Nothing happens in Minute

Nothing happens in Minute

The rusted gate of the graveyard creaked as I pushed it open. I felt out of place. As if I was disturbing the sleep of those who were buried there. I literally tiptoed across the grass. I knew it made no sense and I realized how ridiculous I must have looked, yet I couldn’t help myself. In a few more steps I should be standing in front of the headstone I needed to see.

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No one would blame you if you have never heard of Minute or have no idea where it is on the surface of the earth. But I was born and raised here. The earliest records of the town indicated my forebears several generations back moved from across the country and settled here. Why Minute of all places, you might ask. Unfortunately, it is just one more thing no one in the sleepy little town knows anymore.

It is said that the only exciting thing about Minute is the name. How did you pronounce it in your head? “Minute” as in a division of time, or “minute” as in small? Even the citizens no longer agree as to the correct pronunciation. One thing is for sure, the town is stuck somewhere in the last century and it is certainly small. Don’t get me wrong. We have water and power. We even have Internet access but that is as far as it goes. A few folks know what Facebook is about, fewer have actually used it. The town’s name made for all sorts of jokes. A favourite of visitors is to call any man from town a “minute man” and the fact that we are so few does not help either. But the citizens have grown a thick skin long ago and you will hardly find anyone take offence at the tasteless joke. The worst thing that might happen to you is to end up paying for a round at the local bar on main street. A few decades earlier you might have ended up in the city jail or left with a few missing teeth. But the police station closed down shortly after Chief Jameson died (he was the only policeman in town) and the jail went with it. I think we appreciate what little out of town visitors we get now that we are willing to tolerate a little unruliness.

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I met Karl on the first day of school several decades ago. In a class of 10, the pickings were small and we ended up fast friends over the years. I was quiet and he was boisterous. Together we still got into our share of troubles. But nothing major in a town where doors lacked locks and you could have a warm meal in any house you choose with no eyebrows raised – because of course, you knew at least someone in every house, and if not, someone is bound to know you anyway.

Karl got married to his high-school sweetheart right out of school while I got married to my farm. The happy ending didn’t quite happen though. Not for either of us. My farm barely survived not to talk of the dreams of riches I had, and the lady (I refuse to mention her name) ran away with a farming equipment salesman that came through town in a shiny Ford Thunderbird. It broke Karl’s heart into a thousand pieces. I didn’t see much of him after that. Not for lack of trying but he just couldn’t get over her. I could never be sure, but I think on some level, he blamed me for how it all went south. The salesman came in on a particularly blustery day and would have moved on but I wanted to see what he had to sell. We got to talking about farming in general, and by the time we were done, it was too late for him to leave. When he didn’t leave the next day I just assumed he wanted to take it easy for a few days in a quiet town. Karl and I drifted apart gradually after she left. I still saw him around town every once in a while, and we would stop and talk for a minute or two. But it was always awkward. I think we both thought about the same thing but neither would broach the subject. Then out of the blues, I got a hand-written letter from him a few days ago.

 11th of January, 2017

Hi Andy,
I need your help. You know how I usually end up at the graveyard on our jaunts across town. I haven’t been there in like forever, but I was feeling particularly out of sorts last Monday and one thing led to another and I found myself there. The place looked so quiet it felt like I was intruding (for the first time). But I had to go in. The gate creaked loudly as I pushed my way in. I went from headstone to headstone reading the inscriptions and imagining the life the person led while he was alive – as you know I usually do. I must have got carried away because I didn’t realise there was someone standing next to me until he spoke. It turned out to be Mr Jackson, you know, the old gravedigger.

“You know. I have heard of people leaving on the same day they arrived, but this is the only case I know of for sure. He was dead well before my time of course. And little is known about the family. They are no longer in Minute. I believe they shipped out shortly after he passed on. The story was never clear but something dark happened back then.” He said.

I looked again at the headstone and realised I had never seen it before. Yet I am sure I have been to that corner of the graveyard before in the past. I did a quick calculation and realised he was the same age as us when he died. I was about to move on when it struck me that I shared the same birthday with him. That set my heart racing for some reason. Then I realized his initials where exactly the same as mine – Kristopher Butler – K.B. I pressed the old man for more details but he had told me all he knew. I didn’t sleep at all that night and was at the city library well before Mrs Fiona Adkins came to open it up as usual. I didn’t find much information there either. She told me the fire of 1964 destroyed several of the city’s documents including some of the census and other historical records.

I went back home and I must have fallen asleep at some point. I had a dream that I was back at the graveyard. But the headstone was laying on its side and someone had opened the grave. Then the next minute I was lying on my back in the grave and someone was shovelling dirt on me. I couldn’t move! I tried calling out to him to stop but nothing came out of my mouth. Then he stopped briefly when someone called out to him. I could have sworn it was Mr Jackson and the name he called out was the name on the headstone. The fellow was definitely our peer, but his clothes though neat looked like something my great-grandpa would have felt totally at home in. I thought he had stopped for good, but then the voice said “never mind, get on with it.” He turned round and started shovelling dirt into the grave again. I was soaked in sweat when I woke up screaming.

