a welshman's grave

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
a man, unfulfilled in life, searches for his final resting place, meets his reaper, and meditates between life and death.

Submitted: May 03, 2016

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Submitted: May 03, 2016

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A Welshman’s Grave

 

I stood under a high oak in the midnight graveyard of my memories. It was the same view and it wasn’t, it was the details that had changed. For many years I wanted to return to the village and I often reflected on my time there. I was an exchange student at a small country college on the outskirts of the village. By small country college I mean I was one of seven students. not making it the thrilling experience that I expected when I first set out. The cottages that lined the village highroad were all occupied by an average age of 83. The Gitty Maggot, the town’s bar and inn, crowned the road’s center. At the road’s end stood, and still stands the church in dreary, medieval style with ramparts at the top and constructed as though it was built of blocks by a young child. It is not the most inspiring piece of architecture known to the world of Christendom.

 

The last time I saw oak it was a wilting sapling. The Father of the church spent hours by this “child of God” nursing it back to health. He said the little tree faced death every day. It could not run, or forget where it stood or from whom it was nourished. He said the little tree was a testament of his life, it was his child. He said the little tree reminded him that death would come but not today. I hope heaven received him with fanfare because its life expectancy looked short and bleak.

 

Most days I walked down the high street to the church, behind which was a graveyard. It was rarely used by the village people, except a man who reportedly never once left. The souls of the dead were guarded by thin, faded, and fluorescent mossed headstones and contained together by a high rot iron fence that hooked a spike at each end. A foot beaten path ran from its entrance on the high road to a thin gate at its rear. On either side lush woods kept out any intruders unwilling to take the back graveyard entrance, that led to a spring fed fish pond lied down in a shaded gully.

It was a month before I entered into the graveyard. I knew no boned hand would reach from the ground and drag me under to rest alongside it, but it was the unseen and ethereal that made my heart race in double time. It was the feeling on the back of my neck that kept me away, the feeling of being watch by some veiled predator.

In the years since the feeling has recurred to me in dreams several times, in each case preluding the death of a close friend or relative. It crooned, “your time is coming,” and my eyes opened to the world, staring into the pitch that hung above me, and I wept for my own obscure, paper-thin mortality.

 

I searched the graveyard for any sort of life or movement. The rain had stopped and the earth held it’s breath, all things, frog and crickets, trees and vines, the brook and the breeze. A raindrop rang like a gunshot against a leaf, and the long grass crickets with the gully toads warmed up for their nocturnal fest. My eyes turned upwards, fleeing clouds opened the heavens, stars lowered on strings into the atmosphere and the became a bassinet for all life, they illuminated the gravestones, asking visitors, however infrequent, to remember those just below.

 

One grave stuck out, dirt fresh from the rain piled high in front of the gravestone. I wove between graves to see worms and black beetles diving and resurfacing, celebrating the feast waiting six feet under. The unmarked headstone was a thin slab of granite. Whoever this person was they were not well loved. I suppose it doesn’t matter now.

Even so I continued to stand over the grave. I wonder if they went to heaven or hell. I wonder if I’ll go to heaven or hell.

 

The night grew thick with fog. It condensed down in the gully, creeping cautiously through the woods and into the graveyard, blanketing the scene in dew. The fog was so low that below my ankles all was lost. Then fog rose to my knees, then my waist, and the flood gates opened so that I was wrapped in night’s blanket.

The back door to the church opened and a pillar of light parted the night. The fog unraveled and I stood wet and naked to the night. In the light a hooded figure stepped into the doorway and down the steps.

 

It carried a lantern, not the spooky, candle lit kind but a fluorescent camping lantern. As he wove between graves it stared down at its feet, at least I thought it was because it wore a large robe with a pointed hood that covered its face completely. Finally reaching me, we stood in silence on either side of the grave.

After waiting an appropriate amount of time for contemplation , I asked “Who is this?”

And after a few more minutes of silence, “Who is this?” Still nothing.

Waving my hands over the grave to break it from its trance, I yelled “Are you deaf?” As if that was going to help.

