The Grave Sweeper
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
The sun rose on the graveyard, revealing hundreds of forgotten stones, overgrown by weeds, weathered by wind, the names and dates they bore as faded as the memories of their owners. Sometimes a grave stood out, one that was either new or taken care of, but these were more the exception than the rule. One row, however, looked pristine.
Will was on his knees, scrubbing hard at the bird droppings that had found their way to his father’s grave. Water from the early morning dew seeped into his trousers, but the elderly man welcomed it. He loved the feeling of life’s little discomforts. Missing the bus, hitting a toe on a table leg, getting caught in the rain, accomplished nothing but bringing a smile to his face. He had gone a lifetime without them, a lifetime wired up on tubes that injected anything his body needed and got rid of all resulting waste. Will’s adult life had been more like death, a long sleep that had resulted from getting caught in a cursed truck’s headlights. He had been a young man, a mere twenty years of age, a beloved part of an intimate family and a future full of promises in his hands. Waking up sixty years later in an old man’s body with perhaps one or two more good years left in him was not even the worst that had happened to him. His brother’s son, already aging himself, had brought the news that ripped his soul into little pieces. Will was the last remaining member of his direct family. He had lost everyone. Had missed everything. His brother, his sister, his mom, his dad, everyone had been erased from his life in what felt to Will like the blink of an eye. He was alone, vaguely related to his siblings’ direct descendents, strangers who had their own families and little room for an old man who had recently returned from his life as a plant.
The dreams had begun when the tears had begun to dry. Sweet whispers of his mother in his ear, telling him of his sister’s marriage and how dad had given her away, and how everyone would have loved Will to be there. The firm grip of his father as he recollected all the famous fighters in the family, and how proud he was that his son clung on to life with a vigor exceeding that of any ancestor. Tunes of his brother’s guitar, testing the makings of a song as he used to do. His sister’s warm tears on his cheek, whispering with sincere happiness that she would finally have the child she had been trying for so long, followed by another memory of tears that told of an unspoken grief, the loss of an unborn child, a final chance at motherhood. Memory upon memory flowed into his dreams, a seemingly endless stream, always telling him that which warmed his heart. Until their own dying days, his family had been there for him, for better or worse, even if he hadn’t been able to take care of them. Now, however, he was able to.
Each passing day Will pledged his time to his family, cleaning their headstones, tending the flowerbeds, telling them stories of a time when the sun still shone upon all their faces. He swore to sweep their graves until his legs gave way. Until his hands could no longer hold a shovel.
Until he, as the final member of his beloved family, would take his own place in the yard.