Authors: Hazel Edwards
âAshes. People's remains. They're called urns,' explained Nell.
âYuk.' It was like being posted on to the next life. If you believed there was an after-life. Did they mean a life-after-life, or what? No one was willing to talk much about death. They always dropped their voices in case of being overheard, by God or something. I wonder if you could be e-mailed, as a sort of attachment. Attention
, for cosmos, perhaps? No viruses attached. Only, in this case, there might be. I'd tell that to Luke later. He might laugh, even if others didn't. Luke got my jokes, mostly. Could a global virus crash the universe? That was a seriously far out idea.
A White Lady offered a white pen.
âSign the guest book,' Nell whispered to me.
âWhat for?' I read the earlier names. There weren't many.
âSo the family will know who to send thank you cards to afterwards.'
âI don't know their addresses. So why do people get thanked for going to a funeral?'
Ignoring that, Mrs Donna introduced me. âThis is Zoe, the granddaughter. Katalin's daughter.' Didn't mean much to those who'd never met my mother, but the olds still nodded politely.
âLooks just like her gran.' (I didn't, except for the nose.)
âCan you dance like Magda?' (Belly-dance? No way!) âOr sing?' (Not in Hungarian!)
Just Mum and me were Family now. Dad left when I was very young, and nobody talked about him much. Only when Luke and his dad joked around did I miss having one. But how can you miss what you've never had?
A tap on my shoulder. I turned. âHey, Luke.' I'd never been so pleased to see him. He looked out-of-place in a borrowed navy jacket, which sagged, over his jeans. â Good to see you.'
âHi, Zoe. Sorry about your gran,' he mumbled. âThis place is like the Cyber Dark Game Palace. Saw the urns. Unreal.'
Funerals were new gigs for me too. The organ music was creepy, like SFX out of a horror movie. My gran liked belly dancing and those Middle Eastern drums or even gypsy fiddle music, so this music was wrong for her. Also the beige carpet and curtains in the chapel were
Gran-like. Gran wasn't âreligious', in a churchy way, but she respected âother worlds' and
was her favourite colour.
âSit in the front, Zoe,' pointed the dumpy White Lady, shaped like an eight. âNear theâ¦'
She meant Gran's coffin, which was poised on a sort of supermarket trolley with a wreath of roses on top. Gran did like flowers, especially roses. I like the smell of rose petals. That's another weird thing about funerals. People bring flowers for the dead person who can't smell or touch them. Bit of a waste, but I guess the florists do OK. If they couldn't sell flowers for funerals, St Valentine's Day and weddings, they'd probably go broke.
âI'll sit up the back,' Luke said hurriedly, and left. I felt very alone.
âAre you OK, Zoe?' Mrs Donna bobbed her head respectfully towards the coffin and then sat with me in the front seat.
âFine,' I lied. I was sitting in my grandmother's funeral. Of course I wasn't all right. Later, I would worry about Gran's past. Now, I was worrying about the present.
The White Ladies were different heights. What if the coffin carriers dropped it? Would the lid split? You're not supposed to think about things like that. I wondered how they would manage to lift a coffin, and carry it on their different shoulder heights. Of course. They'd use the trolley with wheels. No heaving on the shoulders. Maybe that's why they get everything in position before the mourners arrive. Just in case they drop anything important. Like my old team nearly did when they carried me off the field after the Grand Final. Back to now! Maybe the coffin just slips out of sight and they don't carry it?
I knew why I was thinking about this stuff. So I wouldn't freak out. Creepy places, these funerals. I didn't want to think about what would happen behind the velvet curtains. Cremation. Going up in smoke. That's what they did for Viking heroes, burnt them in their ships. I did that in an assignment in primary school, long before the Year 9 family history assignment started creating problems in our family.
âPlease be seated, friends and relatives of erâ¦Magda Kovacs.'
Out front with the mike, the funeral celebrant was like a DJ, but he didn't know my grandmother before, so everything he said could have fitted
woman of seventy. His voice was rich and tawny-sounding, but maybe you needed a voice like that to be a professional talker. Maybe he recycled a basic speech for all funerals? But after a few minutes he did invite people to comment on my gran.
