Bold Types 2020 Finalist – Peg McMillan

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Behind Every Great Man

Funny how your future turns out sometimes – best laid plans and all that.  If you’d asked me a year ago – but I digress.


I wasn’t sure what to expect from the funeral.  To be honest I hadn’t planned to attend, but here I was.


I wasn’t sure where to position myself – would anyone notice if I wafted down the front?  Too attention-seeking?  Better anyway to drift to the back of the hall, watch for the latecomers and no shows.


It was busier than I was expecting.  The folding metal chairs were full and there were people leaning against the full-length glass wall that looked over the memorial garden.


Esteemed painter Paul Hanson was front and centre, floppy fringe a little thinner every year, hips just as snaky, looking around with those big blue eyes, to acknowledge the murmured greetings from people in neighbouring seats.  There was much younger woman by his side who I didn’t recognise.  I wonder what he’d told her about his marriage?

The daughters were there too, sitting on the opposite side, partners and children in tow.   I couldn’t see any of Paul’s sons, but they were scattered across the globe, so fair enough.


Most of the congregation were colleagues, smart dark clothes, but in materials suitable for the clinic or the hospital.  A couple of the younger women looked forlorn, red eyed and sniffly.  These were the trainees, destined to become gynaecologists.  A few lawyers peppered the congregation.  The more colourfully dressed seemed to be linked to Paul in some way.


Humanist minister, good.  Readings abandoned in favour of a bit of chat about how life is, ok.  Quick run through of the career:  medicine as a calling, invention of a patented widget to make smears obsolete, philanthropy with half the profits, teacher and advocate for women’s health.  Personal life summary was lightning quick: only child of the long dead, married the esteemed painter at the beginning of her career when he was already well established, he was supportive of her ambitions and she was a loving step mother to Abigail and Alyssa.


Secular gospel tracks for the brief musical interludes, fine if uninspired.  At least no Amazing Grace or Robbie Williams.


The tributes were tedious.  An old colleague to talk about work life – Susie was a great teacher, courteous, patient centred, extra mile, innovative, God spare me I thought there was going to be a slide show presentation at one point.

Snaky hipped Paul up on his feet now.  Susie was complicated, troubled, ambitious, respected his artistic process even when she resented its demands, excellent stepmother but dedicated to her work, and on and on.   People welcome to join the family at Hillhead Book Club for informal memorial, donations welcome to Susie’s charity to carry on the good work.

No one contradicted his version of events of course, although I would have liked to shout something very rude at him.  Stopped short of posting a link to his memoir, out now at all good bookshops, thank goodness for small mercies.


Some sniffles in the audience, some nose blowing, a full-on greeting howl from the youngest grandchild. probably unrelated to anything Papa had to say.  Bill’s companion pale and very young.  She touched her abdomen and although I could see nothing yet, I knew she was expecting a child, his I assume.  HIs oldest must be thirty now surely?  Grandchildren older than this new child.


At last the curtain closed over the modest pine box, the congregation managed a fair attempt at the last non-hymn, then they began to shuffle off, car keys at the ready.


I wasn’t sure what to do next.   I’d never done this before and wasn’t sure of the form.

I opted for hanging back, hovering by the front door, waiting to hear fragments of what was said.


‘God I’ll miss her.  She was so supportive when I fainted at my first section.’

‘Remember that time she…’

‘Do you think they’ll advertise the hospital job?’

‘Who’s going to take over the committee?’

‘I’ve got to go back, I’ve a clinic at two but I’ll see you at the gym, yeah?’

‘Bill, I’ll follow you to the pub, I’ve got room for two if anyone needs a lift’.


As the crowd quickly thinned, I realised I’d to make a plan quickly or get left behind.

I reckoned it couldn’t be too difficult to tack on to the group if there were spaces in the car.  No one spoke to me on the short journey back to the West End.


The whole place was devoted to the informal gathering.  Bill and his friend, the girls and their families, had already moved to sit in a group in the far corner, carafes of water and wine on the table, cans of Coke open beside the kids.  A few other people I recognised were chatting away by the buffet table, a couple of folk still at the bar, when I arrived.


I moved slowly to the corner table, wondering again about the young woman.  What did she believe?  That Paul had a brilliant, unstable wife who’d thrown herself off the balcony of their shared home, leaving him tragically widowed for a second time?  Did she know the breakup was inevitable and the prenuptial agreement was about to come into force?  The one he’d insisted on because he didn’t want to share the profits from his art, which had dried up many years ago?


I kept moving toward the table and made a sound that I couldn’t quite describe.  I didn’t seem to be able to find the words today.

Paul looked straight at me, as if he’d seen a ghost. ‘Susie!’ he cried.

And that is how I started haunting my widower, the murdering philandering thieving swine.

By Peg McMillan

All text appears as provided by the author.