A man stands in front of two graves with two white flowers in his hand.
The cemetery is devoid of people, and it appears as if the world revolves around him alone. Him and the two tombstones in front of him. It is a sweltering summer day, so hot that even the birds have stopped chirping and all he can hear is the constant hum of insects. He looks at the two plain tombstones in front of him. They are unremarkable in any way. They are just two simple tombstones in a cemetery. Two graves out of hundreds. Rows upon rows of different lives buried in the ground, with nothing distinguishing them from one another, as if they had never existed.
He wipes the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. It feels as if the sun’s unforgiving rays of heat are in his bones. Marking him. Searing him from the inside out. Sweat trickles down his back, flowing like small rivers, soaking up his shirt and making him uncomfortable. He’s grabbing the collar of his shirt and yanking it to get some air over his scorching body, but nothing seems to cool him down.
He's not sure what to do. He feels both full and empty at the same time, and the knots in his stomach make him want to scream, to kick, to pull at his hair, but he quickly pushes his emotions down. Deep down, back into his stomach.
They were taken from him too soon. Too young.
Five years have passed since he last visited this place. A thick layer of dust covers the once white gravestones. He strokes his hand over one, removing the dust and revealing the inscription engraved on it.
The man's eyes well up with tears as he’s reading the names of his friends that will never grow old. Muttering them for the first time, after all this time, breaks his heart all over again. A strangled sound escapes his throat while he falls to his knees in front of the two graves. His heart is racing so fast, and the cemetery is so quiet, he thinks it's the only sound left, drowning out even the buzzing of the insects.
He's taking ragged breaths in an attempt to take hold of his frantic heart, rubbing at his chest as if trying to push the pain that suddenly arose back inside. He's so focused on trying to calm himself down that a voice from behind him startles him, reminding him he's not alone.
“Dad! Are you ok? What are we doing here?”
The man looked over his shoulder at the boy. “Oh! Yeah, I'm fine.” He cleared his throat, shaking the roughness out of his voice. “Uh... we came here to pay our respects.”
“To whom?” asked the boy.
“My uncles?” the boy inquired, puzzled. “I don't have uncles.”
The man chuckled. “You didn't get to meet them. They passed away before you were born.”
The boy set down the twigs he was holding and moved closer to the kneeling man, their eyes now at the same level. He shifted his gaze from the man to the graves before returning to him and saying, “I didn’t know I had uncles… Tell me about them, Dad!”
The man smiled, some of the tension in his bones fading away. “Ok, but it’s a long story. You promise to pay attention?”
The boy nodded eagerly.
“Alright, let me clean those large stones first,” he said, pointing at the tombstones, “and I’ll tell you all about them.”
Cleaning the dust off the gravestones was like wiping the dust off his mind, bringing back old memories he had fought so hard to forget. He tried to ignore them for years, putting them in a sealed box and burying them deep within the dark corners of his head. He had no idea why he had come. Didn't know why he was drawn to this place. He left everything behind him five years ago. He walked away. Escaped. He ran away without looking back. Yet something in him compelled him to return. Something forced him to come back.
After determining that the graves are clean enough, he rubs his thumb over his tattoo on his left wrist. "I miss you. I wish you were here, and I'm sorry," he says as he places a flower on each grave. And as he says that, he gets that old urge, that familiar tingling at the tips of his fingers, so he puts one hand on the dry land between the graves and picks up a handful of dirt, which he slips into his jacket’s pocket. Idiot. He thinks to himself. Back to old habits already?
Rising to his feet, he brushes the dust off his pants when the boy grabs his hand.
“Come on Dad, let's go. You promised to tell me a story.”
The man smiles at him, tightening his grip on the boy’s hand.
Once upon a time,
there were four boys,
Who loved too much,
but not enough.”