People assume that because I come to the cemetery I must be sad.
There’s a lot to be said for being a Catholic. You only have to look at their gravestones. Every one a mausoleum, with angels and harps and pedestals. And why shouldn’t you have grandeur in death? Especially if you were deprived of it in life. Glory and beauty.
I think they’re wonderful. Works of art. They’re my favourite pieces in the cemetery. I come here most days. Tom thinks I’m mad. He says I talk to the angels but I don’t. I just sit and think. He doesn’t understand. This is my place. I always sit in this exact spot with my back against this headstone. ‘Treasured memories of Richard Daniel Evans, dearly loved husband of Mary. And of the above Mary Jane Evans. Sleeping where no shadows fall.’
Sleeping where no shadows fall, I like that. No shadows, no darkness, just sleep. I like to sleep. Sometimes I fall asleep with my head on the grass. Or sometimes I think about Richard and Mary and wonder what their lives were like, wonder if they would like me, wonder if they mind me sitting with my back to them. I don’t think they would mind me resting on their stone. The stone seems to welcome me in.
Don’t you get cold, Tom asks. No, I say, I take a blanket to sit on and if it’s been raining I take a Sainsburys bag to put underneath. And the stone is never cold, it has its own warmth. As if it’s still fed by the earth. Black marble. Shining and bright and sparkling with atoms of life. Not like white marble. White should be the living colour, shouldn’t it? White and light and life. But it’s not, it’s flat and dead and ugly. Not like the black. I told Tom, I said, when I die will you bury me, not burn me, and make sure I have a headstone made of the finest black marble. He looked at me as if I were mad. I said, promise, will you promise, I don’t want white. He said, you’re spending too much time in the cemetery, it’s turning your mind. I said, no, you should come with me, it’s beautiful, so peaceful. Some of us have got jobs to go to, he said. Then he started on at me again about getting another job. He said we won’t be able to afford the mortgage on this place if you don’t get a job soon. I told him I’d tried.
It caused our first big row me losing my job. He said I should go to a tribunal, they can’t just sack you for no reason. They had a reason I said, they didn’t want me anymore. He said that wasn’t enough of a reason, I should fight it, get compensation. I wouldn’t because I knew I couldn’t. I understood why. He didn’t because I didn’t tell him. Papa, don’t preach, I said. He just looked at me.
That was one time I did talk to the angel. My stone is next to a huge square white tomb. Twice as big as any other and always with fresh flowers, whatever time of year it is. Sometimes I break off one head of a flower and hold it as I sit and think. I don’t think the dead would mind and I’m careful that I don’t spoil the arrangement. Rabaiotti, that’s the family name. Carlo and Maria and then Antonio, their son. They still run the ice cream parlour on the seafront.
At the head of the tomb is a tall angel with flowing hair and robes and wings, quite small wings. The angel isn’t doing anything, just looking up to heaven. I told her that I’d lost my job and that she would be seeing a lot more of me. I thought I saw a tear running down her face but when I looked closer I saw it was only bird poo. She didn’t tell me I should go to a tribunal. She just sang. She sings all the time. Madonna songs. She knows all of them but she has her favourites. She likes to sing Hanky Panky. I tell her she shouldn’t. I think perhaps she doesn’t know what it’s about and the fuss there was about it. I say, shhh, people will hear you and it’s not what you’d expect of an angel. But I join in when she sings Like a Prayer. Talking to the angel is the closest I come to praying.
There is one gravestone in the whole of the cemetery that faces the wrong direction. I asked one of the gardeners why. He said Samuel Roberts had killed himself and wasn’t allowed to be buried on hallowed ground but I don’t know if that was true. It seems unfair if it is. He must have been very sad to kill himself.
The gardeners all know me. They used to ask if I was all right but now they just ignore me. There’s one, younger than the rest, he chats to me sometimes but I close my eyes until he goes away. Only once they made me move. That was when there was a funeral. A grave was dug up near me and the man’s wife was buried with him. What if they never really got on, I wanted to say. Did anyone ask them if they wanted to be buried together? Or did their daughters just assume things. People make assumptions all the time. I assumed that the women at the graveside were the daughters of the dead woman because they cried most. Hanging onto their husbands (another assumption) they wept for their deceased mother. People assume that because I come to the cemetery I must be sad.
I watched the funeral from behind one of the yew trees. The cemetery lies along the bed of a valley that rises to a height at the far end. There is a path up the middle lined by yew trees all shaped into fir cones. When you stand at the gate, and stare straight ahead, you can’t see the graves only the path leading to heaven. A clean white path leading slightly uphill. A bit of an effort.
