The Cold Light of Mourning - By Elizabeth J. Duncan


Emma Teasdale had been ill for some time and on a cool evening in early June, alone and peacefully, she died.

Those who gathered at lunchtime to set the world to rights at The Leek and Lily, the local pub, were saddened to hear of the retired schoolteacher’s passing and remembered their long-ago school days with the reflective kind of nostalgia that is the gentle gift of time.

But one person, hearing of Emma’s death, knew there was something to be done that only she could do.

Pulling on an ice-blue cardigan, Penny Brannigan turned the door sign to CLOSED, pulled the Happy Hands Nail Care shop door shut behind her, strode purposefully down Station Road, and turned left into Market Square.

A few minutes later, mildly out of breath, she arrived at the sedate façade of Wightman and Sons, the town’s undertakers for more than a century. She paused for a moment to take in the familiar shop window that had been carefully draped in faded green velvet, framing a stiff arrangement of dried, dusty flowers.

Then, bringing her focus back to the purpose of her mission, she pushed the door open. As the overhead bell tinkled, Philip Wightman emerged from the back room, wiping his hands on a small yellow-and-white-striped towel.

Tall and slightly stooped, with thinning white hair, Philip was impeccably dressed in a sober black jacket and striped trousers. He smiled when he saw who it was and was just about to greet his visitor when Penny spoke.

“Philip, I’ve come about Emma Teasdale,” she burst out. “To get right to the point, I’d like to do Emma’s nails before she goes. Emma would have wanted me to do this for her. She always liked her manicure, Emma did, and was most particular about it. I’ll use her favourite colour, Altar Ego. It’s a light pink laced with lavender and it will be just right for the occasion.”

With a sympathetic smile, Philip asked Penny to take a seat.

“Hello to you, too, Penny. How are you, then? Holding up all right? No time for the pleasantries anymore?”

Penny started to apologize, but he shook his head dismissively.

He thought for a moment as he carefully finished drying his hands and then nodded his agreement.

“Well, now, I think you’re right. Miss Teasdale would have liked that very much,” he said. “Why don’t you come back tomorrow morning, after eleven, say, and bring your kit with you. We’ll have Emma, ah, Miss Teasdale ready for you then. I’ll stay with you while you do it, if you like.

“The visitation will start at two tomorrow, so that should give you enough time.” He paused and looked at her sympathetically. “And you’re quite sure you want to do this?”

Penny nodded. “I am, Philip, but thank you for your concern. I’ve never done a manicure before on someone who is . . . who has . . .” Her voice trailed off, and Philip supplied the word she couldn’t bring herself to say.


Penny thanked him, turned to go, and more slowly than she had come, made her way back along the narrow street to the small manicure shop she had opened more than twenty years ago.

The day, which had started out fine, was now threatening to rain. Low, dark clouds scudded across the sky, and the wind was picking up. Empty cups, plastic bags, and bits of paper blew along the street, washing up against the curb.

As she reached her shop, she paused for a moment to enjoy its unique setting. Hers was the third of three businesses in an old stone building; the premises beside hers had been empty for some time and a photographer had recently opened a studio in the third space. The charm of her shop lay in the small stream that ran merrily alongside it, bouncing over slippery, smooth stones to create the soothing yet energizing sound of rushing water. A curved wrought iron set of stairs led from the narrow pavement to her small flat on the first floor. She rarely used the stairs, though, because it was usually faster and more convenient to access the flat through the interior stairs tucked behind a discreet door at the rear of her shop. And, as she had learned the hard, bumpy way one rainy morning, the narrow steps could be very slippery when wet.

She unlocked the shop door and stepped inside, thinking as she often did when she turned the door sign from CLOSED to OPEN, how fortunate she was to be able to earn her living,