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The once imposing stone monoliths now stood as mere bookmarks in the grass. As I entered the graveyard, I mused how 25 years could change ones' perspective significantly. I remembered feeling confused then, and empty, but now a sadness swelled from within my gut, erasing all trace of my smile. Memories of my last visit here came to mind: a pink ribbon, shiny shoes, a daisy chain... Unsettled I kept walking. Past the oldest tombs marked with lichen, as though they were contagious with grief, I kept walking.

I kept walking until I stopped in the centre of the complex. Kneeling down, I examined the headstone before me:

JULIA BURGESS

May 8 1909 - January 4th 1931

Beloved mother and wife

I reached out, my lace-gloved hand brushing the rough stone with desperation. Suddenly, I wasn't bent over at the grave anymore as images filled my vision.

***

She could hear voices but they didn't make any sense to her. It was as if she had stuffed cotton buds into her ears and only the occasional whisper of voices pushed its' way through.  

'Tragic'

'Disgraceful'

'Poor Greta'

'Inebriated'

They were all adult words she couldn't really understand. Except her name. Greta. But the voice that was speaking her name was all wrong, low and throaty, not at all the melodious voice she was used to. She knew they were talking about her though. She felt not curiosity but indifference. They were not the voices she longed to hear, the words she longed to hear. Compared to how she felt, their words could do her no more harm.

Greta focussed on the shoes opposite her: shiny black Oxfords which looked very smart, almost new. She wished she had shiny shoes like that. Greta looked down at her own shoes: they used to be red but had long since faded to a pale brown/yellowish colour around the toes. A colour which reminded her of cat piss- and she would know. Her cat (Tubbles) regularly pissed all over their wooden floorboards and she had to clean it up.

"You wanted a cat" said her father. "You must take responsibility to look after it".

Greta wondered what would happen to Tubbles now. She wished he was here now to cuddle her, even if he probably would make more of a mess of her best shoes. Peering around the sea of black trees, Greta anxiously sought something, someone to drag her out of her numb state. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted a speck of colour amid the dull landscape around her: a pink ribbon. It was floating on the wind like a secret dancing on her lips. Quicker than her beloved cat Tubbles, Greta darted between legs and hastened down the damp slope after the ribbon. Only when she was clutching her throat in burning agony did she stop. Panting, she looked around. The ribbon was, gone? No. It had been caught in the fingers of the oak tree nearby. Greta contemplated how to climb to it without ruining her Sunday dress (and her best shoes which were definitely NOT made for climbing) when pale human fingers reached out and snatched the ribbon away.

"Hey!" she cried. "That's my ribbon! I've been chasing it all across this place!"

"It's actually my ribbon" replied a voice. "It flew out of my hair until I collected it from this tree, as you now see".

"Prove it" Greta challenged, trying to appear braver than she actually felt.

The branches overhead rustled and soon a small figure descended from their leafy hiding place. Greta was shocked to see a little girl, not much older than herself in front of her. The girl was maybe seven or eight years old and was wearing a baby pink dress with a matching hat and Mary Janes. Greta thought the outfit looked rather old fashioned.

"Who are you?" she asked indignantly.

"I could ask the same of you" the stranger replied.

"I'm Greta" Greta replied reluctantly.

"I'm Ruth"

"What were you doing up in that tree?"

"I told you it's my ribbon: so I was up there to fetch it. Don't you like my outfit? It's matching!" To prove her point she twirled ostentatiously in a circle, blond curls bouncing.

"Yeah I guess" replied Greta. "But where are your parents?"

"Oh I'm all by myself" Ruth replied. "But it's ok, I've gotten used to it. We can't rely on other people in this world can we?"

"Do you want to play a game?" Greta asked. Suddenly feeling a sense of kinship for this poor lost girl.

"I can't. She's waiting for me. Sorry". Turning, Ruth darted away through the trees and out of sight.

"Hey where are you going?" Greta cried.

"I've got to go" Ruth called back. "Remember: trust no one in this world but yourself"

Puzzling over what Ruth meant, Greta plodded back to the others.

***

I felt a tickle on the back of my neck, drawing me back to the present. Looking around I checked to see if I was being watched. Besides me, the cemetery seemed deserted, dead as a doornail, I ironically thought. Leaving the flowers, I stood up and began traipsing back through the mounds of dirt to my car. The images had startled me, pulling at the cobwebbed corners of my brain. Something was not right. I tried to shake off the feeling, moving faster through the endless rows of graves. A shift in my peripheral vision made me turn, even as I felt the hairs on the back of my neck shivering. This can't be happening I thought. You are just over stressed from the anniversary of your mother's death. It's completely normal.

Pushing on I could see my car in the distance, close enough that I opened my purse to fetch out the key. A hand on my leg stopped my harried search. A small pale hand. A small, pale, familiar hand.

"Hello Greta" she said.

"Impossible..."

"Did you forget me? I haven't forgotten you..."

"It was all a deluded memory" I soothed myself.

I looked down but there, sure enough, was the girl from my dreams: Ruth. The imaginary friend I had conjured up from my worst childhood memory was standing next to me. What's more, I could feel her hand on my leg. I could feel her hand. She wore the same baby pink dress and hat as when we last met but I could see that this time the pink ribbon was tired securely onto one of her pig tails.

"I know I told you to trust no one" she continued "But what I should have said was trust no one in your living family".

"How...?" I continued, unable to form complete questions without choking up.

"I don't have long" she continued. "But I have to show you something important. It is no coincidence that we met today. Please, it won't take long..."

Pulling me by the hand, for I felt too bewildered to resist, Ruth wove our path through the cemetery to a small corner plot with a diminutive oak tree. It was not yet old enough to bare acorns so was not even as tall as my shoulder.

"This tree was planted for me" she smiled.

"What? What do you mean?" I stuttered.

"Look..." she pointed to the tombstone nestled between the roots of the tree.

It read:

RUTH THOMPSON

September 9th 1911 - September 9th 1918

Darling daughter of Evie and John

Sister of Julia


"Greta, oh my beautiful niece. How you've grown"

October 19, 2019 02:30

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2 comments

21:41 Oct 24, 2019

It was very nice and I liked the plot, but I felt some sentences were very repetitive of the ones before them and often it was over explained. It also told us nothing about her present life, or why/how. her aunt was there. It was definitely a good read though.

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Vince Calma
03:59 Oct 23, 2019

Nice story. I was looking for more description of her adulthood, though, answers to questions like what was the impact of that one event in her childhood for her as an adult? How did her perspective shift existentially? But overall, I like the story.

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