Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Grave Demeanour (2010)

The custom of remembering a deceased loved one by killing healthy flowers and laying them on the grave, a practice I had always accepted as unremarkable, suddenly seemed strange and perverse to me. That's why I wrote this story. As I get older I become more acutely aware of (and depressed by) the casual destruction of life that seems to accompany so many 'normal' human activities.

When the man known as John Loop died he was buried in an old churchyard and his friends cut some flowers from his own garden to lay respectfully on his grave. The rains came and the dead flowers began to slowly rot.
         The other flowers in the garden were stricken with grief at the loss of their friends. The murders of those seven daffodils had been blatant and cruel. The surviving flowers had no chance of getting revenge, but they wanted to express their sadness by making an appropriate gesture.
         They waited until the first bumblebee of the year appeared and landed on the petals of the nearest flower. The moment it crawled inside the trumpet to look for pollen, that daffodil made a special effort and snapped shut around it, just like a Venus Flytrap, and kept squeezing tight until the bee suffocated.
         It wasn't easy for the daffodil to uproot itself and walk all the way to the churchyard. Even the hardiest perennials find such activity exhausting and rarely indulge in it, so for a daffodil it was gruelling in the extreme. Eventually it arrived at the grave where the murdered flowers lay and it opened its trumpet and placed the dead bee on top.
         Then it went back to the garden and replanted itself, satisfied that it had discharged its duty and employed the correct symbolism in doing so. Humans are mourned with flowers; flowers are mourned with bees. But the story doesn't end there.
         The friends of the bumblebee were distraught when he didn't return to the hive and they went out to search for him. At long last his corpse was found in the churchyard. The other bees decided to hold his funeral the following day and adorn his grave with a freshly killed bear.
         Shortly after the next sunrise they swarmed out and chased a bear over a cliff. Then they pushed its body to the churchyard and laid it on top of the bee. It was fatiguing work but worth it for the symbolic value of the huge hairy cadaver.
         The friends of the bear wailed and wept for an entire week before fishing a salmon from the river and draping it over the dead bear's head. As for the friends of that salmon: once they heard the news they ganged up on a squid and ended its many-armed life. But how they managed to get it to the grave is still a mystery.
         The friends of the squid decided to honour its passing with a dead albatross, so one of them reached up through the surface of the ocean and snatched a bird in flight and dragged it down and drowned it. The corpse of that albatross was later positioned with great reverence on top of the squid on top of the salmon on top of the bear on top of the bee on top of the flowers on top of the man John Loop.
         A few days later, the friends of the albatross caused a small aeroplane to crash. The pilot bailed out in time but his craft plummeted into a hill. The birds dragged the wrecked plane to the churchyard and laid it gently on the grave. Then they flew away.
         The friends of that aeroplane bombed a cathedral and piled the rubble on top of the smashed machine. Then the friends of the demolished cathedral all crossed a bridge at the same time and caused it to collapse with the weight. The broken bridge ended up on the grave on top of the bombed cathedral just as etiquette demands.
         But the friends of the bridge responded to the loss of their friend by killing the east wind that was making their railings sing; and so the other winds killed a radio transmission that was passing through the atmosphere shortly afterwards; and the friends of that particular frequency sent an offensive message into space that would kill with shame the satellite that received it. And so on.
         Months, years, centuries passed…
         One day a robot found himself passing through the churchyard. He saw the tower of dead objects and his scientific curiosity was engaged. Extending his arms, he climbed to the summit and sat there with a dreamy look in his crystal eyes.
         "This tower contains a single example of everything in the world and many things outside it," he said to himself, "with the exception of—"
         Suddenly he lost his balance and toppled over the edge. He was so high that the Earth was only the size of an alien fruit below him. As he accelerated he dimly wondered what the juice of that fruit might taste like. The answer was oil and electrons. But that, in fact, was his own juice after he landed.
         While he cooled in pieces beside the grave of John Loop, his friends brought a newly slaughtered human to lay on top of him…


1 comment:

  1. Great words, well written. I read it then went to the local shop. A huge Bee flew in- people freaking out trying to swat it. I'm running around in there waving my arms, yelling, "Don't kill the Bee!"