Lying In

It’s a late winter afternoon in 1921. In Violet cottage, one of an isolated terrace of eight tied-cottages, deep in Holderness, an oil lamp sheds a pale glow in the small front room. Orstine, dressed in a cotton shroud, lies in a cheap pine coffin, which rests on a trestle, with his feet pointing at the curtained windows. The women of the terrace have reluctantly laid him out in accordance with local tradition: a bandage around his head keeps his mouth shut; scraps of muslin are wedged up his nose and pennies cover his eyes. The GP, who’d taken three days to attend, attributed his death to natural causes.

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