“No, I’m not death, you twat.” Ripping its hood back. “Do I look eerie to you, like the reaper of men’s souls? As if death would ever show himself to a nit-fuck, fruit-fly like you.” I stepped back to catch myself from falling from panic. “No, no, no, death will harvest your soul differently, he lets it ripen for months and years so that by the end of life you are tripping over yourself to die, you miserable wretch.”

The lantern’s light sung back and forth over the grave.

“I-I’m sorry,” recollecting myself “but you, uh didn’t answer my question. Who is this?”

“Oh, right. Yeah. Her name was Eleanor, she’s nobody now. She was hardly somebody in life.”

“I’m sorry for the loss, she mus….”

The man smiled and giggled, “oh no, don’t be. Once the mound depresses the grass will grow back ten fold and I won’t even have to buy seed or fertilizer. We should be celebrating. I wonder what’ll I do with the extra pounds.”

“Yeah, let’s have a toast to… Eleanor, right. To Eleanor,” I pulled the flask from my jacket and raised it high, “though I didn’t know you, I hope you find peace in death.” After a long swig I looked to the man, “what’s your name?”

He reached his hand out, drank, and with a belch said “Father McKenzie.”

“You’re a father? I know I didn’t know her but, um… I would feel better knowing something was said before, I guess, uh… she departs.”

“Departs to where may I ask? She’s not going to the party over in Jones’ grave,” he pointed across the yard, “and if it’s heaven you mean, well she’s not going there either.”

“And why is that?”

“Because I told the Almighty, what she’s done. I can count the number of times she donated to collection on my little pinky, and to top it off, I heard she was Catholic.”

“But Father, aren’t you Catholic?”

He cackled, “me, a Catholic? Go stick your head in the pope’s asshole.”

So you’re not going to say anything?”

“For what? She not going up or down. She’ll stay put, like a good girl, won’t you?” looking down, “for a while at least, until the wormies have eaten her up.”

Jesus Christ, Father! She’s dead, and we’re the only ones who give a shit enough to be here. Say something for Christ’s sake.”

Father McKenzie went ridged, eyes and mouth wide, staring up and his open palms stretch out to his side and the lantern clattered to his feet, sending beams of florescent light to silhouette him against the night, and he shook terribly and through trembling lips he chanted “the power of Christ compels you, the power of Christ compels you…”

I backed away, preparing to run.

“Stop,” the father retrieved his lantern, “I was only joking. Probably shouldn’t take the lord's name in vain though, could be bad luck and I’m rather superstitious, you know. Well o’course you don’t, we’ve only just met didn’t we, and where are my manners? Buried with Eleanor I suppose, the wretched soul, and as for those words you wanted me to say,” signing a cross over his heart and the grave, “hallelujah and good riddance. Now, would you like to come inside for tea and a biscuit? You might catch a death of cold staying out here.”

 

“Go on. Make yourself comfortable, I’ll make the tea” sending me to the one chair. The father hung a kettle over the flames.

Waves of heat emanated from gapping stone fireplace, suspending the room between dim flickering light and shadow. There was a bed, a table and chair, and a lopsided side-cupboard in the corner. Sausages, hams, salami, wheats and barleys and beans safe in their pods hung in bundles from ceiling chains that rattled and swayed despite the still, heated air. Beads of sweat condensed on my forehead.

Tea was now in front of me. Father McKenzie’s bulbous ivory eyes smiled at me from under his hood.  “Not feeling too well I see. Here try this, it’ll help.” Coughing as the tea burned down my throat, I took a deep breath and smiled.

“There we are,” said the father, “now we have happy boy.”

 

 

“Don’t you get lonely here, father?”

“You’re talking again, are you? I thought we’d lost you. And no, I don’t. You’d be surprised how many people find themselves here late at night, searching for one thing or another.”

“I find that hard to believe. A small church, in the middle of nowhere Wales, with a priest who’s no longer a priest. Come on.” Was the room swaying, or was it spinning? There, it stopped.

“Well, usually it’s just one thing. So my dear friend, what brings you here?”

