Souls at dawn

You must have been a beautiful woman entered his mind.

Families were gathering on the hill that mounted tender bodies of their relatives. She always loved elevated graveyards, their stones silencing the world that moved – children, cars and occasional tourists.  The barman handed two cups of Turkish coffee the way they drink it in Slovakia. They both watched the ‘mud’ gather at the top but he slurped it without stirring, catching the grains on his moustache.

Anya never cared for men with blue eyes, yet there he was, studying her profile in the poorly lit saloon. ‘What brings you here?’, she asked.

‘All Souls’.

The door curtain moved, bringing a whiff of rotten leaves inside for a moment but no one came in apart from a cat they didn’t see. ‘It’s been closed for years’, a woman was overheard outside. ‘Have you more burners?’, another one shouted. Several feet shuffled under the barred window, then stopped and turned. Muffled voices of children too disappeared.

‘Why are they not coming in?’

‘The place is closed’.

‘But how….?’.  Anya slid off the chair that was too high for her and walked towards the window. The cemetery was shimmering in the distance, dozens of votives were huddled around the Central Cross. A child was climbing the pillar of the chapel. It started to drizzle into the fog.

‘The candles will survive the rain of tonight. They will still be warm in the morning. Last insects of the year will burn their wings on the aluminium lids’.

It was how he said the word aluminium that made Anya’s heart drop. The soft Slavic ‘n’ in it, like a child’s speech coming from an old man. She made for the curtain. It felt damp and mouldy, so different only from a moment ago. But his arms encased her within it and, on his neck, a tiny incision she’s known for years.

‘You are more beautiful than I remember you’, Franz whispered to her hair. He lead her by the hips, like a young man would, to an umbrella stand that was full of wet parasols.

‘Where is everybody?’, she wondered. Dim light revealed their faces in the mirror. ‘Your eyes are changed’, she studied Franz’s face knowingly now, her breath meeting his in the air that was stone cold. She appeared to have more wrinkles…’I have never seen myself old. I think I was 37 when …’

‘I have done  many bad things to you Anya. I have cursed you to the Devil that night. I did not mean it. I didn’t know you couldn’t breathe. All those bottles. All those drinks you had drunk! I wanted you to stop. I should have been the first one to go! It should have been me. I want to hold you once more!

‘You never held me the way you hold me tonight’, she rested her head on his shoulder. I was so tired. So tired for many years. I just wanted to sleep.’

The barman entered to bring in a tray of poppy seed rolls. The door had swung back and forth after him, showing no signs of cooking.

Franz took a coat from the rack and covered Anya’s shoulders with it. Then he pulled out one of the umbrellas and pointed to the distance.   ‘There they are’, he said. ‘They are looking at our graves. Come with me. We are going to join them.’