NC-13 for non-explicit sex and wanting to die (not in that order.)
Walking through a graveyard every day when you’re depressed gets you thinking.
Every name on these crumbling stones – every human-sized lump in this overgrown earth where the dogs crapped and the kids threw their cider cans and fag-ends – was a person. Probably every one of them tried hard at their lives, and wanted to be alive, and deserved to. And yet I was the one alive, and they were dead.
It was like at university, or at school. Your place should have gone to someone who deserved it. Someone who’d appreciate it, someone who’d use it, someone who’d try. My place in life should have gone to one of these dead. God knows I didn’t want it. I wished I could share out the days of my life among them, instead of having to drag through each one minute by minute, making the world a little bit worse with every breath.
I’d fallen asleep around 5am brooding on this when I had the dream. In the dream I was holding a daisy chain – an endless daisy chain that seemed to stretch from the far sea behind me to the mountains ahead. And I realised that the daisies were the days of my life.
I pulled and pulled until I’d gathered up the whole heavy chain in my arms, and I carried it to the graveyard. I walked up and down in the dewy grass, laying a single daisy on each grave. One day of my life for each of the dead. When I’d finished, I only had one left.
Then I realised the horror of my situation. It wasn’t that I was going to die in a day. I was glad to be rid of all that weight. No, the horror was that I was standing in a graveyard, and the dead were about to wake up.
I tried to move, but fear kept me pinned like something trapped in ice. I couldn’t even turn my head to look away. I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t stop seeing. And the first of the grass-grown mounds began to stir.
The turf moved like a green quilt with someone waking underneath it. I could see the shape of a human body there, arms pushing at the grass from below, a head -
- and the corpse sat up, and she was beautiful. Fresh-faced, alive, pink-cheeked and radiant, like a child springing out of bed on Christmas morning. She threw back the turf and scrambled to her feet, a Victorian girl tripping over her long skirts, eyes alight, mouth open, grinning, and she flung her arms out wide as if to hug the universe.
All around her other dead were scrambling out of their green beds, men and women and children, a motley riot of clothes from every era. Cheering, laughing, hugging each other, dancing and spinning on the spot from the sheer joy of being alive, gasping from the pleasure of breathing. ‘The sky! Oh, the sky!’ shouted a little boy in a sailor suit.
I just stood there and cried. I cried and cried as the dead streamed past me, running hand in hand, out to revel in the world beyond the graveyard. I fell down in the grass as they left me there alone.
‘I say!’ a voice called from the gate. ‘Are you all right?’
I looked up. The Victorian girl had hung back. I picked myself up and wiped my face hurriedly on my sleeve, suddenly conscious of how awful that must look to somebody with Victorian manners. ‘Um, yes – no – um, sorry,’ I sniffed.
She came back towards me, her skirts brushing the dew, gliding, tiny in her corsets. She held out a white handkerchief in white lace-gloved hands. I took it. ‘When did you die?’ she said.
‘I… I’m not sure. I think a while ago.’
She nodded. Little curls trembled at the sides of her pinned-up hair. ‘For me,’ she said, ‘it’s been a hundred and twenty years. My name was May. What was yours?’
‘Well, Katie -’ she smiled – ‘you and I are only alive for one day. Like dragonflies. We have no responsibilities, no future to worry about. Just this one day. And I for one plan to enjoy it. I should like you to enjoy it with me. Of course, if you had rather spend it crying in a graveyard -’
I felt a smile spreading over my face – not a go away I’m fine smile, a real one. ‘I’ll come with you,’ I said.
May picked up her skirts as we ran to catch up with the others. Her heeled boots clattered on the pavement. I wondered what it was like to run with all that fabric round your legs. I wondered what I looked like to her, a girl in jeans and sneakers, bare arms, loose hair. I must have looked crossdressed, or barely dressed at all. She didn’t seem to care. She caught hold of my wrist and pulled me along with her.
We caught up with the others in the park and the day of the dragonflies began, a long sunlit blur of dream memories, splashing in the fountains, rolling down the hill. I bought everyone ice-creams. Ever handed an ice-cream to a child who hasn’t tasted food for a hundred years?
We all took over the top deck of a tourist bus, singing Green Grow the Rushes-O and screaming when it went round corners. It was the fastest many of them had ever travelled.
