Flowers For Elizabeth

Watercolour of poppies growing


The well-tended grave of a long-dead child held a strange fascination for lonely Carol

“It might make it harder to sell the house. Living opposite a graveyard.” That’s what the surveyor had said when Carol had bought number 24.

She remembered thinking, Why on earth should it?  It was a tiny cemetery of higgledy-piggledy, mostly ancient gravestones clustered around a picturesque church.

The graves were well-kept. Back in the summer, Carol had seen gardeners mowing and strimming.

Every morning when she walked Toby, she went through the cemetery. There were kissing gates at either end, and it saved negotiating the main road.

She didn’t usually dawdle – she had to get back for work – but there was one particular grave next to the path that she couldn’t help noticing.

It had a small wooden cross. Scrawled on it in black, untidy writing were the words, Elizabeth Jennifer Hambledon, our granddaughter. Died at birth. 1939.

The brief, poignant message caught her attention.

No one liked to think of a baby dying before she ever had the chance to live.

But the other reason the grave stood out was because it always had fresh flowers.

Not elaborate arrangements but little bunches of daisies or roses – or once, recently, a posy of scarlet poppies. Seasonal flowers as if someone had picked them nearby.

Someone still cared, Carol thought, although she had never seen anyone at the grave. They must go when she was at work.

She resolved to ask her neighbour – if she could catch her in. She was a sales rep, she’d told Carol when she’d gone to introduce herself, and was rarely home.

It was a pity. Carol would have liked to have coffee with her – or anyone, really. It got lonely sometimes.

She had downsized her job, downsized her life when she’d left Paul.

She sometimes wondered if she’d done the right thing – not the leaving him bit, but the moving to a new area where she didn’t know a soul.

She should probably join the WI or the choir, or the local ramblers. She had done all of these things where they’d lived before, but she had wanted to settle herself first. Take a deep breath and ease into village life slowly.

One evening, just as she was bringing in her recycling bins, she saw a woman go through the kissing gate into the cemetery. She was carrying a posy wrapped in paper.

Carol guessed she was going to Elizabeth’s grave.

Would it be a terrible imposition to follow her?

She took a deep breath, shut her front gate so Toby couldn’t get out and nipped across to the churchyard.

If it looked as though she were intruding, she wouldn’t stop, she decided, buttoning her coat as she walked. But if the opportunity arose – well, she could say hi, couldn’t she?

The woman was arranging the flowers in a white pot, humming to herself.

“Good evening,” Carol said, and was startled when the woman jumped visibly and spun round. She looked really guilty.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to make you jump. I’m Carol, I live across the road.”

She was going to add, I was walking my dog but she’d left Toby behind. She hadn’t really thought this through, had she?

“I’m Sophie,” the woman said. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“Intrude?” Carol frowned.

“On your grief.” Sophie indicated the grave. “I only recently moved here and I kept walking past and it seemed so terribly sad – you know, that there was no-one left to remember her. So I thought I’d bring flowers.” She bit her lip. “I hope you don’t mind.”

Carol shook her head in sudden understanding.

“Oh gosh, no, I don’t mind. I mean, I’m not… related to Elizabeth. I thought you must be.”

Sophie looked amazed, then relieved.

“No. I don’t know who she is.

“But I do know what it’s like to feel alone. To think that no one cares any more.

“That sounds so self-pitying, doesn’t it?” She smiled. “I’m not. I just had a messy divorce – you know, and I moved here because I used to have relatives in the area. But I feel a bit out of my comfort zone now…”

Carol smiled back.

“I know exactly what you mean. I don’t suppose you’d like to come for a cuppa? I think we may have quite a bit in common.”

And as they walked back together through the kissing gate, the petals on the flowers on Elizabeth’s grave stirred gently in the breeze.

We’re sharing a new spooky short story from our archives every Monday and Thursday throughout October. Look out for the next one!