Arthur stood at the gates and waited for the man to come. He was early today, keen to get started. He rubbed his hands together to stimulate the circulation and peered through the railings. At last the man arrived. He pulled at the heavy iron frame and it slowly opened.
Mornin’Albert, how are you feeling the day? The man had always called him by that name and Arthur had long since given up correcting him.
‘This could be the one, do you think?’ the man enthused.
‘Aye, ah think ye could be right.’ Arthur smiled and the man returned to the gatehouse. Arthur continued slowly up the driveway and then stopped just below the brow of the rise. He couldn’t remember where he had finished yesterday. He reached into his overcoat pocket and pulled out his map. He checked the last entry,
John Macleod, 23rd September.
That was three days ago. He must have forgotten to update his list, or perhaps he hadn’t been at all. ‘Yer a bloody fool, Arthur,’ he said, shrugging his shoulders. ‘Oh well, I’ll just have tae start at Mr Macleod.’ Using the map for guidance, he made his way to the desired plot and set to work.
After he’d finished a row, his hip started playing up. He sat down on a nearby bench and rubbed at the sciatic pain shooting down his leg.
‘Time for a wee dram,’ he thought, and unbuttoning his coat, he removed a half bottle from the breast pocket of his suit. He took a couple of sips and replaced the cap. ‘A better no drink too much a this,’ he said, placing the bottle on the bench. Then from the other pocket, he eased out his loosely wrapped lunch. It was his favourite, a mutton piece with onion and mustard. As he chewed slowly on the meat, he started thinking about her. Sometimes he could remember her quite clearly, her face right at the front of his mind, her eyes and mouth smiling and whispering softly to him. But then there were days when he could barely picture her at all. He had to write things down, but it was hard to do that all the time. He swallowed a lump of gristle and took another swig from his bottle. But the onset of panic refused to recede. He’d forgotten her name. ‘What was it? Agnes-? Edna-? No, that’s no it-Alice-?’ Names were flying in and out of his head but none of them seemed quite right.
‘Awe fur Christsake, jist think.’ He rubbed his forehead and tried again. ‘Elise-Amanda-?’ It was no use. The only thing he could do was to carry on and hope that it would pop back into his mind. He finished his sandwich, pushed himself to his feet and returned to where he had stopped.
He looked down at the stone in front of him. William Rennie 1867 – 1922. ‘Well that’s no her,’ he thought. He carried on along the line. Margaret Forsyth, 1899-1948. He stared at the headstone. ‘Could she be a Margaret? No, I dinnae think so.’ He moved on to another, and then another until he was at the end of the row. He got out his map and wrote down the details. Frank Gilroy 1903–1953, Row 7, 26th September. And so he continued. Row after row he scanned and searched, hoping that he’d come across something that would awaken his memory. But he still couldn’t remember. He didn’t know what to do. He sat down again to rest his hip and taking another few swigs of whisky he re- examined the map.
‘That’s eight rows done. I’ll dae anither two and that’ll be me fur the day.’ He was breathing heavily. The walking and the strain of trying to remember had taken their toll. He started on another row, Robert Hughes 1907-1979.
The light was beginning to fade and he was about to give up when he stopped in front of a small gravestone. It read:
To my Beloved Edith
Rest in Heaven
He couldn’t breath. He staggered back and then steadied himself.
‘Edith- that’s her name. That is it!’ And then he realised.
‘Oh dear God..Edith.. I found ye.’ He bent down and touched the stone with the back of his hand, the way he used to caress the soft warmth of her face.
‘My beloved Edith- I’ve been looking for you for a long, long time. How did ye no help me find ye?’ He rested his cheek on the cold marble and started to weep. It was like a weight had been thrown from his shoulders. All those years without her had come to an end. He could finally grieve again for the woman he had lost so long ago. He examined the plot. It was covered in weeds, and moss was growing inside the inscription.
‘Whit have ye dun tae yersel? he said ‘Ye need a right spruce up.’ Ignoring the pain in his joints, he got down on one knee and started pulling at the weeds.
‘Ye need me tae look efter ye, don’t ye?’ He put the weeds in his pocket and tried to rub the mould off the decorative stones that had been laid around the base. Picking at the tiny clusters of moss with his nails, he shook his head in dismay.
She was drinking red wine. Her lips barely touched the rim. The sun glistened off the glass and the light danced in her eyes. She paused, leaned over and kissed him, a slow lingering embrace. She tasted sweet. Her perfume was intoxicating. He held her face. She smiled. She slipped her hand into his. Their fingers entwined and she pulled their knuckles together. She breathed in, her mouth pressed against his ear. She waited, and then whispered, ‘always’. He closed his eyes.
He stopped. It was late. The man would be waiting for him. Using the gravestone for support, he slowly pushed himself up.
‘I’ve got tae go, ma love. But I’ll be here first thing in the mornin’, I promise. An’ I’ll bring ye some fuchsias. They were ayeways yer favourite.’ He stepped back onto the path.
‘See you in the moarnin, my Edith.’ He blew her a silent kiss and made his way back through the rows of crosses and carved angels to the entrance. When he reached the gate, he steadied himself against the railings.
‘Whit was the date again?’ he thought, ‘1947.’ A Little thread of doubt started fluttering around in his head.
‘I’m no sure that’s right – When was it? – just efter the war – and we’d moved tae Denistoun.Tom wid a been four. Was it 47- or 48?’ He tried to work it out with his fingers but was interrupted by the man, who reappeared behind him.
‘All right Albert, any joy the day?’
‘I thought so – but now I’m no sae sure. I’ll need tae check something when I get hame.’
‘Ah well, there’s always tomorrow if she’s no the right one.’
Arthur stepped out of the cemetery. The man closed the gate behind him, and wrapping the chain around the corroded handle he snapped the padlock shut.
‘I’ll see you tomorrow then wee man.’ But Arthur didn’t reply. He was deep in his own thoughts.
‘His time will come,’ the man muttered to himself and went back into the gatehouse.