Out Of The Shadows

Lynette Rees

As I walk through the graveyard and survey the scene around me, I feel a lump in my throat.  So this is the turn out Jenny has, still as much loved in death as she was in life.  I don't think I've ever seen more people at a funeral, there are black suited men and dark hatted ladies everywhere I turn. A group standing at the church entrance are Jenny's friends from the office, and another gathering standing under the yew tree I recognize from her fitness class. Jenny Symposia, ever popular, my older sister, gone but not forgotten. An old man standing near an ivy clad tombstone tips his hat to me and smiles as if he understands. But how can he? How can anyone here understand what it feels like to lose the sister whose shadow you have hidden in for years?

Mum and Dad are walking towards the office girls now and greet the mourners as they make their way into St. Joseph's for the service. I follow them inside and make my way near the front. I sit behind a woman, a distant relative of Dad's, in a wide brimmed hat, so I don't have to stare at it, Jenny's coffin I mean. Yet I can't help looking, sneaking a peak at the oak coffin with its brass handles, only the best for our Jen. Laid on top is a wreath of white lilies, Jenny's favourite flower: With Love from David and the Boys, I would imagine. I take a glance around me, some faces are familiar:  Jen's friends from our old comprehensive school, the girls from the office are sitting near the back behind the fitness fanatics, David's friends and their partners are sitting behind him and the boys. The poor boys. Daniel 9, is shuffling his feet trying to hold back the tears and Jon age 11 is staring at the floor. David is sitting upright looking composed, strong as ever, and me well I'm in the background as usual.

The music playing is 'Rock Of Ages' , taking me back to our Sunday school days when I was 5 and Jen was 6. Even then she was more popular than I was:  better looking with her long blonde hair, mine was a darker, dirtier blonde. Jenny made friends easily, attracting them like a magnet. I was the shy, reticent one. Jen did well at school too, she passed all 8 O Levels first time. I got 3 and had to resit the rest. Mum and Dad arranged a special party for Jen to celebrate her success, I just got a take away pizza. She got the best boyfriends, the popular, good-looking sporty ones, I got the dregs, or if I was lucky one or two of her cast offs.

Mum and Dad are walking to the front pew, they turn around and Mum puts her hand on my shoulder. Precious Jenny, their first born, sadly missed. The Vicar starts the service off by thanking us all for coming and then he talks about Jenny as if he knew her personally. What a good person she was, a loving wife and mother, caring daughter, all the friends she had, a terrible tragic accident... Funny thing is he didn't really know her at all. He only met her once at our cousin's wedding last year, no doubt he was as enchanted with her as everyone else was. His voice drones on and on.

The Jenny I remember when we were growing up is the one with the impish streak. The one who would burst into the bathroom when I was sitting on the toilet and flush it, so my bottom got wet. The Jenny who put mustard in my sandwiches and laughed as I ran to get a glass of water to cool my burning mouth. The sister who stole the only man I ever loved, David. The Jenny I hated but loved at the same time. Second best Sandra, that was me.

We sing one of Jenny's favourite hymns 'Thine Be the Glory' followed by a recording of 'Amazing Grace' sang by Judy Collins. The hairs on the back of my neck feel as though they are standing on end. Jenny loved that song. We all say the 'Lord's Prayer', then David stands up and walks towards the pulpit. He reads a couple of verses from an old book, something about Jenny having gone to another room. I see Dad put his arm around Mum as she breaks down into tears. There is one last prayer and we all stand as the Jenny's coffin is carried by the pall bearers down the aisle to the strains of Mendelssohn. 

I remain in my pew as the last of the mourners leave the little church and take out my compact and study my face. It's almost like looking at Jen. I had my hair dyed blonde last week, and now the resemblance is amazing. Some people have even commented on it. I know David noticed, he gazed at me a little too long last night when I went to collect Jennifer's clothing. He thought I might like her best clothes and the rest went to the charity shop. I offered to go over tomorrow night to cook him a meal when the boys have gone to bed. He told me he felt lonely.

As I leave the church and stand around the graveside where the vicar is saying a prayer and all the mourners bow their heads, I think back to the night of the accident. Poor Jenny, how was she to know that the lemonade she drank at my flat was spiked with alcohol and sleeping pills? I told the police that I begged her not to drive home that night as she had been drinking heavily, but she didn't listen. She ended up driving into a wall. People were shocked to hear that she had been drinking and driving. 

The graveside service ends and I toss a red rose down into the earth and it rests on the coffin where Jenny lies asleep. I make my way out of the church yard, pausing only to say goodbye to one of the fitness fanatics, who has asked me to come along to the class next week. David beckons me to take a ride in the chief mourner's car with him and the boys. It seems like I've finally stepped out of the shadows...

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