‘Do you always ask this many questions?’
Joe shrugged. ‘Do you always ask people to dig up graves?’
Azrail blew through his yellowing teeth in a show of exasperation. ‘I don’t want you to dig up the coffin if that’s what you’re worried about.’
Joe threw back his shoulders and puffed out his chest. ‘I’m not worried,’ he said, although the pounding of his heart told him the exact opposite was true.
The old man smiled but it wasn’t a happy smile. ‘Good. Get on with it.’
Joe sighed. ‘Ok, but can I have the light?’
‘Yes. How else am I going to find it?’
Azrail took a deep breath and passed Joe the light.
‘Thank you,’ said Joe, ‘and what will you be doing whilst I’m the one working?’
‘Working myself,’ replied the old man. He spun on his heels. ‘Now get on with it,’ he hissed as he disappeared into the gaping doorway of the tomb.
Joe was left alone, with only the silence and his own heart pounding against his ribcage for company. The wind began to blow and a crisp packet was tossed into the air.
He took a deep breath and held up the candle lamp and moved it from side to side to locate the grave of Sissy Simmons. A thin slither of sickly yellow light ran across the ground before him, picking out the raised mounds of the freshly dug graves. Inside, Joe’s stomach was doing cartwheels but he stepped onto the wet grass anyway, well aware of his need for this job.
He kept sweeping the light across the grass and the graves trying to locate the one he needed. There was Edmund Simmons, Joe Simmons and Barty Simmons but no Sissy. Onward he plunged into the cemetery, the legs of his jeans becoming wet as the tall grass brushed aganst him. The water was beginning to soak through the hole in his left trainer and now his sock was becoming like a sponge. The next row belonged to Christina Simmons, Jesse and then in the middle was an unmarked grave, except for a small, crudely nailed together cross measuring no taller than the length of his foot. He held the lamp higher to highlight the grave behind it, and there it was; Sissy Simmons.
Joe couldn’t tell if he felt relief or sick at the thought at finding the right grave. In for a penny, in for a pound, he thought, remembering one of his nanna’s old sayings.
He dropped the lamp on the ground beside the anonymous grave, quickly double-checking that this grave was the one in front of Sissy Simmons. Satisfied he was in the right place, he took the long spade firmly in his hand and thrust it into the wet earth.
It cut through the soil easily. Pictures of decaying bodies and opened-mouthed skeletons played in his mind. What if he, you know, actually saw a dead body?
He’d seen his nanna, of course, but that was different. She was of his own flesh and blood. He didn’t like it, it’d had made him really…well,…sad. He loved her. In fact, if he was really honest about it (and if he was honest, he didn’t really like to think about it), she was probably the only person he could say that he’d ever loved. But, he couldn’t deny, there was something comforting about seeing her one last time to say goodbye. But someone else’s dead body, under there, under the damp earth, with worms and things burrowing into their flesh? Eugh, how on earth would he get over that?
The spade went thump, thump, thump as it cut through the earth. He tossed it into a loose pile on the side of the grave.