Saying Goodbye by Fiona Johnson

We were sitting in the living room, my sister and I, watching ‘The Secret Garden’ on TV.  It was one of those kids' drama series where the children all had very posh south of England accents that instantly made me think they were soft.

Mam was in the kitchen making tea and I could smell the mince and tatties; that meaty smell mixed with steam that was such a regular occurrence on a cold , dark January night.

I heard my Da come home from his work, same time every night. Home, wash, get changed, tea on the table. Tonight though there were voices, low penetrating whispers, inaudible over the boiling pans and the posh kids talking about going through a door into a garden.

I strained my ears and cocked my head to my big sister who shrugged her shoulders and went on reading her New Musical Express. I inched along the carpet to the door between the living room and the kitchen. The words were becoming more rapid and getting louder. My Mam sounded angry and she was not happy with my Da.

All of a sudden the kitchen door slammed and I jumped and nearly wet my pants, scared to be caught eavesdropping on my parents’ secret conversation. I scuttled back over to sit in front of the TV, pretending that I was engrossed.

Suddenly Da was there in the room.

“Get your coats girls. you’re coming to say goodbye to your gran.”

“But I don’t want to....,” I whined, looking through to Mam for support in the kitchen but she turned her back and said nothing.

“Get your coats now. It’s no’ a discussion,” he bellowed at us, jangling the car keys in his pocket.

“But Mam....,” I tried again, but Mam just ignored my pleading and my big sister got up and headed for the door.

“C’mon, we’ll no’ be long, you’ve got to do it.,” and he turned and walked out of the room.

Mam had never kept her mouth shut like this before but it was as if her lips had been glued together and she wouldn’t look at me as I grabbed my duffel coat from the peg.


Ten minutes later we were at Gran’s house;  an upstairs council house flat. Two bedrooms, a living room, kitchenette, bathroom and an indoor coal bunker.

It was dark and freezing cold when we got there and Da gave me a wee shove in the back to make me hurry up along the path that was lined with a high privet hedge. I was shivering and really beginning to feel uneasy about what might be in front of me but Da wasn’t taking any prisoners so we marched up to the door and then climbed the steep stairs to Gran’s flat.

My cousins were all there in the living room with my Aunt Maureen and Uncle Davie. Papa sat in the armchair puffing away on his pipe while the budgie whistled at everybody from its cage trying to get some attention.

I liked my gran’s living room. It was only small and with all those folk there, it seemed even smaller. There was a piano that she always let us play when we visited and on top of that was a blue glass vase with clear glass icicles that hung from the edge and when you moved it they would clink together and make a pretty sound.

In front of the window there was a dark mahogany folded table and sitting on it in a large brass pot there was always a maidenhair fern. It was so delicate but my Papa had very green fingers so even though it hardly looked real, it always grew.

At either side of the coal fire were display cabinets and in them was gran’s beautiful china; each cup a different colour with beautiful flowers in the middle. I loved the red one the best. Above the fire was a painting of a Spanish lady at a bullfight. It was brightly coloured, all reds and blacks and it was the most exotic picture I’d ever seen.

Da pushed us into the room.

“Sorry we’re late,” he mumbled at his sister.

“Where’s Catherine?” my Aunt asked.

“She’s no’ coming, says it’s no’ right.”

I could see my Aunt bristle at his words and wondered what was coming next.

“She just thinks she’s too good for the likes o’ us. Always has, bloody snob that she is,” my Aunt cried as she pointed her finger at my Da.

Then my cousin piped up, “She never bothered wi’ Gran, why should she bother now?”

My Da just stood there with his head hanging down while they said these bad things about ma Mam. Why did he no’ stick up for her?

Then my Uncle said it was time to get started and who was going first? So my aunt grabbed my three cousins and said it was their right and all four of them headed out the living room into the spare bedroom. I just stood there and looked at my sister. Nobody bothered with us and nobody explained to us what was happening.

All of a sudden I heard a shriek coming from the spare room. It started low and then built up into a loud cry. It wasn’t the kind of sound I’d ever heard before. Then I heard my cousins all crying, howling actually and my Uncle left the room to go through and see them.

My Da said, “Right, it’s your turn,” and led the way. We walked down the short hall and Da opened the door.

