(c) 2015, Drew Payne.
When I reached the grave I saw the crocuses poking through the grass. Their oval flowers and sharp, thin leaves were pushing apart the almost dormant blades of grass. All winter the grass had remained the same, no signs of new growth, just a haphazard carpet filling the stone oblong border in front of the grave. It was as if the grave had its own garden, the edges marked out by a small wall of stone bricks, less than six inches high.
Today the green carpet was dotted with purple and white crocuses, a sudden splash of colour on that old spring day. I sat down on the wooden bench barely a few feet away and stared at the grave.
I never put flowers on his grave. Flowers died so quickly, turning almost overnight into brown and lifeless husks, and there was enough death in this place already. Instead I had turned the plot in front of his grave into a tiny garden. I had planted different bulbs under the grass that would flower in spring; and then throughout the summer and autumn I would tend the flowers I would plant there. Only during winter was his grave left lifeless, the cemetery refusing to allow me to plant an evergreen shrub there.
In life Denny had loved flowers though he could never remember their names. He’d refer to them by their colour. With unusual coloured flowers it was easy to identify them, but if the flower was red or yellow Denny would be lost trying to describe them, he was never very fluent with words. But he had loved crocuses, “Those purple, egg shaped flowers,” he called them.
He had been tall and lean, not like the over-pulled gym addicts we have now, and with an almost mane of blonde hair, which he tended and preened more than I ever did to his garden now. I had fallen in love with him the moment I first saw him. I’d never believed in love-at-first-sight, yet the moment I saw Denny, holding the centre of the whole room’s attention, I was completely lost to him.
To Denny I was just always his “mate”. I was the one to go shopping with, to gossip with, to go clubbing with, to bitch about his job with and borrow money off, but I was never the one to be a lover with. I was short, tubby with mousy brown hair; I was nowhere near to the Gods Denny would sleep with. But those Gods would move on and I would always be there for Denny. I was proud of that, I was the one he always turned to no matter what, not those Gods who would disappear.
I was the one he turned to when without warning he got a letter from his first boyfriend, saying that he should “get tested”. I went with him to the clinic and back again six weeks later for his results, that one word that changed everything, positive. (Inside those six weeks his ex-boyfriend had died).
I was the one who visited him every day in hospital, not his family or any of those Gods he’d slept with, just me every day, but I never minded. It wasn’t a chore but a labour of love; I wanted to see him every day. He was Denny and I didn’t want to lose him from my life. Though at the end those beautiful looks had gone, his skin was grey and stretched tight over his skeleton, gone was his lean body, and his blonde hair was lank and greasy; but I didn’t care, he was still my Denny.
I knew he’d accepted that his life was now so short, when one day he’d clutched at my hand and said, “I didn’t want one of them graves that no one goes to. That’s all dirty and overgrown. My granddad’s grave was like that and I hated having to go to it.”
“I’ll make sure that it isn’t,” I promised him. “I’ll look after it, I promise.”
“Thanks, I love you mate,” he said and it was the only time he did say it.
His mother wanted him cremated, I was certain it was so she could have his ashes scattered somewhere and forget about him, she’d certainly forgotten about him when he was in hospital. But I’d made Denny name me his executor so I made sure he had the funeral he wanted and gave him the grave I’d promised him.
I came here every Sunday morning to tend Denny’s grave, I have since he died. My partner Oliver calls it my “Sunday Duty” but he never begrudges me it. He’s come to understand that it’s something I have to do on my own.
During the winter I just sit on this bench and watch his grave, there’s no life in the earth so no flowers to tend. During the other months I tend to the flowers there, keeping his grave as alive as I can to keep him as alive as I can. That day I just sat on the bench. Even with the crocuses growing there was nothing to tend to. His headstone is a simple white stone, his name and dates of his life craved into it, and the single phrase, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
I know no one else comes here, the cemetery’s groundskeeper has told me enough times, but that didn’t give me any comfort. He’d been twenty-four when he died, back in 1986. If he’d lived he would be fifty-two now, still two years older than me, middle-aged and going to seed, like me. But that had never happened and I was sat here, the only one keeping him alive.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. It was a text from Oliver.
“Are you finished? Are you coming home?” It read.
“Soon,” I texted him back.
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