Gone Lawn
a journal of word-things
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Gone Lawn 55
strawberry moon, 2024

Featured artwork, Lost for Words, by Andrea Damic

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June Gemmell

Under the Leaves

It’s peaceful here under the decaying leaves. I lie still and think of you. Moss is my pillow, last year’s leaves are my bed, and I draw them around me like a fine lady’s gown. Some of their colour remains, the last flush of life still clinging on. The older leaves are thin, reduced to veins and gauzy whispers, like me. I hide here alone, where mortals don’t bother me.
I miss you.
I remember the warmth of your hand in mine. I had the notion that when we held each other I would disappear into you. I didn’t know where you ended and I began. You stole away to meet me. Up here by the ancient oaks.
I think I’ve been here a long time. Years don’t mean anything to me now. I wait for you by our tree, the one where you first kissed me. I sing to myself to pass the time, although my voice has become thin and reedy. The magpies and rooks tilt their heads. Maybe they can hear me, maybe not.
Sometimes mortals come this way, but it’s never you, not yet. Occasionally, dogs sense my presence. They bark until their owners pull them away. I’m not scared, their sharp teeth cannot bite me now, but their noses sometimes tickle.
I squeeze into the smallest spaces, between tree roots, behind lichen-covered rocks. I fold myself down, down until I take up no space at all.
You used to dance with me here. One two three, one two three, waltzing with your hand on the small of my back. Then you spun me around until we fell to the grass breathless. You used to tell me you loved me. Until you got called up for the war. I said I would wait.
And I have. I stay here, near the edge of the village in sight of the graveyard. I watch the church, the funerals, lines of black cars, people with heads bowed.
Sometimes I dance, alone now, when the moon shines and the soft owls hoot above me. Under my toes I can feel the percussion of the earth. I sway to the beat. My toes point and flex, cool on the damp ground and I lift my arms up to the pale light. They are still there, my limbs, although they become more translucent with each year that passes, thin shadows now. I have no weight at all. When I jump I spring upwards to the tops of the trees, spinning the mist around me like a veil.
You came back from the war, eventually. But I was no longer in a form you could see. A dark night and a black car moving too quickly and it was all over. A dull thump on the bonnet. My body like a sack discarded by the roadside.
Some nights I sit in the branches and watch the stars in the vast dome of the heavens. On a winter’s night I hear the sound they make, cracking ice, shattering glass. My oak tree makes its own sounds too. The creaking of ships at sea, old timbers settling down for the night. Trees move, they don’t stay still, you know.
If I stay here any longer, I’ll become part of the tree, the soil, the black earth. You’ll need to come to me soon.
At home there was never enough money to go around. I would keep my one good dress, my Sunday dress, to meet you. The lilac one with the white lace collar.
In the green hush of a Sunday morning, I listen for the church bell and watch the villagers. It’s a different minister from my day, taller, insect-thin. I saw you when you came back from the war, so handsome that if I had a heart it would have splintered into a thousand pieces. I saw you with a woman I didn’t recognise, copper hair reaching to her waist, reflecting the sun. Before long there were small children running at your feet.
Time passes. These days you walk more slowly, with a limp.
I spend my time in the woods watching goldcrests flit through the leaves and make myself look pretty for you. I have strung a necklace of acorns and made bracelets of primrose and sweet violet. The scent of pine needles and bluebells goes wherever I go.
I check the graveyard for newly dug spaces, the deep scar in the earth waiting for a body to be lain to rest. I float down at night when no one is around and touch the wreaths left behind. Sometimes I take one or two flowers for my hair. I like silky white lilies best. They have their own, otherworldly glow. I read the gravestones. It's never yours, not yet.

But when it is… when it is, I will sink down into the rich brown earth and I will slip into the coffin that holds you, and I will embrace you and I will whisper in your ears. I will sing the songs we both knew and you will open your hazel eyes and I will hold your precious face in my hands and I will say it’s okay, its okay, I’m here.

June Gemmell is an editor for Loft Books anthologies. Her short stories have been published by Gutter Magazine, Loft Books, Razur Cuts and the Edinburgh Literary Salon, also Short Story Today and Yorick Radio Productions podcasts. She is working on two novels, one adult and one for children. You can find her on Twitter @june_gemmell.