âPerhaps one of MagDA's friends or family would like to say something?' He stressed the Da at the end of her name. His voice echoed around the chapel because people were being so quiet that you couldn't even sniff without them all looking at you. I rammed the Kleenex under my nose to stop any noise, and just about choked trying to be quiet.
Say what? Even if Mum had been here, she hated speaking in public.
No one said anything. I turned around. The oldies looked a bit embarrassed by the space in the service. They dabbed at their eyes and noses with hankies. I wondered if anyone called Tuna would stand and I could return the postcards.
âAm I supposed to get up?' I whispered, shoving the wet tissue in my pocket.
Mrs Donna shook her head, and her chins wobbled.
Suddenly, Luke stood up, and said in a loud voice, âMadga Kovacs was a cool lady. She even surfed the net, as she called it. ' Then he sat down and the noise of his feet echoed around the chapel. Everybody swivelled around to look at him. Luke's neck was going bright red. I could see a few zits standing out.
volunteered at school for anything, unless it beeped. But Gran used to feed him goulash whenever we stopped by. And he helped her recently when she deleted files by accident.
After that, the service didn't take long. I was concentrating on not crying or sniffing loudly, but my tissues were still a soggy, stringy ball by the end. I was OK until the coffin jerked a little and then started to roll behind the dark velvet curtains on rollers and I realised I'd never be able to ask Gran all those questions: Who was that man in the photo? Why had she used more than one name? Who was Mr or Mrs Tuna? She had gone and I was left behind to make sense of the mystery of my family history.
The end of the polished wood coffin vanished. That was so final.
I gulped and it came out sounding like a snort. In that quiet chapel it sounded so loud. My last tissue dissolved as I tried to wipe away my tears.
âHere.' Mrs Donna passed me a few more dry ones. âYou have to go outside first because you're the main relative. Others will follow you.'
So we walked to the front door behind the White Ladies. My gran was a tall woman, so how could she fit in such a short coffin? I guess it
her in there, behind the curtains. Who checked? I guess the undertaker did and that's why they were called that. But if someone dead thought they were going up to heaven, maybe the funeral director should be called the above-taker. Going up to heaven, above.
Stop it, Zoe
, I told myself.
You're just playing word games to stop thinking about the real Gran who didn't believe in heaven anyway, so she wouldn't be bothering about a fake ID to get in there.
How did I find out my gran had fake ID? Well, something serious happened last month when Gran leased the computer and started surfing. I made the mistake of asking her questions about our family, which came from Hungary years ago. My cyber hockey mate, Luke, started hacking at our family tree when he found the site of the Dead Persons' Society, and told my gran about the links to the Hungarian sites. That's when Gran started surfing the net, seriously.
Now, nothing was certain any more. I felt shaky and a bit scared of the unknown. I was the only one left.
âWoof. Woof. Woof.'
Bark was digging up the vegie patch. Chasing cats was his other hobby. At this moment, he seemed so alive and ordinary and noisy. I felt grateful for that.
âI'm off now. Sure you're OK, Zoe? I'll feed Bark until it's decided where he's to live. And you're certain your gran would have liked me to have this back? Magda found it so useful, I know.' Mrs Donna was fussing as usual.
That gross black vase had been Gran's pet hate. Since she didn't want to hurt her neighbour's feelings, Gran kept it near the front door, with umbrellas, spare keys and things to be returned.
âI'm sure Gran would want you to keep it as a â¦ memory.' I couldn't think of the proper word.
âMemento? Magda did say she was leaving something for you too, Zoe. I couldn't understand which file she was talking about. Have a look for that, too.'
Mrs Donna obviously wanted to go home to put her feet up. Ankle fat rolled over the edges of her best shoes and she walked with difficulty, hauling her bulk around.
âI'll carry that next door for you,' Luke hoisted up the black vase. His shoulders and thighs were strong from training. He just looked a geek in between.
âAre you sure that's all right? Just you two young ones?' Mrs Donna had been a brilliant neighbour to Gran, but I wished she'd go home. We couldn't even take Bark to Luke's place because he'd eat their cat. This is when I really missed my mum.
