“What the bloody hell are they up to now?” George Duckworth, the groundsman who’s tended the cemetery graves and memorial gardens since long before the children were born, observes them from a distance. He usually gives chase whenever his one good eye catches sight of them playing tag or hide and seek between the headstones. They try to outrun him, crashing through thick, scratchy undergrowth beyond the manicured gardens until they’re swallowed whole by crackling fronds of fern and bracken.
“Can’t catch us,” the children taunt. “If he does catch you,” they murmur to each other in fearful undertones, “he’ll take his glass eye out, grab you by the neck and make you look deep into the hole where thousands of maggots wriggle.”
“You blasted kids have no respect for the dead,” Old Duckworth shouts after them, holding his hand hard against his left breast. “You’ll ‘ave me laid up ‘ere one day.”
“You shouldn’t disrespect Mr. Duckworth,” their parents scold. “He fought for you in a big war and lost his eye when he was shot at by the enemy.”
It’s a lie, the children tell themselves. They believe that late one night, while he was patrolling the graves, a dead body clawed its way out of the ground and dug out his eye with a bony finger that dripped with green slime.
The old groundsman watches the children surround a makeshift grave on the wasteland just beyond his shed. Gently they lower a grey tabby kitten into the ground and cover it with a blanket of earth. The little ones’ tears water a bunch of brightly coloured weeds laid on top, picked from the multitude that thrive in the surrounding dirt.
Thunder rattles and the heavens open. Rain teems down on the motley gathering, their hands joined in prayer, their sorrowful words of farewell drowned out. Heads bowed with grief their sadness is tangible.
George Duckworth nods in empathy and he unites with them in their respect for the dead.