What was that stink!
Looking around Fred couldn’t see anything that would cause the smell. Then looking down at his boots he saw they were covered in the foul smelling, turd coloured clay from the gravesite.
Pulling the trap to the side of the Lockwood road, the hot tears burning his cheeks, he felt the bile rise in his throat. Leaning over the side of the trap, he spewed until his belly was empty. He was sweating heavily in his mourning black, it was unseasonably hot for July. He lost track of how long he sat, still and lost in thought.
He was busy thinking about other things, Old man Skram had come to the funeral. Her children hadn’t. The children, he laughed bitterly. Margarethe was in Melbourne with her husband and Will was helping his father at Benjeroop. They had families of their own.
He’d done the right thing burying his beloved Annie under her real married name, Skram. It was the same with the paperwork he had made sure all the information was on there. He’d wanted her buried with their baby girl, Letitia, but Skram wouldn’t allow it. So she was buried nearby as close as he could get her. He grinned, it helped having a brother in law who was an undertaker. Sawyer had seen to it that everything was done right. He wanted Annie to have a good send off. She’d earnt it. Thank God, Sawyer had organised everything. He was still too shaken to even think straight.
She’d only been sick such a short time and now she was gone. She was so alive, and she loved to dance and laugh. Married and dead in the same year.
Annie me love, I’ve never regretted a minute of it. We’d some good times. I still expect you to come round the corner of the yard, flapping your pinny at the chooks and telling me to get down and get me lazy backside inside, that there’s another barrel that needs tapping.
Whist away with you Fred Lennon, you lazy bugger leaving me to do all the work as usual.
God Annie, you were so beautiful, black hair, blue eyes and beautiful skin. A typical Irish girl you were, and with a temper to boot. I don’t know how I am going to keep going without you.
Fred realised he must have spoken aloud as the horse was becoming restive. They had waited for her children to marry before they had married. They had had a good life together. Everyone knew they weren’t man and wife and they had come to the wedding none the less and helped them celebrate. Now they came to bury her.
Shaking himself out of his reverie, he reached for the water bag on the side of the trap, and lifting the damp canvas to his lips and took a long, deep swallow. Then pulling a white kerchief from his pocket he wet it with the cool water and mopped his face. He stuck his boots over the side of the wheel and poured his precious water over them trying to remove the clay. He realised he was crying. These were the first tears he had shed since his Annie had passed.
Putting the water bag back on the hook, he wiped his face again. Balling the kerchief he threw it under the seat and picking up the reins slapped them against the horse’s rump. If he didn’t hurry they’d be late, No one had gone past him on the road but they may have taken the other way. Either way, they would not be far behind. Flicking the reins again, and the horse broke into a trot, in a hurry to get back to his stable.
Driving the trap into the empty yard at the rear of the Queens Head, the horse came to a halt outside its stable door. Fred sat, the reins limp in his hands, struggling to compose himself. The drive from the cemetery had taken well over an hour. No time to think, the horse needed wiping down and the trap put away and he was needed inside. Little Ben appeared as if by magic and started to unbuckle the harness.
‘Mister Fred, there be people in the front parlour waiting fer you. You best change them boots before you go inside or Miss Annie will have at ya,’ realising what he’d said he clapped his hand over his mouth.
‘Mister Fred, I’m sorry I meant….’ His voice trailed off and he busied himself moving the horse out of the trap harness.
Walking over to the boy Fred put his hand on his shoulder, ‘It’s alright Ben, I know. I miss her too. I’ll change me boots in the tack room. Clean ’em for me later will you.’
‘Righto Mr Fred, they be looking like new when I finish with ’em.’
In the tack room Fred removed his mourning coat, hanging it on the hook. Taking down his brown jacket, he put it on and changed his boots. The jacket had been her wedding present, it had come all the way from Melbourne.
At the kitchen door, he could hear the women’s voices, he could smell the bread baking and the meat roasting. The heat hit him in the face as he opened the door.
‘Mr Fred, where’ve you bin?’ Ginny came running to him, she grabbed him by the arm.
‘The bar and the front parlour are packed tight, they’re there awaiting for you.’
The bar was bursting at the seams, so was the parlour everyone was here to pay their respects to Annie. He saw Skram’s pale face in the crowd, they had both lost her. Reaching up he rang the bell over the bar.
Fred turned to face his friends, ‘Thank you all for coming and the tables are set up outside. But before we go out to eat, please raise your glasses to Annie. The best wife and friend a man could have. To Annie.’
Their voices rang out, strong and clear,