Shortbread stories posted a writing prompt picture and it prompted me to write this
Happy Birthday Jim
Jim’s birthday was on the thirty first of October, that was it. Yes, it was Halloween but it had never meant anything to them other than it was the date he was born.
After he died they laid him in the corner of the graveyard under old trees. His spot was next to the stone wall, covered in lichen and ivy, it was peaceful and secluded, it suited his quiet, sombre nature. Mary had paid for an old fashioned stone, dark granite engraved with his name and the dates of his life and a message telling everyone he was A beloved husband, sleeping at peace.
She would visit, not every week but on days when the sun shone and the birds sang. She would take a flask of tea and sit on the bench beside the path and yes, she would talk to him. At first she wondered if she was being silly but in the depth of her mourning with its horrible moments of despair it helped. She would go on their anniversary and of course on his birthday. Normally she would walk up the hill mid-morning spend an hour with Jim and then come home feeling a little comforted but strangely, even more lonely.
Three years after his passing she had been delayed, there was a meeting of the flower arranging group and Masie asked them to go back to her house for tea and cake. Then they opened a bottle of sherry – well it was after twelve so nobody needed to be ashamed. Anyway it had been after four o clock when the impromptu party had broken up and then she had been to take her library books back. By the time she had made her way to the church it had been dusk.
Over the years a few people had given an exaggerated shudder and squealed, oh you won’t catch me up there today, not on Halloween – no chance and she had smiled and carried on. Then the day of Masie’s sherry party it had happened.
For a while afterward she had told herself it was the unaccustomed alcohol, it hadn’t really happened, just her silly, old lady imagination, but the memory wouldn’t leave her. She had tidied the grass between the border stones and she had plonked her little bunch of chrysanths into the vase and she had told Jim, with a giggle or two what she had been doing and where she had been.
Jim disapproved of alcohol, any sort really, he would drink the odd glass of fizzy white wine at a wedding or party but even then he would do it with a long suffering air and if chance presented itself he would hide the half empty glass behind a plant or a pillar. His father had been an alcoholic and so she understood his abhorrence of drunkenness but his almost total abstinence, which he expected her to share, sometimes seemed a little ‘over the top’. Anyway, she told him about the surprise drinks and then settled back for a moment to get her breath. It was chilly and rapidly growing dark.
The great limbs on the Ewe tree swayed and squeaked, dried leaves from the Oaks scuttered and shuffled in a sudden breeze. Mary pulled her coat closer around her. It was turning into a strange night, damp and dreary. Mist began to rise from the grass, she glanced around her. She could see the church clearly, the old gateway was dark but clear against the lights of the road but here in this secluded corner there was mist.
She shuddered and a tiny flicker of nerves fizzed in her tummy. She was going home, this wasn’t very nice now. Anyway, Jim wasn’t here was he. He was gone. She turned back to the grave. “I’m going now Jim, happy birthday. I still miss you.” The mist was swirling above his resting place, a thickening grey, white wraith, spiralling and twirling. She sprang to her feet and glancing back she scuttered along the damp, shining pathway fighting to hold down a mounting sense of panic.
Good heaven’s that was odd. Very odd and really rather unpleasant.
It was a while until she went back to visit and when she did she went on a bright morning blessed by a winter sun and with a flask of tea and a nice sultana scone. She settled on the seat, “Well Jim, I was a silly Billy last time I came. I got myself quite upset. I think that maybe you were right about drinking though; I think the sherry at Masies got me quite out of sorts.”
The birds quieted, the sun went behind a cloud and the great trees murmured and creaked. There it was again, this time the mist didn’t rise and swirl it hovered, just above the grave like a foggy duvet, undulating slightly and it glistened a little with tiny diamonds of moisture. It was lovely.
He’s pleased with me. The thought popped unbidden into her bemused brain and so it began. Of course she never told anyone, they would think she was crackers but the visits to the churchyard had taken on another dimension. It didn’t happen every time but now and again when she spoke to him, like when she told him that she had pruned his roses, then the dewy counterpane would seep up from the depths and swill gently back and forth.
The day that she told him she had cleared out his potting shed and given his tools to the charity shop the nasty swirling grey wraith spiralled angrily upwards and, as she sat in panicked horror, it curled towards her and she was engulfed in horrible, damp darkness that smelled like rotten fruit and made her skin crawl and her eyes run with tears. She had fled the quiet space and made for home as fast as her old legs would carry her.
