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In the writing workshop I presented on 25th May 2023 I suggested the outline of a short story.
I asked all the members of the group to write that story and present it at the next meeting.
This is my attempt at the story...

The Tie Conundrum

John overslept on the day of his mother’s funeral. There had been so many details to organise during the last week that he’d been completely overwhelmed by the stress of it all, and his mother’s constant nagging hadn’t helped either. “It’s got to be perfect,” she kept insisting. “It’s the very last social occasion I’ll ever attend, so it’s got to be right in every detail.”

“Yes, mum,” was the only response that John could come up with. After all, she wasn’t wrong. It really would be her last social engagement. And so last night, completely exhausted both physically and emotionally, he’d climbed into bed and dived down into a deep, dark sleep...

He was woken up by sunshine streaming through the curtains. Groggily he groped for his watch on the bedside table. What time was it? “It’s OK,” said his mother, “you’ve still got a couple of hours before we have to leave for the crematorium.” She was sitting on a chair by the side of his bed, passing the time until he woke up by knitting something amorphous. It appeared to have three sleeves and each of them was a different colour, one red, one yellow and one green. John yawned and she looked at him fondly. “Get yourself some breakfast,” she suggested. “Then have a shower and get dressed. Once you’ve done all that I think it will be time to go.”

“Do you want any breakfast?” John asked.

“No dear,” said his mum. “I don’t do breakfast any more. I’m dead, remember? It’s my funeral today.”

“Oh yes,” said John, “that’s right.” He staggered off to the kitchen in search of cornflakes and coffee and his mum returned to her knitting. It looked like she was working on a fourth sleeve now. It too was green, though a slightly different shade from the other green one. Perhaps I should sing Greensleeves to her thought John. Her knitting had always been something of a family joke when she was alive and it seemed that nothing much had changed now that she was dead. She still had an inordinate fondness for sleeves. Nobody could ever wear anything she knitted because none of them ever had enough arms, so once she finished knitting something she usually just unravelled all the wool and started knitting something else.

After breakfast, feeling slightly less groggy now, John went for a shower. High pressure hot water, he thought as the shower pummelled and bruised his body, nothing like it for waking a man up. Wide awake at last, clean and dry, he dressed himself in the brand new suit and brand new shirt that his mother had insisted he had to buy. Then he riffled through his collection of ties, seeking something suitable. Eventually he settled on a green tie that was covered in a flock of white sheep. One black sheep standing alone in the middle of the flock provided a nicely symbolic and funereal note of mourning, he thought.

But his mother thought differently. “You can’t wear that tie,” she said, horrified. “If you wear sheep to my funeral I’ll never forgive you. I’ll come back and haunt you.”

“You’re already haunting me,” John pointed out, “so that really isn’t much of a threat.”

She ignored his comment. “No sheep,” she said firmly. “What else have you got?”

John went searching again. “How about this one?” he asked, holding up a grey tie with a very self-satisfied looking cat on it. Dangling from the cat’s mouth was a length of cable with a dead computer mouse on the end of it. The cat was clearly very proud of its hunting skills.

“Your ties seem to be very obsessed with animals,” his mother said. “First sheep and now cats. Have you got pigs, horses and cows as well?”

“Actually I have,” admitted John. “I like animals. They are simple creatures, much less complicated than people. I’ve also got a chicken and two swans. Will any of them do?”

“No animals and no birds,” said his mother. “Animals and birds aren’t suitable for a funeral. What else have you got?”

John returned to his tie rack and started flipping through the ties again. “I’ve got one with a Toulouse-Lautrec poster on it,” he said. “It’s called Aristide Bruant in his cabaret. It’s quite famous.”

“Certainly not,” said his mother firmly. “ Toulouse-Lautrec was French. There’ll be nothing French at my funeral, thank you very much.”

“You’ve made me order croissants and baguettes for the funeral feast,” John pointed out. “They are both French foods. And there’ll be champagne...”

“That’s different,” said his mum in a tone of voice that brooked no argument. “Choose another tie.”

“I’ve got one with a copy of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling on it,” said John. “And I’ve got one with Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. I like famous paintings almost as much as I like animals.”

His mother was scandalised. “The Birth of Venus has naked ladies on it,” she said. “I’m not having nudity at my funeral, particularly not female nudity!” She paused for a moment. Then she asked thoughtfully, “On the other hand, do you happen to have any naked men? Michelangelo’s statue of David, for example. That might be worth wearing round your neck. I think I might enjoy looking at that. It would give me something to reminisce about while I’m waiting for the crematorium to get up to temperature”

“No I haven’t,” said John, feeling slightly shocked at the direction the conversation was taking. “My tastes don’t run that way.”

His mother nodded. “Probably just as well,” she said. “Scandal is the last thing you need at a funeral. People would be bound to talk.”

John turned away from his tie rack. “That’s the lot,” he said. “I don’t have any more ties. Perhaps I should have bought a suitable one yesterday when I bought the shirt.”

“Well it’s too late for that now,” said his mum. “We’ll just have to think of something else. Maybe I could knit you a tie. It wouldn’t take very long.”

“That depends how many sleeves you knit onto it,” said John. “The more sleeves you knit the longer it will take to finish and the more likely it is that you will be late for your own funeral.”

“Ties don’t have sleeves,” said his mother scornfully. “Don’t you know anything?”

“I’m sure they do when you knit them,” said John. “I’ve never seen you knit anything without sleeves before.”

“All it takes is a bit of self-discipline,” said his mum. “I’m sure I’ll manage.” She settled down to knit him a proper funeral tie.

True to her word, it didn’t take his mum very long to knit the tie. It was black and, rather to John’s surprise, remarkably sleeveless. He fastened it around his neck in a perfect half-windsor knot and admired himself in the mirror. The tie actually made him look quite elegant. It contrasted well with the dazzling white of his new shirt. “That’s the first thing you’ve knitted for me that I’ve ever been able to wear,” he said.

“I suspect it will be the last as well,” said his mum. “I don’t have enough time left to knit you anything else. Come on, we need to go.”

John settled himself in his car and drove to the crematorium. He was the last to arrive, but nobody complained. He checked his watch. No, he wasn’t late, thank goodness. His mum was on time for her own funeral. “It’s a good turn out,” he said, looking at the crowd of mourners.

“It certainly is,” said his mum. “I wonder where they’ve all come from? Actually, I wonder who most of them are.”

John cast his eyes over all the people in the crematorium. Just like his mum, he didn’t recognise most of them either. But he did spot one familiar face. “There’s Uncle George,” he said. “I’m surprised he’s here. He hasn’t spoken to you for at least thirty years.” George, he couldn’t help noticing, was wearing a green tie with a flock of white sheep on it. There was one black sheep in the middle of the flock. Damn the man! John started to feel grateful that his mother hadn’t let him wear his own sheep tie. He shuddered to think of the teasing he would have had to endure if he and George had worn identical ties.

“He probably wants to make sure I’m actually dead,” said his mum. “He never believes anything he hasn’t seen with his own eyes.”

“Come on,” said John, “let’s sit down. The service is about to begin.”

It was a very moving service. John had a lump in his throat and several people were openly weeping. His mum looked very pleased. “You organised that very well,” she said. “I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks mum,” said John.

The final prayer was said and the final song was sung. The coffin slid away and the crematorium curtains closed around it. His mum leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said. “That was lovely. Goodbye, dear.”

And just like that, she was gone.


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