Magdalene rings the single bell, calling the faithful to church, a sound and movement timeless, shooting me back to when I was dressed in red, smaller, full of life a ahead. The choir rehearses, Teresa and Moira, their voices clear as water falling from above. The community has gathered, for one of their own. Walking sticks and stoops have increased. Stephanie now amongst them. We discuss the layout of the church. Remember when the nuns were segregated behind the alter. Now indistinguishable except a subtle red cross neckless. Titch, her dead body in the small coffin. The reason we have gathered. Eight years older than me. Sylves contemporary. A sudden heart attack. A pile up on the M25 has delayed Ronnie and others. But she arrives just as Magdalene starts the life description. Who will be standing there for hers?
Outside, the way is lined by the school children, smallest at the front. We walk between them, Ronnie and I, feeling a raft of emotion – first naughty, as we are talking and they are silent, then in awe of their length, for they are all the way to the woodland, then fascinated by their new uniform, then shocked by boys.
The exclusive dominance of men officiating feels at odd to me, amongst this female celebration. We gather around the hole in the earth. Incense wafting in the air. The ritual of the final moments. Ronnie and I walk up to find our friends, our past teachers, SM Jospeh, Iggy, Oli, the inevitable stories get aired. We are part of this community and family. As was Titch. I wish I had known her better. So I dally with Ronnie. We pause in front of the grave of Virginia Maskell, a story which ever ceases to awaken mystery, sadness, glamour.
We set off on our separate ways home. Our time is getting closer.