It was a chill winters night, pitch black. There was very little light to be seen by. Street lights in the distance provided an electrical glow, projecting unnatural yellow light out into the dark. It rained a little. Nothing heavy, just a light drizzle.
A young couple walked in the dark. The shorter of the two walked a few feet ahead, taking quick steps. The sounds of her heels clacking against the ground rang out into an otherwise quiet night.
"Urgh! I hate the rain! It always ruins my hair!"
The man, a few paces back, took long relax strides. He had the patience to wait for her to burn herself out.
"I think you look beautiful darling, as you do every night I get to see you. I love your natural hair."
The woman, who had so far been covering her hair and dress with her coat, stomped along. Her posture stiff, shoulders tense. "It wasn't supposed to be live this. Tonight was supposed to be perfect."
Her date stopped her. They stood on a dirt path as rain droplets landed on both of them, dampening their clothes and skin. If the young couple felt this, they gave no sign. He turned her to face him and lowered the coat from her head, gently placing it over her shoulders and pulling it around her to protect her from the rain. He stood close, looking deeply into her eyes.
"Tonight could not be any more perfect, my love." He kissed her gently on the forehead. She closed her eyes and leaned into him. She tilted up her head and his lips lowered to meet hers. A gentle touch. Their kiss finished, he took her hand and they strolled onwards, rain pattering off of their backs, the inky blackness of the night hanging above them.
"There was supposed to be stars." She fretted.
"Elsie, Elsie. Sometimes there are stars hanging above us, shining brightly. Those stars light up the night. Other nights there are no stars to be seen, tucked away in bed for the evening, showing us only their blanket. But we know they are there and they will be back.
The most luminous, most beautiful star, is walking beside me." He flashed her a smile.
Elsie returned it, squeezing his hand. Billy had always known how to bring a smile to her face. Sometimes all it took was a look.
The couple walked along the dirt path. Stones surrounded them, bordering the path and scattering far into the night, many disappearing into the dark, beyond their sight.
Billy stopped at a stone. "Here lies Thomas Smith. Father of Lisa Donnel. Husband to Edith Smith. Died 1957. Here also lies Edith Smith, wife of Thomas Smith. Mother to Lisa Donnel. R.I.P."
Elsie leaned into Billy, looking down at the stone. The grave was worn and simple. A square slab on the ground. Someone had planted a bush beside the grave. It still grew. Its leaves a murky navy in the dark.
"Do you think they were happy?"
Billy thought about this. "someone planted a bush, something living that bloomed long after they were gone and the bush has been cared for. someone loved them. Perhaps that means they were."
The couple strolled on, hand in hand, boardered by round shapes. Silhouettes peering out of the dark.
Elsie stopped this time, by an angel perched on top of a podium. Its head tilted to the sky, a small smile of contentment etched into its face. The monument was old, but well maintained. It hadn't weathered as much as some of the others. Elsie favoured the more decorative, ornate tombstones.
"Hmm. Here lies Arthur Brown, beloved husband to Edna Brown. Dear father to Lewis Brown, Peter Brown, Alan Brown and Elizabeth Brown. Died in 1939. Dearly loved, forever in our hearts." Elsie straightened up, a little tenser. William said nothing. It was a sore point, particually for Elsie, that they had not been able to start a family. Any reminder of that painful fact touched a nerve. Billy knew better than to respond. They had been here before.
Billy took her hand again and led Elsie further into the cemetery. The rain had cleared up for the most part, leaving a refreshing smell in the air. Elsie patted her hair conciously. The damp having gotten into it, making her hair slightly bigger. Billy smiled slightly, knowing she fussed without needing to look at her. He knew Elsie well and knew she would never accept his compliment about her natural hair.
The first day he had seen her she had stepped out of the water at the beach and ran back to her friends. Her natural hair frizzed out like a lions mane from her face. A single apple in a sea of leaves. She wore shorts and a vest and didn't care that she was covered in sand and sunburnt and soaked in sea water. Her character caught his attention as much as her beauty did. It was a fond memory of his.
Billy stopped them at another stone. This one was also low to the ground and had seen better days. There were cracks in the stone and some of the lettering was faded.
"I do wish you would stop bringing us to the uglier stones. They are so drab and boring!" Elsie sniffed. "I mean, its the last thing that any other person will see of you. You should put some effort into it!"
Billy knelt down to get a closer look at the faded lettering. A Wendy Summers lay here, along with her husband Frank and their son James.
"I like the smaller monuments. They're understated and strip back to what really matters. They aren't showy." He stoked the lettering. We lived our best lives.
The couple kept walking through the cemetery. There was some life in the air now the rain had gone. Insects buzzed and hummed, filling the air with pleasant sounds. Billy had his arm around Elsie now. She snuggled into his shoulder, head tucked neatly under his chin. Her oversized hair tickled Billy's skin but he didn't mind. Elsie smelt of vanilla, flowers and underneath that herself.
It was a perfect night.
