Today sees the conclusion of a brand new short story, ‘Empathy in a Country Churchyard’. Part 1 can be read here: https://gracelessageing.com/tag/churchyard/
Empathy in a Country Churchyard [Part 2]
“So how are you, Judith?” she asks. I’ve got the choice of looking at her and answering or pretending I haven’t heard. If I answer I’ll have to look, which I do. And I know her. She’s looking a lot older, but well preserved, which is more than can be said for me. She still has blond curls, although I suppose these days it’s out of a bottle. She’s got the coat and she’s got patent, pink pumps to match, plus one of those dinky little bags, in pink of course, with a gold chain.
“Sharon”, I reply. “Why are you here?”
She chuckles. “You can’t accuse me of coming to gloat, Judith and I didn’t come out of curiosity. No- I’m here for the same reason as you; just visiting. Does that surprise you?”
He’d met her when she went to the print shop to order leaflets for a business she was starting: bespoke cakes for all occasions. Oh yes, he told me all about her. At first it had been anecdotal, the meeting, while he was talking about his day. Then he began mentioning her more often. After a bit he stopped talking about her. That was once they’d started having an affair, I realised. It doesn’t take long to surmise your partner is playing away because they get careless, and not just with stray hairs on collars. They stay later at work with feeble excuses. Their phone calls become more numerous and have to be private. They must to explain the increased incoming texts outside of work hours. He didn’t try to lie when I confronted him though.
“He’s dead, Sharon. Why would you want to see him?”
“Why would you? He wasn’t a great husband to you, was he?”
I look down at Malcom, or rather, the mound that Malcom has become. I haven’t tended it. I don’t bring fresh flowers to put in the grey, metal vase- or even plastic ones. I haven’t weeded it or planted it with primroses or brought along favourite items or a photograph. I haven’t scrubbed the stone, which has become encrusted with yellow lichen, the engraving almost obliterated now.
I raise my eyes to hers. “I come to make sure he’s dead. And to tell him all the things I should have said before.”
She’s leaning forward. “Did you love him, Judith?”
I shrug. “I suppose I must have done, in the beginning. Or perhaps it was only lust. I don’t remember. Did you?”
She nods, slowly. “Yes. I did. But you know something? He cheated on me, too.”
I settle back. Something eases inside me, as if a taught stretch of elastic has been slackened. “So you’ve come here before?” I ask her.
“Not every week, but now and again. It’s a lovely, peaceful place, don’t you think? I know you always come on Wednesdays, which is why I’ve always avoided them before, but I felt that enough time has elapsed now that we don’t have to be sworn enemies and we’ve quite a bit in common, haven’t we?” She’s smiling a lopsided grin. I can see what Malcom found attractive in her.
We sit in silence for a bit then I look at my watch. She looks at hers, too. “Does your daughter bring you? Pamela, isn’t it? Malcom was always very proud of her. You must have done a good job in raising her.”
“She brings me under sufferance. She doesn’t approve of my coming here every week. She’ll be back to collect me soon and she won’t be happy to see you, I can tell you that now.”
“She knows about me? That was unnecessary, wasn’t it? He never left you, after all, Judith, in spite of all the philandering. Why didn’t you send him packing?”
Why hadn’t I? For a moment I consider what my life might have been like if I’d thrown him out. I’d have been less comfortably off, for a start. I might have had to work full-time instead of enjoying part time hours. There had been Pamela to consider. She’d only just started at school when he began his dalliance with Sharon. Pamela always adored her father. But the one, overriding, persuasive factor in allowing him to stay had been that I liked his playing away. I liked his attention being elsewhere and the onus was off me to provide anything other than occasional meals and housekeeping. After the first shock and humiliation of Sharon’s existence I’d learned to adjust and enjoy my freedom from him. We became relative strangers sharing a home, ‘ships that pass’.
“I didn’t care, Sharon; not really. I was glad for someone else to take him off my hands. Now I think you need to disappear before Pamela sees you.”
She stands, brushing down her posh coat and picking up the dainty bag. “Will you be coming next week, Judith?”
“Oh yes. I don’t miss a week unless the weather’s too awful to be outside. Pamela hates it. I’m a burden to her, these days.”
Sharon’s looking down at me and grinning. “I’ve enjoyed chatting today. Why don’t I pick you up next week and we can visit together? Then Pamela won’t be put out and we’ll be company for each other.”
The next Wednesday comes round and, true to her word, Sharon picks me up and we go to the cemetery together. After a couple of times, she produces a flask of coffee and some doughnuts.
“Might as well make a morning of it,” she laughs. “What did you tell your daughter?”
“I said I’d met a friend in the cemetery who’d be bringing me in future. She was surprised but quick to agree. It’s let her off the hook.”
After about a month Sharon suggested we shorten our visit and go on down to the seafront for lunch. Then when she asked me if I thought Malcom would mind if we by-passed the cemetery sometimes and go straight to the beach café I didn’t think twice.
I haven’t told Pamela who the ‘friend’ is that picks me up to visit Malcom on Wednesdays. To be fair, she hasn’t questioned it and I know she’s relieved it’s just not her job any more.
Sharon tells me it amuses her to think of Malcom looking down at us from somewhere. “What do you think he makes of us down here having a good time together, Judith?” she asks me and I can only smile. “To be honest, Sharon, I don’t bloody care!”
Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook