Cathy's mother used to take her to the necropolis where her relatives were buried. All the aunts and uncles that had migrated from Greece after the war and lived their lives on Australian soil, now had their bodies encased in it. Each grave had her mother’s maiden name engraved on the slabs, and they stretched across the plot with room for more. The staff at the cemetery jokingly dubbed it ‘Panagiakis Row’. How ironic it was, she thought, that these uncles and aunts and cousins all managed to make the family name known to the new country in such a way. As hard as they worked in life, eventually, the only way they earned their place in the family was to lay beside them six feet under.
The family gradually spread to other cities and states, but everyone would eventually come back to Sydney and do their part to keep Panagiakis Row respectable.
‘We do this to let them know we still love them,’ her mother explained when she had asked why the family even bothered, ‘they came to this country to give us a chance at life. This is how we honour them and give them a second chance; a chance to come back to us again.’
Cathy had scanned the graves that lined the other rows and noticed ones far beyond these perfectly lined plots. Ones scattered out in another field, in neglected parts of the cemetery, aged, faded, darkened with dirt and dust, bent backwards or broken completely. She felt saddened that their families eventually stopped caring.
Cleo did not notice when her daughter wandered off as she lit the incense and crossed the stones while reciting Greek prayers. She never noticed the few buds of flowers missing from the bouquets she brought along. She never saw the little girl that Cathy met and helped her clean up a grave smack-bang in the middle of a circle of barren soil.
Cathy never got her name, nor did she remember the name on the stone she helped clean. Just the joy the girl had when she saw the grave was made pretty like the ones on Panagiakis Row. The peaceful smile that she had as Cathy hummed the tune of a lullaby her grandmother taught her.
Whenever Cleo took her kids to bring fresh flowers, light the incense and wash the stones, Cathy would do the same for a stranger. No matter how far she wandered away from the Row with her brother following close behind, their mother never scolded her, never minded the scrutiny she would receive from her gossiping siblings and in-laws. Every grave she fussed over invited some divine light to the spot where her daughter spoke to the dead, illuminating the red and gold in the wisps of her hair under her hat, and the kind smile that spread across her face as she brushed away the dust on the stones.
It may have been a trick of the light, but Cleo could have sworn there was another little girl among her children, smiling down on them for taking such good care of the gravesite. It was only a moment, but she disappeared the moment she reached for Cathy's shoulder.
Cathy and her brother were excitedly conversing about all the gravestones that looked beautiful after all their good work. Cleo praised them for being such kind kids, making a note to herself not to take them so often. After all, she would rather they focus on their education, making friends in real life.
She put the kids to bed early that night, laying out their uniforms for the next day. She washed the dishes from dinner, prepped ingredients for breakfast and lunch, showered and turned in. Tracing her fingers on the pillow as her husband snored behind her, she thought about the family graves, contemplating the need to come next time the family gather. She didn't mind the gossip between her cousins, she was proud that her children had such kind hearts. The image of that little girl still gnawed at the edge of her mind.
Halfway into her sleep that night, she heard the scuffling of little feet sneaking around in her bedroom, felt the weight of a small body sinking into her mattress. Perhaps one of her kids was having nightmares. She rose from her side of the bed to look around in the darkness for two young faces illuminated by the moonbeams spilling in from the window.
Nothing moved. No kids slithering under the covers, no husband stirring in a deeper sleep cycle than she can ever hope to achieve, nor was there a light on from the ensuite bathroom. She was totally alone.
The bouquet of flowers rested at the foot of the bed, wreaths hung from the headboard, and a cool night breeze wafted the incense around her. She shuddered, pulling her covers close, yawning with her eyes scrunched tight. When she opened them again, something caught her vision.
The little girl stood by the window, pale skin and her white irises staring through the slats of the thick wooden blinds. Cleo gasped, tumbling out of her bed and knocking over some of the carefully laid flowers, reaching for the rosary hanging on her nightstand. The cross dug itself into her palm the tighter her fist clenched around it. She whispered a quick prayer, her heart racing as she peered over the edge of the bed.
Those weren't eyes flashing through the blinds, they were street lamps, and the dress softly flowing in the breeze that howled through the open window was just the curtain.
