers at the bus stop, they’re looking. Dave bellows, I was blind, now I can see. He doesn’t want to give Diane a chance to mention she has never been in a Mothercare, she usually mentions it. Dave doesn’t tell Diane he dropped into the closing sale, bought mittens for Esther’s baby son.
Dave always said he wouldn’t make much of a dad. Diane always said kids weren’t on her bucket list. We’re on the same page, she said. They never needed lemons to make lemonade.
Diane sometimes watches Dave and Esther from the upstairs window; Esther carries that baby everywhere, wrapped to her front in a complicated arrangement of fabric. There’s a likeness in the photo on Dave’s side of the bed—the way Esther tilts her head when she’s listening.
At the zebra crossing, Diane slams on the brakes—anybody’s concentration would’ve been off. A woman with a buggy stares Diane down. An old guy—who probably thinks they have a drunk onboard—shouts, get a licence, he raises his fist. Diane recognises his irritability—a classic case of a caffeine deficiency. Dave and Diane are both missing what they haven’t had. She lowers her window, she thumb-points back at Dave, she calls out, his mother didn’t love him, so you can all stop staring. Diane turns to Dave, she says, who’s feeling bad now?
Marissa’s stories have won the Bath Flash Fiction Award and Bath Short Story Award, been a finalist at CRAFT, and listed at Cambridge, FlashBack, Fish, Mslexia, Mogford, Wigleaf 50 and BIFFY 50. They’ve been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions and Best Micro Fiction. Publications at marissahoffmann.com | @hoffmannwriter