Simple. Just keep it simple was what you always used to say. Ursula smiled as she knelt down, clearing away a few more of the weeds. Her husband, Mick was never very showy, either. Never cared what others thought of him, even in the end when he had to use the wheelchair. ‘Do what ya gotta do,’ she could hear him saying. The sedum she’d planted a year ago was well on its way now. She’s glad she’d just decided to plant something, rather than always carting flowers up every week, just to see them blow away.
“Well, I had a nice week. I’ve just been keeping to myself. You know me.” She paused for a moment as some leaves twirled in the wind. “You were always the one who spoke with everyone. Me, no.” She shook her head to add emphasis. “But you’ll be proud of me. I’m thinking about doing something—something I’ve never done before.” Ursula looked up, smiling, her eyes glistening. “I know you always said I needed to get out more. I remember you always telling me ‘What are you gonna do when I’m gone,’ she said, imitating his voice. “Guess you are now. Funny that, eh. Y’know, it feels like it was just yesterday you were here. Think it’s been about two years, now. Since you’re gone. This October, it’ll be.” Ursula wiped away a wisp of hair that had escaped her braid, a tear dropping to the wiry grass.
Her mind travelled back to the day. She remembers the sound of the dirt landing on the coffin like it was yesterday. Sharp and distinct. And the smell of the egg salad sandwiches Mrs. Peabody had made for the meal they’d had after the funeral. She looked around and breathed in the air. It’s been such a beautiful autumn day. The leaves were only beginning to turn colour, leaving the cemetery looking like it was part of those old-style landscape scenes.
A couple walked by who seemed to be just reading the headstones. Her eyes quickly darted up and then back down again, a ghost of a smile crossing her lips. She could hear snippets of their conversation—“This one’s from 1881” and “Look at this one”—until it faded away as they grew more distant. She waited to make sure.
“As I said, I’m thinking of doing what you were always trying to get me to do. I don’t know. I’m not sure about the piano. I know you said that’s the one I know best, but …” she said, leaving her sentence hanging. “No. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to ever go back there again.” She laughed wryly, looking into the distance, the jagged skyline of the city defining the horizon. “Oh, I know you’d say, I’ve got to finally put all that stuff in the past. Find a way to forgive, you always used to say. But I don’t know.
“As I told you, my mother actually passed on, something like a year after you. Finally. I didn’t feel anything, I have to say.” Her chin rose obstinately. She closed her eyes, her mind straggling back to those shadowy days.
Ursula always remembered how she’d pray for 1 0’clock to not come, maybe something would happen and her mother couldn’t make it. But as the bell struck, she had to be at the piano, seated and back straight. Her mom was always strict about that. “Keep your back straight,” she’d harshly tell her, her ruler clattering against the piano. She laughed remembering how it broke the one time.
Sometimes when she’d be playing, she’d make a mistake. Down would come the edge of the ruler on her hands, her mother barking, “No! Do it again. Properly, this time!” She rubbed her knuckles, massaging them as she recalled. Whenever it would happen, she’d always keep her eyes steadfastly ahead of her. The menacing sound of the metronome was sternly re-set and Ursula would have to play the piece again. She had come to despise the piano.
“No, I wasn’t sorry to see her go. She so hated me.” Ursula yanked vehemently at a stubborn weed. “I know you always said she had her own troubles and that’s why she was so horrible. Mother was worse with poor Marigold, bless her soul. She drove her to the grave. I know that. It’s like I used to tell you. She made poor Marigold go up and down, see to this, see to that. I always used to ask Marigold why she’s doing it. I guess I was just glad I’d already left by then because I knew it would’ve been me had I been there. You were always seeing the good side of everyone—I don’t know how you saw anything good in her. She paused and smiled.
“But gee, before I forget, I’ve gotta tell you about what I want to do. Well, I was walking downtown a little while ago, past one of the charity shops. And yes, just so you know, I’m able to walk a little more, even though I’ve got a slight limp. It’ll get better, though.” Ursula absent-mindedly ran her hand along the words of his name on the headstone. She was jarred back to her thoughts by the kaw of a crow. “Anyway, I wasn’t really paying any attention—you know how I am. So, I was just about to walk by when all of a sudden, I saw it. I heard it,” she said, emphasising her words. “Oh, it was beautiful, let me tell you. I mean, what do I know about guitars. Y’know, for some reason, it felt like it was calling out to me. It really did. And you know what?! I went inside and bought it! Isn’t that wonderful?!
“Now, I’m not sure about tuning or anything like that.” She rolled her eyes. “Listen to me. Like I know anything about it! I’ll go to someone to make sure it’s in good working order and all that. But I remember running my hands over the wood and it was glorious! I put it up to my nose and it smelled just like the wood you used to work with. Beautiful. Oh, you’d love it.”
“I even looked on the computer a bit and they said, it apparently doesn’t matter what age you are, you can always learn a new instrument. I was worried about that, I guess. But there ya go. Me at what, seventy-one learning a new instrument. And there were all these things they said would help people like me. It’s almost like a whole new world I’ll enter with its very own language!
“What I read is that adults have spent a lifetime listening to music and so we can get more of a sense of the structure of music. I mean, more than kids. What else did they say?” She thought for a moment. “We really want to learn, so unlike kids, no one is there forcing you to do it. I know that very well, don’t I? Also, it increases our grey matter,” she said, tapping the side of her head. “It also helps to deal with stress, too.” Ursula snapped her fingers. “What else? It eases your breathing. Well, more so if you play something like a trumpet or clarinet.” She pulled her shoulders back and closed her eyes, breathing in deeply. Ursula opened them again and playfully falling forward, she giggled. “You’re probably thinking I’m out of my mind. I don’t think I’ve laughed like this since ….” Her face grew suddenly serious, her eyes glossy and shimmering. She stared off into nothingness.
“That’s how it’s felt, y’know. I haven’t laughed … I haven’t wanted to laugh since you left.” The tears ran down her face. But eventually, she clasped her hands as if in joy and shut her eyes tightly. “Do you think it’s time, my love? My sweet love. I won’t forget you. Never. But that guitar, it sang to me, I tell you no word of a lie,” her voice just barely a whisper. “And it virtually beckoned me to go with it. I feel like there is a bejewelled path it’ll lead me on. Oh, I feel that I’ll be going to the ends of the earth now with it as my guide. But my love, you’ll be with me every step of the way. I promise.” She tenderly touched the headstone. “Time to move on.” I know that’s what you’d say.