I wasn’t sure I would go and if I did that I’d read; there was nothing appropriate in Mayakovsky to pay tribute to John’s communism.  John – not Elliott – wanted to go; of the Writers’ Group, he rated John’s writing and mine.  To make sure we arrived in time he made out we were late.  Three old women on the bus told us where the crematorium was and I should’ve known anyway, having been there before, but forgot and led us into the cemetery where we asked two women where it was.  One, Ebole, a Glaswegian, decided to take us there in her car, if we were to make it in time, as she’d already taken a woman who’d made the same mistake.  We were only a little late.  I remembered to wave back to Ebole in thanks.

Before us ranked the group.  A woman I took to be John’s niece presided and Quentin was asked to speak from another lectern.  I leant forward, straining to catch his soft delivery broken by sobs, tears and apologies, in contrast to my own impassivity.  John – not Elliott – said long after the event while everybody else’s heads were immobile I was looking every which way to see how people were taking it.  Quentin must really have liked John!  I must be more sensitive to him now I knew how chicken-hearted he was, as I told John.  Quentin’s was an appropriate artistic performance all the more effective for being sincere, as I would shortly tell him.  I can’t remember the content.  Jim Smyllie was then summoned to speak.  Why?  Kevin, the group’s leader, must’ve asked him.  Wasn’t somebody from John’s other group asked?  Why wasn’t I asked?  I’d known John for as long as Quentin, longer than Kevin and a lot longer than Jim Smyllie.  It was an insult not to have been asked, however reluctantly, by Kevin.  I’d’ve refused.  I had nothing of unalloyed good, even of any, to say about mean John, Elliott.  He’d softened toward me near the end, admiring that “John” – me – “refuses to be old”; and he was willing to have me read out his last piece for the WG though he had said he didn’t like how I read: fast, with inflection and infusing with life.  He didn’t read himself, blinded by cataracts.  John thought he liked me.  I was softening to him too in his infirmity, protective of his unsteady gait over uneven surfaces, without forgetting how negatively critical he had been of my writing, saying he would not be buying my book since he read every book he bought and wouldn’t read mine, a gratuitous insult I do not forgive.  It wasn’t the book I’d read out from he took exception to but another that hasn’t been published anyway.  I’d been going to but wouldn’t buy his books after that, though pleased Quentin had published them since it was what John wanted and I want people to get what they want.  That I hadn’t read him spared me coming to any conclusion about his writing.  I did not retaliate.  He was an old man who set store by it.  I’d likened a read-out piece of his to embroidery.  That stuck.  He said long after, smiling, “John thinks my writing’s like embroidery,” as if assuming it were anything but, and as others would agree.  They didn’t then.  “Embroidery can be beautiful,” I said.

After the service we stood outside where I realised the niece was other than the woman who wasn’t coming to the wake but off to direct another funeral.  We wended our way to the Mortlake Ship, by the Thames, beside the old Watney’s brewery where I’d worked as tank cleaner.  I couldn’t eat the food but could drink the gluten-free beer on some insistent relative’s tab.  I wasn’t that interested in getting to know people I’d never meet again except Frank, John’s cousin, who’d brought family photos not one of which was of John whom he hadn’t seen for twenty years.  He said John had gone to Glasgow University but dropped out after the first year, not that that was the verb for the phenomenon then.  I hadn’t thought he’d gone to university at all since no higher than an executive civil servant.  For some time Frank’s father was John’s guardian I think, from my questioning some disparity in an educational outcome between John and Frank, but I was becoming increasingly stocious.

I wanted to know how John died.  “A heart attack.  He was found in the bathroom.”  “A stroke.  Strokes loosen the bowels,” as I knew from persuading police to let me break in to open the door to them and sighting Mrs Mack quivering on the pan with her knickers about her ankles.

John – not Elliott – set me off to cadge a cigarette for him to roll a spliff.  Jim Smyllie didn’t have one.  People have stopped smoking.  I couldn’t complete my foray because the gap between a standing woman’s arse and the chair another woman sat in was too small for even me to slip through though a woman, encountering the same problem from the other side, simply put her hand on the arse which moved accommodatingly.

I asked Quentin if Beehive and Dan were coming to my party.  “You’ll have to ask them.”  “Is there a rift between you and Beehive, and Dan?”  No.  “You’re respecting their autonomy,” I concluded and he concurred.

John – not Elliott – procured the tobacco and I indicated to Quentin he should join us for a smoke outside.  By then I was so far gone I couldn’t remember a name, realising ‘Julian’ was wrong, “the co-editor,” of the book my short story was in.  “Justin,” Quentin said.  I asked him why he liked John’s – Elliott’s – writing.  I forget the answer.  He said he’d come upon a smile in the writing he didn’t understand and had seen an apparition.  John said I should simply have accepted Quentin’s statement, as he did.  That wasn’t likely.  I’m not him.  He says I laughed, in shock, and at once extracted as much information about the apparition as I could.  I ascertained it was of John, Elliott, and that it resolved Quentin’s difficulty of understanding John’s text.  I wasn’t disputing that Quentin had seen an apparition, only that it wasn’t John’s ghost, and gave alternative explanation.  He’ll most probably stick to his own.  He hasn’t much if any cognisance of his unconscious whereas I have of mine which first presented itself to my child’s inner eye as a man but stopped the visuals after juxtaposing himself on rooftops to amuse me as I walked to the school I taught in.  Once he’d told me he was my unconscious will, he limited himself to the auditory, as exemplified in my story Quentin published.  The auditory’s gone too now I’m old, three months younger than John Elliott, so I was freewheeling on remembrance of things past in providing an alternative explanation to Quentin who, knowing only a conscious orientation out, would think any projection by his unconscious to give him an answer he wanted was outside and not from within, disguised as out.  I’ve since asked if he was seeing with his eyes or inner eye at the time ie consciously or unconsciously, adding he might not know.  His unconscious, like yours, wouldn’t want him to know it.

I persuaded Quentin to come back with us and continue the wake at my place till half eight when he and John – not… – went off for a train, parting at Clapham Junction, whereupon John was sick, twice.  He said since, “You said you were going to be more sensitive to Quentin and the first opportunity you got you were insensitive!”


About johnbrucecairns

I'm a retired history teacher who's written for most of his life with a book readied for publication.
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