For over fifty years Axel Strummer’s granite headstone remained blank – not even his name was inscribed. This was not an oversight but a result of Axel’s traumatic funeral and internment. For Axel’s son, Proctor, it could have been yesterday when his love for his father was tested to the limit.
A small congregation is assembled for the funeral service in St Mary’s church. Proctor and Rosanna, Axel’s widow, are sitting on chairs near the catafalque on which Axel’s coffin rests. A younger woman sits down at the end of their row.
Who’s that? Rosanna whispers to Proctor. Go and find out.
Proctor approaches the woman. Hello, I’m Proctor Strummer, Axel’s son. Who are you?
I’m Mrs Alice Strummer; I was married to your father.
You can’t be – that’s Mrs Rosanna Strummer – my mother.
Sensing a crisis Rosanna stands up and asks, Who is that woman?
I’m Mrs Alice Strummer. I married Axel twelve years ago. She opens her handbag and removes a wedding certificate, Here’s the proof.
Cheating bastard! Rosanna yells. Rot in hell!
The Churchwarden and the Reverend Pugh arrive.
The liar should burn, Alice shouts. He said he was a widower.
Pugh crosses himself. Proctor, do you wish to continue?
You’re not having my house, Rosanna screams.
I don’t need your bloody house. I’ve got one. He bought it for me.
These women must go, Pugh says.
The Churchwarden ushers the two battling women outside.
After the funeral service, neither woman attends the internment.
Subsequently, Rosanna changed her name by deed poll and never spoke Axel’s name again. She withdrew into herself, broken by Axel’s lies. Proctor never saw Alice again.
Proctor, now an old man, often reflects on the circumstances of the funeral. Despite everything that happened, he still feels irritated that he’s not found the right words for the headstone. He resolves to remedy this omission before he dies.
Returning to St Mary’s, he finds it fallen into disrepair. Entering the graveyard, he realises that no burials have taken place for many years. Remembering that Axel’s grave was at the perimeter and parallel with the chancel, Proctor pushes through the undergrowth until he finds a tall granite headstone standing alone. It still lacks an inscription but is no longer blank but covered by a spray-painted large white skull and beneath it the word ‘DEA’ – the ‘artist’ apparently having left insufficient room for ‘D’. Red paint tears run from the skull’s eyes down the surface of the stone. Proctor laughs and leaves, finally knowing what to do.
The next day, he returns to the headstone. He’s carrying a can of bright green spray-paint which he shakes until it’s ready for use. At the top of the stone he writes ‘Axel Strummer RIP. 1901 – 1965’. Then he sprays the word ‘DEAD’ over ‘DEA’. Well, that’s what you are dad: dead. Perhaps the time has come for at least my forgiveness. He sprays, Still love you, Dad. Your son, Proctor. X
I hope you’ve enjoyed ‘The Headstone’ – it’s the last in this collection ‘From Behind the Plague Door.’ After two years of publishing a new 500-word short story each Sunday I’m taking a break. You’ll find all the stories on my web site (philcosker.writer.com) under ‘Writing’ – ‘500 hundred word stories’.
There will be more stories but not each week.
In between times I will post a photograph from my archive. Each image will imply a narrative.
Thank you for reading my stories. I hope you enjoy the new ones and the photographs. Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.