Ruth’s gravestone was decorated with a glass of merlot red wine and calla lilies. On top of her grave was a simple turkey sandwich and assorted fruit on a paper plate. Frank missed her cooking. The smell of savory chicken breasts baking in the oven or beef stew in the slow cooker didn’t greet him when he came home anymore. At first the emptiness was unbearable for Frank. He cried harder than he ever cried before, but as time whisked him along and kept Ruth at a standstill, the pain became a dull ache situated in the core of his body. He had finally grown accustomed to the unending longing as well as the thousands of other things that he missed of Ruth.
Frank sat beside her gravestone, sipping the wine that had always been her favorite, even though he preferred the sweet reds himself. The drink was bitter like his surroundings. It was a dreary Saturday in November. Frank almost considered staying home, but the routine of having lunch with his wife every Saturday comforted him. He didn’t want to let Ruth down; he had, after all, kept this routine up for the six months since her passing.
The air was heavy, cool, and overcast, an uncomfortable stillness had settled over the entirety of the small town. It was too quiet for Frank; there were no chirping of birds or scrimmaging squirrels. Ruth always preferred spring and summer when everything was lively and now Frank understood why: seeing the trees with leafless limbs, the inactivity of the town, and feeling the cold nipping at his nose brought an unsettling depression within him. Frank scanned the graveyard.
He was alone.
Except for a young girl lying on top of someone’s grave, her bicycle propped up against an angelic statuesque gravestone. Frank had noticed her when he arrived which had been an hour ago.
Frank turned his head back towards his wife. He didn’t say much to her anymore; he found it difficult trying to have a one way conversation. When she was alive, he didn’t understand how she could talk so much, but now he didn’t understand why he had said so little. So many things he had left unsaid and to make up for it, he talked as much as he could on these Saturday afternoons. But it had now been six months of these weekly one way conversations and Frank was beginning to run out of things to say. He was retired after all. His life had become boring and lonely; he was the epitome of an old man. Instead, he spent these Saturday lunches sipping wine and contemplating: reminiscing the old days, questioning his life’s worth, and wondering what he had left to do (or at least could do) in his old age.
He looked over to the young girl. She had rolled over and was facing him now. Her eyes were closed, her face serious. Frank looked at the uneaten picnic he had packed and picked up Ruth’s and his paper plate. As he stood up his joints popped, reminding him of his age; seventy-five seemed incredibly old to him. Ruth was eighty.
He took the plates over to the girl; she opened her eyes and he said, “I noticed you’ve been here awhile. I brought this food for my wife, but… well…it’ll go to waste and thought you might want it.” The twelve-year-old girl sat up and gazed at Frank with youthful eyes, the skin around them delicate and smooth. “I know I’m just a stranger, but my wife was all about being caring and thoughtful and I think she would want you to have this.” He sat Ruth’s plate beside the girl and turned around to walk away, hands in the pockets of his faded blue jeans that Ruth had patched too many times. He thought that hopefully his gesture could ease at least some pain that the girl may be feeling. He was having a hard time coping enough as it is; he couldn’t imagine how a child could handle this feeling.
The girl gazed down at the pitiful sandwich, but the gnawing in her stomach was thankful. With a mouthful of bread and turkey, she mumbled, “What was your wife’s name?” Her muffled voice was filled with genuine curiosity, her head tilted slightly to the left.
Frank hesitated, but replied, “Ruth,” he turned around to face the girl, “Her name was Ruth.” A hint of sadness laced his voice; he gazed off past the edge of the graveyard, his eyes filled with somber reminiscence, the skin around them wrinkled and rough.
“Like the candy?”
Frank lips turned upwards into a melancholy smile at the girl’s innocence. “Yeah. She was always my baby Ruth.”
“My grandma’s name was Jane.”
“Yeah?” Frank gazed upon the headstone the girl was beside. Jane Myers it read.
“I wonder if they’re friends up there,” the girl pointed her finger and lifted her head towards the grey clouds above them. Frank turned his head upwards too. “My grandma had lots of friends. I know because every time I visited her in the hospital she had lots of flowers all over her room. We were running out of space to put them,” the girl giggled slightly as she recalled the memory.
“I liked the colors. Her room was so boring and small and the colors of the flowers made me and her happy.” The girl picked up the small yellow flowers by Jane’s gravestone and twisted them between her fingers. Almost as if it were a completely separate thought she said, “My grandma loved it when I picked her flowers.”
Frank sat down on the grass. “Ruth loved gardening. She would grow all sorts of things… well she’d try to at least. It didn’t matter if she was growing tomatoes, lilacs, peppers, or roses, they always ended up dying,” Frank laughed at the thought. “She would get so frustrated with the stupid plants and would give up on them and go buy a different kind of flower or vegetable as if it wouldn’t die like the others, but you know what?” Frank asked the girl.
“They’d die. Every. Time.” Frank waved his hand in rhythm to the last two syllables and smiled light heartedly. The little girl giggled with him.
“What’s your name?” she asked him.
“It’s nice to meet you Susie.” She smiled at him and took a bite out of her sandwich “You know, I’m sure your grandma and my wife are friends up there.”
“I miss her.” Susie looked down at the ground, her messy brown hair falling in her face and her blue eyes flooded with tears that threatened to overflow. Frank stared at her, a pit in his stomach formed. He was all too familiar with the constant longing for a person who you could no longer hold or say I love you to.
“You know, when I miss my Ruthie, I talk to her. I like pretending she’s in the kitchen cooking dinner or sitting in her chair in the living room filling out a crossword puzzle and I’ll just talk to her. As if she had never left.”
Through gentle sniffles, the girl responded, “I like talking to my grandma too. I thought that made me weird.”
“Well, that’s not weird at all. Lots of people talk to their loved ones after they pass away. It’s actually very normal.”
“My mom thinks it’s weird.” Susie fixated her eyes to the grass, her voice leaked bitterness. “She won’t even come to her grave anymore.”
Frank considered this for a moment and said, “Susie, some people cope with loss in different ways. I’m sure your mom is just having a hard time dealing with this.”
“Don’t let her get you down. You’re young. You have a lot to be happy and excited for.”
The two of them talked for some time after. They shared the memories of their loved ones; Frank found comfort in conversing with another person, something that was hard for him to do at his age and Susie found comfort in the fact that she was not alone. Both of them shared an experience that cannot be expressed to loved ones, but rather, to the passing of a stranger.
And every Saturday after, Frank brought flowers for not only Ruth, but Susie’s Jane as well. They only talked a few times after their first meeting, but Susie was thankful for the fresh flowers on her grandmother’s grave and through the passing years she was reminded of the simple comfort this stranger had given her, something her family, who was grieving alongside her, could not. And after the fifth year, when Frank could no longer deliver the flowers for Ruth or Jane, Susie visited the graveyard and packed a lunch and a nice bouquet of flowers for the four of them.