The first time truly was a coincidence. I came to pay my respects to Mary; she’d been my mother-in-law once. No one saw me slip in behind them.
Keith was up front with his brother and two sisters, all sitting ramrod straight, dressed in black. No keening and wailing, just a dignified tear escaping silently downwards to stiff upper lips. Mary would have been so proud.
Sue sat behind with the girls. Rachel was ten by then and baby Catherine was eight, not a baby anymore. Baby Catherine. I’d wanted to call her Lucy but Keith never knew, and then I was gone.
The girls looked bemused – this was the first funeral Keith had allowed them to attend – but when their uncle Eddie stood to read the eulogy, they became animated, wriggling in their seats and whispering.
Sue whipped her head around to glare at them, her hair a few seconds behind due to all the lacquer. “Shush,” she hiss-whispered at them. I couldn’t hear their reply but they were urgently trying to show her something. “I mean it! Your dad will not be impressed by your behaviour.”
“But…” Rachel appealed, interrupted by Sue suddenly jumping out of her seat with a shriek. Eddie froze at the lectern and all eyes turned to Sue who was hopping around, squealing and pulling at her clothes.
“Spider!” she cried, flailing around.
“She hates them,” Rachel explained. “We tried to warn her.”
“I’ve got it,” little Catherine said, holding her cupped hands aloft. I smiled at how grown up both girls had become and watched as one of the pallbearers helped her take it outside before Sue composed herself and Eddie continued speaking.
It was poor Eddie’s turn for the crematorium next, three years later. Very sudden, an awful shock. Of course, I went again. I heard Sue saying, “Don’t you dare show me up today,” to the girls as they filed in and I couldn’t help but feel mischievous. This time, the spider dangled down from the ceiling until it was eye level with her face, just as they were halfway through singing Abide With Me.
“Do something Keith!” she begged through gritted teeth as he calmly guided it away from her and set it free in the window box beside them, the girls bent double, shaking in silent mirth.
The third time, I saw my chance at the doorway as they went in to bid farewell to Sue’s godmother. The girls were teenagers by then and carrying handbags, one of which was swung like a cricket bat to swipe away the beast scuttling speedily up Sue’s back, inches from her helmet hair. Her big velvet hat was knocked to the ground in the process and she stomped off crying, “Why does this always happen?”
I saw Keith shake his head at the girls, who were clutching each other laughing. “I wouldn’t put it past your mum.” He pointed to the heavens, even though I was right beside them. “She loved spiders.”
Emma Robertson is an emerging fiction writer from London with her first two pieces being published in the Pure Slush Anthology (Volume 19) and Eastern Iowa Review (Issue 12) in late 2020. She is a dance tutor in adult education who has previously written articles for arts industry magazines.