A Rose full of Ash

Posted: November 18, 2011 in #fridayflash, Short stories

Prune the roses; sweep the front porch; bury the Gardner; and mow the grass. It certainly looked like a busy day for Archie.

He looked around for the broom, which was stood in its rightful place next to the overalls and other gardening equipment. He missed his chum Errol and the sight of his overalls hanging up, hit home that he was gone. Not to mention the small task of burying him at some point today.

His body was in the next room, a room Archie had no intentions of revisiting since he’d put him there two days previous. As he stared at the broom it was as if the door became transparent, like clingfilm. He could see him, lying there, just like the day he died.

It was cold and so was Errol; the air had a certain misty morning breath, clinging to the walls and ceiling. Archie shook his head and squeezed his eyelids together tightly, as if to shrink the images he was seeing. He grabbed the broom and took several steps backwards. He’d deal with him later.

The summer months were always comforting to Archie, as they had been to Errol. The two of them would go about their morning chores, meeting at ten thirty sharp every morning for the first treacle coloured brew and digestive biscuits, before setting off again on their own mid morning tasks, meeting again at two in the afternoon for their lunch.

Archie peered down nervously, at his watch. It was now ten forty and the thought of heading back inside was like a constant stabbing to the stomach. Who would he read the headlines out to today? Whose turn was it to fetch the biscuit tin from the filing cabinet? The same person as yesterday, Archie.

He swept the leaves with more force and hostility. The brushes bristles scrapping against the tarmac and crinkled leaves gathered in small mounds along the edge of the path. A small breeze tickled the leaves back to where Archie had just swept. He sighed. No matter how hard he tried and how much he took it out on the defenceless leaves, the main job of today would plague him until he undertook the inevitable.

Mumbling under his breath, he headed back to the office and leant the broom against the outside wall before heading inside, determined to face this task head on and in a gentlemanly fashion. If Errol was here now, he’d be telling Archie a rhyming phrase to give him encouragement, as he did with most daily tasks neither of them favored.

“A day without death, is a treat indeed; but a day without pain is like a hidden weed. It’ll grow unnoticed and in-bed its roots; You’ll have trouble removing it and its many shoots.”

Archie never really asked what Errol was prattling on about half the time, but he did kind of get the gist of his endless rhymes and it helped them through the day.

He stood for a while in the icy atmospheric room and closed his eyes. His best friend and workmate of forty years lay in that box. The box he’d put him in. Its shiny veneer was no match for Errol’s set of pearly whites he’d had fitted years ago.

A swelling formed in Archie’s throat and his eyes smouldered against the chilly surroundings, as he put a hand on top of the casket. “Its time my old friend,” he whispered, “I guess this is the end,” he sniggered, “Haha I rhymed. You’d of been proud of that one mate!”

Errol had lived a simple, but bright and vibrant life, as he lived for his flowers. As he had never married or had any children, each new bud and fallen leaf was like his family. He nurtured them in a way not even Archie understood. The Gardens of Jones Street Crematorium were his pride and joy as he maintained them seven days a week, three hundred and sixty four days a year. He only took Christmas day off, because Archie insisted they ate together, a day of rest for them both to enjoy – after they had both visited their loved ones in their places of rest.

With Errol as the gardener and Archie the Undertaker, the local place of rest for the deceased, had always been in safe hands. But cremating your best friend and companion made the job feel tainted. There was only one place Archie knew Errol would want to be scattered.

With the sun shining down on his bare head, like a spot light on the stage, Archie stood above the roses. His shadow looked dominant and yet lonely. He unfolded a small piece of paper he’d retrieved from his pocket and cleared his throat. He began to scatter the ashes over the roses like fine waves of icing sugar it settled on the delicate petals and soft brown soil. He began to read:

“Errol, my old chum, you were one of a kind. You and me were like brothers. I’ll miss ya, without question,” he stopped scattering to wipe a tear from his cheek. “But I know you’d hate me being miserable. So I wrote down one of your favourite rhymes. You used to tell me it whenever I had a client whom we knew well. Never have I needed more help with my job than I have the last few days. Here goes:

Ashes to ashes

Dust to dust

Love and hate

Anger or lust

Conifers are green

Roses are red

The World spins round

Whether you’re living or dead

  1. adampb says:

    Such a lovely look at two old friends, their relationship and life. Fantastic.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  2. Tony Noland says:

    I liked the slow feel of this, facing the future without his friend.

  3. An interesting idea, having an undertaker have to do his best friend. Thanks for sharing.

  4. You had me from the opening line, and told sold it with the end. *wipes a tear*

  5. FARfetched says:

    Being a FridayFlash, I was expecting to find Archie had killed him. But I’m glad you didn’t go into a gratuitous dark place. The pacing was excellent.

    I think the first line should read “bury the Gardener” unless Gardner was Errol’s last name.

  6. John Wiswell says:

    I love how you slipped burying someone into the first line. It clearly piqued a lot of people’s interest. That morbidity tugged me along through the piece.

  7. Chuck Allen says:

    Very touching. The feel of the story really carried the sadness through to the reader.

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