They missed the bus from the crematorium and had to walk back to Edie's. It was raining, and all the way Stan argued with Marie that they should have taken a taxi.
"It was you that was too mean to hire a car" she said serenely, and she lifted her wet face to the dripping plane trees and sang in a queer ceremonial chant "too mean to hire a car to his own brother's funeral!"
Stan blustered as he splashed along the gutters edge.
"I told you, that was a mix up. I thought we were sharing with Henry."
"But we didn't, did we. We had to get the bus. We had to set off early."
Marie's mouth was quivering now. Perhaps that's what she minded, thought Stan. Missing the sighs and the hugs, the big coated bums in the hallway while the women sob and the men shuffle. Women like that kind of thing. They like a clasp and a hug. Perhaps that's why Marie was nearly crying when they got to the crematorium a little after everyone else, in spite of their early start. Even a short walk from the bus stop takes longer than you think, these days.
And walking back, this was eternal. Here, along the railings of the old factory, even the cursory shelter of the trees was gone. Stan could feel an uncomfortable trickle across his shoulders.
"The rain's sodden me coat."
"It'll dry" said Marie. She sounded defiant.
He glanced across at her. She looked extraordinary, like a duck drowning. All her careful plumage was saturated and drooping, her face an ancient mermaid sobbing.
"Why the hell didn't you let me call a taxi?"
She did not answer.
"A pretty pair of drowned rats we'll look. Whatever will people think of us?"
"Your brother's dead, Stan. That's what they'll be thinking about."
"It's disrespectful, Marie. Edie will have to fetch towels. We'll drip in the hall."
"Then why didn't you call a taxi ?"
Stan stamped on, stumped. That's Marie for you. Tells you she'd rather walk and then says why didn't you please yourself. Suddenly emboldened by the misery of the rain he shouted out "You've been doing this for forty years !"
Habit made him take her arm momentarily as they crossed the puddle-stained road but he released it on the farther side and plunged on into his anger.
"For forty years I let you do what you want, and you sneer at me for it."
"For forty years" shouted Marie into the blustering rain "you've been too much of a mouse to say what you want. It's all been up to me, the lot of it. And then you like to say you're hen-pecked!"
"I never said that to you, Marie"
"I know what you say" said Marie simply and then, wildly into the lashing wind "Your brother was never like that."
Stan remembered the funeral, and thought that perhaps that was why Marie is so sad and quarrelsome.
Appeasingly, for her anger made him anxious, he said "He used to like walking in the rain."
"I know" said Marie. Her face was a gargoyle of grief.
"Remember that time in Brighton, when it rained?" he said after a little while.
Her briskness was faltering now, as if her brittle little body was all soaked up with rain and could hardly step further.
"That was a long time ago, Marie."
"Yes" she said, docile again, and she let him take her hand as they walked the last few hundred yards to Edie's where the sardine canapes are almost gone but there is still hot, sweet tea.
Illustration by Sam Morrison