Early morning and a crowd of mourners are gathered around a plot of distressed earth. A silent rain is weeping from the sky. There aren’t many of them, three umbrellas shelter their heads comfortably. Only one of them, an elderly woman is crying the rest are looking into the grave with resting expressions. Aching from the weight of the freezing dew the white tulips decorating the headstone hang their heads. The elderly woman emerges from underneath her umbrella, and hands it to the vicar. She is shaking and walking towards the headstone.
“Michael had to go, they were going to lock you away” her voice is quivering.
The umbrellas remain still, a strong roof hiding the heads of the locals gathered here to pay their respects to an old friend. The woman who is now hunched from the weight of her wet clothes has tired from crying, her voice wails like the crows circling above. Head bowed like the limp January grass, she reaches for the headstone. Trailing her chalky anaemic fingers across the inscription she kneels and rests her forehead against the side of the expensive grey slate. Here Lies Hazel Luna Born March 3rd 1935, Died December 31st 1965 Taken Suddenly May her soul Rest In Peace. Minutes pass with her sat in front of it. The wind sways like a metronome, and the woman continues gliding her fingers back and forth as if playing a stringed instrument. The mourners are all close their eyes in appreciation. She sits there, dead still, as if imagining time had frozen.
“Hazel, my dear Hazel, please find peace” a whisper is all she can manage.
The vicar reaches for her hands, helps her to her feet and offers her a handkerchief. Mrs Luna stands slowly then holds onto his coat and sobs violently. Rain progresses into hail and sleet, urging the gravediggers to begin shovelling earth onto the coffin, and finalise the burial of Miss Hazel Luna.
“Forgive me” the woman utters as she is cradled and taken aside by two of the mourners.
It was a January evening when I arrived in St Lawrence Village, a small Hamlet just west of the capital. As I walked through the high street towards the Churchyard the hairs on my cheek stood up although I felt no chill provoking their movement. Had I not been so cold and immobile I would have shuddered upon realising nothing had changed, the Village was still in the winter of 1947. I wanted so badly to see the Butcher still alive and well handing out his warming broth. My journey through the village to the church was uninterrupted. Releasing the latch from the gate and stepping into the churchyard the memories of evenings playing hide and seek, of hours spent in amongst the gravestones trying to guess what each person would have looked like replayed in front of me. I was briskly reminded of the way the church deprived the grounds from any light, its muddy brick exterior meant it was permanently cloudy and damp. The grounds resembled a swamp, and every step was taken with caution. Not long after I walked across it I slipped and fell onto my back, I lay there for a few seconds imagining what it would be like to be dead and buried in here. As I stood up, I looked at the trees. Such gaunt things with no leaves or colour, as dead as the skeletons they were supposed to be sheltering. I couldn’t help but view them as symbols. Perhaps they spell out what it means if you find yourself roaming here too long. It means you too, are dead and rotting, a resident of the earth and no longer a wanderer.
The wind animated every skeletal limb of those awful ugly trees, but I heard no rustling. The silence was ethereal. With every gust that passed a craving in me grew stronger, I had no idea what this craving was for but It whirled and spun faster and faster. Until my stomach felt like a small innocent bird trapped in barbed wire manically flapping its wings trying to break free but only speeding up his death. An overwhelming feeling of anxiety surrounded me, and I feared I might faint. I made my way to the bench beneath the trees, offering a panoramic view of the graveyard and the dimly lit high street illuminated the background replacing the missing stars from this evening’s sky. The crows gathered and opened their beaks, they were screaming and screeching at each other but I heard nothing. Looking up at the sky clotted by sharp black clouds, I took a seat. I waited to feel the icy rain water solder my thighs to the bench, but I felt nothing. Too cold to feel numb. I could feel, taste, smell, hear, and see only my thoughts, and I felt like a migraine.
