I buy one. Red. Of course. Two blonde women – working here forever, mother and daughter – mock-fight to serve me. Two giggles. A quid to you darling.
I have a map. They’ve given me a map. I check it, discreetly: no real man needs a map. No real friend needs a map. No real lover needs… Right over in the corner – so far over it’s in Essex not London – are The Woodland Graves. Sounds like an ’80’s indie band.
I trudge through the spring haze, get lost twice, but there’s no way I’m looking at the map again. Eventually, a sign: ‘No Cards, No Trinkets, No Pictures’. I duck my head, walk through a bramble-covered, badly-creosoted wooden arch. I’ve never had a trinket. Maybe I should have more trinkets?
Headstones: wonky, cracked, ignored. And trees: each with a number engraved on a small metal sign nailed into its body. I suppose this is a copse. A corpse copse. But it’s the wrong place. I think. Yeah, I should know, I should. But a lot’s happened in a hundred years.
I gently leave the rose in this wrong place, leave it lying pure and new on the colourless ground under Tree No.5. Then (I admit it) I look again at the map. The Woodland Glade: that’s it! I think of Winnie The Pooh, Hobbits, The Pogles. And I almost start to cry. If I wasn’t the kind of man who never looks at maps, I would.
I walk back across the centuries, past sinking, bent crosses, past stone Victorian women pointing at the heavens and mausoleums bigger than my house. It’s getting hot. I wonder what the plural of mausoleum is. The women giggle again when I ask for another rose.
I didn’t really know her. A few times, that’s all. But without the sentence, without the question, without her anger: nothing.
The glade is beautiful, childhood-beautiful, almost beautiful enough. This is the right place. There, look: her name, dates of birth and death. I plant the rose in the soft soil, its petals touching the words, obscuring the ‘e’. I breathe. I take a picture. I remember. I realise she’d definitely appreciate the first rose more. I walk back to the station.