This story placed second in our 2020 Christmas Ghost Story competition
The cemetery is vast, yet it feels welcoming. I look around. A young woman is quietly sobbing in front of a grave. A man is jogging in the distance. A couple is pushing a pram down the long path leading to the main entrance – or exit rather, into the buzz of the city. I feel a light breeze on my cheeks and neck, just before the familiar whooshing sound. I smile.
‘You know, maybe we should pick some other place next time.’
I look at him. Eddie is standing there, calm as always, wearing his weathered grey jacket and his cheeky grin. Hands into pockets, standing tall and confident, he glances around the cemetery with such poise, as if he owns the place. I’m proud of my friend and also rather perplexed: he looks rather well and ready to spring into action, considering that he is, after all, dead.
I look down at the grave in front of us.
“Edward Miles, 1991-2020, Beloved Son, Brother, Friend”
I scoff at those words: “Beloved son and brother”. Eddie’s family do not deserve to mourn him. He stopped being their beloved son and brother a long time ago. As far as homophobes go, they were not the worst. They did not disown him or throw him out in the streets. No, they did something a lot worse. They pretended that they tried to understand but couldn’t, and they instead spent the next seven years being in denial or passive aggressive about it.
Eddie was at first alternating between anger and forgiveness. Then we got high one day and he turned around to me, saying: ‘My family, my real family, are not those people anymore. They are the people I will always find here,’ and he pointed at his head. ‘And here,’ and he pointed at his heart. Then he smiled and pointed at me. Damn, he was always good with words.
“Friend”. That is a whole different story. Eddie was a friend you could rely on. He was loyal, funny, honest. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t perfect. We had our ups and downs and we had our arguments, mainly because he was volatile and strong-opinionated – not the best of combinations. But if you were his true friend and he loved you, he was willing to do anything for you. And I was one of the lucky ones. Through my cancer diagnosis and my therapy, Eddie was there. Through the highs and the lows, he was there, by my side.
‘What are you thinking about?’
He laughs, loudly. The mourning woman looks up and frowns. I turn around and look at him. I am trying to figure out how he is doing this. Even in death, Eddie does not cease to amaze me. His spirit is always undying and radiant.
‘Will you answer something honestly?’
‘Always,’ he responds, without any hesitation.
‘Did you… ever…?’
He looks at me, narrowing his eyes.
‘Did you ever fancy me? I mean, not all the time, obviously, but maybe to begin with or maybe later, was there something from your end? Something more than just friendship?’
He inhales deeply. I wonder for a moment how he can do that. There he is, breathing, laughing, talking as if he is still a real person and not a phantom. For the last three months, I have visited his grave every single day, at the same time, and he has consistently showed up. My friend is still always here, ready to listen to me, encourage me or entertain me.
‘I mean, don’t get me wrong,’ he pauses for a moment. ‘You are ridiculously handsome and that ass of yours…’
We both laugh. With the corner of my eye, I catch the mourning woman hurrying towards the cemetery exit. It is getting darker. It’s just Eddie and me now.
‘But,’ he continues, ‘whether because you got unbelievably wasted the first week I met you and ended up projectile vomiting all night, or because we were able to, I dunno, click… connect, I guess, on another level, I could never see you as anything more than a friend after that. A good friend. My best friend.’
He says the word “best” with added emphasis. I smile awkwardly.
‘Why do you ask? Why now?’
‘I’m not sure. Mostly curiosity I guess. But I never dared ask.’
‘You were off-limits, I knew that from the start. Whether because you were interested in women or because I saw a potentially brilliant friend in you, the thought never even crossed my mind.’
We both smile. I look at his grave again and my smile disappears. The breeze around us is suddenly getting colder. Or maybe I am suddenly feeling colder.
‘You must be so angry. No, you must be furious.’
‘Why? Eddie… I am furious for you! You had your whole life ahead of you! You had so many dreams about your career and your start-up company before you hit forty. You met Craig and things were going so well. You had so many things to look forward to. So many countries you will never visit, so many goals left unachieved. How? How can you just be ok with that?’
I begin shaking. I look at him. He still appears incredibly calm. He looks back at me and lifts his eyebrow. I hate it when he does that and I know what he means. He means to say that there is more, that I should keep going.
‘Don’t give me that look, Eddie! Don’t you dare tell me to not be upset. What the fuck, Eddie? What the fuck?’
‘I am sad, of course I am sad. And annoyed…’
‘Annoyed? You are fucking dead, Eddie! Gone from this world!’
‘And yet, I am still here.’
I kick a rock that was lying by my feet.
‘It just isn’t right! You walk through life, thinking that maybe…maybe you have finally figured everything out. You know, maybe finally everything is starting to fall into place and you know what you want to do with your life, and you have overcome any obstacles. You are thinking that you can even perhaps have a family and kids one day or dogs, I dunno, and you have your friends, you have your best friend and you think that nothing is ever gonna change. We’ve both been through so much to get here but I was starting to feel hopeful. The New Year is just around the corner and we were planning our joint festive party, with no drama or concerns this time. And then one day, one retched, horrible day this random car just comes along and shatters everything.’
I am shaking more vigorously now. And clenching my fists. I cannot even look at him. I just keep staring at his grave, as I continue spattering my angry words.
‘Just because someone, something, whatever that might be, a god, fate, luck, the fucking universe, woke up on that day and decided it’s gonna fuck up someone’s life. Our lives. Forget about your stupid dreams and hopes. Forget everything you have accomplished so far. Forget about your future. There is no future! This is the finish line and this is as far as you go. Nothing more for you. You are done!’
Tears begin streaming down my cheeks. I can feel my fists clenching harder. Eddie puts his hand on my shoulder. I can actually feel his friendly hand again on my shoulder.
‘I cannot do this without you, man! I refuse to do this without you. It’s not fair! It’s not fair, it’s not fair!’
I drop to my knees and suddenly a wailing sound rises from my lungs, up my throat and finally out of my mouth. It’s deep, unfamiliar and haunting. Eddie drops to his knees too and puts his entire arm around me, pulling me into a tight hug. His head rests onto the back of mine. His hug feels safe. It always feels safe.
‘Jake, it is not fair. And of course you are angry. We both are. But it is time that you accept it. I have.’
‘I… don’t think that I can,’ I whisper between sobs.
‘Sure you can. You are one of the bravest, most determined people I have ever met. You have been my family when I had none. We have been together through so much. So, we will get through this. Together.’
I tilt my head to the right. My teary, blurry gaze slowly shifts from Eddie’s grave to the tombstone right next to it. I blink once. Twice. Three times.
“Jake Ashton, 1992-2020, Beloved Son, Brother, Friend. May he rest in peace”
‘Together,’ I whisper.
Eddie and I stay here, on the ground, in the tightest of hugs, embraced in our loving friendship that has kept us together, even in death. We stay here, until the sun completely sets in the background. And then, we are no more.