There he is, leaning against a fencepost that’s lost most of its paint. He sees you approaching, your dress is beautiful and slightly torn at the bottom; he awkwardly fumbles to slide his phone into his pocket. He looked at it with a sheepish smile, probably talking with someone as if they were really right next to him. Standing up straight and straightening his back, his spine loudly cracking, not because he’s been waiting for ages, but because that’s just what his joints do, he waves instead of saying your name, he doesn’t know it anyway.
You wave back, a cold breeze tries to put your arm down but you defy the will of nature herself to greet the boy. A dry and raspy voice wisps from dirty lips, like apples out too long in the sun, he doesn’t look after himself that well, his hair is wet and combed, he asks you how your day’s been like every day before. The sun pokes a hole in you, nearly gone but like a concerned parent peeking their head over the fence, after the million or more seconds of instilling life in us, she can’t help but maybe look after us. Your hair, black or gray or blue, shifts into an orange you saw earlier today.
“I visited the orchard down the road I was always too scared of visiting, it’s owned by a scary man who wears checkered shirts and straw hats. I think he has a gun too but that might just be because I want him to have one so that before today it made sense for me to avoid the place and now I’m actually really brave. There were apples and picnic baskets and two people on a blanket having a disappointing time; even though they touched — he spun his hair around his finger while the other kissed his hand — their bodies were not made for each other. Like, not a rejection but a redirection. The trees were tall but I had no trouble climbing them, I couldn’t reach the fruit, though, but from up there I could peer through the scary man’s window and there was a glass of orange juice on the table. His son was there and hated the taste but loved the colour so I guess you can appreciate things in more ways than one? That seems obvious but it’s true.”
You said all that in less than two minutes. There’s still five minutes left till the both of you reach the cemetery. As always, you overwhelmed him with things to say, so he struggles with what to ask about or comment on; not wanting to upset you by failing to recognise what you think is the most important part of the story, he hums in agreement with the silence to come. Syke! Joke’s on him, put there by you, you ask him how his day was. “It was alright. I talked to someone. I opened the conversation this time. I waited an hour before I did.” It seems so natural, but you know the responsibility of conversation can be terrifying. Silence means you can say nothing wrong. You let him know you’re proud of him, and his heart pumps harder for a small second, and even though he is alive by all definitions of the concept of ‘possessing life’, he just seems a bit more of that for a little bit.
He opens the gate to the graveyard for you. You would, not for yourself but for him, if you could. It has been a while since we’ve been here, you think and say out loud. The sun has set, not in abandonment but in the warm confidence you’ll be just fine, because despite all the horror stories that take place in cemeteries, real and imagined, you’re not frightened at all. Never have been. He used to be, before you came here every evening. A low mist covered the moss and crept up the lumbering corpses of trees, a flashlight trembled not knowing where to shine, an untorn dress getting stuck on the tiny spikes on the fences surrounding certain tombstones but not others. “We can leave if you want,” you proposed to him, he pulled a strand of his uncut hair out his dry mouth, “I’m not afraid”, a lie that died right there after you made a loud noise and he screamed louder than any sound you’ve ever heard him make. “Ugh, I hate you so much,” he continued, the second lie that died that night as your laugh put some more life in him.
The mist has become so familiar to you it can’t be anything else than a blanket for the resting dead, and the flashlight now goes from grave to grave in his steady hand. You are beside him, skipping along over the headstones, some have flowers at the base. “Sooo, is it here,” he asks the second daily question, and you shake your head, which is a good thing but also a shame, you display perfect form and balance on names you don’t recognise. “Let’s stop for today,” you tell the boy you’re glad to know, bored again, aware he’s here to help you. Your practiced climbs let you up the branches of the barren oaks with ease, his climbing isn’t as impressive or graceful as yours but he gets there next to you.
“Do you think it’s here somewhere?” “I don’t know,” which is more of a noncommittal ‘iunno’ behind closed lips than a tragic confession of ignorance. “If you told me your name it’d be easier.” “I don’t know.” The same. “Would you recognise it? Your name?” “I… don’t know.” Less of the same. “Well,” he struggles again with what to say, “I’m sure we’ll find it and there’ll be tons of flowers.” He pokes a hole right through you.
He looks at you with a sheepish smile, probably talking with someone as if they were really right next to him.