Susan worries that the day is far too cold for a funeral. “Aunt Clare wouldn’t like this weather,” she thinks. “She will be so cold in there; I can’t bear to think about it.” She wishes that the weather was warmer, not warm as it’s December but not this cold, or that Aunt Clare hadn’t died. She isn’t sure which she would prefer.
Susan sees her elderly aunt infrequently. “I did see her infrequently” she corrects herself. She can think of very little she has in common with most of her relatives especially since the argument. She sends Christmas cards and birthday cards, even an Easter card to the religious ones. She thinks that is more than many people manage and that she has nothing to chastise herself about.
At the grave there are four people besides Susan and she knows none of them. Bar one they appear about Aunt Clare’s age so they must be her friends from bridge. Maybe the younger one is a daughter, she thinks. She wonders whether they will want to retire somewhere for a wake and maybe she can ask them who they are. They seem to know who she is, or don’t care.
Aunt Clare has a bamboo coffin, woven canes of honey-blond wood fashioned into a casket that wouldn’t look out of place in a West End home, except for the size of course. Pink blooms of Sweet William have been tucked into the weave adding a delicate hue to the finish. Susan thinks the holes between the canes will let the cold air in even quicker than in a fake pine coffin so Aunt Clare will be carried off beautifully, but cold.
The ground is frosty despite a pale sun low in the sky and this frost has lain for days. The small digger used to excavate the grave has left caterpillar tracks in impacted white. Susan finds this upsetting, like seeing the hands inside a glove puppet that forces reality into the surreal event. It has been driven behind the church but Susan can see its extended clawing bucket. This she finds distasteful.
Susan wonders if Aunt Clare is watching from somewhere beyond the grave. Maybe she is in the shadows or on the wind, or maybe she just isn’t anything anymore. She does know though, thinks Susan. She knows now what’s beyond, even if she can’t know because it is nothing.
The five mourners each throw a little bit of earth onto the bamboo and Susan notices none skitters off. It settles into the pattern, crushing a bloom. Now it is finished and the others file away without meeting Susan’s eyes, and leave together.
Susan decides she will go somewhere warm and toast to Aunt Clare. She leaves the old lady there in the iron ground, alone with the bamboo and Sweet Williams and earth dropping through the holes and she wishes it would be warmer for December.