Creative Corner : Roses on Linda’s tomb
By Michael Jordan
“Something wasn’t quite right about the cemetery…something I couldn’t quite place…”
It was close to evening when I reached the crossroads leading into the cemetery. Not remembering how I had got there; guessing I was maybe drunk again but not really caring; wondering only at the strange urgency that made me quicken my pace as I entered the open cemetery gates.
I turned east into the tree-flanked road that led into the cemetery, turned again, into the red-stone path on my right.
And there I was, besides the three tombs that were at the end of a row. I stared at them, feeling a sudden vague unease. Something wasn’t quite right today, something I couldn’t quite place. I continued to look at the tombs, trying to fathom what had aroused this disquiet. But now the feeling was gone. Instead, I felt the old ache welling up in me; the pain that hadn’t lessened at all.
I could almost see them there. Carlton, Cleo, Linda. Especially Linda.
I moved closer, and there she was, sitting at her computer at the office, iPod speakers stuck in her ears so you had to pelt her with something to get her attention; rocking to music that only she could hear. I bent to Linda’s tomb, and now I saw Carlton and Cleo arguing in the office canteen, maybe over his drinking or over one of the women she knew or imagined he had.
I sat and there I was again in Carlton’s second-hand Toyota Carina; Cleo sitting besides Carlton, me and Linda in the back seat. All of us noisy, and more than just a little high after a Friday night at the Club.
Movado blaring from the CD that Linda had practically played to death; Linda rocking and singing off-key. I sensed her smiling at me, and I was about to touch her when Carlton said suddenly: “Shucks…rain again…”
I turned to Linda, who was still singing off-key and said: “See what you make happen now?” Then the rain, which had made this a really wet January, had really started. The windows were frosted; one wiper was sticking, and the headlamps through the frosted windscreen were a weak bilious yellow, and Linda was still rocking and singing; her full hips bouncing mine.
I sat by Linda’s tomb, and now I saw again the sudden double-glare of headlamps dead ahead of us; heard Cleo scream, the desperate swerve of the Carina, the sudden sailing through space, then the falling.
I awoke in hospital, my whole body throbbing, head elevated, vision blurred, and the taste of blood in my mouth. I heard the whispers of the nurses who moved about the ward like ghosts, and those of the patients nearby.
Dead…all of them…car turn over in the canal….and all of them so young! Only he survive…wonder how he gun take it when he know?
Later, I saw the story in the papers. Bold red headlines—in the Kaieteur News, I think—that said: DEATH STALKS THE HIGHWAYS. Pictures of Carlton, Cleo and Linda, sprawled on the muddy roadway near the Toyota; Carlton’s hands bent as if he was still clutching the steering wheel.
There was a picture of me, too, in the hospital, captioned ‘The Survivor’.
Their seats were filled by strangers when I eventually returned to work. I hand sensed, beneath the sympathy and the WELCOME BACK poster, the stares of those who wanted to know exactly what had happened; staring curiously, almost accusingly.
I wanted to scream: You don’t understand, it was like being in a tomb, with the blackness and the windows turned up and everybody screaming and the sound system still playing, and somebody was grabbing me and the muddy water was choking me, and I don’t know how I escaped and I couldn’t do more!
I left the job to avoid the stares, but yet the thought had followed me that maybe I hadn’t done enough. That maybe I could have done something. Sometimes I dreamt of pulling them all to safety, and seeing the headlines next day: ‘Brave Youth Saves Friends from Watery Grave’, with a picture of me with an arm around Linda.
But mostly my dreams were of choking on mud, breaking away from someone, it invariably was Linda—of swimming through a broken window; of looking back and seeing her staring at me bulgy-eyed as she clawed ineffectually at the rear windscreen.
I would awake in tears, guilt knotting my insides, half-wishing I had drowned with them.
I can’t remember exactly when I started taking those long swims at the sea walls. Every Sunday, without fail, swimming until my muscles screamed for rest. Sometimes I would let myself go loose, let the tide pluck at me, let it drag me out, drag me down.
But always, at the last moment, I’d fight against the tide and swim for shore, thinking next time, maybe…next time…
Most times, I would get high somewhere before heading for home, where my parents would be anxiously awaiting my return.
I guess that it was loneliness that had made me finally visit the cemetery. My first visit was two days ago, Friday, July 24. The second visit was today, Sunday, though heavens know why I had returned so soon.
Finding the tombs was easier than I had thought. I’d been directed to a two-storeyed building in the cemetery, where the sexton’s office was. The sexton, a graying, pot-bellied guy, had thrown a suspicious glance at first, maybe thinking I was one of the junkie tomb-raiders that frequented the cemetery.
Then I explained who I was and he said: “Oh, the survivor…”
He directed me to the area after consulting a ledger in which burials were recorded.
I had stared at the tombs for a long time, eyes misted, yet feeling a strange sense of peace. I had borrowed a cutlass from a grave-digger and weeded around the tombs. They were flat and plain, except for Linda’s which had a small vase in the centre. I felt tightness in my throat, remembering the roses I had placed there.
And now, it came to me again. That unease I’d felt before. I stared at the vase on Linda’s tomb. The flowers, that was what was wrong.
I’d taken pains to ensure that they were fresh; smiling as I remembered Linda’s knack of pilfering flowers from people’s yards.
I had even placed them in a water-filled jar as I weeded around the tombs. But now the petals were curled and faded.
Could flowers wither so fast? After two days?
Maybe the sun had dried them out.
Who was I fooling? It was July, for heaven’s sake, and a wet one at that. Now I stared at the ground, feeling a sudden chill. The grass. The grass I had weeded to the root. Already sprouting back in some places.
I reached for the flowers, but at the last moment jerked my hand back. I could see, in the distance, pedestrians and cyclists on the road leading through the cemetery. But yet I felt alone, cut off from them, hemmed in by rows of tombs. I scrambled to my feet, suddenly needing to be as far away as possible from the cemetery as possible.
I glanced quickly again at the blackened roses, then hurried down the stony path.; ashamed at my haste, hurrying to the cemetery gates.
So here I am, hurrying out of Le Repentir Cemetery on this Sunday, July 26, 2009. But is it really Sunday? What month is it? What year? I’m feeling suddenly confused.
I seem to be recalling something now. Something about my last jaunt at the seawall, when I dared the Atlantic; going out a little further this time; something about the tide being a little stronger that I had anticipated, something about brine in my mouth, salt water searing my lungs.
And now I understand why those dying roses on Linda’s tomb scare me so.