The passing

The weather-eaten stone was warm and welcoming under her skeletal weight. She was old and tattered, staring blankly at the gravestone she was sitting on. Time had stopped short as the leafless trees wailed above her head, and the late autumn wind blew through her snow-white hair. She did not hear the wind, but she felt its cold grip on her aching skin.

Jonas Grears, she read slowly, to pass the time, taking in each letter carefully and with the empty nonchalance of old age. Died at sixty-nine, faithful husband, loving father. She tried to force her memory and bring back his face, but being very forgetful and weak, all she could muster was a blurry shape with eyes of a nondescript colour, and the raucous chunks of laughter that he may or may not have sent forth back then. He was a dream-figure, something she might have made up over the lonely decades. But no, he had been real. He was buried, resting right under where she was now being part of the slow-motion landscape.

Why she was coming to embrace her past with painful regularity, every Sunday afternoon, no one could have known; she did not know it herself. Holding on to what hurt and stabbed and strangled her- it provided her with a stable continuity of hope and future. Every Monday morning she got up with trembling limbs knowing that she would visit the graveyard on Sunday afternoon the same week. Her ragged mind was scheming on petty activities such as putting on her bets clothes, her decade-old stockings that she had managed to preserve intact all these years, and shuffling to the mahogany cupboard where her four pairs of shoes rested in painful order to choose her favourite, the black and brown, solid winter shoes she had bought at a garage sale a few years back. Her brain could dwell on these details for days; listening to the radio, cutting an apple into small bits fit for her false teethed mouth to chew on, staring into the sunset on the porch of her old house. At unexpected moments she would remember her shoes, and her stockings, and her spirit would be lifted: whatever happened, she always had her Sunday trip to the graveyard.

As the almost winter dusk was carefully descending upon the living and the inanimate, she nodded into nothing, oblivious to the figure that was walking on the narrow path which meandered among the graves. It was ambling at a leisurely pace; it was almost on tiptoes, and there was no noise coming from its shoes touching the gravel.

The long black coat and knitted cap and solid black boots approached her silently, and they stopped to watch her as she sat on her former lover’s gravestone and played the only role life was allowing her to play, that of a faithfully mourning wife. The cap lifted slightly to reveal a pair of pitch-black eyes and several wavy curls that refused to stay covered. The eyes lay burrowed under thick but shapely brows, and scanned the landscape slowly. They noticed the old woman who rested on the smooth surface of the stone with no apparent reason. She seemed frozen by her inertia to lift her tired limbs and go home to another week of planning her Sunday visit to the graveyard.

She thought her dying eyes were playing a trick on her; something moved in front of her, or rather, shimmered like a crystal-clear brook in the endless sands of a desert. She blinked slowly, and then blinked again as her vision started to clear and upon lifting her head a little, she gazed into the eyes of a young man.

He was standing with his hands in his pockets and his eyes fixed on her. Did he want to mug her? Or worse, hurt her? She had heard of pervert rapists whose preferences went beyond ripe age; she made a stammering mental count of how much money she had in her beige-coloured purse. Would he just take it and leave?

She rose to start on her precocious journey home. He kept standing, not moving anywhere, which made it difficult for her to get onto the path that led her to the exit of her old life. She was tired and felt annoyance climb from her misplaced bowels to her reluctant throat.

-Let me leave, young man- she hissed through the artificial teeth she had been forced to masticate with on life’s meat and bones. –You have no business delaying an old person like me in the cold.

-You detest your life, so I came to take it from you- he said in a calm voice that reached her on the back of the almost-winter breeze.

As the words seeped into her ears, she raised her shaking head to meet his gaze.

-I beg your pardon? –she asked in the polite manner she had been taught from a very early age.

-Tell me one thing you love, and I will leave- he said slowly, uttering the syllables in an articulate way to ease her hearing.

She blinked at him, wondering if it was all a joke. She was old, she had nothing, why would anyone confront her like that, for no reason?

-I have grandchildren and three sons- she spoke, party in response to his bizarre and out of the place question, partly to justify her own qualms that arose upon his inquisitive glance. Was there anything she loved in this world, after all?

-You do not love them- he offered as the simple explanation to the fact that her mind was rambling on short and useless trips into the past and present, fetching this bit and that, examining and then discarding each of them with a feeling of bitterness.

-What’s it to you if I don’t?- she asked impatiently, feeling strength leave her legs which started shaking even under the weightlessness of her wobbly self.

-I have to take those who don’t have anything to love- he replied, calmly eyeing her frowning face.

-That’s the biggest nonsense I have ever heard in my life- she said, stepping closer to him, trying in vain to push his strong body away. He was young, he was tall, he was rooted, and she was losing her patience. –Let me pass, young man, or I shall call for help.

He reached out to her with both hands and touched her on the arms. She felt his warm touch but no pain where he grabbed her. He was looking at her so strangely; his mouth was batheing in an ocean of smiles and his eyes were moist, almost like he would be crying. But no, that made no sense.

Not that being lifted from the ground made any sense, or the fact that she remained on the ground to see him lift her into the air and float away on a symphony of cloud and wind. It all sounded like music; soft chiming of violins and beating of drums, like heartbeat; humming notes of a piano on an endless tango with her reluctant pleas. Where was he taking her? Why could she still se it? What was that music, and where was it coming from? Wait- there was a voice, a deep, velvety, trembling voice, dancing its nuptial dance with the wailings of a guitar; it plunged and soared and expressed itself through notes low as the inner doings of our fragile earth and high as the vast, incomprehensible universe in which man considers himself to be the unique occupant. She stood upright as far as her cracking bones allowed her, and listened.

The sun had long set, but she saw it set once more; the lifeless trees were all abloom, the snow-covered gravestones shook themselves to show the perfect lifelines of those who lay under them. She remembered her black and brown shoes and her old stockings, and the beautiful music made it all look perfect. Recalling the face of her grandson Jim she felt a smile creep across her wrinkled lips.

I love so many things, she thought, and the realization made her heart jump. Easing herself down onto the gravestone that already had her name inscripted next to the one of her long gone better half, she lay helplessly in a pool of regret and sorrow.

The voice sang to her about beauty and tenderness and compassion, and it was all so beautiful.

As her last breath floated in the air to melt into the ghosts of love and pain that wandered on their endless journey, the quest for peace, she finally understood what life was about.