The sunlight bounded from the very tips of the crimson red horizon, racing to finish the night. Slowly, the sunlight radiated through the delicate spring green leaves shading the majestic dogwood. It came to fall in slow motion on the gleaming new gravestone. The gravestone was crying lightly as it dripped the previous night’s dew. It was a curious thing, this gravestone. Though it was polished like new, and clearly well cared for with its charcoal black marble spilling an inky shadow over the manicured lawn, the man whose grave this was no one knew. He had lived in the small town for years, over 73, the gravestone read. Not a soul, dead or alive knew the name. A name is only a name, the townsfolk said, but it still sparked an unsettlement among the town. They all knew each other very well. Sunday dinners held in each others homes, town festivals hinting at a perfect haven. No one could possibly be left out! The mere suggestion that a man lived, completely alone, in their town was absolutely preposterous!
The mysterious graveyard held its breath, now everything absolutely still, waiting, waiting. A woman, small, but commanding attention drifted from the wrought iron gate. She was slight, almost a wisp in wind. Her white hair spilled in frosted ringlets from her maroon cloak trailing after her. The graveyard sprang back to life, everything awoken by her presence. The trees rustled as they settled into the brand new day; a single bird sang her sweet song full of joy, but underneath lurked reality.
The woman wound her way around each gravestone, never staying long. She finally reached the gravestone resting in the shade of the dogwood tree, and fell into a kneeling position beside it. From the folds of her flowing, dark, maroon cloak she procured a single rose. But it was no ordinary rose. It was a rose of a black deeper than any ocean, more mysterious than Houdini. The woman extended her tall slender fingers to gently drop the rose. Its ebony petals, fragile and whole, came to lie next to the gravestone. Something about the moment the petals touched the ground was queer.
The sound of unoiled iron grated the air, forgetting the sacredness of this place. Startled, the woman turned to see who had joined her at this hour. An old man hobbled through the gate, and dragging along in his wake was a wheelbarrow full of cleaning tools. It was full of shovels in different stages of disarray, a lovely collection of polishing rags, and a whole mishmash of other tools. The man himself reminded one faintly of Santa Claus. Rather tall, with a lion’s tangle of a beard, and a head shinier than a goose egg, but his eyes, oh his eyes! They were a tunnel of deep, ebony black, not a tunnel of cold emptiness, but a tunnel of underground light. They were piercing, but warm, at half-mast, but filled to the brim with life.
Slowly, carefully, the woman stood, trying not to be seen. As she gathered her skirts, the Santa man looked up at her, and their eyes met. You could hear every leaf rustle, a single ant’s pitter-patter across the cobblestone walk. Everything stopped for the second time that morning. Even the mighty sun’s rising grinded to a halt. Neither the man nor the woman moved, frozen as if Medusa had waltzed in to freeze them both.
“Well, sorry ma’am. I wasn’t expectin’ nobody to be up here this fine hour,” he said in a rich, low voice that made you want to listen. Next, he shook himself free from his frozen state and slowly, he tried to heave his wheelbarrow over a small dip in the road. Sweating and panting he finally made it over. The woman cautiously rose from the ground, like a necklace uncoiled from a hand. Gathering herself to leave, the man spoke.
“I didn't want ya to go. Ya can still stay here.” His words dripped with hope, and shone with loneliness.
“Kind sir,” the woman finally spoke. “I have finished the business I was attending to. It is of no bother for me to leave you to your work.” She rounded up her skirts and made ready to leave.
“No, no. I’m only passin’ through to the back. It would be just fine if ya stayed.” He paused his tremendous battle with the wheelbarrow and lean against it. As he mopped his forehead with a well-used rag he had carefully extracted from his teetering pile of supplies, he inquired:
“Who’s ya visitin’?” His many questions could not be deterred by the woman’s obvious lack of interest. But, being as polite and mild mannered as she was, she grudgingly gave into his stream of questions.
“I am visiting someone of my former acquaintance.” In the phrase meant to shield herself from more questions, she seemed to only spark more interest from the Santa man.
“Oh? The mystery grave? How’d ya know him?” Keenly eying the grave, he began to trek up to the woman to further strike a conversation.