At first it had been a special little secret and apart from the one, two or three occasions when the angry cloud had swooped towards her she had liked It very much. Here was proof wasn’t it, proof that he wasn’t gone, that she really could still communicate with him. It was really quite wonderful when you thought about it. She was careful about what she told him, it seemed that he was happy to hear that she had decided not to get rid of the car but to hold on to it for a few more years. The silvery mist swayed and billowed when she imparted the information that the shares he had bought had done very well and she had received a good dividend but it had darkened and risen when it heard that she had decided to sell some to buy a new bed. Generally she took it as proof that he was still watching over her, still had her wellbeing in his thoughts, wherever and whatever they were in his strange existence.
It was a different situation though when she told him she had bought a new suite for the lounge, oh no he didn’t like that and when she told him of her decision to dig up the little patio he had laid and put in a deck she had fled the cemetery in fear of her life, chased down the pathway by a swirling, menacing cloud of anger.
She had always been a little circumspect about what she had told him when they had been together and so it seemed quite natural to continue in the same vein. Now and again a quisling thought would sneak into her mind. Was it right that he should still be controlling her, he was – well, wherever he was and she was here, getting by on her own and struggling with the everyday problems that modern life threw at her. Shouldn’t she really by now be able to make her own decisions. Then she realised that she didn’t need to tell him about anything, she could just sit on the little bench and listen to the birds and by now she didn’t need to speak, it appeared that the spirit – for this is what she now thought of it as- the spirit could divine her unspoken thoughts and she had no secrets.
Then the blow fell, unimagined, unbelievable and absolutely unforgivable.
Jennifer asked to come and see her, Jennifer who had been a friend to them both for years and years. Jennifer who had watered their plants when they were away and all the other little things that close friends do for each other and Jennifer who had sat before her with tears rolling down her face admitting to a long standing sexual affair with sombre, insular, straight laced Jim. Jim her husband who hadn’t let them have drink in the house, who hadn’t let them go to Spain for their holidays though she had so wanted to see the Alhambra and Jim whose activities in the bedroom department could best be described as unimaginative.
It was his birthday. That was what had brought on the attack of conscience, sharp memories and probably a sense of loss and so all was revealed and laid out, offal on the butchers block. Nights of passion in cars and back rooms and sneaked party afternoons while Mary was having her highlights touched up or doing a stint at the charity shop. It was nasty and bitter and awful.
Mary was a kind soul, she accepted what couldn’t be changed and looking at Jennifer sobbing before her, emptying her guilty heart and asking for forgiveness she hugged her kindly, told her she thought it would be best if they didn’t see each other very much anymore and let her out into the changed world with a kiss on the cheek.
Despite the late hour and the damp of autumn she dragged on her black raincoat, grabbed the big garden broom and stomped up the road. She stormed into the churchyard and thundered down the path. She stood astride the rectangular space. “Come out you foul creature, come out now. Get yourself out here you dirty cheat, come on, come on. Show yourself you mean, double dealing, rotten excuse for a husband. Come on, come on, face the music you cowardly sneak.”
The mist crawled across the drying grass, it slithered between the planting of winter pansies and it crept slowly up from the damp ground.
She waited, holding her breath, her limbs quivering and her breath snorting through distended nostrils. When she judged it to be thick enough, deep enough to contain much of his spirit, plenty of his essence she launched herself.
Brandishing the besom before her she swept and swung and whisked, she flounced and flicked and leapt and twirled. She dispersed that sneaky, cowardly fog of her husband into the gloomy, October night, she distributed it between the dark tree limbs and in a final wonderful act of independence she jabbed the strong wooden handle into the earth just round about where his cheating, dishonorable willy would be.
She went home and in days she had sold the shares, put the house on the market and booked her ticket, she had rented a flat for the winter in the bright heat of the Balearics and she threw herself into a new life of laughter and gaiety. Their friends were nonplussed, their relatives said she’d lost her mind and the flower arranging group shook their heads in bewilderment.
A passing teen who had partaken rather more than was wise of a slim cigarette would swear to the end of his life that he had seen a witch, a genuine black cloaked, screaming hag flapping around the graves waving her broom and screaming at the moon. Mary wouldn’t have wanted to cause such distress but, oh what the heck.