I have not slept now for several days. Do not bother to come to the house until you have done me this favour I ask of you. Please go to the graveyard and look for the headstone. It is in the upper east corner as you make your way into the graveyard. I want to know if I am crazy or not. Until I am sure, I have decided not to leave my house until my birthday has passed. I have this sense of foreboding that something dreadful will happen on that day. I am rationing the food I have and I think if I skip a little here and there, I should be able to make do. I shall not step out of the house till that day is over and I shall not attend to anyone. But I shall be looking forward to a letter from you. If you still consider me a friend (which I have not been to you since she left), you will go.

Your friend in desperate need,
Karl Bridgewater

I never did understand his fascination with the town’s graveyard. Personally, I didn’t see the point of going there to “visit” people who had died long before my parents were born and the ones you really did know were still too fresh to be too painful. But I couldn’t abandon him now in his hour of need. I would go. But it took me two days to get up the will to finally leave my house.

I stepped out and it felt as if the wind intended to lift me up and blow me away across town. And it was unseasonably cold. Don’t get me wrong, it is cold all year round in Minute so I am used to the cold. I decided it was the wind that set my chattering by the time I had walked a dozen yards. And I still had two hundred more to the graveyard.

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I came to a standstill in front of the same headstone Karl must have stood looking down at a week or so ago. Everything was as he had said in his letter. The days and the initials matched his. His birthday was in a week from today. And that reminded me that mine was in another month or so after his. Frankly I didn’t know what to make of the whole matter. I was still there when a voice woke me out of my contemplation.

Andrew Inglewood is it not? I think the last time I saw you was at Margaret Townsend’s wedding. Must have been all of 15 years ago. Yep. I think I am right. I thought maybe you had moved away. You know a lot of folks did back then.” He said.

I thought for a second and then nodded.

“Strange headstone, right? You are the second person looking at it this week. Karl Bridgewater was here a few days ago. Didn’t you boys run together at some point? He was quite fascinated by it and wanted to know if I knew anything about the lad that is buried there. Unfortunately, I don’t, but I suggested he might check at the library. You know, for birth records and maybe some old newspaper from back then might have survived. If there’s anyone that knows more about this town than I, it is Fiona Adkins. Should have been Fiona Jackson though. But she was fire and I was tepid water at best. I had no chance. Well, that’s what she said anyway. I guess I proved her right.”

“I think I should be moving on. The knees won’t take much more today.”

I said goodbye and he had shuffled a few feet away, when he suddenly stopped and looked back. “You know, I did a little bit of work around here after Karl left and I found the strangest thing. There’s another headstone just a few yards away on the other side of the walkway facing west. Same stone, very similar to that one. In fact, the fellow buried there died just about a month after this fellow here. And wait for it, wait for it, that’s not even what got me. What really got my attention was the fact that he also died the same day he was born. Same age as this lad here actually. So I got to thinking what sort of coincidence is that right? I had it in mind to go see what Karl found in the library but my knees played up especially bad that week so I let it go.”

My heart was racing madly. There was one question on my tongue but I couldn’t open my mouth to ask. My jaws were clenched together and my throat was dry. It was as if he read my mind as he turned around and walked away.

“You might take a look at it if you like. I believe the name is Arthur Inkwater. You can’t miss it.”

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NB: A different kind of grave-robber: I imagine I “borrow” silent stories. (05-Mar-2017)

Three Months

Three Months

I was in downtown. Feeding a flock of pigeons at some random park I had wandered into.
A much older man came to stand beside me. I looked his way and he gave a slight nod with a smile on his face. I smiled slightly as I nodded back.
“I hope you don’t mind if I bothered you a little.”
I looked his way again and with a little shame I must admit my mind registered quickly that he was very well dressed and looked in no way like a druggie or destitute.
“You see. I have only 3 months to live. Cancer of the prostrate.”
I noticed now that he was sort of pale and quite lean as well. But still his “lines” started like the opening gambit of a “con”. But I didn’t have any “real” money and I was off for the day so I didn’t have anything to lose.
I wasn’t sure what to say to him after the “Sorry” I muttered quickly.
“Nah. That’s ok. I am cool with it. I am actually luckier than most. I had time to empty my bucket list.”
I went on feeding the pigeons and he went on standing by my side. I could tell the uncomfortable silence was from me as he looked completely content just standing there.
“If I could impose a little on you. Coming from a stranger, It’s a strange request I know but I thought I would ask all the same. Do you think it would be possible for you to arrange for a headstone for me?”
I glanced over and my mind was still processing what he had said when he went on quickly.
“Please. I will cover the cost for the headstone. It won’t cost you a cent. I really couldn’t tell you why at the moment. And yes, I do have a family.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. Yes or no or maybe.
“Please say yes.”
He dipped his hand in the pocket of his jacket and brought out a cheque for several thousand dollars which he handed over with a business card.
I couldn’t actually do anything else but accept the cheque and the card from his outstretched hand. The card indicated he was a lawyer. He was obviously one of the partners in the firm. I stood there with the cheque and card in my hand.
“Oh. You can put those away.”
I hesitantly shoved them in my pocket.
“How do I actually know when you … and where the grave will be.”
“Oh. That’s easy. I should be dead in about 3 months. You can call in to my office around that time.”
“By the way, I would really prefer if you use Mark’s Marbles over on 53rd and 4th. They do an excellent job. Besides, Mark is an old acquaintance.”
“Em. Ok.” My mind was still not fully decided on how to proceed.

