“If you were to keel over and die tomorrow would Carmen know what your wishes were?”
Grateful for her mouthful of food, the woman’s friend continued chewing as she mulled over the question and the manner in which it was asked. “Yes,” came her eventual response.
The woman across the table was still wearing her black furry earmuffs to shield against the winter wind that would assault them on the walk through Queens Wood. She waited for the response to unfold as she slurped her curry soup, looking up over her spoon. “I mean, really, would she know what you wanted to happen with your body?” She persisted.
“I want to be composted,” and the friend took another bite of her meal, not long looking up. The woman on the sofa next to the table was awkwardly sitting, feeding her young baby, waiting on her friend to return from the toilet with her son. She was oblivious to the nearby conversation that advanced at stop and go pace through mouthfuls of food, or she pretended to be so. The woman behind the counter stood with her back arched to balance the growing weight of her pregnant belly. She took advantage of a moment of quiet in the café to retreat into the kitchen.
“Is that a thing?!” said the woman with the black earmuffs.
“Yeah, well, I suppose I’d have to be cremated first” came the friend with the American accent and the Full English breakfast.
“Sure, that makes sense,” paused the woman, “I’m glad you’ve got family to take care of such arrangements on your behalf. It’s rather different when one only has friends. A rather different process I’d think. I know I’d be missed by my dear friends, still it’s not quite the same.”
They chewed on in silence, the ear-muffed woman reading the paper in front of her as she slurped her soup and the American friend ate her toast.
“How did your parents meet?” the woman asked.
“Well, she was in her twenties and she was involved in a car accident. It took her a long while to recover, so by the time they met and married about ten years later, in those days, she was considered rather old, “explained the friend.
“Yes, that would have been considered old, wouldn’t it have? What did your father do?” the woman asked before the story of the parents’ meeting could continue further.
“Well, he was good looking, but he didn’t have any real prospects. So my mother encouraged him that he should get into radio and television,” she explained, gesturing with her fork as she spoke. “I was born in San Francisco, but we moved around a lot as a result of his work. Eventually we ended up in Idaho. Then one day we saw him on the TV, flirting with the weather girl.”
“Your mother was there watching the news and saw your father flirting with another woman?” the woman with the earmuffs asked in astonishment, to which the friend nodded and continued.
“He eventually had an affair with the weather girl, then my parents got a divorce. He had a son with the weather girl, and they went on to divorce a few years later,” she added matter-of-factly.
“Is your father still alive?” queried the woman.
“No, he’s not,” as she took a hasty sip of tea.
“Was that ‘I’m not sure?’ I’m sorry, I didn’t hear,” the woman prodded, folding her newspaper away.
“No, he’s no longer living,” and the friend set down her cup, making a loud, nervous clank as it landed on the saucer.
“I’m sorry. Were you in touch?” the woman followed.
“No, He hadn’t bothered. I tried getting in touch but he wasn’t interested,” she explained as if trying to bring the conversation to a quick close. “Are you taking that home?” she asked, gesturing at the woman’s leftovers.
“I’d like to but I doubt they have any boxes in a place like this. I’ll go ask,” the woman said as she got up and walked to the counter. The friend put on her hat and awaited the woman’s return.
The woman returned with her boxes of packed food in hand, contained in a grocery bag. Both women stood up and put on their coats without any further word. The American woman who would someday be composted when dead like her father left wearing a shawl of sadness across her shoulders as she headed back into the cold wintery woods.