It had been ten years since I had been to my hometown, but the second wedding of one of school friends lured me back, where fiftieth birthdays and school reunions had failed.
As I pulled off the motorway it occurred to me that I should have brought some shears with me, as I wasn’t certain who was tending to my parents’ graves these days. On the back seat was a bunch of flowers I picked up at a motorway branch of M&S to place on the plots.
Returning to the town was funny, because it felt simultaneously like everything and nothing had changed. The houses looked the same but there were modern cars in the driveway, double glazing and windows in the roofs. Small units of flats had been crammed in wherever possible, filling in gaps that had previously been shops or empty scraps of land.
A large new roof was on the suburbs skyline, and I struggled to work out what building it was from – where it was standing, racking my brains to think about which homes, shops or parks might have been demolished to make way for it. So it was something of a shock when I pulled up at what used to be the cemetery gates, and found it was the entrance to a new block of luxury flats.
To the left of the gates – where the florist used to operate out of the back of a van – was a wooden hut, a council flag fluttering on a pole positioned in front. Inside a man sat on a folding chair, wearing a navy v-neck sweater, shirt and tie.
“Can I help?” he asked.
“The cemetery – it’s missing.”
“It’s been gone for about five years, mate.”
“But… but… my mum and dad’s graves!”
“Located here were they?”
He sighed. “There’s no need to take it out on me, mate. I get this all the time – relatives complaining and wailing about what’s happened. I even got punched once…”
“I can well believe it…”
“… I was off for a week after that. The Council said it would be disrespectful if I was on duty with a black eye. Anyway – you obviously missed the consultation. They needed the land to meet the borough’s housing needs so took over the graveyard. You should have been written to. ”
“I missed all the communication on this, it would seem,” I said angrily.
“I suppose you’ll still be wanting to pay your respects?” He looked down at the bunch of flowers in my hand.
“Are they here?”
“The Council couldn’t just dispose of the bodies without leaving a memorial. That would be barbaric. Were they religious?”
“C of E – but …”
“Follow me, sir, and let’s see if we can’t find them between us.”
He stepped out of his hut and let me round the corner of the new flats. There, behind their own calf-high chain link fence, were five obelisks, covered in writing.
“This is the memorial they erected to the people that used to be buried here. Their ashes are buried below the monument. C of E did you say?”
I nodded, and he went up the middle obelisk. I gave him my parents names, and he searched through the chiseled letters, until he found them.
“I suppose you’ll be wanting some time alone with them,” he said, and discreetly walked away, leaving me with my parnets, and all the other mums and dads and sons and daughters and aunts and uncles and grandparents and friends that had been burned and reburied under the bleached white obelisk.
This post was inspired by the Random Story Title generator at Writing Exercises website.