The dead owe us nothing

The sound of snow crunched under his little boot covered feet, and the wind gently slid on the sides of his face, leaving his nose a little redder with each waft. On passing, he saw an old man sitting on a bench, alone, throwing dry chunks of bread to no one in particular. He went around the cemetery once and realized there weren’t any birds. On his return, the old man still sat hunched forward, resting his elbows on his thighs, throwing small chunks from a dried piece of toast with his thick fingers.

“There’s no birds around.” said the boy.

The old man looked up from the ground towards the child. His eyebrows almost covered his eyes in a permanent scowl, but he had a gentle smile.

“Oh, I know.” he said. “Just a force of habit I suppose.”

The boy turned on his heels towards the man in a playful spin.

“You come here often?” he asked, walking towards the old man.

“Every day for seven years now.”

“That’s a long time.” said the boy, taking a seat next to the old man.

“When you’re as old as I am, it really isn’t.” he said, passing the little boy a piece of toast.

The boy shook his head, and the old man took the piece of toast back, still with a smile on his face.

“Who are you visiting?” asked the boy.

“My wife.” he said, pointing at a grave with a statue of a young woman in front of them, veiled in a sheet, covering one breast with her hand, and look down with a subtle smile.

“She looks like she was beautiful.”

“As beautiful as the day I met her.” continued the old man. “What about you, child? Why are you here today?”

“My mom’s working.” said the boy, putting his head down. “And it’s my father’s death anniversary. He’s not too far from your wife.”

“I’m tempted to say he died on an odd day.” said the old man, “I don’t suppose there’s a right day to die.”

“Your birthday is a good day to die.”

“Is that so?” asked the old man.

The boy nodded excitedly, letting out a little smile, the kind of smile people let when their thoughts are heard.

“You die the day you were given life.” said the boy, “There’s something beautiful about that, don’t you think?”

The old man took a chunk of toast, and threw it on the ground.

“Are you sure you don’t want to throw some?” asked the old man, “The birds will be thankful to it.”

“There are no birds, old man.” said the boy, a little bothered.

“But what if there are?”

“It’s winter. They all migrated. It’s science.” replied the boy, feeling like his sixth grade education readied him for that moment.

“You hear that, Margery?” said the old man, looking at the statue. “The boy thinks I’m wasting my time.”

The boy looked at the old man, confused.

“You know she can’t hear you, right?”

“But what if she can?” asked the man.

“She’s dead.” he continued.

“I don’t see why that would stop her from hearing me.”

The boy looked back at the statue.

“Even if she could hear you, she’s not going to answer.”

The man sat back up, and put the sack full of bread in between him and the boy, and his large hands into his pockets, letting out a sigh that left its mark in the cold air as a gust of water vapor.

“The dead owe us nothing but their silence.” Said the old man. “It’s an unspoken deal we made before we came to this life.”

The boy sat back silently, then decided to go for another walk.

“I’m going to walk around now.” said the boy.

“I suppose this is goodbye, then.” replied the old man, extending his hand out of his jacket to shake the young boy’s.

The boy shook his hand, and walked off, crunching his boots into the snow, towards his father’s grave.

There were no other sounds. No birds. No voices. No crackling of snow. Only the wind passing by, visiting everyone.

“I hope you’re doing okay.” said the boy, looking down at a grave stone marked “Wallace Parnell. Loving husband and father”.

“Mom had to work today, but that’s okay. It’s still a Merry Christmas.”

It was silent again, not even the wind spoke.

“I met this nice old man today. I think you’d like him. Anyway. I gotta get going now. I’ll see you soon.”

The boy walked back to the bench where the old man was. He was gone, but his wife’s statue was still there, as beautiful as she was the day the old man met her. The sack of bread was still where it was, but the bread crumbs on the ground were gone.

He sat back on the bench, and looked at the old man’s wife.

“You look beautiful, Margery.” he said, grabbing the sack, and taking out a piece of toast.

“You’re a lucky woman to have someone that loves you that much.” he continued, ripping a small chunk, and throwing it on the ground.

He didn’t know what else to say to her. Conversations with strangers can be hard, especially strangers that choose to not talk back. He opted to silently sit and throw bread instead.

When the small piece of toast was done, he figured so too was his time. Then a pigeon flew in, and started nipping on the bread.

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