“I’m sure it’s not what others come for. I’m not looking for salvation or repentance.”

The Father doubled over, cackling and wheezing in delight. “You think you’re special for finding this place? Yeah, only a great seek, such as yourself, could have the premonition to locate such holy grounds. It’s that kind of thinking that’s brought you, and thousands like you, to this spot. As much as you want to believe God made you special and unique and a gift unto this world, you’re not. You’re just a man, actually by the looks of you, just a sad, old boy, and when God placed you on this miserable earth and said “have at it” you pissed it all away from your very first breath.” The laughter had faded, but he still leaned in, his nose inches away from mine. “So, what brings you here?”

“I’m looking for a place to die.”

“Well then, you’ve come to the right place.”

 

I had looked at my hands for some time, they seemed a mirage, but they alone kept me steady on this swaying ship.

“Not a man of the heat I see. I love it, every year I travel to South America, right on the equator you see, and just bask like a lizard” he flicked his tongue to taste the air, “I’ll open a window.”

“Oh, don’t feel like you have to… just because…” pointing to myself, my vision dimmed.

 

The one port hole window opened, sending a tendril of night air, a snake with two heads, a light in one's mouth, tears falling towards heaven in the other’s, breaking apart on ceiling, beginning to orbit each other, their tiny universe expanding to fill the room. I rose to walk among them, peering into some, and where I destroyed the snake replaced. I looked into One, void and meaningless, and grabbing the snake by its neck, shined its light upon the tear. A bottle at sea, with not a message but a world, a small girl breathing in from the bottle’s mouth and from her lips rumbles a cloud of thought both fragrant in design and aesthetic to the ear. It shrouds her in light, and music, and drink, and love, until she grew into a beautiful woman, a mother, and when the night came she withered and died, leaving nothing where nothing had been. I closed my eyes and the room reappeared but not as it once was, it melted from the heat, flames licked and kissed the bodies of their devilish overseers, and I was devoured.

 

“What’s happening?”

“Have you found your place to die?”

“Oh God, it’s time”

 

Even the non-believer becomes the believer in the moment before death. The whole body clings to the possibility of continued life. The realist becomes the optimist. They never believed once in what their senses couldn’t confirm. As death whispers, they deny their hopeless facts and turn to the only remaining form of salvation. Proclaim to the One “I was lost but now I’m found. I have seen the mountaintop” and so you shall be received. And even so, death falls like a veil of ash, extinguishing the soul. We return to the darkness, leaving nothing where nothing had been. Such a pity, the fear that death brings.

 

Back through the graveyard and down into the gully I went. My arms outstretched for balance over slick, mossed stones, slipping only once, cutting open the hand that caught me. Crimson dripped from my fingertips. Exposed roots crawled out over the obsidian stone floor unafraid of torment. Night stood still in anticipation of dawn. There the rain stored in the great oak’s canopy making it a persistent cloud over the earth below. Tree frogs called to one another. The forest formed a halo around the pool, which became glass as I approached.

I stood at the pool’s edge, seeing my reflection in the its mirror. The face was both familiar and strange, I was alien to my body. Like a past love, who has seen depths of their soul, but can no longer empathize. They have become foreign with time, leaving desperate longing to reclaim that union, knowing it could never be what it once was.

 Crouching to examine myself I reached my finger towards my twin. He smiled up at me as I touched between his eyes, sending ripples across the pond and my image was lost in a thousand concentric waves.

A large rock lay near the water. It was loose and I picked it up. The world quieted around me and blue crept into the sky-hole in the canopy. All things rested, frog and crickets, trees and vines, the brook and the breeze. Even my heart grew still as I placed one foot in the pool, then the other, moving further and further in. Soon water the water reached my waist, then chest, then neck. Before I submerged I took a breath of morning air, realizing I would never need another. I lifted my legs and the rock lowered my into the pond’s sand floor trapping my hands between them.

“Finally” I thought, as I returned back into nothingness, the world around me a dark ether except for the hole above the pool where the moon faded into morning.


© Copyright 2017 Max Raddiminski. All rights reserved.

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