A boring documentary

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

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