“I’d rather not say. But the remains lying below us are not from a man, but a woman.” The woman folded her white gloved hand across the other.
“I dunno who that was ma’am, but maybe ya could tell me…” The woman grew rigid at the man’s slowly increasing questions. Betraying what she truly felt, she flicked the man a very reluctant smile. Instead of being put off by the fake smile, he just stood, waiting patiently for the simple explanation of the elegant grave shrouded in such a cloak of mystery.
“Perhaps now is not the time to expose precisely who this woman was.” She gave just enough, carefully tiptoeing around a real answer. “Although, I believe, I may tell you one thing about this woman. When alive, she was highly sought after.” Clearly through with the conversation, the woman gathered herself to leave.
“Ya sure ya couldn’t stay just a moment longer? Ya see, the whole town is trying to figure out who this mystery man… woman was.” while the man grasped for any opportunity to delay the strange mistress. She strode back towards the man. Her walk was filled with authority, but finely polished with secret grace.
“Weaver. James Weaver,” he piped in, eager to continue the conversation.
“Mr. Weaver, do you believe in the supernatural? Ghosts and witches?” Taken aback, Mr. Weaver knit his eyebrows in curious confusion.
“Well, I suppose I do. Haven’t given it much thought.” He switched his feet uncomfortably.
“This kind, nurturing woman’s death was no accident, or act from God. This woman did not die from old age. She died at the hand of man.” Her quiet voice swelled with a passion from the injustice. “She was accused of dreadful things I would rather not speak of.”
“That’s a mighty bold thing to be sayin’!” He glanced around to see if anyone was eavesdropping.
“I am sorry to cause you discomfort. That is why I thought it best to be left alone.” Her regret did not meet her dark and stormy eyes. Her jaw was set into a judgement of stone. “I bring the unrightly accused woman a single rose each morning.”
“Why black? Wouldn’t somethin’ like white be nicer?” The question brought a shy, but true smile across her finely boned face.
“She did not want ordinary white or red roses laid on her last remains, oh no.” she said. After that, the delicate smile shattered as the oncoming storm in her eyes grew to a hurricane. “Well, Mr. Weaver. Is that all you wish of me?”
“I believe so. Thank ya for ya time, Miss…?”
“Miss. Blackburn. And thank you.” At her name, Mr. Weaver’s eyebrows shot up into his tussled mop of silver hair, but he said nothing.
Miss. Blackburn spun on her heel towards the gate, her shoulders tucked forward with horrendously concealed poignancy. At the very last moment before Miss. Blackburn’s silk glove touched the rusted gate, she heard Mr. Weaver’s loud voice from behind her. A mischievous half smile danced across her dark red lips.
“What was that, Mr. Weaver?”
“How were ya related to the woman buried here? I don’ mean to pry, but Blackburn ain’t a common name.” Miss. Blackburn’s hand dropped from its progression towards the gate. Almost, but not quite stunned from Mr. Weaver’s question, she said,
“Why, I thought it obvious, Mr. Weaver.” Her mockery made no ill effect on Mr. Weaver’s attitude.
“Ya think ya could explain it to me?” His curiosity outstretched any cat’s.
“What would the fun be in that?” She turned back towards the gate. “You’ll have to guess.” Mr. Weaver was clearly surprised at her wilted manners. Where had the brilliant and well-mannered woman gone?
“Was she your mother?” he asked, noticing as Miss. Blackburn’s “fun” grew, so did her smile.
“Think closer, Mr. Weaver.”
“Almost. Just a little closer…”
“There’s no one closer than that!” She turned around at that, her dainty smile now a maniacal grin.
“Oh, yes there is. You have to dig a little deeper.” As Mr. Weaver’s confusion grew and grew, she dropped a ticking timebomb. “Remember our little discussion on the supernatural?”
“Ya don’ mean…” Mr. Weaver’s heavily lidded eyelids flew open to expose his severely dilated eyes. His mouth slowly creaked open to a silent scream, one that would never be heard. Suddenly, Miss. Blackburn was standing right in front of him, close enough that he could feel her breath. He read the horrendous truth in her dark and stormy eyes.
“Oh, yes, Mr. Weaver. That woman is me.”