Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Butterflies - Short Story, 2005

This story was written for a short story competition hosted by the Bo'ness Writers Circle. It didn't win, but was complimented on the descriptive passages but due to some nasty editing I'd got involved in with it, felt incomplete. The story below is presented without editing for length (as the competition had a maximum word count which I exceeded). 

The inspiration for this story is an old and beautiful graveyard in Carron. While it has no new graves, each year someone lays flowers on one of the ''newer'' graves (given I think all graves there are 100+ years old). It's not a personal story of loss or redemption, as my father is alive and well - but more my interpretation of how I would have felt in this scenario. The name for the story was really for want of a better name! ~ Kitty


The butterflies danced around me like falling petals, tumbling through the air in a swirl of subdued colours. I paused to admire them for a moment as they fluttered by, stopping briefly on stalks of grass. I glanced away from them, and towards the gate ahead of me. It lay, half hinged, with flaking paint and rust across the opening to the graveyard, which was surrounded by a dry stone dyke, crumbling and moss covered. Like everything here, it seemed to dying, and that struck a chord with me. Death itself was dying, yet dying in a way which was easy on the eyes and calming to the spirit. So far this trip was easier than I had expected. I'm not quite sure what I had expected, storm clouds, thunder and an oppressive atmosphere perhaps, not a flurry of butterflies and a dilapidated enclosure.

I walked on and stopped by the gate, resting a hand gingerly onto the cold metal. The graveyard itself was small, mainly family plots, and uncared for. The grass was knee high, and so high in some places that it hid the grave stones, with only the moss-covered tops peeking out over the jungle of grass stems. Most of the stones were so weathered that they were no longer readable, just a monument to someone long gone, and now long forgotten. The layout of the cemetery fitted its current condition; it was haphazard, a mixture of gravestones and slabs, with only narrow animal tracks weaving their way through the grass. It would be easy to stand on graves without realising, but that didn't worry me, these graves were so old that I doubted, even if there were spirits that they would care.

My gaze was pulled to the furthermost corner where the newest gravestone stood, onyx black with filigree gold lettering, it stood out in this grassland of decaying stone and cracked marble, from this distance I couldn't read the writing. Not that I needed to read it to know what it said. I knew who lay buried there, and that was the reason why I had made this journey today, to visit this grave, to visit the man who in life I had shunned but who in death I was desperate to make peace with. I'm not sure what I hoped to accomplish, my emotions were like a rollercoaster, I was nervous but I didn't know why, I felt tearful, I felt happy, I felt unsure. I was here to see my father in his last resting place, although calling him my father seemed wrong. My father was still alive, this man, this man just created me and left before I even knew him, yet he was more than that. He was more than just a sperm donor. He had tried to be more and I refused to let him, now I wanted it and it was too late, all I was left with was a plot of land and my own regret.

A tear welled in my eye and snaked its way down my cheek. I had been determined not to cry, at least not this soon. I glanced back to the butterflies; they were a shower of iridescent petals drifting in the balmy summer breeze and completely unaware of my plight. Their presence soothed me; they gave the cemetery a beautiful, almost dreamlike quality. I lifted the gate and slid it open then edged my way into the graveyard. The grass was still dew soaked and I could feel the cool gems of water soaking into my jeans, and as I took my first few steps along one of the animal tracks, two startled rabbits dashed out from underfoot, they bounded out onto the path then disappeared into the long grass. It seemed that even this place of death was a home for the living, even if those living were just rabbits, hares and butterflies. But this poetic thinking wasn’t getting me any closer to the real reason as to why I was standing knee high in grass, my sandaled feet brushing against the soil. Sighing gently, I walked carefully to the black stone which shimmered in the heady sunlight.

It was obvious that no one came to visit often; his grave was as overgrown as the rest with a bunch of rotting flowers lying discarded in front of the head stone, the only sign, other than the stone itself, that this grave was recent. The stone was well made, engraved with double entwined hearts, yet despite this masonry gesture, the love echoed in that stone wasn’t echoed in the upkeep of his plot. The stone read “Thomas Lauder. Beloved father, son and husband, sadly missed”, I rolled it the words gently over my tongue in a whisper. The word father stood out at me, but I knew when the stone was made they weren’t referring to me, they were referring to his other children, a boy and a girl, I didn’t even know their names, and I doubted they knew mine.