âYeah, I'll just look around here for a few things first, er, Nell. And then we'll walk back to Luke's parents' place. Thanks for all your help.'
âMake sure you lock up. If you find a will, give it the to Trustee who'll call soon. Here are all the keys from the black vase.' Mrs Donna handed over a jingly bundle with a name tag.
âIs your mother coming back soon, Zoe? It's not right that a young girl has to make all the arrangements.'
âKat's signed up for the season. She's a winterer. She can't get back because they're iced in for the winter months. But she e-mails and we talk on the satellite phone and Skype. The Antarctic Division give us discount rates so families can keep in touch.'
That was true, but I was still trying to sound OK and in charge. All afternoon, I felt as if I'd been playing âthe granddaughter in grief'. I felt a bit of a fake, unlike Luke, who always said what he thought, even if it upset people. Gran had liked him. So did I, most of the time, as long as he wasn't putting on an act and trying to impress Jessica. With Luke, I could stop pretending.
Five minutes later, Luke was back. âDropped the vase, when Bark barked and wanted to give me this.' Luke held out a smelly bone.
âYou're kidding about the vase?' The bone smelled awful, as if it had been around for years.
âOf course. Was your Gran starting a new vegie patch?'
Bark had dug around all the shrubs, scattered soil over the path and made holes between the tomato plants. The kitchen herb garden was a holey mess, with scraps of green herbs dragged all over.
âNo, it's just Bark. He digs when he's bored. First he lost Pa, and now Gran's gone.' I dropped the bone in the biggest hole and swept soil over it. Then I swept the path clean. I picked up some of the scraggly herbs and tried to replant them. Some were too dry. I fixed a couple of the palings in the fence where Bark had tried to get through or dig under. If he was alone much longer, and especially if he didn't get regular walks, Bark would wreck the yard.
âShouldn't have showed your Gran the Dead Persons' Society links. Bad timing.' Luke pushed back his wire frames, and peered at the Bark holes. He'd taken off the ill-fitting jacket, which must have been his dad's. He unbuttoned his good shirt, and stripped down to his usual t-shirt with
scrawled across it.
âThat's gross,' I pointed to his shirt. âEven for wearing to training.'
Ignoring my comment about his clothes, Luke grabbed a spade and energetically started filling in the Bark holes. The dog sat and watched as if Luke was under his orders.
âThe site just linked to her Hungarian past. She'd been pretending to be Magda all the time she was in Australia. Before that, she was someone else, but I don't know who. I was just going to ask her, and she was raced off to Intensive Care,' I was thinking aloud to myself as much as talking to Luke. I was trying to work out how my gran thought, but there weren't enough clues left behind. You think you know someone and then you find out things that make her seem like an entirely different person. So you feel a bit of an idiot that you didn't realise earlier.
âYeah. Names are sick. Wish I could change mine.' Luke leaned on the spade, panting.
His family name of Warne wasn't his fault, but his parents should have thought a bit longer before they named him. Luke was just a mate â with an unfortunate name, if you said his first and second name together really fast. I mean, how could you have a boyfriend who's called Luke-Warm by other kids?
Luke's a cyber junkie. You know, one of those geeks who thinks if you can't click on its screen, it doesn't rate. In between he plays hockey, which is pretty rare for geeks, who only exercise their mouse-hand usually. Luke's thighs and shoulders are as fit as his mouse-hand. But then Luke's family is keen on the game of hockey.
âThat site's forâ¦ gene-somethings,' said Luke. âYou know, those ones who track family trees. They're not deadâ¦ just the people they're trying to find out about are dead. They're tracking ancestor stuff, like famous people, or diseases.'
â “Genealogists.” 'I knew how to say it because Gran told me, but I need a spell-check to write it. There were other words nearby that sounded a bit like it, but you don't want to make a mistake and say âgynaecologist', which means a doctor for womenâs stuff. I can't spell that without the spell-check either. Gran used to call the history detectives the âgenis'. That's shorter, and much easier to say and to remember.