In the master bedroom, a woman shut the door between herself and the scores of well-meaning friends and relations who filled the house with their hustle and bustle. She sat down in front of her mirror and began making herself ready to face the hardest day of her life. She worked carefully, taking each step of the ritual slowly, and attempting to brace herself with the simple fact of its familiarity. It was a routine in which each item on her dressing table had its allotted place, and was to be used at its allotted time.
She noticed dispassionately how sorrow and lack of sleep had wreaked havoc with her face, and dabbled random snatches of grey into her cap of mouse-brown hair. Even the softly flattering antique mirror she had inherited from her mother’s grandmother couldn’t make her seem anything but old, and sad, and somehow diminished on this particular morning. ‘You look a proper hag’ she said to her reflection, before gently putting her hairbrush in its accustomed place. She picked up her rings from the little glass bowl beside her, where they always lived when she wasn’t wearing them. After sliding them onto her fingers, she closed her eyes while she threaded gold hoops into the holes in her earlobes.
Feeling the warm weight of two hands on her shoulders, she opened her eyes and managed a half smile for the man who stood behind her.
‘You all right?’
‘No. But I will be.’
She looked down at the rings on her left hand for a moment before saying what was at the very front of her mind.
‘It occurs to me that if I believed in the resurrection and the light, and the possibility of eternal life in the hands of a loving God, today might be a comfort to me…’
‘It might indeed. But as you don’t, not even a little bit, it will be just one more thing to be endured.’
Being so completely understood was like balm to her shredded nerve endings and she put the hand she had been so carefully studying on top of the big square one on her left shoulder.
‘Oh I do love you’ she said with almost childlike simplicity ‘I just don’t tell you enough.’
‘That’s all right’ he replied, in the deep imperturbable voice that had been her lodestone for more than forty years ‘I know. I’ve always known.’
She allowed herself the luxury of leaning back and resting her head against the solid wall of his chest. Closing her eyes she let the tears run unchecked down her cheeks.
‘Don’t cry, love.’
‘Am not. Much.’
Then she felt him bend and rest his cheek against her hair. They stayed like that for a long time, each drawing courage from the other as they had done so many times before. When he finally lifted his head, their eyes met in the silvery depths of the mirror.
‘I just wish…’
But she was never to hear what he wished as there came a tap on the door and her sister’s worried face peeped around the panels.
‘Are you ready? It’s just that the cars are here.’
She stood up and squared her shoulders. ‘Yes. Coming now.’
So she left that place of sanctuary, and went downstairs. Down to where people wore black clothes and sombre faces, and where the hearse bearing her husband’s coffin waited in the street.