BUW: Ten Years Old

Saturday, 8 December 2007

I can see you there, you know.
In the pinholes in the sky that heaven shows through. I can see you watching me as I bend my head over your resting body and wish that time could reverse itself, so I can say the things that were torn from my tongue.

Beneath me, the grass on my mother’s grave pokes into my sandals. It’s not a normal grave. It’s lawn. I lay down on top of it and rest my face on the bronze plaque so the letters sink into my cheek. They’ve spelt her name wrong. And she hasn’t even been dead that long. I stretch my arms above my head and look down my legs and up again. Mum is about the same length as me. She died young.
I roll on my back and look into the sun. There are fire-martians up there, shining their little torches down, wondering at me the human, laying on the Earth’s crust, pining for someone buried in a scratch in the surface. They don’t understand. They shrug their shoulders and run off dancing in the flames, burning sweetly on kerosene. I close my eyes and there is a sun behind my lids - a yellow burn in the blackness.
My blood feels hot. It’s warm and crimson; I know because I’ve seen it often enough - scratches and cuts from falling down too much. I didn’t see my Mum’s blood. She didn’t have any coming out of her when she died. It was all inside her head. In there, big and red and pressing against her brain with nowhere to get out. I frown and my hot blood rushes. I feel pressure in my head. I feel a drill going in there and making a hole and letting the blood drip out. If they did that in time, maybe she wouldn’t be dead now. Maybe the blood pressing in her brain wouldn’t have taken the breath from her lungs and the wet shine from her blue eyes.
“Whataya doin, missy?”
I squint up at the old man with the rake in his hands - the fire-martians shine their torches behind his white hair, giving him a sort of halo effect. He has a beard too - white - and a smell drifts to me of unwashed clothes and armpits. He clutches at his rake. There are brown leaves stabbed onto the prongs. Beyond, by the trees, little piles of leaf skitter on the breeze while he’s not watching. They giggle, tossing and scattering.
“Shouldn ya be sittin or somethin? I mean - yer layin all aroun n stuff like that. Not really proper, I don think. Gotta keep the place tidy n all...” his voice trails off because I’m not paying attention. Mum and I smile at him. She wisps off somewhere like ringing bells and I turn in time to catch more leaves hopping over the manicured lawns, scurrying, fluttering, spiralling, pulled and tossed by invisible strings.
There are people under those lawns; hundreds of people with little bronze labels reminding us who they once were, when they could walk and talk and be so very much alive. Some of these people are still fresh below neat mounds of dirt - mounds that the rain will pack down over a month or so. Then the grass seeds are sown and the bronze plaques are hammered down and the only thing left to do is mow. It’s hard not to think of the death beneath - people’s mothers and sons and brothers and lovers, laid out with their arms folded in a sacrificial grid beneath the soil. Under the lovely green carpet. Hiding. Glossed away and rotting.
I sit up and cross my legs and say: “You like working here?”
The old man looks at me as though the question is an odd one. “It's not bad, I guess. Lawns are a bugger to mow, but them treesll av flowers soon,” he nods at the camellias. There are little buds and the colour is thick and pink like the piped icing on wedding cakes.
My mother’s breeze rises and gathers more leaves into spiralling symphonies, then tosses them gruffly to the ground again. “It’s beautiful, this cemetery,” I say, as the breeze slips underneath my chin.
He nods, and his white hair shines. “So tis.” He glances at the grave beneath me. “This yer granma, ay?”
I fiddle with the buttons at the neck of my shirt. “No. It’s no one.” I look up at him. “Well, yes. It’s actually my Mum. If they had drilled a hole, she wouldn’t have needed to go in there.”
“In where?”
“Under the ground. With the others.”
He stares at me, this old man. Then he looks at the hammered-down plaque. He doesn’t say anything else. He spies a fat couple parking themselves at a nearby plaque. They have a picnic basket into which they dig deeply then chomp on chicken still warm in the foil and chips in Tupperware containers with bangly lids. They have a toddler who stands up on wobbly legs and brandishes a chicken bone.
“Scuse me,” the old man says, bowing slightly. “Gotta see no chicken bones git left.”
“Of course,” I say.
“You live near here?”
I nod.
“You sure?”
I nod again and he shuffles away reluctantly. Mum’s breeze tickles my hair. “The leaves!” I call out to the old man and she carries my voice to his ears. He turns and Mum lifts a long white strand of hair from his scalp and raises it to the sky in grand salute. I giggle.
“Whassat?” he cups a hand to his baggy ear.
“They’re flying away! The leaves! The leaves!” I point madly.
He turns and sees them scatter, shakes his head, thanks me with a downward wave and shuffles over to the fat couple with the hint of a smile on his face.
Naughty leaves.
Naughty Mum.

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