Meg crouched beside a tiny headstone and traced the epitaph with her finger:
In Memory of Charlotte Smith
Born and Died on 1 August 1853
She moved on. At the end of the row, under the shadow of the laurel bushes, was a grey cross with another simple statement:
Died 3 September 1844, aged 10
Meg thought of her nephew Mark’s blue eyes and loud laugher and tried to imagine him lying dead like Thomas. What had he died of? Had it hurt? Oh, but they died so young then. Meg exhaled slowly, more of a sigh than a breath.
But not everyone had died young. Here was an imposing headstone in a family-sized plot.
Sacred to the Memory of George Smith, Carpenter
Born in this Village on 12 April 1822
And Died in the Same on 11 October 1885.
Mourned by his Devoted Wife and Children
A carpenter? Meg smiled. Reminds me of Uncle Mike. I loved watching him work, watching a block of wood become something beautiful. He was amazing. It was like everything he touched became a work of art. Not just in carpentry either. In his whole life.
Wish that could be said about me. But no—my blocks of wood have become piles of shavings. Yup, shavings are all I have to show for my effort. Shavings and bloody fingers.
Meg was stiff now from squatting, but as she walked back to her bench one last headstone caught her eye.
In Loving Memory of Elizabeth Grace Mills
21 June 1802 – 14 December 1855
A Devoted Daughter, Sister, and Aunt.
“More are the children of the desolate
than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord”
Meg’s eyes ran over the verse again and again. Cold comfort. But perhaps it had not been that way for Elizabeth Mills. Meg could picture a brisk, cheery middle-aged woman who was everyone’s favourite aunt.
Back on the bench, she stretched out lengthways and closed her eyes. Somewhere in the hedgerow, a bird was talking to itself. Meg’s thoughts wended their way back to the graves.
No, graveyards were not sad places. Those headstones…. They marked the end of sadness. That is, if the cross had marked their lives as well as their graves.
The “dearly loved” Charlotte’s mother and father have her back. Little Tom Foster is probably laughing about whatever it was that killed him when he was ten. Elizabeth Mills no longer grieves that she never married. However terrible the story, it’s over.
I suppose I shall look back and laugh too.
Meg shivered and opened her eyes. It had clouded over. Running a hand through her hair, she walked back to the car, back to the shavings that she’d wanted to be a work of art, back to all her unknowns.
But I know what will happen in the end, she realised, with a glance behind her. Whatever happens in the middle, the end is always death. And then? Why, she said it every Sunday: the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
And in the meantime?
Meg slammed the car door and checked the time. 5:45 PM. Still enough time to eat and shower before going to Rebecca’s for dinner. She’d stop off at school on the way and grab that letter. Mr Davidson had been out of the office all day, so he’d be none the wiser.
Guess I’ll keep chipping away.