Tuesday, December 28, 2010
After 40 years, the Whispering Oaks Cemetery still looked the same, despite the few additions. The caretaker was always kept busy, pulling weeds, nursing flowers, trimming the grass, pruning bushes, raking, and dusting off each and every headstone, so it looked more like a garden than a graveyard.
It was late April, and the daisies were in full bloom, adding life among the dead.
Morris Parrot, so old he could now no longer remember his age, stood at the cemetery gate with one hand brushing the iron bars. In the other, he held a single sunflower. He visited every day. But this morning, he had an instinct to arrive hours before the usual visiting time.
The caretaker met Morris at the gate, holding a bulging garbage bag full of wilted bouquets and battered objects left at the headstones.
“Morning,” said the caretaker, Dan. He was middle-aged and usually a bright, friendly man. “You’re earlier than you’ve been in 40 years. What’s the occasion?”
Morris ran his hand against the bars that had never before withheld him.
“You’ve been a good man these past few years, Dan, and I have a feeling this will be my last visit..”
“Your last? What do you mean?” Dan asked blankly.
Once Morris was let through the gate, he put a feeble arm on Dan’s shoulder and steered him to the headstone that Morris visited daily.
Wilma Faux Parrot
Dan knew this headstone well. Every week he threw away seven wilted flowers, all different, that had been left there.
Dan shifted his feet. “I don’t understand, Mr. Parrot, why this is your last visit? Was Wilma your wife?”
“Is my wife,” Morris corrected. “although you’re right to not understand my ways. Sometimes my instincts turn out to be correct.” Morris knelt down, not without help, and lay the sunflower on the ground. The first rays of sun in the east were peeking out over the mountains, illuminating the leaves in the trees.
Dan nodded and wondered if he should leave Morris in peace, but the old man was still taking advantage of his company.
“Would you like to know why I come here every day, Daniel?”
Dan eagerly agreed, threw down his garbage bag, and sat next to Morris.
Morris began, “When I was 28, during the war, I was seriously injured on our bomber ship.” He traced long scars on his neck and on his arms for Dan’s benefit. “I spent weeks in the hospital recovering, and it was there that I first met my Wilma.”
“So, she was injured–” Dan interrupted. Morris shook his head. “No, no. Wilma was 22. She was a nurse, of course. Quite a beauty, too. I declare! Nearly every soldier under her care fell in love with her!” he chuckled. “And I did too, of course. After the war ended, I sought her out and we courted for years.”
“Years?” Dan asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Three years. She was 25 when we married, I remember. She was the most beautiful bride... I can still see her auburn hair in her permanent and her rosy cheeks. She had blue eyes, too.”
Dan agreed. “I’m sure she was very beautiful.” He waited for Morris to continue, but there was a moment’s silence before he did.
“Yes...very beautiful. And very kind. She died 5 years later. We had only been married for a few short years, happy as they were.”
Dan ducked his head and mumbled an apology. Morris waved it away. “Yes, I too am sorry. She was pregnant with our first child and died after giving birth.”
Several silent, painful moments passed, and then Dan asked, “But Mr. Parrot, you never mentioned why you visit her every day.”
Morris looked up in surprise, but then remembered. “Oh, yes. On the night she died, I was trying to nurse my Wilma back to health. She was very weak, pale, and sick with the fever. She had lost a lot of blood from the birthing. She began to drift off, and, afraid I was losing her, I tried to revive her. She began mumbling loads of nonsense...but her last words to me were, ‘Don’t leave me, Morris.’”
“Was that nonsense?” said Dan, “She was the one leaving you, after all.”
Morris shrugged. “Whether nonsense or not, I promised I would never leave her. And until I die, I will never break that promise. I haven’t missed a single day here in forty years.” And then Morris lay down next to his wife’s headstone and stroked it.
Touched, Dan left Morris and his wife in peace.
An hour later, after he had finished his cleaning duties, he noticed that Morris was still lying on the grass. Approaching him, Dan realized that Morris was right–it was indeed his last visit. With tears in his eyes, Dan called the Funeral Home.
Still laying at his wife’s grave, Morris Parrot had kept his promise until his last breath.