Showing Respect

He sat on the tombstone, feet on the grave itself, casually smoking a cigarette. It was early and he wore a windcheater with the collar turned up against the cold. As I approached he nodded to me, as though he were merely leaning against a bus shelter.

“Show some respect,” I said.

He didn’t move. Instead he shrugged and said, “Why? What respect did he get when he was alive?”

“Look, he was a friend. Have the decency not to stand on his grave, will you?”

“Fine, fine.” He slouched off the headstone and stepped onto the grass. He stared down at the gravel that covered the fresh earth. “Not a good friend, though,” he said after a while.

“What?”

“You said he was a friend, but not that good a friend, apparently.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you weren’t here at his funeral.”

“No. We didn’t think it was… appropriate, I guess.”

“We?”

“Me. I didn’t think it was appropriate.”

“I guess. People missed you though. Said you should have been there.”

“You were there?”

“Yes. Well, I had to be.”

“Are you his brother?”

“Me? No. Why?”

“You sound like him. Look like him too, a bit.”

“No. His brother was here, but he’s gone back up north.” He dragged hard on the cigarette, took the dog end out of his mouth and flicked it across the lawn. He reached into his windcheater and pulled out a battered packet.

“Want one?” he asked, offering me the pack.

“No, thanks.”

He shrugged and looked at the packet. He gave a little snort. ” ‘Smoking Kills’. Why’d they put that there? No one takes any notice. Smoking hasn’t killed me. A fistful of pills, now that really will kill you. A knife through the heart, too.”

“Look, do you have something to say?”

“Me?” He took a cigarette in his mouth, produced a disposable lighter and sucked the cigarette into life. “No, I don’t have anything to say. Just thought it ironic, that’s all. Him a smoker, but the pills getting him in the end. You know why he did it?”

“Of course I do.”

“Broken heart, his mum said. Unable to live without the love of his life.” He looked down at the grave and shook his head. “Complete bollocks.”

“What?”

“Well, you know he was a bit of a player, right? Sure, he loved her, but he could have got another. There were other girls before, there could have been others after. I’m not saying he played away while they were together, far from it. Loyal as a puppy, he was. But he could have bounced back. He wasn’t going to kill himself over a bit of skirt.”

I bunched my fists. “Shut up!”

“What?”

“Just shut up about Liz, you hear?”

“I’m just saying, she couldn’t have been all that to him, not her, not any woman. Not enough to kill himself over. Or are you saying it was her fault?”

“Of course not.”

“There you go then. We agree. It wasn’t Liz’s fault. He didn’t kill himself over her. That wouldn’t make sense to anybody. I mean, if she didn’t love him, why would he do that?”

“She loved him.”

“Really? She had a funny way of showing it.”

“Who are you?”

He smiled, took the cigarette from his mouth and blew a long stream of smoke into the air.

“Still, I expect he knew, deep down. I mean, if someone’s not happy, you know, if you’re close. He must have suspected. Maybe denied it to himself, but you can’t be engaged to someone and not pick up a hint.”

“She tore herself up over it.”

“No, I expect you’re right. Didn’t throw herself on the pyre though, did she.”

“It wasn’t her fault!”

“I know, I know. That’s what I’m saying. These things happen. You fall in love, you fall out of it again. No blame here, Tony. No blame at all. A woman’s needs are manifold and mysterious, I know that. I don’t blame her, not a bit. Not her.”

“Are you saying it’s my fault?”

He shrugged. “Why would I say that?”

“How do you know my name? Who are you?”

“You religious, Tony?”

“What? No.”

“No, me neither. Load of bollocks. Did used to go to Sunday School, though. Mum used to insist, on account of how, as a nipper, no-one needed his soul saving more than me. This guy there, used to tell the stories like they were movies. The only part I liked. You realise how much sex and violence there is in the Bible? Anyway, Jesus, he’s dead, and his friend, Mary, she’s giving it the waterworks. Suddenly there he is, bold as brass, right in front of her. And you know what? She didn’t recognise him. It was only after they’d chatted that the penny drops. Then there was his disciples. He chats with them on the road, and they don’t twig at first. Years together on the road, and they don’t know who he is. Spooky or what. Like the Twilight Zone.”

“Who the hell are you?”

He nodded at the grave. “What do you think he’d feel, if he came back, I mean? You think he’d cry about losing Liz? You think he would be distraught about losing a girlfriend? No, not him. Not the Barry I knew. Jack the lad. He’d be down the club, necking a few beers with his mates, swearing off women until the next skirt with a decent rack walked by. Except he didn’t have many mates, did he? Colleagues, a few acquaintances, but not any real mates. Well, maybe one.”

“Shut up.” I bunched my fists and stepped forward. “Just shut up.”

“How do you think he felt, eh? He meets a girl, one that finally he can see settling down with, a really first-class girl. He’s going to Ikea with her, and they’re making plans for the summer, and he’s happy, and of course, his friends are happy for him too, because that’s what friends do.”

“I mean it, just shut up and leave.”

“And then his best mate in the whole world turns round and tells him for weeks, all the time they’ve been down the pub together, sharing laughs, all that time, and his very best mate in the world has been screwing his girlfriend.”

“It wasn’t like that!” I screamed, tears blurring my vision. “You think we meant it to happen? You think we could help it?”

“Of course you could help it. We’re human beings. We got intelligence and self will and most of us have some sort of moral code. Most of us have some sort of respect for our friends. You want to know the truth? It wasn’t her betrayal, it was yours, that’s why he did it.”

“No!” I swung a fist, blinded by tears, and missed. I staggered, unbalanced and sat heavily on the ground.

“You all right, dear?” An old woman looked down at me from the path, concern on her face. I looked around. The place was deserted except for me and her.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Sorry.”

“A friend?” she said, nodding at the grave. I nodded. “Yes, it’s a wrench. They say time heals, but – Oh, just look at that.” She bent down with effort and picked up a dog end. “Some people have no respect.”

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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