We were standing in line, shivering. The sky was cigarette smoke-stained, like the ceiling of an old pub, and the mid-December sun was wearing a balaclava. The road behind us was anxious, bracing itself for the oncoming school run and rush-hour pounding.
“Surely this has got to be the biggest waste of life,” I said.
“What, queueing? Oi, we’re British, I’ll have you know that we are the most accomplished queuers in the world. I think some of us secretly enjoy–“
“No, not queuing in general, I mean this. Surely the most ridiculous way to waste one’s finite hours is standing around like a fucking lemon in the freezing cold waiting for the groundskeeper to come along and unlock the cemetery gates.”
“Haha, yeah, it’s like we’re waiting to go somewhere that we’re going to go to eventually anyway.”
“No, it’s just stupid.”
More people joined the queue.
“He’s got the right idea, look, he’s got a fucking flask of hot tea! Look!” you said.
“He’s obviously a seasoned cemetery-goer, we’re just rookies.”
“Yeah, we’re just amateur mourners.”
“I need to roll a cig but I don’t want to take my gloves off.”
“I’ll do it for ya, hang on.”
“Here, what time do you reckon that old dear who sells flowers here starts work?”
“Not at 0700 hours in the middle of winter, that’s for fucking sure.”
Then an old boy behind us piped up and said,
“The old dear that you’re referring to passed away a fortnight back. She sold flowers here for over 40 years, God rest her soul.”
“Oh shit, sorry, that’s terrible. Is she buried in there then, seeing as she worked here for so long?” you said, waving my half-rolled cigarette towards the land beyond the gates.
“No. Wood Green.”
We smoked in silence, looking at the empty deck chair by the gate where the old dear used to sit when it was sunny, reading her TV magazine and waving people in and out. In the winter she sat in her car with the radio turned up really loud until somebody knocked on the window to purchase some bedraggled carnations.
“Come ON, where the fuck is John, if he’s not here in the next 2 minutes I’m going to get the bolt cutters from my van.”
“I feel like I’m queueing for a nightclub, except this place don’t do drinks deals and the atmosphere’s dead. Geddit? DEAD. HA.”
We decided to huddle like penguins but my hands were so numb that I dropped my rollie in the snow and you called me a knobhead because that was your last filter.
Then the old boy behind us suddenly became part of the penguin huddle and said, very slowly and very seriously,
“Don’t you find it incredible that someone somewhere in the world, on this planet, at this precise moment in time is making bread from scratch?”
“Yes, right now. Making bread. Somewhere. Remarkable isn’t it?”
I could see an insensitive joke about bread and brown bread and being dead forming in your brain and before you could process it I said,
And then John the caretaker appeared with his inordinate set of keys and you said, “Thank fuck for that,” and we ran away from the Bread Man and the Dear Dead Old Flower Lady and into the arms of everyone’s future.