Cleo took a moment to slow her breathing and hammering heart. Shaken awake by the vision and chilled to the bone, she got up and reached to close the window and blinds. Turning to the uprooted flowers, amateur-wrapped bouquets and chaotically woven wreaths, she pulled out a trash bag from under the sink in the ensuite and got to work cleaning, laughing to herself at the gesture. She would have to vacuum the dirt tracks in the morning.
With the bag of poor flowers in tow, she snuck down the hall, checking the kids' room, wondering if she would hear the mischievous giggling she expected. The door was indeed ajar, and the nightlight emitted its soft glows, slowly twirling contellations and planets across their heavenly ceiling. Both Cathy and her brother were turned away from the door, chests rising and falling peacefully. Cleo shook her head, endeared, and blew kisses at her cheeky little monsters.
Hauling the bag over her shoulder, the dirt shifting in the plastic, she descended the stairs, the trail of dirt obvious against the light grey carpet. She sighed, grumbling to herself about the chore of cleaning that up before she went to work in the morning.
She made her way to the back door and into the darkness of her garden, the sensor light blinking on as she tipped the bag's contents into the bin for plant waste. She scanned the backyard for holes among the flowerbeds.
It seemed nothing was out of place; her rose bushes, her petunias, her gardenias, all pristine and untouched.
She shrugged, noting that was something she would have to investigate that tomorrow. She marched an eager trek back inside to retrieve the rumba, set it up and get back to sleep. Sweet, delicious sleep.
Cleo found the charging pad right by the door to the basement, pressing the butting to get the little robot started for the next hour. It hummed away, heaving up the trail of dirt, bit by bit while sensing for other particles necessary for it to clean up. On her way back up the stairs, she frowned, spotting the oddity in the mess on the carpet. The tracks did not link to the back door, nor did it the front.
The basement door, however, boasted a generous pile, leaves and petals included. She retraced her steps to where the rumba set off on its mission, and went downstairs, feeling her way along the railing and trying to find the switch. Whispers filled her head as the seconds ticked by. Deep cries echoed in the dark; her husband was weeping.
"Honey, is that you?" Cleo called out. There was no answer.
She continued blindly, walking at a cautious pace, her arms in front of her groping for a wall, a pipe or something to lead her to the light. Maybe it was her sleep-deprived state that made it feel like years before she could reach any semblance of a switch. It certainly would explain the voices.
"There, see Aliki?" Cathy's gentle voice lilted up above her, "We put the flowers there for Mummy, so she can sleep well, and wake up to us when we can see her again."
"Can we put one for Daddy too?"
"Not yet. He's not sleeping."
Cleo called out to her daughter, scolding her for being out of bed with her brother. Her commands were ignored, and she called out in the dark for her husband to get them to go back to sleep. She grumbled little curses and complains that no one was listening to her.
On she went, deeper and deeper into the shadows of the basement, searching for the light.
A light that would never come.
For years, Cathy believed she was doing the right thing, tending to her family's graves every season, her brother and his family coming along too. By the time she was asked why this was a family tradition, there was a second row starting to form. She looked at her son in his little Bluey shirt and khaki shorts and explained the reasons to him why their stones needed to be washed, why the smoke and the flowers were necessary. In her voice, she could hear her mother speaking through her, and yet, something wanted to hold her tongue.
But this was tradition, as old as it was, it connected her to the family and their history, and she wanted the same for her children. Her son, and her daughter after him paid little attention to the graves, just doing their bit as they were told. It was her youngest that inherited her compassionate heart, hauling a plastic vase full of water to wet the stones further away, stealing flowers from the wreathes and bouquets she bought to decorate the dusty old stones in the dried-out, forgotten parts of the cemetery. Every visit after that, he would rope in his cousins and siblings to do the same. She smiled peacefully, wishing her mother were here to see them growing up.
Until a little girl slipped into the sunlight from behind her gravestone. Cathy's kids, her nieces and nephews, did not notice this girl watching them clean up the graves. Her short pale arm reached over the arch of it, fingers stroking his brown locks over his focused brow, but still did not take her eyes off of Cathy. A thankful smile stretched across her face.
A chill shot through her at that smile. The summer breeze whipped leaves and dust into her face. Blinking harshly, her vision blurred, and the girl in the sunlight disappeared.
Cathy has not visited Panagiakis Row since.
About the Creator
Artist | Writer | Lover | Fighter
Born in Sydney, Australia, I write about what inspires me, to inspire others. Poetry, stories, deep introspective works, the lot! MUSE POWERS ACTIVATE!
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