A Shroud Over Me

by Erika Byrne-Ludwig

The moon was high. Its light gazing on the leaves and the earth. I stood up with some difficulty, straightened my spine and threw the shroud over me, like a burqa, white like a sheet. Along the aisles between the graves I started walking. My feet bones knocking against the pebbles, awakening the owls. I walked and walked in my stiff and somewhat clanky way until I found myself near the side window of the small cottage. I tried to tiptoe as the path's gravel crunched under my heels making some unwanted noise.

    I knew this cottage well. It used to be mine. A chimney and shutters. They were still there. New paint was covering the old, the one I had put on myself. Here and there faint smudges remained. To think that I used to open these doors, these windows. Lock them at night. My fingerprints would have been everywhere. I had been part of the furniture, the walls, the family, the many decisions. My spirit at least would still be lurking around the cornices and along the corridors, silently, hiding its face and holding its breath.

    I stood at the window. Through the openings of my shroud, my eye orbits close to the pane, my forehead touching it, I peered inside my home. Oh Robbie, such big hands ... And you, Twiggy, a young woman now ... I'm proud of you. Of both of you.

    I stared at my wife, Linda, serving a roast. He was looking at her, his eyes hovering over her, showing visible contentment. And so did hers. He was the one now performing my duties about the house, talking to my children, sitting with my wife on the sofa, chatting with her. Tonight he'd share my bed with her.

    Would there still be a photo of me on a wall? I couldn't quite see one from here, but perhaps from another room, from my children's windows. Up on the first floor. I walked to the back to fetch the ladder. Their tv on smothered the rattling sound I unavoidably made. I climbed, carefully lifting my feet on each rung. Clumsier and noisier than I once was. Even though much lighter.

    There was a portrait on the wall but was it of myself? It seemed out of focus. While they were all downstairs, I dared to enter through the open window, have a close look at it. Still slightly blurred. Was it because my eyes had suffered the ravages of time under the earth?

    I placed the ladder back, there in the shed. My habitual instinct though made me lean it on the opposite wall from where he kept it. Satisfied, I looked. Yes, it was now exactly where I had always seen it and where I felt it should stand.

    I turned around, my legs clattering a little like castanets but at a much slower pace. The moon was still high, watching me, streaming light on me. My shroud was flapping in the breeze, hugging my bones, defining my silhouette. I walked back to my grave, bared my ivory frame and buried myself with soil and leaves.