August 2, 2016 by Lyn
Shira waited until Doug and Luca had left before she took to the road. Their grief and remembrance were important to them, sacred, and she didn’t want to impose her presence on that, nor to force unwanted conversation on the warriors – or on herself.
She dressed in black, this day as she did on so very few other occasions, gathered her things, and began her pilgrimage. Like Doug and Luca, she said nothing to anyone about this trip. The school would run without her for a day or two.
The cemetery was a long way from the Addergoole School, but, being Ellehemaei, she had developed a few tricks of her own. She drove for an hour, clearing her mind of Addergoole, of worries, of everything except her purpose. Then she bent the world, just a little, and arrived.
The others were already there, some of them, or would be arriving soon. The timing was important; she didn’t like to be the first to arrive, nor would she insult them by showing up late.
There were fewer of them. There were fewer every time, as the years moved on, and so many of them were small and frail and gray, withering away to nothing. They had been young together once, wives and girlfriends and fiancées, their own club of those nervously waiting for news. Some had gotten their husbands back, whole or nearly whole, and drifted away; of those, only Myrna still came every year, to hold their hands and remember, with them, what it was like to wait.
Those whose hands Myrna would hold today were the others. They’d waited, and waited, for a husband that never came, or for a casket they buried, or for an official notice that would have to serve in lieu of a casket. Shira had waited with them, as nervous and miserable as any of them. Thomas was as vulnerable as any of their men, and her fae blood could not protect him.
“Shira.” Agnes, her spine still straight and proud and her smile still warm and opening. She’d been a beauty then; she’d remarried, not as quickly as some would have liked and too quickly for others’ tastes. She was, Shira thought, still beautiful now. “I’m glad you could make it.”
She nodded her response, and hugged the old woman, her old friend, gently. There were a few pleasantries, murmured softly in respect for the occasion and the location, and then, as if to some unspoken signal, they marched, as even as any regiment, to the hill that held what was left of their loved ones.
They laid their flowers on the graves and spoke their words, private benedictions. “I miss you, Tom,” she whispered. “Our grandson looks just like you, now. He’s the same age you were, when you left us. We all miss you.”
Agnes set a hand gently on her shoulder. “It never fades, does it?”
Shira just shook her head mutely. There had been other men, but she’d never forgotten her Tom.
“We do, us old ladies.” Agnes’ gesture took in the group of them, but excluded Shira. “We grow old and we fade and die.” Her gaze was piercing and inescapable. “But you don’t, do you?” She rode over any objections. “You take the time to look it, and we appreciate it, but beneath it, you’re no older than you were back then.”
She wouldn’t lie to her. “No,” she shook her head. “I’m older, but I haven’t aged.”
“And you’ll remember them? You’ll remember my Michael? Susan’s Jonah? Dorie’s John?”
“I remember all of them. I could never forget them.” Michael had a laugh like a crow and had once lifted a truck off of a small child, saving the boy’s life. Jonah had been shy, retreating, and had died saving the lives of his brothers in arms. John and Tom had been best buddies, mischief-makers and sharpshooters. “I remember them,” she repeated.
“Good.” Agnes nodded firmly, with a sense of old business well-completed. “Then you will be here to speak for them when we’re gone.” She waved a hand, cutting off a protestation Shira wasn’t going to make. “I don’t care how you do it, girl. I’ve always known there was more to this world than normal people could ken. I’m just glad you’ll be here when we’re gone.”
“I,” she swallowed something that threatened to be a sob, and bulled on through. “I’m glad I could help, Agnes.” She would be here when they were all under the ground. She would be here when the war had wiped away the cemetery and the hill it stood on. And, though she wouldn’t live her life alone, she would, eventually, stand in remembrance here alone. “I’ll speak for them.”
The drive home was slow, mundane, and human, full of old memories, the spirits of her friends filling the car. Solitary, perhaps, but not alone.