The churchyard was empty. Desperate for company, I scanned the ground with my eyes hoping to spot a dog walker or someone. Half an hour passed and it was still just me, the crows, and the trees. A darkness was looming over the village, night was setting in but my thoughts never turned to leaving and finding shelter. Instead I wandered further into the graveyard, I wandered until I was amongst the oldest of graves and the Church began fading from view. Wading through headstones I saw names from my childhood. Every other headstone a person I saw last time I was in St Lawrence. This was the longest I had been here without seeing another human being. The privilege of company seemed illegitimate, as though I had returned as a criminal, or as though I wasn’t really here at all. I reached in my pocket for a tissue to catch the tears I expected to warm my cheek any second now, I took hold of my scarf and brought it closer to my neck preparing to comfort my throat when the lump that accompanies the doom of loss blocks your airways. Neither the tears or the lump came, my vision and my airways were clear. More than clear, I felt every molecule of the ice in the air. The anxiety returned and I had an urge to move in some drastic way to confirm myself as living, I wanted to collapse onto my knees and scream. To never stop screaming until someone came. I would scream in mourning of the village where nothing has changed apart from the faces or lack of. I looked up to remind myself I was actually alive, walking, and breathing. The clouds began to rapidly cluster. I felt an intense claustrophobia, and an impending sense of doom like I might die if I didn’t feel something soon. Then the rain came, the fine type that you think won’t affect you much but when you get inside you’re soaked through to the bone. I ran towards the church for shelter. The door was already open, inside a fire was burning, but no one was minding it. I walked straight over to it and leant my face close in to dry off, but I was already dry. Not a drop of rain had landed on my body.
“Am I alone?” I asked, but I couldn’t be sure if any sound surfaced from my lungs.
The church was as silent as the yard. Not even the pelting rain which had quickly progressed into a storm could be heard. Nor the cracking of each flame, or the echoes of my heavy breaths.
I couldn’t return to my mother’s house in this state. I hadn’t seen her in five years, since the summer of 1960. On a beautiful Tuesday morning I gave birth to my Michael. Mother had had the adoption arranged soon after I told her the news of my pregnancy. All the while I carried Michael I knew he wasn’t really mine, I wept night after night. But she had no words of comfort to offer, all she had to say was “actions have consequences Hazel” which she said every day for nine months. I woke the day after his birth to an empty cot, and she woke the day after that to an empty house. Lily from school moved to her parents’ farmhouse the year before, and I knew where it was because I stayed with her at Easter. It took me a few days, but I got there and begged her to let me work for her. I vowed to never see mother again, never set foot in St Lawrence.
Last week the migraines and the pains started, Lily said I might have Polio, that horrendous disease that killed Tommy Cleaves last month, he had migraines and muscle weakness that made him bed ridden. On Friday night his mother sent him to bed with a cup of Horlicks and a cold flannel for his head, when she went to wake the poor thing in the morning he was dead.
“Nonsense!” I told her “I don’t have a disease Lily, I am exhausted from the guilt of leaving mother”
“Go back home Hazel, god knows how long your mother has left on the earth, maybe you need to forgive her and if you can’t do that just forget” Lily stroked my face and told me to have the afternoon off. I didn’t want to admit it, but she was right. I needed to go home. I told her I wasn’t to be disturbed, made a cold flannel for my head and buried myself in my bed.
Our reunion will be tomorrow. Yes, I will show up on her doorstep as the Hazel she knew and supported. The only child she and my father adored and nurtured. We’ll talk, my headache will clear and Michael’s memory will be just that, a memory. Not a reason for hatred, or a trigger for pain, but something that happened to me that I will never forget.
All actions have consequences Hazel her face refused to fade with the closing of my eyes, her eyes pierced through my eyelids and into my dreams. Terrified of the darting stare and the repetitive snarlthat grew into an unbearable bark, I curled into the foetal position for protection. Craving peace and ignorance of my senses I was soon guided into an anaesthetised sleep by the white light of the fire.
When I woke I went outside to check the rain had cleared, it hadn’t. There were people huddled around a plot in the distance, I probably knew them everyone knew everyone here, but from back here their faces were hidden by a black and white mosaic of umbrellas and tissues. I walked over, and joined them. I tapped who I recognised as Ian Somers from the watch shop on the shoulder but he didn’t move a muscle. I put my face right up to his and whispered “Ian, is it someone I knew?” and his face remained still and emotionless.
“Ian! I know it’s a funeral but you can talk to me, even just a whisper?” still nothing.
I wandered into the crowd, and saw an elderly woman hunched in front of the headstone. She was blocking the view of the name, and I turned to Rosemary, who lived two doors down from us.
“Rosemary?” she didn’t move, or blink. I felt worse than invisible, I felt completely visible and painfully ignored. My head felt as though it might explode, and I felt like throwing myself into the grave just to get a reaction.
Then the elderly woman stood up and turned around.