Sunday, 10 August 2014

Met You At The Cemetery Gates

George Millis stared into the depths of his coffee mug as he hunched over the kitchen island in his cousin’s small town located apartment. He methodically stirred the beverage with the teaspoon a few more times round the circumference of the mug. 

George looked up from his coffee; out to the grey world. He watched the raindrops glide down the windows. It always rained here. The melancholy drops slid down the glass like tears falling down a human cheek. George bit his lip. He must remind himself not to cry for that is not what Rose would have wanted.

‘I need to go now’ said John, snatching a file off the table before coming round to console his cousin, ‘I know today will be hard for you’ John placed his hand on George’s shoulder and softly gripped it; ‘You’ll get through it. Try to get out the house today. Go and see someone or do something. Stay busy. I’ll be home later this evening.’

George did not reply, but remained hunched over his coffee that he had retired to staring into glumly; as if in the depths of the mug, he would find happiness. He knew that that was a ridiculous notion.

John removed his hand from his cousin’s shoulder and sighed before picking up his briefcase and leaving for another day in the office.

George had been living with John for six months. Their relationship was becoming dreadfully strained. It had reached the point where George was waiting for his cousin to say, ‘We need to talk’ before telling him that he needed to find another place to stay; either that or he needed to find a job. Neither prospect appealed to George but what he did not want was a regular job.

George got up from his seat and left the coffee on the island. He had never had any intention of drinking it really. George walked over to his cousin’s oak bookcase and ran his finger along the spines in search of an appealing title. He needed a way for his mind to escape for a little while. George picked up a non-fiction work about Renaissance art. He raised an eyebrow for his cousin was a conservative sort of chap who did not seem to have a particular interest in art of any kind.

He lay the book down on the coffee table and went over to his mug of lukewarm coffee and poured it down the sink. He refilled the kettle in order to make a cup of tea. He had never liked coffee. It tasted like burnt toast.

George sighed as he waited for the kettle to boil and again observed the steady, tedious rainfall. He tried to not think about Rose but her face kept coming back into his mind. Sometimes she was laughing hysterically or smiling and biting her lip coquettishly. But the worst time was when she was crying. He always hated seeing her cry. The kettle boiled and he brewed a cuppa.

George took a seat and opened up the book that he had placed on the coffee table. It was a rather hefty sized book. There should be something worthwhile somewhere within it. Perhaps he could find some inspiration for his writing. That was what George was straggling around for; inspiration. His writer’s block had gone on for far too long. He lied to his cousin about his work. He said that it was going exceptionally well and that he would publish it and be rich soon enough. John nodded approvingly because he liked to dodge confrontation and he was avoiding talking to George about getting a job. Hence John liked the idea of George becoming an extremely successful writer although he had never actually read any of George’s writing so had no idea what the chances of this happening were. The truth was that ever since Rose’s death exactly one year ago, all George had been able to see in the world was suffering and this had sapped his creativity to ghastly low levels.

On page five of the introduction Pisano and Da Vinci started to blend into one as George increasingly lost concentration. This seemed to happen every time he tried to read and write which made him miserable because these used to be his two favourite past times. He was put off his cup of tea after burning the roof of his mouth so he left the second warm beverage of the day unfinished. This time, however, he did not pour the drink down the sink but left it on the side to cool.

George walked into the hall and threw on his worn out leather jacket before walking out of the front door and slamming it behind him. He ran down the steps of the apartment block and grabbed his bicycle from the bike rack. He clambered on and pedalled furiously until he reached his local public house, The Deacon and Swordsman. He pulled up outside and dropped his bike against the brick wall by the door.

George swung open the door and staggered in already feeling drunk with world weariness. He stereotypically slumped into a bar stall and ordered his first pint. He smiled drowsily and silently toasted the drink to Rose.

George was a nineteen year old misfit who frequented the pub too often but otherwise stayed indoors. He did not have many friends and liked staying up too late, sitting in the dark and listening to depressing music. However, he had not always been like this.

A year ago he had finished his final examinations at school and achieved good grades that would have gotten him into a top university if he had wanted to. Now he had no communication with his family other than his cousin. After Rose's death, George had gone off the rails. At first he refused to leave his bedroom but when he did start going out he would end up drunk in the gutter or sitting on a bench in the cemetery. His parents tried to help him at first and the doctor put him on some pills. However, three months ago he had a significant argument with his parents and they had kicked him out with just one bag full of belongings.  

George left the pub at an uncivilised hour. The large town clock that stared him in the face as he swayed onto the street told him that it was still the anniversary of Rose's death. The dreaded day has not yet ended. It had merely darkened and the darkening correlated with George's mood for there were no more pints and no more books about Renaissance art to distract him from his thoughts now. George remembered that it had been a dark night when Rose had died. Again, he tried to hold back his tears. A car blew its horn and George realised that he was standing in the middle of the road. He moved, as ably as he could, to the pavement but his vision was blurred and his coordination clumsy. He struggled to gain a sense of direction and to keep his footing on the cobbles. He made it to the safety of the roadside and the car drove on. However, in his drunkenness, George misjudged the curb and did not leave enough room between his foot and the concrete. He fell without having time to put his hands down to protect his face. 

The street lamps were temperamental in this town. They flickered before all light left them. George could not tell what he had cut his face on. A pain shot through the area between his lower lip and chin. Bringing his hand up to the injured area, he felt a wetness. George brought his fingers to his mouth and tasted the unmistakably bitter and metallic flavour of blood. He cursed at his own stupidity then turned onto his back and looked up at the sky.

