They hire him to take up gravestones in old cemetery grounds. Pay him by the hour, to tease out lichen lost names, note them, in neat, thin rows of records only his eyes will read, and murmur each syllable into the fresh split of dark soil before the groundsman comes with his sack of grass seed, already whistling to no one at all.
‘How can you forget where you left it?’ Samantha demanded, shooting Michael a withering look before closing her eyes and counting to ten. In a moment she would let out a deep sighing breath and give Michael her best, why do you insist on embarrassing me stare before ordering another drink from the bar and forgetting the subject altogether. 1,2,3,4- ‘I mean really Michael!’ Michael blinked, confused as to where the last 6 seconds had gone and why she hadn’t ordered a large glass of red wine. She wasn’t following the natural order. ‘It’s a bench!’ Samantha spluttered. ‘You cannot misplace a bench! Especially not one of yours! They’re massive and made of wood. WOOD MICHAEL! WOOD!’ Everyone else in the pub had fallen silent now, the hum of conversation dying as all eyes turned to stare at the couple having the argument. Or rather, Samantha yelling at her bemused husband since Michael rarely said two words to anyone about anything. ‘I could understand a nail or two, perhaps even your level metre, but misplacing …
“You know that will-” “No it fucking won’t,” I snap, leaving the withered old prune of a woman showing the whole bus-stop her knackered teeth. Eighty-four, arthritic and clean for fifty odd years. She was lucky, had a girlfriend who dragged her out of the crack house and to a hospital before the heroin overdose could kill her. Didn’t mean I wanted her telling me that the fags were going to do me in. It would be like me telling her that the number thirty-eight would have her on her back next week and no amount of emergency response would get her heart going again. Except in her case I’d be right and people tend to be a bit touchy when you tell them the deadlines on its way. “Sorry,” I tell her. “Job’s starting to get to me.” The ‘o’ shape of her mouth is now some puckered version of what once was a pretty impressive scowl. Still is to a certain degree, but you get use that after a hundred years or so. …
We’re the ones who kicked the bucket target trajectory your head. High kicks feet up ankles around the neck since if you’re doing Death better make it a good fuck.
Conrad taught us to distrust our own minds. Caught up in the spin of some imaginary turmoil; he forgot that the rest of us were placed within his reach, waiting for some reassurance that this was not how it ended. Confirmation was never his strong point. Convinced we were the enemy, it became locked doors and unanswered phone calls. Coleen visited once a week only to find the casseroles she baked still cling-filmed at the back of the refrigerator. Considering it was twenty years before the funeral summons; I didn’t expect to cry when we carried him into the church. (Prompt: Each line must begin with ‘C’)
Even when the sun found its way to England, her aunt kept the summer house boarded up and bolted shut. “It isn’t safe.” she’d say, hands resting on Tanya’s shoulders as she steered the child back towards the main house where the rooms were filled with blooming flowers and climbing plants that wove around banisters. When the cancer set in, years later, stripping Tanya’s aunt of everything that had made her beautiful… they found the papers. The black and white photos which held more colour than the sunken cheeks of her aunt; a thousand smiles scattered across feet worn floorboards in a summer house Tanya had though the key was lost to. Untouched, the summer rooms held more dust than furniture and upon the master bed lay her aunt, breath gone, clutching the photo of a woman Tanya could not recognise and her mother refused to look at or name; “she was no one, a mistake, distraction, a ghost your aunt could never let go.”
“And where have you been?” spat Ismae, throwing her hair back over one shoulder as she spun to face Michael. He slumped against the doorway, one hand covering the gaping wound beneath his ribs. “I-” He gasped, coughed and dribbled blood down his chin. “She got the jump on me.” he rasped, sinking towards the cabin floor as he spoke. Ismae titled her head to one side and looked at him, eyes narrowed and lips pursed. “She got the jump on you?” she said, clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth after the last word. “One little rich girl manage to get the jump on you?” She shook her head, blond hair spraying our behind her. “I don’t believe it.” she said, leaning back against her desk. “I would have thought you had at least enough sense not to fall for her tricks.” Michael took three hacking breaths and fell silent. “You have really disappointed me Michael.” Ismae sighed. “After all we’ve been through; I would have thought that you could have at …
I thought it was them, despite all the difference that showed quite clearly: you were in no way the one that I was remembering. This is a combination of two prompts, the first being the official napowrimo prompt to write a ‘tanka’ and another prompt which was to write a poem that starts with seeing some who resembles someone else who is dead.
We cluttered stone angels around your headstone, in the hope, that even if our faith had been misplaced, they would be real enough to keep you company, and displace the bitterness we soaked into your final peace, when we gave our last goodbyes and prayed to one we thought selfish.
No.1 I will take my seat, To watch the skeletons dance, While you carve my name. No.2 Crack down to marrow, Beneath the glitter of blood, And the ragged flesh. Written for the ‘Horrid Haiku’ prompt currently running at ‘Morbid-Poets’ on Deviantart.