Waiting for Spring

by Len Bains

She stands in a quiet corner of the necropolis, waiting for Spring.

All the corners are quiet at Pere Lachaise. One hundred acres stand packed with the dead, faded cheek by dusty jowl, mausoleum by tomb, grave neighbouring cenotaph, sepulchre tight against monument.

A high wall seals away urban Paris. On one side Citroens vie with Deux Chevaux, horns blare, and brakes squeal amid a breath of diesel and carbon. But a high wall takes it all away. The sounds lose meaning in this place of old memories, their context is taken. Walk but a few yards, and the cacophony is swallowed by a silence profound and sombre.

In the avenues of Pere Lachaise blossom decorates the trees. It lies in her hair, pink confetti. It drifts in the gutters – a memory of snowfall. Spring came early this year, false with warmth, coaxing March violets from the ground. A flirtation of Spring, soon turning a cold cheek. She watched the ground become iron once more, she saw the frost steal upon the croci, puddles freeze on brick paths.

Life in dead places. Ivy on the tombs, grass in every crevice, life unstoppable and undeniable, driven from the ground in one blow of Spring’s green hammer. It’s an annual awakening in which she cannot share.

Visitors come now, in between the showers. Not for her, not for any one of the dead, but for the spectacle of such grandeur and decay. Spring paints leaves on every bough, the showers pass, and Summer smiles on the cemetery of Pere Lachaise. More visitors, and more, their shadows thrown in harsh relief, black on a sun-dazzled path. Ambling, idling, taking lunch, reading legends.

Beloved, 1845. Dearly departed, 1710. My heart lies here, 1908. Barely legible.

When they see her, they stop that hunt for explanation.

The cycle of seasons has worn a little definition from her features. Just a little, over a hundred years. But they see her beauty, the sharpness of her cheekbones, the grace in long limbs, the gentle swell of a child’s breast, a freckling of lichen. She needs no deep-carved runes to spell out her life. Here I buried my child. A message for which French is not required. She died in the Winter of 1876, the daughter of a wealthy man who would have given all his wealth, and more, to buy her into Spring.

In Autumn the leaves fall so thick they sometimes hide the stone dog she is chasing. People hurry past, collars turned against sharp-fingered winds. Some pause, hugging themselves, squinting into the rain, and wonder what she’s chasing. Is it a question the sculptor posed? What do we hunt in life?

She’s chasing a dog. A little terrier, remembered in stone, lost in a drift of wet ochre, hidden in a fold of Autumn’s gown. A century-old chase that has seen the death of everyone who cared, the end of every soul that knew the terrier’s name. A chase that’s seen the stilling of each hand to touch this child, the loss of every life that shared her world.

It snows on the first day of Winter. Tiny crystals so perfect they almost chime against the ground. The light fails early, and a wildness infects the wind, swirling the snow into rivulets of milk across the brick paths, ice hissing over stone.

Frost etches a silver tracery across her dress, but no one sees. The seasons turn, and still she waits for Spring.

One Response to “Waiting for Spring”

  1. Terry Ervin says:

    Loved the imagery painted by the words and descriptions, especially: “Life in dead places. Ivy on the tombs, grass in every crevice, life unstoppable and undeniable, driven from the ground in one blow of Spring’s green hammer.”

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