The bus tickets took the last of my money, but I didn’t care, because tonight I was going to bed under the turf. I went to Cash Converters and hocked my phone. May hocked her cameo brooch. I bought beer and pink lemonade, and we all lay under the trees, passing the bottles around and giggling.
I saw a 1920s girl and a Tudor boy laughing together about their matching haircuts, running their hands through each other’s hair, leaning their foreheads together. They kissed. A Regency lady with powdered curls blushed behind her fan as a tattooed punk took her hand. A dandy and a Puritan slipped off into the woods with their arms around each other. As the shadows grew longer, and the sunlight began to turn from gold to amber, more and more people began to disappear together.
May rolled onto her back in the grass, her cheeks flushed. She looked up into the branches of the tree above us. ‘Katie,’ she said, ‘every single leaf is a different shade of green, a different shape… I can see the veins in them where the sun shines through, I can see them flutter when I feel the wind on my skin…’ I could hear the beginning of tears in her voice. ‘I can see the sky… I had forgotten that it was so full of light. I wish I could stay here.’
I put my head close to hers, and looked up at what she was seeing. The detail, the light, the million vibrant colours. Looking at the world through her eyes, I began to wish I could stay here too.
‘May -’ I turned to her, reached out to touch her shoulder just as she reached out to take my hands, and somehow, awkwardly, we ended up in each other’s arms, her head tucked into the curve of my neck, her hairpins prickling my cheek. She smelled faintly of silk and dried flowers, and she was warm, and I could feel her breathing. Tears welled up inside me.
We cried together, clinging to each other, listening to every shaking breath we drew. I found myself willing time to slow down. She lifted her wet face to mine, and kissed my tears as I kissed hers, and then it was impossible to stop.
It was May, the Victorian, who led me to the woods.
I remember, as vivid as life, the rustling of the leaves and the cool of the earth beneath our bodies. The hunger in her kisses, like a child who hadn’t tasted food for a hundred years. The way she trembled when I touched her, the way my hands trembled on the laces of her corset, her long sigh as it finally came undone. How her small breasts rose and fell with that first deep breath. Her white chemise clinging to her back with sweat. The layers of clothing that enveloped her slight body, the petticoats and bloomers, the black stockings, the slow process of uncovering her skin. The way she glowed in the dappled light of sunset through the leaves. The way it felt when we finally lay skin to skin, the whole length of her body melting into mine.
Then it was over, and there was nothing left to do but scramble back into our clothes in the cooling air, in the light turning from amber to blue, pull the leaves out of each other’s hair and walk back, hand in hand, towards the graveyard. My body was still throbbing and my heart pumping. I felt too alive to die.
All around the graveyard, the dead were coming back. Those who had run out laughing and cheering came back slowly and quietly, lingering over their last moments of life.
‘This has been the best day of my life,’ said May, as we knelt by her grave.
She lay down on the earth, and closed her eyes. I kissed her one last time, and pulled the coverlet of grass over her, and tucked her in. And the last edge of the setting sun slipped below the earth.
The air seemed suddenly to grow much colder. Then I realised that it wasn’t the air that was growing colder. It was me. The chill of the earth was creeping up my body. The grass was creeping up my legs to pull me under.
I tried to crawl away, and came face to face with my own gravestone, my own name already chiselled in black marble. My date of death, today.
I started to cry again. I started to beg. ‘No, please! Just one more day. Please, let me die tomorrow. Please! I don’t want to die!’
But the grass and the earth pulled me down, and smothered me like blankets. I fought, and fought -
- and then it was blankets I was fighting, and I was in my own bed, and the sun was shining through the curtains.
In my own bed, in the muddy clothes and boots I’d fallen asleep in, sharing my bed with my laptop and a dirty plate. Normally, coming back to reality made me too miserable to get up. This time, I was crying with laughter.
I won’t pretend that my depression went away overnight. It doesn’t happen that way. But looking back, that was definitely my turning point. That was when things slowly began to get better.
The funny thing is that when I looked in the graveyard – and yes, of course I looked – I did find a grave with the name May. I mean, I’d probably noticed it subconsciously, and that was why the name turned up in my dream. But I’m not ashamed to admit that I leave flowers there sometimes, even now.