Alcandor remembered the procession, but nothing of the service at the church. The next thing he remembered was the procession at the graveside, where each mourner was given a small white flower to place on the casket before the burial. He was to remember every second of this part of the funeral for the rest of his life.
Alcandor wanted to avoid the procession, but was caught in the middle of a tight bunch of villagers and couldn’t escape unnoticed. The bunch thinned out to a line, and Alcandor was in the queue holding his daughter’s hand, while Caterina was immediately in front of him with Stepan.
The queue moved slowly, but for Alcandor it was moving too fast. He hadn’t seen Constantine yet, but he knew that the moment was coming and his heart began to pound.
He wanted to slip out of the queue and move to the end of the line again. His mouth was dry and his body shook with apprehension. Damaris looked up at her father, sensing his disquiet. He smiled at her to try to reassure her. He wanted to do anything to escape the moment that was fast approaching—the moment when he knew that, even if he didn’t see Constantine, his friend would see him. He knew that Constantine, having placed the first flower on the casket, was standing by the graveside next to the priest, watching the rest of the mourners file by.
As the gaping hole of the grave loomed ahead of him, he thought that the earth was going to suck him in and devour him. He hoped it would, if it meant avoiding the next few moments.
Caterina and Stepan dropped their flowers and moved to Alcandor’s left. With her little fist inside her father’s right hand, Damaris stepped forward, drawing her father to the front of the queue.
For a fraction of a second he saw Constantine and the priest over Caterina’s shoulder, directly ahead, standing on the opposite side of the grave. He felt as if his pounding heart were about to burst through his chest.
He leaned forward on shaking legs to release his white flower. At the bottom of the hole he saw a welcoming, sweet-scented, white floral cushion, beckoning him inwards for refreshing, uninterrupted rest. But
then he glimpsed the casket between the petals, and remembered what lay buried beneath. He was overcome by a wave of nausea and he felt as if some invisible hand was slowly knotting his gut.
Suddenly, Alcandor felt warmth, comfort and strength flowing from his daughter’s tiny hand, clasped within his own. He remembered the experience afterwards as if her tiny hand was clasping his, keeping him from falling into the open grave. Damaris was only a little girl, but he was glad for the strength of her hand.
However, the reassuring warmth suddenly became a consuming heat. The blood rose like a boiling tide from his churning stomach, washing up over his neck and into his head. He thought he was about to suffocate. The sudden rush of heat speared like a javelin into a focal point in his skull, and he knew then that Constantine’s eyes were upon him.
The sudden awareness of Constantine watching him caused him to release his grip on the anaemic white flower in his left hand. He watched it twirl and spin on invisible currents of air, until it settled softly atop the flowers that had gone before. He thought of the eternal rest awaiting it, and envied it intensely.
He stood upright and his eyes met Constantine’s. The blood that had rushed to his head a moment ago, drained rapidly away to the soles of his feet, and he shivered. The gaze lingered no longer than a second. Neither of them spoke.
As Alcandor turned away with Damaris, he knew that as long as he lived, he would remember that look in Constantine’s eyes, just as well as he remembered that blood-curdling cry the week before.
What was it about Constantine’s eyes that he would remember? He realised quickly what it was. The deep black eyes were vacant pools of nothingness. It was as if Constantine had never seen Alcandor in his life before.
But Alcandor knew that the experience of searing heat in his skull a moment ago meant the exact opposite. It was an unmistakable response of recognition. Constantine did see Alcandor, and recognised him, as he looked into the grave. It was Constantine who set the fire to the point of the javelin and aimed it at Alcandor’s head.
Alcandor knew that, if Constantine had recognised him when he was looking into the grave, then he must have chosen not to acknowledge him when he raised his head. The lack of response was a deliberate, calculated choice to ignore him.
The moment of looking into the grave, placing a flower and raising his head took only a matter of seconds, but Alcandor had lived a lifetime in that moment, and he was exhausted.
He made his excuses to Caterina and said that he didn’t want to return to Constantine’s house for the after-burial dinner. Caterina said that she was feeling tired too, and would come home with him. She didn’t want to be away from him for long. She feared for his state of mind.
Please let me know if you have been having any technical glitches with this blog. I have had some feedback about occasional glitches where people have only been able to read a title, but not the entire post, and I have also had a report of posts with the wrong title. However from my end, I’m not seeing these problems. It would be helpful to know how widespread the issues are. Thanks.