I sat down cross legged in front of the stone, probably directly above where they had buried him, bowing my head; I tried to think of all the reasons as to why I’d come here today. I wished now that I’d gone to his funeral, I tried to picture what he looked like but all I could manage were hazy images from my early childhood, but not his face which now seemed like the most important thing in the world to me. I didn't even have any photographs; my mother had thrown them all out. She could have saved one photograph, just one, so that I would have known, I'd have been able to look back rather than sitting here, with tear stained cheeks on his grave wondering what his smile was like.

My head fell into my hands as I allowed myself to cry. Funny that in all the time that had passed between finding out about his death and arriving here, this was the first time I had actually grieved and I wasn't sure what I was grieving for. I thought of all the letters he had sent. He had wanted to get to know me better, for all I know, he had wanted to be my father, but I had been long poisoned against him. He wrote like he cared, but at that point, it was me who didn't care. He'd left, he was to blame for my broken home, he should have stayed, everything was his fault and I didn't want to know him, I wanted to go on blaming him for all the wrongs in my life, making him a martyr for whatever cause was most current to me. I no longer blamed him, I just regretted, regretted all the unanswered letters and the blind belief in my mother's malicious words.

My fingers played with the weeds which grew near my feet, the tears had gone as quickly as they'd come and still I didn't know why I had come here. If I had come to grieve, I had done that, but I hadn't come here solely to grieve. I had come wanting forgiveness, wanting answers, none of which this expensive headstone and overgrown plot were going to give me. I looked around, blinking away the residue of tears. My father was the first body to be buried here again in over fifty years. I wondered about all the other people buried alongside him, if they ever had long lost daughters who had scorned them in life, but in death came to mourn over what might have been. It seemed sad that everyone here seemed to be forgotten. Although, even if these were the forgotten dead, they lay in a lost paradise, and sitting in tall stalks of grass, cooled with the dew, I could almost believe that fantasy could exist in this utopia of abandoned souls.

My father, had we spoke, would never have wanted me to suffer. I believed that with all my heart, he would have forgiven me, because his love would have been unconditional and the tempestuous nature of a teenager is surely to be understood, even if not liked. He wouldn't have wanted me to come and cry, he'd have wanted me to come and remember, even if my memories of him were like faded snapshots. I turned my back to his gravestone, and leaned against it, relishing the cool sensation against my spine and I closed my eyes. The sun beat down, warming my skin and I began to remember. It was like digging through years of dust and clutter, but suddenly, there he was. He had his back to me, and he was pointing out something. I couldn’t remember what, but I could almost hear his voice telling me. Then to another, I was on his knee, laughing and I glanced up and there he was. Hot tears burned at my eyes and seared down my face as the memory came alive.

I had been no more than a toddler, and he had been playing a game with me. I had been amused and delighted by everything he had said. I remembered that I had adored him, even as a tot, I’d have done anything to please him. I had looked up at him and him down at me, and our eyes had met. I remember the giggles I had as he told me something, but my laughter and whatever he had said faded away, they didn’t matter. I had what I wanted. He had been smiling at me, as I pictured him; I began to smile through my tears. I opened my eyes and suddenly, even though it had looked beautiful before, the graveyard looked stunning now. Everywhere I looked seemed to be awash with colours and dew that sparkled like diamonds.

I stood and stole a glance skywards, the sun was completing its slow arc across the sky, and the last of the sun’s rays were trickling over the cemetery. I walked back out across to the gate, following where I could the winding paths made by the rabbits, closing the gate behind me; I looked back once more at the black grave which stood out in the far corner. When I first arrived, it had seemed that I wouldn’t get any answers and would leave empty handed, but although I wasn’t sure if I had answered any questions, I didn’t think the questions I had wanted answers to mattered now anyway. I had came for closure, and instead left with memories that he had loved me, and that I could remember him if I tried, and that he was here, and that in this graveyard of the lost souls my memories could be rediscovered again. I hadn’t come to grieve, but I had grieved, grieved for everything he had been, and everything I had refused to let him be. But most of all, I left with his smile.

As I made my way back to my car, slipping past the whirl of butterflies who beat their wings and chased each other along the edge of the graveyard, I felt my journey had not been in vain and although I hadn’t left with what I had come for, I had left with a lot more. I left with the knowledge that it wouldn’t be the last time that I would sit with my father either, I owed him more than an unkempt resting place and rotting flowers, and would return to clean up his plot. I would also return to just sit in his company, and the company of the butterflies, rabbits and forgotten souls, whose memories were lost to the ether, unclaimed by their families and friends. I hoped that if there was such a thing as spirits, my visits could help give them peace as I remembered more about the man who had helped bring me to this Earth.

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