Edwin Bragg, the undertaker, has a low, slow voice, a voice without echo, immune to sorrow. It is a voice that fits itself to the silence of death.
On Tuesday he lays her out for washing, lifts her blunt hand in his and lets it fall, disowned now. He carefully soaps and dries this woman, flumps powder down the burly trunk of her back. He anoints her body for the last time before it is encased in grey wicker and then sunk into the earth. Her face is naked now, but he will paint it, add ashes of roses to the cheeks, make them seem plumper, more receptive to the last kiss of her son, as he tucks a sentimental locket under her chin.
Her family are comforted by Bragg's quiet manner. Although he is no thief for grief, they leave his dim shop less broken than they entered it, as though the artistry of his respects has relieved them momentarily of the burden of grieving.
Soon she will be in the earth's dark treacle. The earth will open its heart to her and she will sink into its embrace. Tiny insects will marvel at his paintwork as it begins to flake and crumble. But above ground the litanies of wind-addicted birds will continue to haunt the unechoing voice of undertaker Edwin Bragg as he inclines his head sadly to the next mourner and extends his cool hand in greeting.