Liam Farrell: Artifice, the best expression of human genius

My aunties Josie and Mary had lived together for generations in amicably combative spinsterhood. Auntie Mary was lively and jolly, Auntie Josie was a whiny old torture. Of course, life not being fair, Auntie Mary died first.

The funeral was Auntie Josie's big day; she was the chief mourner, for once the centre of the universe, and she played the role with gusto, flogging it mercilessly, born to wear the black, shouting 'It's all about Me! Me! Me!'

Tradition would have dictated that the deceased only be kept one night in the house, and then one night in the church but Auntie Josie wanted the whole hog, such was her inconsolable grief and unadulterated desire for attention, so Auntie Mary was waked at home for both nights.

I sat up the first night of the wake with sundry uncles and cousins, telling funny stories about Auntie Mary, of which there were plenty, Auntie Josie all the while hovering in the background checking that the corpse wasn't moving. However, come the second night, when a night's sleep might also have been considered traditional, Auntie Josie, being the star of the show, insisted on staying up again and in the deep of the night I received a panicky phone-call from my brother. Auntie Josie, he said, had 'took out' and I was to come out and give her something, me being a doctor and all. Had I been older I'd have declined the honour, but I was young and easily manipulated.

When I arrived Auntie Josie was rampaging around the room, my brother, aunties and cousins cowering in the corner. I calmed Auntie Josie down; Auntie Mary was not moving, I assured her and yes, she really was in the bosom of Abraham and not just playing a funny trick.

But as I had an audience, and lay people have nothing but contempt for talking cures, To Show How Much I Care, and to be seen to be doing something, I gave Auntie Josie a paracetamol, a placebo I reckoned would not interrupt the grieving process too much.

The next day, Auntie Josie collapsed in front of the church, in a way only a really fit person could collapse, in stages, like a dying (if rather overweight) swan; artifice is the ultimate expression of human genius.

'What did you give her?' hissed my brother accusingly.

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