By the time I became fully conscious of my aunt Sophia's presence she was already in her late forties, a spinster and a gymn teacher. My mother maintained that no man would court her, but that was cruel and didn't take into account the carnage of the First World War which almost wiped out a generation of eligible men. My aunt was not alone in this because many of my mother's friends were single women or else had sought refuge in men so much older who had quickly died. Nowadays she would have been snapped up by a fellow sportsman or a dedicated trekker. It didn't happen then and she made the best of it, dedicating herself to other people's children including myself. Besides, in those days there were two principal vocations open to women; teaching and nursing. Vocation, what an unfamiliar word and what does it mean now that everything has been reduced to the measure of the market? For my aunt, her fulfillment lay precisely in the conscientious discharge of a duty - that was her particular joy.
Since I've started to write about her I've begun to remember her more vividly. She was large, and if she appeared overweight there was also a mass of underlying muscle. I knew her body well enough from our visits to various swimming pools and I was astonished by the thickness of her arms which outshone my thighs in size. Once in the water she carved a swift path. As a young woman she must have been attractive - quite 'bonnie' as they say in Scotland. Not seductive in an obvious way but who knows what happened earlier on in her life. Her complexion, which had never been scarred by cosmetics, was clear and bright; her round face open to the world and devoid of any hint of existential doubt; a straight face that told you everything and nothing. The portraits of Raeburn exactly capture her patriotic complexion. A healthy mind in a healthy body was her eternal dictum and it worked wonderfully but at the expense of her mind which was firmly closed and hidebound by a mix of moral and nationalist sentiments.
The first thing I did, when I realised she was dead, was to telephone her spiritual guide, the Reverend Pierce. I'd already met this man when hed been the master of ceremonies at my brother's funeral. We had sat together in the black car that followed the hearse to the crematorium and he'd been horribly unctuous, talking all the time about the state of the financial markets as if this might stem my aunt's very real grief over the death of her favourite nephew. I hardly cared to notice how he conducted the service and discounted him completely; but now that my aunt was dead I decided to show him no mercy. Why, I asked him, had he not contacted me, was not that his duty as a priest? I deliberately used the word 'priest' to insult him. He was defensive. My aunt had died peacefully from a cancer and as far as he knew I had not been in contact with her for some time. His voice was so laden with self righteous reproach and presbyterian sanctimony that I almost vomited. I quickly put the phone down on him, my anger and my aunt.