A Presence of Absence Excerpt #1

The priest approached the pulpit and began to recite words from the bible. Simon closed his eyes and cursed, louder than intended judging from the cold glances that had been shot his way.

“Can you please not do this now? Mum would have…” Sanne whispered, cutting off her sentence when she realised this was the first time her mother had been spoken about in the past tense.

“Don’t tell me what she would’ve wanted” Simon growled, feeling more sets of eyes casting themselves over towards the grieving family. Simon left the cathedral, causing the floorboards to creak and the attention to drift from the priest to himself. He left in a hurry, hearing Sanne and her husband Michael following close by. His and Sanne’s relationship had always been one of protocol and order. When to speak with emotion, and when to speak with just words. The latter was the usual path taken and Simon had often wondered, even discussed with Vibeke, whether this came from his career in the police force or his own nurtured personality which fed off self-righteousness. The right track. The right actions. The right conclusions. They brought calm with them of the knowing. Now he didn’t know anything anymore.

He had always been regarded as someone who hid emotion. Even when the most gruesome cases were thrust in front of him, he always remained pragmatic and reacted with a level head, especially, within the first few hours of a case, and he was known for putting on a front as to not worry his team, even when they knew he hadn’t eaten or slept for 24 hours or had time to go home and reconnect with his family.

Everyone saw him as a cold-faced detective who used poor jokes to hide his grief. But the lines were blurred between work and home and he sometimes treated his children like one of his officers and on most occasions led from the front, leaving his wife at the back, nurturing and guiding the children. His son Thomas seemed to have thrived on this type of upbringing and looked to Simon as his role model, even though he had chosen insurance as a career. He now was working his way through the ranks at a quick pace: he had the strengths and morals of a detective, Simon always thought. Sanne, however, took the alternate route and pushed her father to his limits growing up. She had gone down the route of homemaker after many years before, going off the rails, and found a husband named Michael who had a 9-5 job pushing a pen, also in insurance in the city, so “he would be home for his children to tuck up in bed,” Sanne had shouted a few times, when she felt it necessary to hurt her father.

Simon was good at pretending and this had stood him in good stead when the pretence relied upon his acting being fond of this pencil-pusher his daughter had chosen to not only spend her life with but also bring two children into the mix of this storybook life which Simon felt would one day bring a not so happy ending.

But Sanne, he realised, felt it her duty now her mother was gone to take the role of someone who gave reassurance, guidance and motivation to her father and to see him through these dark days so he could suddenly miraculously come out from the depths of despair. She had no doubt been reading her many American self-help books and listened with intent to the gurus who seemed to be flooding the market to find the answer: to bring her dad back. She couldn’t bring her mother back. So she was starting from a point of failure in Simon’s eyes and had nowhere to go. This game of pretence would go on until Sanne was comfortable enough within her own lies to tell herself that her father was fine and on the right track. He would help her along if it gave him some peace with his own thoughts of Vibeke.

Out in the hallway, Simon fought back the tears as he read the flyers pinned to the message board. Alcoholics Anonymous, drug addict support groups, cancer survivor support groups, all the groups were there. He looked over to the one for those dealing with grief but turned away again immediately. He had never felt so alone.

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