Twenties Girl

Page 12


“But why?”
“I… um…” I clear my throat. “I don’t think it’s the right time. For her to go.”
“Lara.” Dad sighs. “I know you’re under strain at the moment, but really…” He turns to the vicar. “I do apologize. My daughter hasn’t been quite herself lately. Boyfriend trouble” he mouths.
“This is nothing to do with that!” I protest indignantly, but everyone ignores me.
“Ah. I understand.” The vicar nods sympathetically. “Lara, we’ll finish the funeral now,” she says, as though I’m a three-year-old. “And then perhaps you and I will have a cup of tea together and a little talk, how about that?”
She presses the button again and the organ Muzak resumes. A moment later, the coffin starts moving creakily away on its plinth, disappearing behind the curtain. Behind me I hear a sharp gasp, then-
“Noooo!” comes a howl of anguish. “Nooo! Stop! You have to stop!”
To my horror, the girl runs up onto the plinth and starts trying to push the coffin back. But her arms don’t work; they keep sinking through.
“Please!” She looks up and addresses me desperately. “Don’t let them!”
I’m starting to feel a genuine panic here. I don’t know why I’m hallucinating this or what it means. But it feels real. Her torment looks real. I can’t just sit back and witness this.
“No!” I shout. “Stop!”
“Lara-” Mum begins.
“I mean it! There’s a just cause and impediment why this coffin cannot be… fried. You have to stop! Now!” I hurry down the aisle. “Press that button or I’ll do it myself!”
Looking flustered, the vicar presses the button again, and the coffin comes to a standstill.
“Dear, perhaps you should wait outside.”
“She’s showing off, as usual!” says Tonya impatiently. “‘Just cause and impediment.’ I mean, how on earth could there be? Just get on with it!” she bossily addresses the vicar, who bristles slightly.
“Lara.” She ignores Tonya and turns to me. “Do you have a reason for wanting to stop your great-aunt’s funeral?”
“And that is…” She pauses questioningly.
Oh God. What am I supposed to say? Because a hallucination told me to?
“It’s because… er…”
“Say I was murdered!” I look up in shock, to see the girl right in front of me. “Say it! Then they’ll have to put off the funeral. Say it!” She’s beside me, shouting in my ear again. “Say it! Say-it-say-it-say-it-”
“I think my aunt was murdered!” I blurt out in desperation.
I have seen my family looking at me, gobsmacked, on a number of occasions in my time. But nothing has ever provoked a reaction like this. They’re all turned in their seats, their jaws hanging in incomprehension like some kind of still-life painting. I almost want to laugh.
“Murdered?” says the vicar at last.
“Yes,” I say forthrightly. “I have reason to believe there was foul play. So we need to keep the body for evidence.”
Slowly, the vicar walks toward me, narrowing her eyes, as though trying to gauge exactly how much of a time-waster I am. What she doesn’t know is, I used to play staring matches with Tonya, and I always won. I gaze back, perfectly matching her grave, this-is-no-laughing-matter expression.
“Murdered… how?” she says.
“I’d rather discuss that with the authorities,” I shoot back, as though I’m in an episode of CSI: Funeral Home .
“You want me to call the police?” She’s looking genuinely shocked now.
Oh God . Of course I don’t want her to call the bloody police. But I can’t backtrack now. I have to act convincing.
“Yes,” I say after a pause. “Yes, I think that would be best.”
“You can’t be taking her seriously!” Tonya explodes. “It’s obvious she’s just trying to cause a sensation!”
I can tell the vicar is getting a bit pissed off with Tonya, which is quite useful for me.
“My dear,” she says curtly, “that decision does not rest with you. Any accusation like this has to be followed up. And your sister is quite right. The body would have to be preserved for forensics.”
I think the vicar’s getting into this. She probably watches TV murder mysteries every Sunday evening. Sure enough, she comes even farther toward me and says in a low voice, “Who do you think murdered your great-aunt?”