Burying the Dead
Leaving distress at the church door, we men of the family went to the cemetery. Grandmother was in front, in the hearse all decked out in flowers and black streamers that fluttered in the breeze, which sometimes made it possible to read, in the air, the silver letters stitched on the ribbons. Behind her, in three or four cars, came my brothers and me, my cousins, uncles and the husband of one of grandmother’s nieces who didn’t stop coughing all the way to the cemetery. The funeral service had been attended by relatives and friends of my parents, and our own friends, some of whom had loved grandmother a lot, having long conversations with her when they came to visit or for lunch. Some friends of my grandfather's also came, but not many because they never went out and most of them had been dying off in recent years.
Grandmother had died at an advanced age, without being ill. Her heart was strong, her liver functioned perfectly and she had no stomach problems. Her legs … my legs … were the only thing she complained about. But nobody dies of legs. She didn't die of anything, just old age, fatigue, and wanting to go and keep her husband company, my grandfather who had died when my father wasn't even two.
Between my grandfather's death and grandmother's fifty years had gone by. Fifty years of remembering the young husband who died in her arms after he was suddenly felled by a heart attack, in the swing under the carob tree on the property he’d just inherited from his father. Fifty years of remembering him, talking about him, idealising him, keeping him in her memory, in her house and in her life. He was very tall, she said, good-looking, serious but so kind, so distinguished … he was the most distinguished of all his family. Next to him, Eustaqui was a peasant. He was neat, clean, always looked good. He wore the perfect clothes for every occasion. He had a natural elegance that had nothing to do with ostentation. He wasn't vain or conceited but always knew how to do the right thing, in dressing and everything else.
Grandmother kept the wedding portrait on her bedside table. He was in black, with a morning coat in English wool, she said, very soft and very fine, and warm and light as a feather. The points of his shirt collar formed perfect equilateral triangles. We bought the shirt-front to go with the morning coat in London, she said, and it was made of celluloid, washable and always so smooth, as if it was starched but much better than starched. She was in an organdie dress, white of course, with a long train that the photographer had arranged at her feet, all opened out like a fan. From the bunch of white lilies she held in her right hand fell little snow-white satin ribbons. They were a lovely couple to look at, perhaps with the beauty of perplexed faces.
My grandfather was buried in the wedding clothes he had only worn once. Now he was wearing them for all eternity. This had been grandmother's decision. He should be buried in his wedding clothes and I want to be buried in mine. I decided this when I was dressing your grandfather. With the veil and the train and the bunch of white lilies that I keep in the hatbox in the wardrobe.
The wardrobe was of dark mahogany, tall as a cathedral with a bevelled mirror that had always seemed immense to me, and it was crowned with a fantastic, indescribable, crenellated effect. There she kept her wedding dress, the veil, petticoat, shoes, silk stockings, the lace, the satin, the ribbons, and the simple, very beautiful jewellery she wore on her wedding day. I think that grandmother, who liked books, had read Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, and she has always reminded me of the ill-starred Miss Haversham who, even when she was old, was still waiting in her wedding finery for her bridegroom who never kept the appointment.
It was a lovely day. The spring sun lit up the dense green of the cypresses. We grandsons bore grandmother’s coffin on our shoulders to the family chapel, a mausoleum that our great-grandfather had bought so that all the family could rest under the same roof. After passing the iron grille, adorned with the endlessly repeated form of a communion chalice, one entered a small room presided over by an altar next to which my grandfather was buried beneath a stone on which were inscribed his name and the dates of his birth and death, with an adjoining space for adding the name and dates of his wife. At ground level, closed by a grille with the same ornamental motifs as the outside one, was the entrance leading down to a crypt where the other members of the family lay.
We left grandmother's coffin on one of the benches on the lateral wall of the chapel while the gravedigger lifted with great care the stone that covered the niche where my grandfather’s body lay. The coffin was in perfect condition. It was covered by a thick coat of very fine dust that subtly veiled the crucifix on the lid, allowing a glimpse of the naked forms of the figure below. Two men removed the heavy coffin that had been closed off for fifty years by the weighty marble of the tombstone. They cleaned away the dust with a cloth and removed the screws that hermetically closed the hefty lid of the coffin.
The grandfather I had never known was intact. The years that had gone by since his death had conserved his youth. He was, in effect, a twenty-six-year-old man, sickly-looking and transparent, with a fleshless nose and wafer-thin lips, completely covered by dust that was even finer and more immaterial than that coating his coffin. He was without socks, dressed in white, with tight-fitting knitted cotton pants, the celluloid shirtfront bought in London and the wide grey silk tie. He wasn't wearing the morning coat of English wool that my grandmother had dressed him in for burial and in which she had always remembered him after his death. The moths that had found a home in the wool, destroying it in the process, had undressed my grandfather and revealed him to our incredulous eyes in simple cotton underpants.
Translated from the Catalan by Julie Wark ©