A cemetery is never a place that someone wants to be in, especially not when you are visiting the grave of a child. I stroll along the rows of tombstones of members of the Woodside community. There was an old lady that passed last week, her name was Margret Wilson. When she was young, she was one of the most beautiful women in the community. Though, this is not who I am here to visit.
At the back of the cemetery, next to a tall oak tree was a tombstone less extravagant compared to the rest. Withered flowers lay in front of the stone, and they crinkle and break when I try to pick them up. I discard the pieces into the grass and sit down next to the grave of good ol'Joseph Hanson.
Now, Joseph wasn't the brightest kid around, maybe even a little below average. However, he did have a good heart. At least, that's what most people would say anyway. He had average grades, loved to play ball with his brother in the backyard, and had a pet chicken named Bucky. Yes, as you could probably guess, he was a farm boy. He spent half his days on the farm, a quarter in school, and when he had time, which he most certainly always had time, he would chase or be chased by Bucky. Although he was most often known as "The Chicken Boy", what most people remembered him for was his sacrifice. Though, there are people who still refer to him by that name.
It was September, the first day of school, and Joseph was preparing to enter high school. He was tall for his age, his hair was way too long, and his pants were always too baggy.
"Hey, Jo," Margret said as she caught up with Joseph on the way to school.
Joseph grunted in response. He was never one for words, but Margret was always the social butterfly.
'"How was your summer?" She asked.
Margret did not seem phased by Joseph's lack of words. They have been friends for years if you could call them that.
"Chased Bucky and helped Ma with farm work," said Joseph.
He was staring into space in a dream-like state as he answered.
"Of course." Margret laughed.
Just like that, every day the pair would walk to school together, and sometimes, they would walk home if Margret didn't have any after school club meetings or if Joseph didn't skip school to help out on the farm. I must tell you now, however, that this is not a love story because halfway through the school year, Joseph disappeared.
It was on the way home from school one evening, Margret finished her club meeting the same time Joseph finished a homework help session at school with his homeroom teach—he was failing math—and they were walking down the familiar dirt path towards Joseph's farm. Margret's house was just past his.
"Did you hear that?" Margret whispered as she looked around.
The sun had already dipped below the horizons and crickets could be heard on either side of the path amongst the tall crops.
"No," answered Joseph.
He was staring intently ahead and paid no notice to his companion or what she thought she heard amongst the grass. It was probably only crickets.
"No, Jo. Listen," Margret insisted.
Joseph stopped abruptly which halted Margret in her steps as well. He looked to his left, past Margret's head as he was much taller than she was.
"Run," Joseph whispered.
"What?" Margret asked, her voice wavered.
"Run!" This time Joseph shouted and pushed her in the direction of his house which was less than a kilometre away from where they stood.
Margret wasn't sure what was happening but she ran as fast as she could towards Joseph's house. When she was a distance away, she looked back but did not see Joseph's figure.
As a child, I was from the countryside much like good ol'Joseph Hanson, though, I would have worked quite hard in school and ended up going to high-ranked college outside of the community. Although I might have left my parents' farm for life in the city, I would have been a frequent visitor. They would always be proud of me and would always be supportive. What they would not be proud of would be the smoking habit I would pick up from my fellow workers.
I would work a typical nine to five job, then go on vacations twice a year with my girlfriend who I would have met in business school. We would move in together some time down the line. We would have gotten a dog named Woofer who would love to chase the squirrels in the park. I would be proposing to my girlfriend five years into our relationship. I would have everything planned out. I would buy flowers, play music, and set everything up at a beach the way they did in movies. And when the time finally came, I would ask:
"Will you marry me, Margret?"
That should have been how my life proceeded, but, unfortunately, it ended that day after school on the way home with Maggie.
Margret didn't marry Mr. Hanson the businessman, but a doctor from the high-ranked college she went to. They had five children; all of whom I still see in the community now and then, though three out of the five had moved into the city.
Everyone in the community believed it was a sacrifice on my part to send Margret running while I stayed behind, but it was more out of shame that she would see what my drunkard father had become. Several of our farm animals had been shot from his drunken spite. We had issued a restraining order against him but the police in our community were often too busy with other things to deal with my father. Besides, my mother was too soft-hearted to have him arrested.
"Why?" asked my father as he stumbled towards me.
I looked behind me to make sure Margret was a ways ahead before I turned back to my father.
"Look at yourself," I spat.
My father took my words literally and looked down. I could smell the alcohol from where I stood.
"What's wrong with what I'm wearing? I think I look pretty well put together," he argued and chuckled.
My father then frowned and jabbed a finger in my direction. That was when I noticed the rifle slung across his back.
"You have to stop coming here and killing our livestock," I said. My eyes never left the rifle on his back.
I'm unsure how the struggle started, but I do know how it ended. I remember the last thing I saw was my father's horrified face as large droplets of tears mixed in with saliva fell on my own.
I trace my name on the tombstone and blow out a puff of smoke from my cigarette and looked to the stone that sat a few steps from mine. Conrad Hanson sat next to his tombstone with a rifle on his back. He turned to look at me and smiled. I knew he had also been thinking about what could have been.