We stood up and measured ourselves against everything we could find. We measured the tips of our fingers to the points of our elbows and compared them to the panels in the wooden doors, lining them up precisely; edging palms up, straightening each ulna. We took the edges of each eye and we spun and spun until we knew exactly how many Mississippi’s it took eye to eye around the backs of our living minds. How tall are you compared to this fern? Here, let me place your finger in the crack of the wooden floorboard. It’s but a fingernail wide; the baby, that is. Where is your nose in relation to this light switch? We compared ourselves to the world and this we did every Sunday; Our only way to distinguish between life and death.
You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. It’s just so out of this world! It’s hard to bring myself to even say the words.
You beg me. You say please. Please tell me your story, you say. I won’t tell anyone.
I can’t tell you! I say. I wouldn’t even be able to describe it right. It’s impossible! You couldn’t possibly understand, I say as I giggle.
Just try me, you beg. I can’t even imagine. It must be such a story!
It’s just so crazy, I’m not sure what to say. What a story it is. Such a burden to hold.
And it goes back and forth like this until one of us dies.
When I say I’m red sky at night,
I feel it most in the morning.
Waking up to impending doom,
I’ve forgotten what excitement feels like.
I saw your face in the clouds that day
You smiled and I smiled back
Why had you come?
You were he, and she, and they. You were everyone.
The wind was your breath and it was warm and new and old too.
You were everyone. Always.
I laughed and leaned back on the grass. It was you hand.
And it wrapped me up in everything. You were everyone.
I took my shoes off and rolled my toes in the gaps between your fingers.
The sun beamed down and it was you, and her and him, and they.
You were everyone, and you were there. Always.
It was a Sunday that she died. The first one of the month. We were sitting, some of us crouched, huddled around her lifeless body in the church yard. A gentle breeze blew and the autumn leaves gathered around the spot she had just fallen and would now remain until the undertakers came. She was the oldest member of our family, and for that reason it was significant.
As the day went on, more and more people turned up from the wider family and from families unrelated. Like the matriarch of the elephant families in Kenya, she was the point around which we all revolved and had done for the entire span of my life at least. Like an earthquake, it brought us all together. They came in their drones, like a procession, bringing gifts by the dozen; flowers, prayers, pots of gold even, and we lay them around her on the ground. Each came with a question: “How did it happen?” “Was she happy?” “What shape did she make on the ground when she fell?” We unpicked reality, stage by stage, chronologically, and we stuck it back together to explain that she was content with the long life she had lived, feeling special at times, and that the shape she had made was like a tree sprouting fresh branches, fluid and majestic. It was strong and poised like she had been, living.
The day drew to a close and the numbers dwindled. As the sun set behind the trees, we knew someone had to put her affairs in order, and that person was me. We were still crouched around her body and slowly, one at a time, one would look around to the others with sympathy, stand up and take their last look at her withered face before walking off into the sunset; each feeling like they would never be able to replace her in their lives. Kali was the last to stand and turn. She touched her hand gently on my shoulder and after a long silence told me it would all be okay, before walking away leaving me alone next to the corpse which was covered in leaves and gifts on the ground.
I sat there cross-legged on the grass in silence, breathing in the Autumn evening. I wondered why she had been in the church yard that morning and I imagined her last moments. She was likely happy and smiling. The crooked angle of her mouth suggested otherwise, but I liked to think she was content. I saw her as a warrior. She had once told me that to truly appreciate life, you must surround yourself with death, and now here I was in the church yard, surrounded by death, yet somehow I was struggling to appreciate life; particularly my own.
The factory I was working in had recently gone under and this had left me in a bind. A few of us had gotten together to form a weekly gathering which mainly consisted of playing cards and being able to talk about light-hearted subjects enough to cushion the reality of the everyday monotony we now found ourselves in. On a Tuesday evening, Thea would come over to my place with a quart of whiskey and we would talk about our plans for the future whilst trying to remain focused. Acceptance is the downward spiral to defeat. It wasn’t easy, especially as the government had cut unemployment benefits by nearly half. We all struggled.
In the church yard, the sun slowly started to dip down behind the cloud and the chill in the air sent shivers to my core. Three figures in the distance walked slowly towards me. The undertakers had arrived to collect the body, but I was not feeling ready to let her go. After all, she was the reason I was in the church yard in the first place, though I didn’t know that yet.
Death came to tea last night. As he put the mug of coffee to his lips, I remembered I hadn’t rinsed out the mug since I used it earlier on in the day and I’d had a rotten cold. I was too embarrassed to mention anything so I offered him a biscuit and hoped for the best.