Oh my God!! There was Gran lying in her coffin...and the lid was off!

It didn’t really look like my Gran. Her skin looked like wax. I’d been to Madam Tussuad's in Blackpool and she looked just like the waxwork of John Lennon that I’d seen there, you know, like a person but not really, a bit queer looking actually. I never liked that museum and was glad when we got back out into the fresh air.

There was white silk all round my Gran’s head and the wooden coffin had big brass rings at the side. My aunt was standing up at the top and she was sobbing into her hankie. Then, I couldn’t believe what she said next! She told my cousin to give her Gran a kiss.

Well that was the end of this game of soldiers for me. I bolted out the room and down the stairs screaming my head off.  I’m sure my Da was fair affronted by me but I’d never seen anything so weird in all my life. It was my Gran but it wisnae. She was dead. I knew that. She died four days ago of kidney failure.

I loved my Gran. She always brought us a bag of sweeties on her way home from church on a Sunday. But the thing lying in the coffin? That wisnae my Gran.


When we got home I told my Mam what had happened. My Da was nowhere to be seen and my Mam just gave me a big hug. Why could she not have warned me? Why did my Da want us to see such a gruesome thing?

Why had my Mam not come too?

Death, I could feel it walking around the house. I’d be glad when it moved on.

Fiona Johnson's writing has been published in Shotgun Honey and she is a contributor to amongst other flash fiction sites. She has been writing online for the past year and welcomes any comments to help keep her on the right track. More of Fiona's writing can be found at

Fiona's book reviews can be found at which features mostly noir and crime fiction writers.


David Barber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Barber said...

Really enjoyed this piece, Fiona.

I love the feel to it and how you dealt with the death in the family scenario. A good old "slice of life", with some Scottish dialect.

Very well done!

Ron Scheer said...

Loved the details in this, and I could hear the voices. There's a truth in it as well, that death can bring the worst out of families. Good choice for TFFO, David. Way to go.

Unknown said...

I liked this. Death and funerals are creepy, even more so for children. Really nicely done Fiona.

Ray Adam Latiolais said...

Fiona's work is always excellent. Love the way the narrator's accent becomes more pronounced as the story progresses.

Jennifer Lee Thomson, Jenny Thomson said...

Like the way you don't shun using Scots dialect. An interesting story.

Nigel Bird said...

so very real the way you portray things. lovely turns of phrase like gentle turning bends. thanks.

Jodi MacArthur said...

I like the way the story unfolded from the little girl's eyes. It's a sad day when we realize the people we love aren't here anymore. A piece of childhood is lost, the author captures this well.

Groovydaz40 said...

Wonderfully descriptive. You really set the scene and the voice of the child was spot on.

Is it based on true story?

Fiona Johnson said...

Yes, it is based on a trues experience! Thanks for reading :-)

Li said...

Great piece - just the right amount of detail. I was there the whole time, smelling the food in the kitchen, feeling the unease, remembering the first time I saw a dead body. *shivers*

Paul D Brazill said...

Great slice of Brit Grit life.

Thomas Pluck said...

This is just as great as when you gave me a peek at it a ways back. A terrifying and real coming of age tale that perfectly captures the feelings of a child confronted with death and strange family customs. My heart was thumping.
Great job, Fiona.

Chris Rhatigan said...

A detailed and engaging piece of art. Love the creepy atmosphere in this one.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Very nice indeed. Great detail sets the mood.

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

Excellent job, Fiona. The details made it seem so real for me. I've always hated viewings.

Fiona Johnson said...

Thanks to everybody for taking the time to read and comment.

Josh Stallings said...

"Death, I could feel it walking around the house. I’d be glad when it moved on." Fine fine words, I've read this twice now and love it even more. You portray family with all its maddening complexities. Keep them coming.

Fiona Johnson said...

Thank you so much Josh :-)

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Well done Fiona. Great writing, especialy with the small details. Brought me, and I'm sure others, back to their "first time".

Jaie D. Maclane said...

This was great in the same way it is when getting a story first hand. Felt like I was being told this aloud. Love the dialect as it makes for a great change of pace from the usual. If I didn't know better I'd think this really happened. The details really make it come alive. Nice piece of work.

Anonymous said...

That gave me chills... Nice work!!