A small shape swooped past, jet black against the dark of the early hours. Billy stopped Elsie to show her. "Look, look, look!" He said in hushed tones, pointing into the night at the darting shapes. "Look there. No, there!"
"What is that?" Elsie gasped in delight.
"Bats!" Billy grinned.
The couple stood and watched the bats darting too and fro, snapping down on their mindnight supper before U-turning back out into the inky murkiness of the late hour. The couple huddled together against a large tree, painted in greys and blacks. Billy felt the lumpiness of the old, hardened oak dig into his spine as he leant against the tree. His arms wrapped around Elsie, he felt her warmth as she bounced up and down with excitement, enjoying the bats aerodnamic performance.
"Look, there's one! And another and another - look at them go!" Elsie was enthusiastic. She was safe in Billy's arms watching the night come to life. His tall frame wrapped around her short one. His cologne smelt delicious.
The bats came around one last time for an encore before the final curtain of the night came down and they disappeared into the dark.
Elsie and Billy continued their walk, stopping at memorials that interested them.
Green with moss.
Forever in our hearts.
Loved and missed.
A giving soul.
And the most memorable: "Sod the lot of ya" - Mickey was here, 1997.
The couple reached the war memorial at the heart of the cemetery. It was the largest memorial in the plot and showed a soldier carved from white marble stood in a field of living poppies. The poppies grew tall, a sea of dusk popping out against the grey of the marble (all was dark at this hour). The inscription read: 'In our honour.' Dedicated to all soldiers who sacraficed and continued to sacrafice for their own people. Brave. Distinguished. Remembered.
"Pretty words. They could remember to weed the flowers and give them a drink now and again too." Billy said dismissively.
"I like it. I love the marble and incorporating real flowers into the momument." Elsie responded.
"Don't you think it's a little overdone? And to be in a small cemetary like this? We're barely on the map and no one ever comes here besides."
"Just look at the flowers Billy." Elsie said curtly.
"There's no point in the dark." He muttered under his breath.
In the shadow of the monument Elsie smiled at him. Billy returned her smile. She reached up and embraced him. Billy put his arms around her and they felt each others warmth, melting away the cold of the night.
The embrace turned into a dance and the two slow danced, leaving the cemetary, and its memories, and its stories, its messages and well wishes and history behind. Leaving only them, beaming at each other, feeling their love, their joy, their happiness, calling out, sharing that experience. The experience of each other. The experience of being together.
They danced in a cemetary in the dark at night. They danced with silent spectators observing them, sighing in the earth.
The stars came out.
"We have to go back now." Billy said, gently caressing Elsie's cheek.
She nodded, heart filled with too much emotion to trust herself to speak.
They walked hand in hand back up the path, back to where they started their evening. The night had turned into dusk now, no longer pure black. Shadows could be made out, along with strings of creatures. Birds trembling into life, hopping from branch to branch. Beetles marched across the path with purpose. A house cat crouched by a tombstone, seeming in its element until it noticed the couple walking by and, seemingly annoyed that the night was not truly its own, darted away, to the wall, scowling back at the couple, before vanishing into the town beyond.
Elsie and Billy leaned into each other now, slightly staggering with every step taken as if each step was a labour that neither could do alone. The journey back was slower than the journey forward, the couple less excited now, more subdued, stretching each moment remaining to them.
Step, then another step, then another step, then another. Then they were there.
An owl sat on top of a simple yet elegant tombstone. Waist height and beginning to weather, it was a relatively modern stone, yet it had a classical feel to its design.
The owl's clawed feet shifted as it ruffled its feathers and peered at the couple. It's claws clicked against the marble. In the low light of dusk they could make out brown feathers tipped with black and a sharp, dark beak. The owl blinked at them with its large orange eyes.
"Is that the same one that was here before?" Elsie wondered.
"I believe it is." Billy smiled.
The owl had become familiar presence on their date nights. He always seemed to be there to welcome them back.
The owl let out a cry, ruffled its feathers and took flight. They watched its departure into the first rays of the sun, breaking through the dusky gloom.
Billy and Elsie smiled at each other, seeing the colouring of the others flesh and hair and garments for the first time that night.
"You dressed well." Elsie said, admiring Billy's blue suit and purple tie. They complimented his dark hair and eyes perfectly.
"You always dress well, my love." Billy said with warmth, taking in Elsie's vibrant orange V-neck dress. It blended well with her honey curls and skin.
Billy took Elsie's hand and kissed it tenderly. He fingered the engagement ring she wore. A loving gesture from another time.
Billy hopped into the grave. He grinned up at Elsie and reached his hand up to her. Elsie grinned back, kicked off her heels (taking care to pick them back up) and lowered herself into his arms.
The two lay side by side in the earth, watching the sky as it turned from a murky grey to pink, then orange, then purple, before finally turning blue.
Curled up next to each other, they closed their eyes and prepared to sleep for another year.
The pale stone above them read: Here lies William and Elizabeth Bowen. Died in 1978, aged 29 and 27. Forever in eternity.