Mourners

By Rachel Lister

It seems something has happened to my sight. Instead of an elegant, smoky curve, I see a smutty cloud, a cauliflower ear, a pointy top. I move closer. Patches of sludge bloom into scarlet and emerald. Someone has dumped some garish, bloated leviathan next to the grave.

Now I see. The empty plot has been filled. My husband has a neighbor.

The close-up is more distressing. A gravestone in the shape of an inflated garden gnome, the inscription smeared across the ho-ho-ho belly. It is winking maniacally, like a game-show host forever frozen in farewell.

I make a noise, the kind my aunts would make when someone served pink steak. A harumph.

I start to plan. We’ll have my husband moved. Then I recall his resignation after we slumped into the armchairs of house number twelve to the tattoo of the neighbors’ undisclosed drums. These people will always get you. He was tired.

Someone is here. Is it him, come to taunt me for picking such a vulnerable spot? But no, I smell old-lady perfume and hear the high-pitched vibrato of fresh grief.

He loved gardening.

She shuffles closer.

Those gnomes. He had quite the collection. That’s how I met him. I wanted this plot. They were the same age, see? Born in the same year! He couldn’t be on his own. Liked being with his own kind.

Details tumble forth. This is healthy, apparently. People tell you to talk about your loss. They don’t really mean it, not in the way they think. I cannot talk about mine, not if I wish to be truthful. It would be unacceptable to tell this woman that her husband and mine were nothing like each other. They’d clicked over garden ornaments and we’d met mid-pounce on a train, hurling ourselves at the loneliest seat. How could I possibly share those indomitable memories of the two of us, rising like acrobats with twin scowls and scuttling out of restaurants as hubbub passed into cacophony?

I’ve been told to expect new people to enter my life. Friends are sorry for my loss but looking forward to me branching out. They presume it was all him. A woman could not possibly be so grouchy.

She sees that I am crying. Her hand is on my arm. She thinks we are united in grief. So, I do what I’ve been told. I do what is healthy.

My husband cherished space. That’s why I picked this plot. I knew it would be filled. But it was symbolic. I’d hoped to enjoy the symbol a little longer. Now I can’t. He hated anything with a hint of whimsy. And oh, how he loathed unnecessary noise.

I stalk away, starring ahead. There is no room for her reaction. But for me, something has shifted. Something has been restored. A headiness, a surge I haven’t experienced since his death. Elation, even. I’m struggling not to break into a skip. They were right. Talking helps.

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Rachel Lister lives in the North East of England, where she teaches and writes. She has had short stories published in Thema, Mslexia and Spelk.

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