It was the purple I noticed first. She was dressed in great swathes of the stuff. As she swept in and out of the gravestones her enormous purple cloak fanned out behind her. It reminded me of a book I read as a child, Harold and the Purple Crayon, where he created a world by drawing it out with his crayon.
It was as if she was coating everything, leaving a trail of vibrant purple behind her, where there was once only a world fixed in black and white. I immediately wanted something purple of my own. A purple dress would go nicely in my hidden collection. Perhaps something light, chiffon, or a soft viscose.
I studied her for a bit, trying to peek discreetly over the cover of my novel. I watched her as she danced in amongst the dead, twirling and leaping about. Occasionally she would jump in puddles with two feet like a toddler. She wore no boots, allowing the cold mud to seep into her purple Chinese slippers. She seemed to get the same joy as a toddler too, throwing her head back to laugh out loud. She had a rich, throaty laugh that filled the air with life; something hard to achieve in the land of the dead.
After a time she began to tire, she was, after all so much older than a child, so much older than me — I had no idea how old. She looked around for somewhere to rest and that is when she spotted me, the drab, unhappy looking man in a trench coat which hid my embarrassing secret. She skipped over to spread some colour into my life. I tried to hide behind my book once more.
“What’s your name?” she asked me as she approached, her voice full and smoky, just like her laugh.
“Derek,” I said, hating the monotone of my own voice.
“What are you reading, Derek?” she asked and floated down next to me. She read the title of my book out loud, answering her own question: “A Matter of Glory.” She studied my face for a moment then asked, “What is it like?”
“Readable,” I mumbled back, turning my wedding band and feeling devoid of all colour.
She laughed good and hard, rocking so far forward I thought she might roll right off the bench. She composed herself, wiping little tears off her face with huge fingers laden with great, heavy, bashed metal rings. Her laughter lessened into smaller chuckles before disappearing completely. As soon as it was gone I wanted her to laugh again.
She rummaged in her mirrored shoulder bag decorated with multi-coloured tassels, clonking her rings against mysterious items, and eventually pulled out her own book. It was a thin, dog-eared paperback.
“Mine is called The Truth About Ronnie Grey,” she said. As she spoke I began to wonder what she had looked like when she was young. I knew she would’ve been beautiful. I could see her beauty still, hidden under the lines and sagging skin. I wanted to touch her face, but instead I turned my wedding band again, with a new emotion, guilt perhaps. She smelt of herbs, freshly picked sage and something else, something spicy and magical. “I can’t get beyond this one line,” she said, her voice dropping, slowing and sounding suddenly different, almost tired.
“What is the line?” I asked.
She thumbed to the bit in the book and read aloud: “What does a dying man have to sing about?” She turned to me and let the book drop into her lap. “You see?”
Only I didn’t see. She made a small humph-like noise, cross at having to explain the obvious. Her voice came out in short bursts, like a subdued rant. “How can I see any hope in a story like that? After all, we’re all dying. I’m certainly not planning on stopping singing, not now, not ever. I can’t keep on reading it. I’ve tried and tried, but I don’t care for the truth about Ronnie Grey — not as much as I care about carrying on singing.”
“Oh, I see, well, when you put it like that…” I started to say, when she cut me off, her voice brighter again, the throaty rich hum restored.
“So that is why I am here, singing and cheering up the dead; even on a gloomy grey day like today we can all rejoice in colour.”
“Hmm, I suppose,” I said, suddenly thinking of the shocking pink lace stockings that I wore under my flannelled trousers.
“Not only can I spice up the dead, I can pick a few special plants along the way for my potions.” She gave me a knowing wink. “Do you need any potions or lotions? Any problems, you know, psychological difficulties or embarrassing secrets?” She directed her nod to my groin.
I flushed scarlet; how did she know?
She didn’t wait for an answer and instead jumped back up as nimble as a cat and began to prance away in amongst the headstones. I resisted an unexpected urge to rip off my coat and trousers, revealing myself in my full female underwear attire, throwing caution to the wind and joining her. Instead I gripped the familiar firm wood underneath me to prevent the urge consuming me. The bench beneath my frilled panties steadied and calmed me. My secrets were still safe.
As I turned back to my book I noticed my hands were shaking. Then I saw it — her book, she had left it on the bench beside me. I stood up with it in my hand and was about to go after her when instead I sat back down, opened it up and began to read. A little card fluttered out and fell to the ground face up. I read it — Amelia cures all, 778142. I picked it up and popped it safely in my coat pocket before returning to read The Truth About Ronnie Grey.
Camilla Chester writes in Hertfordshire, England with the support of a fantastic Facebook group. As yet unpublished, but it is not over, they say, until the fat lady sings!
This story is sponsored by
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