“You know I fed those pigeons for quite a while in the past myself. It’s actually a way to relax and get your mind off everyday stuff for a while. Besides, this place won’t be the same without them.”
“Hi guys. Why are you back so soon?” He said to two young guys in suits who suddenly appeared and stood about three yards away.
He turned to me and said with a smile “My minders. I guess it won’t be nice if I just keeled over in public.”
“Well. Young man, it’s a pleasure.”
He extended his hand and I shook it.
“Ok boys. Let’s go.”
The two guys fell respectfully to either side of him.
My mind was in a blur as I watched him go. I wasn’t sure of what it was but it seemed I needed to say something.
“Hi Sir. Why me?”
“Well. If you are kind enough to feed the pigeons, I think you will remember a small request from a tired old man.” He said with a smile.
“What should I put on the tombstone?” I asked.
“Anything you like. Maybe some part of our conversation today. It doesn’t really matter. It was lovely making your acquaintance. I should say see you later but we probably won’t meet again. At least not in this life time. Be good!”


I kept the cheque safely under some clothing in my room. I tried to put the matter out of my mind but every few days I would remember the old man, the cheque, and the request.

Fast forward three months or maybe more appropriately go forward mentally excruciatingly slowly three months.
I made the call.
“Hi. Oh yes. So sorry. He passed away a couple of days ago. It was peaceful. There is a remembrance service for him on Saturday in case you would like to come.” The voice on the other end of the line said.
I wondered what would have happened if I had called two days earlier. But I had kept making the call literarily to the day three months later.
I went for the remembrance service. The church was full. Several of his associates and friends gave short eulogies. No one cried as far as I could tell. Lots of smiles and back pats. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to “enjoy” a remembrance service.
I thought briefly of trying to make contact with some close member of his family. But I couldn’t think of what to say to them that won’t make be sound like a con man or some nut job.
He had indicated that a week or so after the burial should be about right to go place the order for the headstone.
So one sunny morning, I took a short break and found my way first to the bank to cash the cheque and then on to Mark’s Marbles.
It appeared they were expecting me.
I was ushered into the inner office of a gentleman I suspect would be about the same age as the dead lawyer.
A brief exchange of pleasantries during which I discovered he was “Mark” and it was on to business. He asked me to tell him about my encounter with the old lawyer in as much detail as I could remember.
I did.
“May I see the money?” He asked.
I handed over the cash. He barely looked at it. Instead he looked at my face curiously for a while. He tapped the edge of the bundle of notes in his hand on the table. He appeared to be thinking.
Then suddenly he dropped the money on the table. Pushed it across to me.
“That’s yours.”
I indicated I didn’t quite understand as the money was meant for the headstone.
“Don’t worry about it. He got a headstone shortly after his burial. You can go look for yourself.”
“Also”, he said as he pulled out the top drawer of his desk.
“This is for you.”
He handed over a cheque.
I took the cheque hesitantly. Something was not quite right. First I didn’t have to order a headstone. Second, I got the money back. Third, I am getting a cheque?
I couldn’t believe what was written on the cheque. Same figure as the cash I just got back but with four extra zeros tacked on behind it.
“Is this real?” I blurted out.
“But of course.”
“He had a sense of humour, a large heart and the way he saw certain things changed a lot towards the end.”
“It’s all yours. Looks like a lot. In fact it is a lot of money. Invest it wisely. But just as important, don’t be a slave to it. Enjoy yourself. You will be surprised how easy it is to lose something like that. I guess he mentioned his bucket list to you.”
I nodded in the affirmative. I was lost for words.
I got up to go. But I couldn’t help ask a couple of questions that came to my mind.
“Do you think he gave this to many people?”
“Yes. Ten I believe. His social experiment.”
“How many have been claimed?”
“Two including you.”
“The more interesting question is how many of the original cheques have been cashed.”
“How many?” I couldn’t help being inquisitive.
“Seven as at the last count.”
“If the money isn’t claimed in six months, it goes to some of the non-profits his foundation supports.”
“I don’t believe I will be seeing any of those other five, but one can always hope. Also there are still three others out there.” He said with a smile.

“Feel free to come around at any time. I can’t guarantee any world changing advice but at least you can benefit from not repeating certain mistakes I made in the distant past.”

He offered me lunch but I declined. I needed to be alone to process what had just happened to me properly. Besides my stomach was in no state to absorb anything. I promised to talk to him soon though.

I sat there in the dark and thought of the old lawyer. I remembered his face and the last thing he said as he walked away with his “minders”:

“I should say see you later but we probably won’t meet again. At least not in this life time. Be good!”