It was windy that day in St. James’ Cemetery, and the flowers that were laid with love at the eastern end of the cemetery had been repositioned to decorate other graves. I left my hat in the car so I wouldn’t have to chase after it.
Her stone was taller than it was long, and I used my pocket knife to dig in the painfully well-manicured grass on the windward side. I set the yellow rose, still in its water tube, in the little hole and scraped earth around it with the flat of my blade.
“Think nothing of it,” I said. “It’s just one flower.”
Janet didn’t respond. The dead are like that.
But then, Janet hadn’t spoken to me for almost fifty years.
My grandson had shown me a few of the wonderful things a person could do with a computer: watch movies, read books, look up interesting diseases. I was paying polite attention until he said, “You can even look up people you went to high school with and see what they’re doing now.”
That was when I decided I had to learn to use one of the damned machines. Cyberstalking, they call it. And I told myself I was just curious about old times, and I looked up some other people I had known, and it didn’t mean I didn’t love my wife.
There were a lot of years unaccounted for, but Janet had married the jackass who stole her from me and had two children with him. I almost punched the screen when I saw that, but it would have been hard to explain to the missus. And Janet had taken her nurse’s training and some other education and started a hospice known throughout that far state for its compassion, its liberal views on pain treatment, and for the beauty of its little campus.
Finally, Janet had become one of her own clients, and I found her obituary one day while poking around where I didn’t belong. She was survived by the jackass and their son and daughter and three grandchildren.
I hid my sudden lack of interest in the computer with a newfound interest in growing carrots. Good for your eyes, you know. Not like those screens people stare at for hours on end.
The only good thing about being drafted into the army and serving in Korea – which was when the jackass slid into my spot next to her under the apple tree – was that the survivors of my old unit were going to meet in a couple of months very near where Janet had lived and died. I feigned an interest in seeing those other old farts and took advantage of Mary’s disinclination to fly, and I went out there. I skipped the second day of non-events and drove around until I found the cemetery.
“I suppose you had a good life,” I said quietly to the ground, “and I wouldn’t have had it otherwise for you. I’ve had a good life, too. I really have.” I paused to collect myself. “But all these years later, I still wish we’d had a good life together.”
Suddenly I wasn’t alone. Some cheerful woman was standing nearby, waiting and holding a bouquet of flowers.
“I’m sorry if I’m interrupting,” she said. “I just need to put these here.” She motioned to Janet’s grave.
“Not at all,” I said, and stepped back a little.
She was a professional and did her work quickly and well; those flowers weren’t likely to be blown about by the wind.
“Her husband has a contract for fresh flowers each week,” she said. “It’s really sweet.”
“Sweet,” I repeated.
She left, then, and went back to her van. I saw her put one more bouquet at another grave before she drove off.
The arrangement on Janet’s grave was beautiful and had to have been expensive. I stared at it for … oh, I don’t know how long. Seemed like a long time, but I think slower than I used to. I took a look at the single yellow rose I had placed.
I casually peered around and saw that I was pretty well alone. I knelt at Janet’s grave and undid all the anchors the nice flower lady had used to keep the bouquet in place. Then I yanked it up.
“He’s given you enough flowers. This one last time, it’s my turn. Goodbye, Janet. I have always loved you.”
On my way back to the rental car, I chucked the jackass’s bouquet in a convenient trash can. Where did he get off mourning for Janet? I’d been mourning her loss for most of my life.
Let him catch a prize swordfish and get in the record books, and still … an old fisherman never forgets the one that got away.