I waited until it was almost nightfall to drive towards the cemetery. Trees etched jagged black lines against the darkening sky that deepened to ink in the horizon.
I had spent the afternoon looking at faded dog-eared photographs from way-back-when. In each, my mother had carefully applied make up, done with an experienced hand, her hair styled and sprayed into position; lips, painted a bright red, parted slightly or spread into a wide grin in every captured moment that she was aware of. There would be the occasional picture where she would be attending to my crying three-year old form, red eyes puffy from crying, staring into the camera lens while my mother stood over me, trying to get my attention to sort me out. Looking through the pictures made my heart heavy with emotion; most of all grief.
Keeping my foot on the gas, I stroked the small velvet box in my pocket. An old Mustang switched lanes to pass me as my thoughts and memories rumbled along.
Behind the perfectly finished mask lay a secret. My mother had carried the pain and burden of that secret to her grave, where she now lay beside it; the infant whose death she believed she was the cause of. She fooled no-one but herself.
The black Mustang switched lanes to get in front of me; its red tail lights glowed in the darkness, like the eyes of a child’s imaginary monster.
Soon I turned up the hill and steered the car around the sharp bends in the road that let up to Belleville Cemetery. Parking the car in front of the big iron gates, I cut the ignition and, before gathering my emotions and thoughts, I pulled out the small box.
The hinges creaked painfully as I slowly opened it. I ran a finger across the small, gold heart and undid the tiny latch that held its two lids together. Inside, lay a picture, barely large enough to be see easily. It was a picture of my mother and her beloved baby boy; the baby she thought she let die; the baby she believed she could deter his fate.
In this picture she had no make-up on, but despite that her skin radiated and her bare eyes shone with glee. She looked truly complete with a baby bearing a toothless grin cradled against her hip.
She never voiced the thought, but as time went by after his passing, she longed for him back, and as I grew older I began to accept my mother could never show me the love and affection she had for him.
Placing the locket back into its place on a foam layer, I snapped the box shut and got out of the car.
Sliding through a gap in the gates I felt my muscles tense. Never did like cemeteries, but I had a job to get done.
I made my way to my mum’s grave, it’s smooth marble seemed to glow in the ever-darkening sky, as if it were reflecting her joy for finally joining her prodigal son in ever lasting peace.
I bit back tears, loving my mother more than before. I understood her pain, having to grow up with it, and I understood why she’d struggled to show me true affection that I craved.
“You deserve this, Mum.” I whispered, bending down and burrowing a small hole in the black earth with my fingernails, big enough to place the velvet box in it.
“I love you.” I murmured, burying it with crumbly dirt.
Getting up I wiped my hands on my jeans and turned to leave. Heading over to the gates, I made my way down the dirt path, illuminated by nothing but the rising moon.
Suddenly, a shadow that I passed grabs the back of my shirt and pulls me deeper into the dark, a clammy hand over my mouth to muffle my cries of shock and fear. I’m dragged across the bumpy terrain, to the far side of the cemetery.
Pushing me up against what I knew to be the church brick wall, I felt the shadow's warm breath on my face as it whispers to me, “Hello, Pretty Boy.”