Some people walk their dogs here. Sometimes the dogs pee on the gravestones. One little dog, a spaniel, always comes and says hello to me. I don’t mind but his owner, a middle-aged woman in a waterproof jacket, calls her away. Come away from the lady, Sally, she says. Not, don’t bother the lady, but, come away, as if she might catch something.
Then there are joggers I see regularly. Two men and a girl. The men run together and talk as they run but the girl always listens to headphones. I wonder why she doesn’t listen to the angels singing. You have to listen to hear them. There are lots of angels in the cemetery because it’s a very old cemetery and it seems people in the past liked angels more. One of them only sings in Welsh, another sings Italian opera but I like mine best. She senses my mood and knows what to sing without me saying anything. Today she’s singing Cherish. You have to listen carefully, if you want to hear her.
Tom said, don’t you get bored sitting in the cemetery? I said, of course not, you should come with me. I know he won’t or I wouldn’t ask him. Grace Williams, her life a beautiful memory, her absence a silent grief. Is that how you’d feel about me, I asked him. You’re not a memory, he said, you’re here. He has no imagination, that’s his trouble.
I started coming here before I finished work. Sometimes in the office, my life was becoming not beautiful. I didn’t want it to be ugly, but my boss would shout in his stupid loud voice and I didn’t want to listen to him so I’d go away and listen to the angel.
I don’t sit here all the time. Sometimes I walk around and read the words on the tombs. Some of them are so sad I cry. Babies no more than two weeks old dying. Now where’s the point of that? And young husbands or wives. And soldiers. The lucky ones whose bodies were found and brought home. Welsh battalions going into battle. There’s even one old rugby player. It says he was famous but I’ve never heard of him. Memories don’t last long.
An old gentleman walked past me yesterday. He was carrying a large bunch of chrysanthemums. He raised his hat and said, good afternoon. He was wearing a fawn overcoat and his shoes were like shiny chestnuts. I watched him. He made his way to a grave not far from mine. It had a black marble stone. He bent over and plucked out the dead flowers. He lay them on the grass beside the grave then he picked up the vase and emptied out the remains of the water. He walked over to one of the taps near the wall around the cemetery and rinsed out the vase, before refilling it. He returned to the grave and replaced the vase in its holder, then he unwrapped the flowers he had brought with him and arranged them in the vase. When he’d finished he wrapped the dead flowers in the paper and stood up. He took off his hat and bowed his head for a few moments. Then he put his hat back on, picked up the dead flowers and started back along the path. I waited until I was sure that he had gone then I walked across to the grave he had visited. It said, In loving memory of Katherine Wallace, 1933-1982, wife of Edward, and their beloved daughter, Jennifer, 1957-1984. Peace, perfect peace. For whom, I wondered. For them maybe. Not for him. They’d left him. And he’d raised his hat to me. That wasn’t fair. My eyes ached. I picked out the chrysanths he’d arranged and took them back to my stone and pushed them in the vase. Richard and Mary never have flowers. I should get them more. Lots of the graves never have flowers on them. On the edge of the path is a rubbish tip where people can throw dead flowers but sometimes, I’ve noticed the flowers aren’t properly dead. I walked over to the tip and collected the best of the flowers. They were mostly chrysanthemums and some roses that had sharp thorns and I shared them out between some empty graves.
When I got home last night Tom had his dinner on a tray. I bought a curry on my way home, he said, I knew you wouldn’t have cooked anything. I was going to, I said. He was watching a sports quiz on television. There’s some left, he waved his fork at the kitchen. I’m not hungry, I think I’ll have a bath. Tom said, just a minute, did you go and see the doctor today? I forgot, I said. You promised, he said. I know, I’m sorry, I’ll go tomorrow. He looked at me and sighed, I’ve arranged to meet the lads down the pub later. That’s fine, I said. But you will go tomorrow, won’t you? Tom said, I really think you need to talk to someone. I nodded.
He had gone to work by the time I woke up this morning. He had left a note by the side of the bed. He’d written down the doctor’s telephone number. Ring him, the note screamed. It added to the rest of the noise in my head, such a lot of noise, a drilling and shrieking and howling noise all mixed up. I was thirsty but there wasn’t a clean cup so I used my hands to splash my face, then I came here. To escape the noise. It stayed with me until I passed the chapel, I thought it was going to go on for ever but it stopped as I came through the gate and began to walk up the path to my grave.