Lulu, Diane, and I are all ambling slowly over the gravel to the arched entrance of the Abbey. Diane is paler than how I remember her. And every time that I glance at her, her age has shifted: one moment she is seventeen, the next she is sixty, then forty, then twenty. It’s a weird effect.
“What’s it like to be a ghost?” I ask Diane.
“It’s not too bad,” she replies, and adds: “I’ve met a few others like me, and we can go travelling anywhere in the world. Instantaneously. And for free. We’re working our way round all the great cities in the world.”
“Isn’t that good,” I turn and say to Lulu, who is her cousin, “Diane’s a ghost now but she’s still travelling.”
“I can’t see her, Matt. I think maybe you’re hallucinating…”
At this point I became aware of being in bed with my wife, Juki, next to me. It was just a dream. A sad dream.
The last time we had seen Diane was at the hospital. She was very thin and dark streaks ran down many of her limbs. Her breathing was erratic. Desperate. And her eyes were closed. Occasionally she would shift uncomfortably and groan, obviously in pain. We called for the nurse after a bit, and she administered a shot of morphine or something similar. She then settled after a few minutes, but I knew it was hell for her. I tried to comfort her by bringing up the good old days, but it all felt false, forced and was ultimately futile – she was dying. I believe that she knew we were there, could hear us, however she was unable to respond.
We stayed with her for about an hour in the ward with curtains drawn and radio on low tuned into an easy music station. It was all a little surreal and melancholic.
Just before we left Juki stroked her hair, hair that had once been straight and black, now dyed with the grey showing through, and had said gently, “We’re going now, sweet Diane, so sorry…”
This was the Friday.
Saturday evening, we got a call from Lulu to inform us Diane had died. Peacefully at the end.
I took the afternoon off from work for the funeral which was at the crematorium. We sat in the second row of pews which was kind of an honour. An old friend was also there who we hadn’t seen for about thirty years. We called him over because he was sitting alone.
It was a nice service. But nothing memorable. A brief biography. Some polite laughs in the appropriate parts. A couple of heavy readings. A few music tracks. The sound of sniffling.
And then it was over. We were in the carpark chatting to people I hadn’t seen for ages. And who I won’t see again probably: Diane’s friends, distant relatives, and former colleagues.
We left about ten minutes later for the wake which was held at a pub just down the road. Already the mourners were arriving for the next service. Like an assembly line. One in, one out.
It was a nice pub. Between towns. Pretty much in the country. Large beer garden.
We sat around a table. Five of us: Juki and I, Jeremy and Amanda, Rick. We reminisced about the good old days. Shared stories. Though some stories we didn’t share. Had a laugh. Caught up with where we all are now. Vowed to meet up in the future.
When I went up to have a peruse of all the photos that Diane’s brother and best friend, Summer, had pinned up on a couple of boards, Summer had taken me to one side and had whispered with a smile into my ear, “I know all about what you and Diane had got up to at times. You were a very naughty boy. She told me everything.” I had just laughed. I couldn’t deny it.
I had then taken a photo of a photo of Diane between Jeremy and I at a party about twenty years ago. It was a lovely shot. We were all smiling. I was with her cousin, Lulu, at the time. I look happy in the photo but underneath I was heartbroken because I still yearned for my ex, Sharon. Strange times.
After helping myself to the buffet I returned to the table and smiled inwardly because Jeremy, Rick and I all had something in common: we’d all had flings or one-night stands with Diane, and we’d all lived for the day at the time, the day that Diane didn’t live for anymore.
I could reveal more. Maybe I will. They were good days.
But now I must get ready for work whilst imagining Diane that you are walking down a street in an exotic or historic city with your new friends whilst waiting patiently for your old friends to join you…