I wrote this story when I was just in my fifties, but I just came across it and decided to republish it here (I’m now nearly eighty)
The Boars Head had served up a beautiful meal and I walked back to my hotel with a satisfied glow which left no room for feeling lonely. My room was comfortable and spacious, and I lounged on the bed flicking through the channels to find something watchable on TV. The good producers must have had a night off! I’m not a football lover, and the most exciting alternative to the big match was the second half of a documentary about a Borough Council in London. It was not much of a prospect, but I decided to give it a try.
The panning shot showed a windowless room that could have been in a pottery. Steel doors along one wall covered the kiln entrances. Kilns? I sat forward. No, those were furnaces, and this was a crematorium. My face stiffened. A thick-gloved worker turned a handle and opened a furnace door. Something tightened behind my ribs. Using a tool like a long-handled rake, he scraped some ashes into a box. The camera zoomed in to show a close-up of the box label. I lost the power to blink as I read, “Lewisham Crematorium”. The remnants of my lazy contentment disappeared in an explosion of emotion.
The tightness in my chest became a pump forcing long restrained sobs to the surface. The walls closed around me forming a telescope focused on the TV screen, which was fading behind a curtain of warm tears. This was not just any crematorium, with its atmosphere of fascinated horror. This was Lewisham Crematorium; a place I always drive past with my eyes fixed on the road straight ahead; the place where my mother slid slowly through the curtains years ago and the tears wouldn’t come.
I had been stoic at the funeral; a pillar of support for the family, with my emotions restricted to a polite constriction somewhere down in my throat. Here in my hotel room, two careers and the childhood of my sons later, I was lonely. Desperately lonely. The restraining door had burst open, and a flood of helpless sorrow poured out cleansing me inside and washing away my shame-faced facade. Oh, the deceitfulness of those long denied feelings. Why had I been too big to cry for Mummy?
The screen had gone dark, though I don’t remember turning it off. The room was quiet and, breathing easily again, I changed quickly and slipped into bed. I was at peace and fell into a contented sleep. I had turned on to watch a boring documentary, and it was – it bored right into my heart. I had found a miracle cure for emotional paralysis.
©Derrick Phillips 1999 & 2022