The storm abated and the congregation shuffled outside. Reverend J. Jackson, the flint of St. Hilda’s at her back, was blowing great gusts of tobacco smoke into the graveyard and every blue cloud was making a miserable job of concealing her. If anything, the smoke drew attention, haloed her. She was playing the service back through her head, but her head was fog and her ears still rang with the feedback. The sky was grey; grey and fast. There was, she noticed, some rubbish, a bin bag, black, blowing about on the breeze, way, way up above the church. It turned tight circles. But, when she looked again, brimming her brow, she saw that it wasn’t rubbish at all, it was just a raggedy crow.
By the ancient yew, bottom of a boot against the gnarly bark, something, he supposed, of the James Dean about himself, stood Ffooks. He watched the crowd coagulate through dark shades. He worked a finger into an ear to clear the residue electricity that hummed there. He was gifted with second sight. He heard distant voices. He saw, some times, the unseeable. He was aware of psychic atmospheres. He inherited this, this arcania, along with early onset arthritis and alcohol addiction from his mother. He spoke of her in the present tense, even though she was long dead. This tended to confuse folk and he only made things worse by trying to clarify it.
“I read minds,” he would say. This wasn’t quite the case, but he would tell this to girls, girls in kitchens at parties, girls at tills. He supposed they liked this. Well, as he was fond of saying, saying to boys, boys in pubs, boys on boats, fishing nets from the water, “everybody needs a hobby.” It was part come-on, part manly advice: a voodoo catch-all. He threw down the dog-end and walked over to Claret Hopkins, the orthodontist who had read the eulogy. He took out another, lit up, and wanking the match across the front of his face, tossed it.
“Great eulogy,” he said.
Claret looked into and around Ffooks’ face for some clue to the seriousness of this statement.
“But the feedback?”
“Acoustics,” declared Ffooks. “The hounds of Hades were unleashed!” He made some gesture with his hands. Claret counted five rings and filthy fingers.
The reverend found herself talking to the Kane twins. One of them had lost a husband the previous summer, in a crash out on Stonebarrow, but she couldn’t be sure which one, both seeming as bereft as the other, so she lent them both equal ear. Her hair bobbed as she nodded and over the twins’ shoulders, in the shadow of the west wall, she could see the orthodontist talking to one of the Ffooks. The orthodontist nodded across the gravel and she nodded back and the sisters nodded and, touching each of them briefly on the elbow, she started over toward the two men.
“The acoustics of Saint Hilda really are something,” she said as way of apology.
“There! You see!” said Ffooks. Claret smiled, but clearly he didn’t see.
More nods. Necks and chins were stroked, too. She found her hairband on her wrist. “Wonderful eulogy though, Claret,” she said.
“Were you close to the deceased?”
“Hell, Sam would’ve loved it,” said Ffooks, adding for some reason, “God gave rock n roll to everyone.”
She took up the crucifix at her throat and gave this thought some consideration, saying, “Do drop by the vicarage sometime for tea and chats if you like.” She was speaking to Hopkins, but Ffooks said, “Amen to that.”
From behind the sunglasses the world took on an orange blear. He peered into the ever after, or thereabouts.