In piercing sun, gnarled fingers grasp the handle of a shovel. Fingers from the other hand swipe off greasy cap and wipe away the sweat, that comes from a reluctance to let go of wintry clothes. They scratch a sparse patch of greying hair, which gives his mind permission to wander away from the soil. He straightens a bent back and exhales loudly. When he took up this job, Arthur's wife left him, and their boys, ....said it was creepy, and then moved in with his best friend, Jack, the rag and bone man, whose job wasn't too dissimilar from Arthur's, in as far as, Jack gave refuge to useless things, rather than lifeless bodies. Once the cap was back on, Arthur stood for a moment, still in permission, so that his eyes could soak up the hundreds of gravestones, that stretched down the hill towards the crematorium. For an instant, he could see his boys rolling down that hill, in between the headstones, with their eyes closed and their arms tucked, well in. He would scold them gently, but firmly, for their lack of respect. One afternoon though, he caught them leapfrogging over a headstone in the North-East section, and as he strode, smartly towards them, shovel in hand, the boys caught sight of his clenched fist, and froze, like hypnotized rabbits, in the glare of his bitter disappointment. They begged him not to hit them; spewing out one apologetic promise or bribe after another. Arthur may have raised his hand and his shovel to the boys that day, but he never ever laid a finger on them, except for the instances, when he'd cup their wide open faces in both hands. As his fingers squeezed their chubby, pink cheeks, the boys would sense the magic of their father's unconditional love. A train rattles past ....heard but not seen. A white van almost reverses into him....not seen and not heard. The 11.40 daily train to Blackpool, should come as no surprise, but, today, Arthur had got himself entangled in a bush of memories. 'Grief causes that,' he thinks. 'Causes us not to see things....' He picked up his cap that came off when he had stumbled over the edge of Mr Warwick's grave. 'Sorry Mike!' he muttered, as he looked off into the sky somewhere. He had prepared at least one half of those resting places stretching out beyond him: for total strangers, that, over the months and years became his friends. A young woman passed by with two children. The little boy, carrying a bunch of tired flowers, walks slightly ahead, as the little girl tries to blow the pink, plastic windmill that is attached to her pushchair. Their mother is preoccupied and doesn't notice his smiles. He didn't see his boys as often these times, now that they were both married to Liverpool lasses, forty miles away. During the school holidays, when his mother couldn't take them, the boys would have to go to work with him. As they left their two up and two down, next to the gasworks, they walked alongside him, as he pushed his bicycle. He watched their curly heads and smiling faces as they skipped, played leapfrog, and dodged the cracks in the pavement. They might slip their hand into his spare hand, now and then. He felt like a king then. 'She must have been bitterly disappointed with me,' he'd think, but never with malice. He had loved her deeply, but without hope, because he knew she would never stay. 'Hey Mister! Do you know where the DG section is? Looking for grave number 634!' roared a man, who had rolled down the passenger window of a black BMW convertible. He had obviously never been scolded for being disrespectful, thought Arthur, but at least he was visiting. There were graves that had not seen a visitor or a flower since the day of the funeral and this made the gravedigger feel sad. Dead....no longer seen....no longer heard. Resting the shovel against a Sycamore tree, he sat down under its shade and took out an envelope from his pocket. He read the words again:
Sorry, we can't make your retirement do, but you know how it is. Mary's tearing her hair out with the kids and I'm playing a darts match that night....an away match. I'm sure you wont miss me...your mates'll all be with you.
Your loving son, Isaac.
p.s. Don't think Andrew can make it either. His missus is expecting the babbie any day now.
He put the note back into the creased envelope and holding it tightly, he sat with his head back against the trunk of the tree for a minute and sighed. He was going to miss this place. He was going to miss the 'seeing'; the 'being seen'; and even the 'not being seen.' Permission time over, he struggled to his feet, and 'saw' two men and one woman standing over a grave, and sensed their grief. He wondered if they 'saw' his.
Maureen Walsh - July 2013
Ciao for now!