The street was deserted expect for the drunken man lying flat on his back; conscious but by no means sober enough for sanity. George laughed; for his 'life' really was quite laughable. We must put 'life' in quotation marks because although alive, George had not been living for a long time.

He looked at the few stars that were visible in the cloudy sky and noticed, for the first time, that it was raining; hard. It must have been raining for quite some time because John realised that his clothes were soaked through and his skin was damp. Here he was; a young man of just nineteen years, lying flat in the street. What would his old peers from school think of him now? He did not care one jot what those ignorant buffoons thought. He did not care what anybody thought. However, George could not help but think about himself for he could not escape that; even in his current alcohol induced daze. What an awful mess he had made of his life! He was waiting for a train that would never arrive; a dream that might never come true. He sat around all day waiting for words to enter his mind; for a novel that perhaps he would never write. He would be asked to leave his cousin’s apartment soon, for sure. He spent too much time thinking about Rose. Rose. He needed to see her. It was an event that he had been putting off all day. He had feared that going earlier would have meant running into Rose’s parents. They had gotten on well enough last year but George was not oblivious to the fact that all over the town he was now seen as the good boy who went off the rails. If his own parents did not approve of his new lifestyle (which they didn’t) and thought that he was a waste of space (which they did) then Rose’s parents would probably feel the same way. Parents of teenagers often seem to think in unison.

George lay in the gutter and counted the stars. He wondered, for a brief second, if Rose was up there, looking back at him. Then he shook his head at his naivety. It was a fatuous thought. She was no more up there than she was in the gutter alongside him for she was dead and would never come back.

George suddenly needed to be as close to Rose as possible. He pulled himself up and stumbled about a bit before gaining his balance and walking down the street in the direction of the cemetery.

George walked the streets with his hands in his pockets; trying to pay attention so as to avoid another fall. He climbed over the cemetery gates and rolled onto the gravel; numb to any pain he may have felt if sober. He took the immediate left. He knew the route like the back of hand, so, even in darkness he could conduct his way to Rose’s grave. George saw a flash. He heard a scream. He put his hand on the nearby bench in order to steady himself. Then it was back to normal. George was alone in the dark graveyard; a situation that few sober humans would be comfortable in. A laugh. Another bright light. George sat down and put his head in his hands. How he thoroughly despised these flashbacks! But Rose had looked so, so beautiful that night. It was the vividness of such flashbacks that had saved George’s life on more than one occasion. Just seeing Rose’s smile was enough. He hated what an infatuated, weak fool this made him.

It was like a ridiculous American high school film when Rose had walked down the staircase to meet him that night. She had been dressed in a very pale pink dress that was fitted at the top and flowed out at the waist before ending modestly just above the knee. Her shiny, dark blonde hair was tied into a messy bun adorned with a daisy embellished hair band. And her eyes. Oh her eyes! How perfectly blue they had been! And how perfectly blue they still were in George’s mind for she was now standing in front of him, as real as ever. He took her hand and they go in the car. Then they danced for hours. Others stood at the sides but George and Rose never stopped dancing. Rose continued to twirl around nonchalantly, as if in a happy dream, even after they had left the venue. She giggled and George smiled. He was happy in that moment. Then something terrible happened. Rose skipped ahead to George’s car across the road. George was still smiling. Rose was still laughing.

“Go” George shouted.

“Wha-?” Rose turned, perplexed.

Then the light. And the scream. And it hit. George saw it all again. Every day that sequence repeated itself in his mind like a broken record. Rose was hit by a truck. She had died almost instantly from the impact. People tried to console George by reminding him of this. “At least she wasn’t in any pain” they all say. But George knew that she was. He could see it in her eyes that in the last moment of her life she was in excruciating emotional pain that no physically torment could ever possibly match. It was the realisation that she was completely and utterly alone and she was afraid, so George did not believe all the people that told him she had not suffered from any pain for she undoubtedly had. Now he was too. Every day since then George had suffered because he hadn’t seen the truck a few seconds earlier. Because he did not run into the road and push her aside. Because he had not been holding her hand that night. Because he had shouted such an ambiguous syllable to her which had not helped her and had been such insensitive last words. Because in her final moments there was no way he could possibly comfort her because in death we are all infinitely alone.

George stood up and staggered in the dark until he got to Emily’s grave. It was at the other side of the cemetery, by the gates looking onto the main road. Cars still zoomed past; paying little attention to all the people forever gone from the world that lay under the ground.

Then George decided that he must commemorate Rose’s death in an original way. Rose would like that. Flowers had no meaning. Why put something symbolising life on the graves of the dead? It is a tradition that seems a little harsh. It is like saying ‘look at these lovely living flowers. You will never live again but these beautiful flowers are alive.’ And what did crying achieve?

Rose loved to dance. Yes. More than anything else she loved to dance.

George started to spin round like Rose had done on the night of her death. He moved his feet in different patterns and bobbed his head. Next, arms were added. The rest came easily. It flowed like he had been rehearsing for months. The Rose was there with her blue eyes and her smile and her elegant movements. He held onto her and whispered that he would never let go.

George and Rose danced into the early hours in the morning. Several cars passed by and wondered why there was this man dancing so animatedly in the cemetery. Rumours about it still circulate today. Passersby all have their own theories and conspiracies. They bring it up at dinner parties when there is a lull in conversation but none of them could have guessed that, as George danced around his loved one’s grave all night, he felt a lot happier than he had done in a long time.

The next morning a man found George lying asleep next to Rose’s grave. The man that found him recognised George and knew his cousin. He went to a phone-box and called John. John and the man gently lifted George into the back of the car where he awoke with an aching head. John let George stay in the apartment for another year.

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