Ima (short for Imaculada, due to the thankfully now outdated Spanish obsession with holy names) watched numbly as the coffin was carried to the front. It seemed impossibly small. The Anglican church was overflowing with people in their glad rags. Ima herself had worn a white dress with big, red poppies on it; not the customary black. The touch of colour was her small act of rebellion. Nothing else in the funeral had been her choice, so she took grim satisfaction in the jaunty flowers.

She stumbled up to the front when it was her turn to do a reading. Her throat almost closed as she took a deep breath before beginning. But she held her head up high and kept her voice clear and firm. None of the strangers or vague acquaintances in the church would see her in a moment of weakness. The eulogy was read by the bishop officiating the service for their dear, departed parish priest: it had been written by her stepmother, and it was odd hearing words clearly written by a woman read out by a man. She already couldn’t remember the reading she had just done and the words of the eulogy were blurring together.

Beside her, her niece Maya began to wriggle in earnest in her sister Ana’s (short for Ana María) arms, declaring for all and sundry to hear that she was hungry. Ana tried to hush her, whispering they had to bury grandpa first and then she could eat. Ana was crying and clearly not up to explaining cremation. Maya literally shouted, “can we bury him quickly, I’m hungry!” Ima was seized with a fou rire and had to put her hand over her mouth before she laughed out loud. As Ana began to cry harder, Ima took Maya from her and went outside the church, where she spent a satisfying moment with Maya, who wanted to show her how to bunny hop properly.

More than anything, Ima was bemused by all the ostentatious weeping and wailing. Her sister, who (with reason) had hated their father and was not speaking to him when he died, was crying herself a river. Her stepmother, who had not been sure whether she loathed or loved the man who had cheated on her repeatedly, was doing Jackie Kennedy proud. The parish was divided by who their minister had or had not slept with. Yet, apparently, cancer could turn any sinner into a saint. Not that Ima would wish death by cancer on even her worst enemy.

None of the mistresses were present, as far as Ima knew. His Spanish first wife was not present, though two of his four children from his first marriage were. Most of those present at the funeral did not know who Ima was. If they did, or once they realised who she was, they were at pains to point out how blessed her father had been with his second wife and stepdaughters. They kept talking about the Great Love Story. Ima felt like shooting the next person who raved about this mythical story or made veiled comments about Ima’s absence in her father’s life.

That had not been her doing. It had taken her stepmother a while to realise she preferred contact with estranged daughters to yet another mistress in her husband’s life. She had been a total cow for over a decade before that. To give her her due, she had taken very good care of her cheating, dying husband. She had also made it possible for Ima to be present at the end. Ima was grateful, even if she found the British gushing social insincerity irritating and confusing. She could not wait to get back to Madrid.

Although she had done most of her schooling and all of her university studies in England, she alone of all her siblings had returned to Spain as an adult. She wasn’t completely Spanish either, but at least no one treated her like she talked and laughed too loud, or had an alarming propensity to give an honest opinion. She knew she had no finesse, but she felt the British obsession with elaborate politeness was actually a cover for dishonesty and vicious gossip behind your back. In Spain, if you didn’t like someone, you simply didn’t talk to them. And your life was dissected openly and with good humour.

Ima would have preferred a quiet ceremony with just family. Then she could have expressed her real but complicated grief, with as much anger as love in it. The man who had turned his eldest daughter into the second adult in the home, due to the mentally unstable mother, who had discussed his sexual fantasies and affairs with her since she had reached an age in double digits, and who had hinted time and again about Anaïs Nin, infamous for willingly committing incest. He had never actually touched her, but had paraded his naked morning wood on more than one occasion. She had finally told him she didn’t want to hear about his sex life and she had cut off contact for a while when he had lied to others about her, again, after years of using and abusing her loyalty and her financial and emotional support.

Enough! She handed Maya back to Ana as everyone exited the church and withdrew to make a quick phone call before the wake, which promised to be truly tortuous.

“Carlos, it’s me.”

“Hola querida, how are you?”

“All the better for hearing you. I wish you were here.”

“I wanted to be, but you asked me not to come.”

“I know. It was…to protect a corner of my life that wasn’t twisted and ugly.”

“You are beautiful to me, you know that. Just come home tomorrow and I will give you as many hugs as you need.”

“Gracias, cariño. I can’t wait to get back to my real life.”