This is a second attempt at a draft. If you have read my past blogs, you will recognize it from “And they said it wouldn’t last.” The original was published in Author CJ West’s Newsletter. Here is the link to his work: www.22wb.com/cjwest.htm
I stared at the urn for a moment. I was alone at the niche that would become Arden Scott’s resting place. Alone except for Arden’s cremated remains of course. It was a very routine day for me. Simply place the urn in the niche and seal the shutter. After hundreds, maybe even thousands of burials and placements, some things can never be routine.
I knew Mr. Scott. He was a lanky old man that always walked with the assistance of a cane. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so I’ll start from the beginning.
Several years ago I started working in the cemetery and funeral business. It wasn’t that I had grown up dreaming of working in cemeteries and such, and it wasn’t that I had received a degree from college that qualified me for the role. Quite to the contrary, I’m afraid my life was quite, how shall I say it…organic?
I never knew what I wanted to do ‘when I grew up’ and it was only when bills and calls from creditors forced me to find regular work that I finally stumbled upon that three line ad in the paper. What I found was the cemetery was anything but regular.
Starting out, I was given fairly menial responsibilities. For example, on
Thursdays, every Thursday, a small bouquet of flowers would arrive. When they did, we were instructed to immediately place the flowers on Mrs. Ruth Scott’s Niche.
“Don’t forget to take those flowers up.” John, my manager, pointing one of his fat fingers in the air before turning and waddling out the door. I never forgot to put the flowers out Thursday night.
The flowers came like clockwork. Every Thursday the flowers came and I put them up. The following day, every Friday, an older gentleman, Arden, would come and visit. Sometimes he would talk to the Niche wall where his wife had been placed.
At first, I didn’t believe that he came every Friday like they said. In my mind, it was inconceivable that anyone could keep such a committment. After all, you are talking to a guy that wears loafers cause he’s afraid he might forget to tie his shoes.
It was October and the winds had pulled the leaves off the trees as if thousands of little hands pulling individual leaves and then carelessly dropping them on the ground.
The outdoor mausoleum where I had placed the flowers the night before was littered with leaves. It was Friday morning when I swept the leaves. At first I hurried through my chores, working fast so I could move on to the next thing. But then I realized that today was Friday and I was curious if the man would show up.
An hour went by and then two. Fortunately there were no buirals today so I tarried there sweeping a little and watching.
I couldn’t see the road in front of the building. The nichebank, or columbarium, was up some stairs and behind the building. I heard a door shut and periodic and labored steps. That had to be my guy.
I worked a little faster, but not too much. The man came up the stairs, cane under his arm and a folded chair in his right hand. His left hand held onto the steel rail on the side of the stairs. Although his legs held him up alright, he seemed to pull himself up using his arm.
I nearly ran out of leaves when he made it to the top. He didnt acknowledge me, he just went right in front of the niche, looked as if to see that the flowers were there, then unfolded the chair and sat down.
I watched for almost too long before I finished my leaves and left. Before I did, the picture of him sitting there is etched into my mind. He sat there, nearly hunched over his cane. That and the chair was all that kept him up. He seemed to mutter, or talk and he seemed completely unaware that I had watched for a few minutes.
After that day I would find a good place and wait to see if he showed up. He struggled with that same folded chair everytime. After a few weeks, I started putting a chair out in addition to the flowers. A few weeks after that, he stopped bringing his chair.
Every so often he would miss. But he usually came by just as he always did for years. Every Friday since his wife passed. I asked John how long he had been doing this and he just shrugged his shoulders. “Since his wife passed.”
“When was that?” A few years, he replied without much thought.
Typically I would place the small bouquet in the vase fairly absent mindedly. I always got the right one. It’s just that I ussually busied my mind appreciating
the beauty of the park or some mind puzzle that would have to be ‘walked out’ as my Dad used to say.
One Thursday, I suppose I had been there for several months, and I had witnessed Arden coming by and visiting every Friday for all that time, I
wondered how long it was since Ruth’s death.
This time, I looked at the bronze plaque bearing her year of death as I placed the flowers. She passed away over 35 years ago…1971!
Arden had visited his wife faithfully each and every week all those years. And now as I placed Arden’s urn next to Ruth’s. I knew they would keep going somehow.
In Arden’s final arrangements there was an unopened letter addressed to “the cemetery kid that put the flowers on Ruth’s niche these final years.” I opened and read it. The letter instructed me to continue putting the flowers on the niche for as long as I worked there. In those intstructions I found, not my whole purpose for life, but certainly a part of it. Someday maybe I would find that special someone to share that romantic heritage I had inherited from a stranger.
For now, I just keep doing my job.
…and they said it wouldn’t last.