I passed Ernie on his way to church this morning. He’d stopped by the graveyard with some flowers. He was wearing his usual clothes: a navy blue suit with waistcoat, collar and tie. His shoes, as ever, were black and polished, the steel Blakeys c-click clacking down the stone path. He was clean-shaven, but he’d nicked his chin and upper lip. His thickish white hair is always cut high up the back of his neck and parted just left of centre – a habit from his army days. When he walks it’s like a half-march in slow motion.
Despite his always wearing a suit, collar and tie he never really looks smart. The suit always sags slightly and the edges are frayed; the shirt collars and cuffs are frayed too. The tie is faded and has food stains on it. The trousers have been ironed, but haphazardly, with areas still crumpled and creased, sometimes one whole leg. When he sits down you can see the holes in the back of his thin, diamond-pattern socks.
Stand close enough to him and you can smell Brylcream, cheap Whisky and fuggy, dusty rooms.
He always has the waistcoat done up, despite the obvious strain these days on the buttons. Even after Mabel died he’s carried on cooking for two. He still can’t bring himself to make the adjustment.
I saw him in casual wear once in Preston Park, a long time ago. I didn’t recognized him at first. He looked like someone else. A new man. But Mabel didn’t like it, so the next day he was back to wearing the suit, collar and tie. He always liked to please her.