It has now been six months since my grandmother died. Ensnared by a cancerous tumour discovered in December ’09, she trudged on for just a little over 8 months before it fully consumed her totally. Her decline – from a sprightly, full-time worker to a voiceless near-child – verged on unbearable. In the family her wise ways are dearly missed, and her two children, my mother and uncle, have changed forever. Time does not heal; it just cements the adjustment the loss of others forces us into. The home she left behind is now little more than a house; the gardens and windows with no one looking out appear alien – as if a vacuum has sucked the lifeblood out of everything that made it what it was. Cruelly, as time trickles on, my mind retains a distortion of her as the fragile shell she receded into. Her voice gave in long before her heart. It’s only with applied force that I can hear it now. A long death does this to us all; its final blow is to ensure those who’ve suffered are pained even more.
I visited her grave alone for the first time today. There’s an inherent beauty to the abandoned graveyard, with its plethora of engraved stones crisscrossing the open field of death. Nestled away from the roads of roaring traffic, and stark infantile shrieks from lunch-time yards, there is a quaint silence hanging over the mass of flower-strewn plots. The walk to reach the graveyard was just a little over a mile, an arrowed sluice through the centre of the town before a sharp verge towards its fenced frontage. Previously hemmed in by a wall with rotting bricks, a corrugated-iron rail now runs the length of the entrance-way. Local kids used to guzzle cheap drink and gorge on drugs whilst monkeying on the trees that hang heavily over many of the yards long-time deceased. When a ginger kid from school futilely took too many ecstasy tablets and died in there at night, it all stopped. Now there’s only the faint birdsong, or the slight gush of wind blowing through the dry grass, that disturb the almost painful lack of noise. Today, there was no one and nothing. Just me and the dead.
Not piously inclined, the advent of praying at a graveside, or poignantly chatting in the direction of a stone, has never been an exercise I’ve felt able to embark upon. A simple ‘Miss you’ is just about all I can manage, as I survey other things and wonder why I’m there. A silent observance, as I flicker through whichever memories I can produce, usually works. There is a tragedy in knowing – sensing, perhaps – that she, along with my grandfather who rests beside her, do not know that I am there. I view the various knick-knacks left by those who’ve visited in the months that have gone by. 2 figurine cats, placed to replicate her cherished, almost child-like cat she left behind, stoop sadly. Another, a caricature bunny-rabbit, appears mad-eyed, a long term observer placed by my mother after my grandfather’s passing. There is no grass for the moment, just a smattering of neatly racked earth.
A wicked cough has been strangulating me for the last 4 days. I’ve spent the night in bed co-existing in the parallel worlds of reality and dream-state. A fever has been rushing through me. One night I awake with a fixation that suddenly I need to locate a sparkling gem in the corner of the room. Hours later, I finally retain full consciousness and take in the unbearable reality of early morning’s enfolding darkness. Struggling, I empty-reach over the corner of my bed and wish the ground which seems so far away will swallow me entirely for good. I’m now leaning meekly on my grandparent’s embossed stone, and pondering on the chances of acquiring an iron-lung. Death, like no other, ranges exaggerations over the most miniscule of things that momentarily knock us out of shape. Again, I almost vomit, but nothing leaps forth, just the harsh cackle of my stinging empty throat. I whisper my goodbyes, and as I walk away I turn a number of times and look towards the sad animals still there.
I walk slowly through the paved walkways which separate each row. I’m just twenty-two, but already I’ve been here so many times that I know where a number of certain people are laid out. There is the child who was an old friend’s brother, dead from a quick case of Meningitis the day before I had my most brilliant holiday with family and friends. A school-mate’s mother. My father’s parents far over to the right, hemmed in by two bushes my father keeps promising to cut down but never does. I pay particular attention to a headstone’s address in row 1 – it is my address and it marks the place of my house’s previous tenant – a woman, Peg, whom I never knew, who spent more days in this house where I sit than I ever have. Its placements, carved deep into a rotting stone, is chilling. I walk on.
Leaving the site I see a battered red Ford has crunched through the gravel and in through the main gates. There are shovels standing nearby and I realise they’re just after digging into the earth yards away. In a half hour, the funeral cortege which i passed by in the town earlier will arrive, and the ground will be fed the dug earth once more. The men smoke cigarettes listen to the radio and send smoke out through the gapped windows. The sun is out and there are no clouds. The sky is so blue it could almost be dead itself. I walk past, taking care not to catch the men’s gazes. Voices aren’t needed, not now. Leaving through the gates once more, I shoot a quick glance towards the plot I just visited. I can just barely make out its stone amongst the rest. The last time I visited – on Christmas morning – every inch of viewable ground had been covered in snow. The aforementioned school-mate and his sister’s names had been etched into the snow of a field in the distance by their father.
The walk home sends me into a cold-induced sweat. I wheeze, bark and gag once more. Bob Dylan’s Gates of Eden whistles through my earphones as I walk along near the tide towards home. I choose the front-road, so I don’t have to pass the cold quiet of the home only my uncle lives in now. When I get in, my dog, a placid Scottish Terrier, jumps exuberantly to guilt me into walking him. We take a stroll towards the strand, and as he foots his way along with rough shingle, I watch the cross-river ferry gently slide its way along the calm, sun-reflecting river. The mobile-library – a bus packed with books for the housebound – pulls up, toots its horn 5 times, and waits though no one will arrive. I tell the dog to move, but he does a sly circle and takes off towards the stinking mud down the strand. I think about what I’ll do when I get in and I decide I’ll read some words and then try to write some.
3 days later, I will board the last bus from town with my girlfriend and use my return ticket to get back home. An ex-school-mate, who bowed out in 3rd year, will trundle up the aisle and mouth incomprehensibly to every passenger minding their own business. Curious glares will be thrown towards him, and as he stands near me I’ll hope, as I avert my eyes, that he doesn’t notice me and attempt to strike a conversation. I’ll have seen him on numerous occasions like this, and I know, deep down, he’s only heading one way. He will sit again and disembark somewhere along the line. The next day, I’ll be informed of his death. At first, I will think it’s a rumour. This town has killed enough people off before as the confirmed dead continued to roam about its decaying streets. Further confirmations will follow in the form of texts. The town will have lost another of its young, again.
The randomness of everything continues to astound. In a few days this small town will pulse life by coming together for a person it has lost and then recede back into quietness once more. The town developments poster – developments which expectedly fell asunder – will continue to rot from its tacked perched upon a disused building until it finally collapses onto the road where it will stay. These things don’t depress me; I’m merely intrigued how nothing is immune from falling into disrepair, and how many people go on without even noticing. We accept these things unconsciously. The only comfort – I’ve come to know – is in the love you harbour for others. In music and words. In the stillness of the beauty of things which often go ignored: dead-blue skies, silent graveyards; a passing boat traversing an endless river; and everything that lies so wonderfully in between it all.
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