Ernie invited me to the funeral, which amused me slightly. I turned down the invitation, pleading a prior engagement - a visit with my non-existent pregnant daughter in law.
That made me wonder what things might have been like if... I'd had the chance to have grandchildren. Things could have been so different. Ernie would probably not have been inviting me to a funeral in the first place, for one thing. Though, when I thought about Doris, she was a coronary thrombosis just waiting to happen.
It was a stroke of luck that the day before she'd come to dinner, she'd called the out-of-hours deputising service for her doctor's surgery, with a severe angina attack. So when Ernie had come home and found her collapsed on the sofa the following evening, cold and blue, and had called the same service, the doctor turned up with a print-out detailing her recent problem and was satisfied that this was a heart attack, plain and simple, and signed the death certificate there and then. Good thing too, as a postmortem might have complicated matters.
I heard all of this, not from Ernie himself, but from Mavis, the thin, irritating woman who lived the other side. I thought Doris had been nosy, but this one was an self-confessed expert in knowing everyone's business. She was even able to describe the make and model of the the doctor's car.
It was strange. I would have expected Ernie to grow, be more a person in his own right after Doris went and he was out of her shadow. Instead, he became even smaller, meeker and more...shrunken. He was lost without his stalwart of a wife. I saw him a lot in the following few weeks, wandering to the bus stop to go to work, or to the shops, looking almost ghost-like. I almost considered putting him out of his misery, too, but decided that there was no point. He didn't bother me, made no impact on my life. In the end it turned out to be unnecessary. I heard - from Mavis naturally - that he'd decided to sell up and move away, to a smaller house, away from the neighbourhood and all the memories of Doris....and the cat, of course.
All this got me thinking. If Ernie had not relied on Doris to make all the decisions and had thought things out properly for himself, he would have known that it made more sense to call an ambulance that evening, rather than a general practitioner, and that would almost certainly have led to the involvement of the coroner.
The thing that really put me on my guard was Mavis's ''How was she when she came round your place? Did she seem off-colour at all to you, then?'' I'd been completely unaware that she'd observed us outside my house. There must have been some curtain-twitching going on.
An autopsy could well have instigated house-to-house enquiries, and this woman would be a godsend to the local police force with her eagerness, and accuracy of information. I would need to be more careful next time.
What next time? I wasn't planning another one, was I? That would be very foolish.