Another short story as a result of The Daily Post prompt Familial Feasts: “Yesterday was Father’s Day in many countries. If you could dedicate a holiday to a more distant relative, who would it be — and why?” I must admit, once I started writing, the story took me to a different direction. But what can you do, when your muse comes calling, you better listen to her.
Feast of All Saints
Hunched back, cane in her left hand, rosary in her right, black scarf tied around her neck…she is making a slow progress from the bus station to the cemetery entrance. People passing her by, carrying flowers and candles, rushing…almost beliving those who are waiting for them might lose their patience and leave. But not her, she is taking her time, slow steps challenged by the years that burden her shoulders and knees.
A young man stops at her side and greets her: “Hello, ma’am. May I help you? Here…lean on me.”
She smiles at him, drops the old worn rosary to her pocket and puts her trembling hand on his: “Thank you, young man, you are very kind. It seems these days people are always running somewhere.”
“Well, not you and me.” he smiles, as they pass through the gates. “Today we take our time, as much as we need.”
The old lady, curious look in her eyes, stops for a moment and leans on her cane: “I must say, you are a bird with strange feathers. And I’ve seen many birds in my life.” She points a crooked finger at his towering form and chuckles: “If only my dear husband could see us, I bet he would have few chosen words for you. It was his biggest concern, how I would manage without him. He always thought me a fragile creature, made of glass. Imagine that.”
“So, you are visiting your husband’s grave?”
“If only. They are all waiting for me, my child. My husband, my parents, my brother, my sisters…those are the easy ones, expected. But, my children…those are the ones that break my heart every morning I wake up…Ah, here we are! Here, let me rest on the bench. You know, my Xavier built it, he always said that I would outlive him and that I needed a solid bench, so I could come and talk to him. That’s what he said he’d miss the most – my voice. But listen to me, an old woman babbling…Come, sit down for a minute, tell me your story.”
He sat down, his elbows on his knees, his eyes fixed on a horizon, searching for the unknown: “You know that old saying that you know a true love ony when you lose it. Well, if that is true, I guess I loved one too many times. When my parents died, I managed to move on. But I don’t know if I can do it now, when I lost my wife.”
She laughed then, shaking her head: “My dear, I can tell you, that is a pile of rubbish. You know, I used to come here often, at least once a week. Seeking solace, reprieve, redemption for imagined sins. Not anymore, now I come here once a year, on this day – Feast of All Saints. Look at all these people, look at all these flowers, all the colors. It is a celebration of lives our loved ones led, of people they left behind. Life is for living, not regretting.”
“How can you be so full of life when you lost all your loved ones, when you are so….”, he hesitated, not finding a proper word.
“Old? Ancient?”, she chuckled, “I’ll tell you a secret – I am not alone. You see that gorgeous gentleman approaching us? That is my husband, well, my second husband. We met in the retirement home, and let me tell you, sparks were flying all around us. Oh, don’t be so shocked, we are old, not dead!”
He laughed out loud and put his arm around her bony shoulders: “My dear, you made my day!”
The older man stood before them and said in a stern voice: “Young man, keep your hands to yourself.”, turned to the grave and whispered: “Xavier, don’t worry, I have it under control.” , then turned back and winked at them.
“Eric, stop it, you’ll scare this wonderful young man. He was only keeping me company, it is not my fault your new hip is not working properly, making you slower than our neighbours turtle. I am sorry, I never introduced myself, my name is Gabrielle. And this is my husband, Eric.”
“Nice to meet you, Gabrielle, Eric. I am Charles.”, he stood up and shook their hands. “I took enough of your time and I see you are in good hands now, so I should leave. It was a real pleasure talking to you, Gabrielle. And thank you for your advice, I will try.”
“I promise.”, he leaned towards her and placed a feather light kiss on her wrinkled cheek.
She smiled and patted his hand: “Good, good. It’s always good to listen to us elders.”
Charles turned around and started walking away, when Gabrielle called after him: “Charles!”
“Same time, same place next year ?”
“I can’t promise we’ll be around to speak to you, but be sure to stop by and share a story. Surely, we’ll be around to listen. And besides, it would be a waste of a good bench if no one came to sit on it at least once a year.”, she winked at him.
Charles waved at them and started walking away, shaking his head, noticing a new-found spring in his steps: “Feast of All Saints, imagine that!”