In the last few weeks I’ve had quite a number of cards offering condolences for Mother’s death. There have been letters too, some handwritten personal ones, others official. Things have improved. I remember Mother bursting into tears when she got a letter saying my father’s council tax fee had been revised as he had died just seventeen days into the new financial year. The letter was blunt and cold. The formal letters now all open with condolences and the wording is careful.
However, I received one letter today that caught me by surprise. It opened with the usual formula, but instead of Mother’s name, I was condoled over the death of Mrs R, whose demise was a couple of weeks earlier than Mother’s. I checked the top of the letter, yes, it was definitely addressed to me. A mystery.
I called the number and got through to a man I shall call Ron. It’s not his real name, but it’ll serve. I explained the scenario and gave Ron the reference. He checked the details and found me listed as next of kin. I began to be intrigued; could this be a long lost relative who I should now never have the chance to meet. I said as much to Ron. He agreed it would be unlikely. Unlikely hardly seemed the adequate word, and I said so. “Maybe she left you a video,” he said. I was warming to Ron. I hadn’t expected humour from this ‘phone call, and here was an official entering into the spirit (that was an unintentional pun, but I’m leaving it there) of things.
The plot thickened when Ron told me Mrs R had lived in Canada. I have lots of relations in Canada but I have met very few of them. This was getting exciting. Ron tracked her address down to Winnipeg. I tried and failed to get a map of Canada in my head. Most of my relations are in and around Toronto. By this time Ron and I were almost writing the screenplay and ready to sell the rights. If there were a bidding war, he could give up his work in pensions, and I could have a ground floor flat with two bedrooms, a utility room, a large kitchen and a walled garden somewhere close to where I am now.
Of course it was a clerical error. Someone had transposed some numbers and Mrs R had become, albeit briefly, connected to me. I hope the next person to get the letter about her pension (nothing owed, nothing owing) really is her relative. For a few minutes, Mrs R, her life, her death and her personal history seemed a story of fantasy and romance in the June air.
I think she deserves some flowers.