Two Paths Diverge in a Cemetery by Lily Bland

Jun 28, 2023
Two paths diverge in a cemetery. 

One slopes down to the cafe, and a thinner, dustier path heads upwards, deeper into the cemetery. Feeling lonely and wanting, perhaps even needing, to delve deeper into that feeling, I isolate myself from the dog walkers, the couples and the visitors all treading that wider, brighter path to the cafe and back. And I walk on up the hill, alone. 

I find a tiny path between rows of long-unmaintained graves. A blackberry bush has grown over some in a tangle with other plants I can’t name. I can just see a faded date on the pale grey stone behind thorny stalks, 1817 or 1812 maybe. I don’t know if that’s when they were born or died. Does it matter, all these years later? Nobody thinks of them now, I bet. 

I pick a blackberry, careful to avoid the thorns. It’s sweet. I expected sour, for some reason, but it’s really sweet. And juicy. A small mercy. Best thing that’s happened in days. Maybe that’s going too far, but it’s something. 

I carry on, walking forwards, now under a natural veranda of trees. I don’t know what kind. I breathe in fresh air. I feel lighter, I realise, than when I chose not to go to the cafe. Was the sweet berry all it took? I guess it reminded me it’s not all bad, for the living. 

I think about what to do for the rest of the day. I shouldn’t just go home. I have spent so much time at home. Basically the whole of August. In the dark, too. Well, once I ventured out into the garden (with a cap and sunglasses, of course). Within minutes, the dark spots appeared, dancing. Dizzied and disappointed, I groped my way back inside. Another time, bolstered by a full day’s remission, I thought I was well enough to take out the bins. Only the bins! But they defeated me, and the rest of the day was spent with curtains closed, eye mask on. I lifted it rarely. When I did, it was with squinted eyes to feel my way to the bathroom or change the podcast. Any time I looked at my phone screen, it hurt like a bitch. Sometimes it felt worth it. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes I didn’t get to choose the pain. 

If the doorbell rang, a light chinked in through the gap under my eye mask, or I moved my head a millimetre, agony splintered through my skull like an arrow. And the next day? Best to lie in bed. The boredom was better than the risk of it happening all over again. If I was feeling really ambitious, I could move downstairs to the sofa. The curtains weren’t blackout there, and letting even the sheathed light in was a risk. There, I could watch the TV on its dimmest setting, its quietest audible hum, until I felt more confident and perhaps opened the curtains or tried to go to the shops (cap and sunglasses on, of course). Then the pins and needles might start again in my right hand. Often I’d think I was imagining it, because I dreaded it too much, but then I’d feel it in my right cheek too and half of my bottom lip. Mission Go-to-the-corner-shop failed, abort, abort. I’d walk back quickly before it got worse, before it spread to my leg and the too-bright day turned into Vincent’s Starry, swirly Night before my eyes. 

But I digress. Today is a different day. A better day. So far, anyway. Not in the dark. Look at me, three days migraine-free. I can do what I want, not necessarily alone. Second day in a row going out of the house! Yes, it’s a good day. I think I’ll text a friend or my mum if they don’t respond. She’s been very good. Bringing shopping over and not minding that I stay in bed. She’ll let herself in and help herself to a cup of tea. Then I won’t feel so guilty. Maybe someone will be up for the cinema. There will be something on; there always is. I’ll take my sunglasses of course, just in case. Nobody will notice in the dark. I text a few friends to see if anyone’s free at this short notice. 

I turn around, go back the way I came, by the same blackberry bush. I strain to see another date on another grave. Died 1952. Wow. That’s quite recent, really, to have been left to nature and forgotten about. But I don’t hear him complaining. I smile at that, in spite of myself. Poor thing. I reach to pick another blackberry before rejoining the main path. I pick a big one, its juicy nodules straining between my fingertips as I pull it off its stalk. I walk on, back to the main path, and pop it into my mouth. Sour! I wince, looking for another to replace it. There are no blackberry bushes overhanging the main path. I realise that I’d only seen them between the graves. 

A disgusting thought pops into my mind. The long-forgotten bodies are the fertiliser. This stays with me like a chilling cold for the rest of the walk. When a friendly couple nods at me at the fork in the path, I wish more than before that I was alone. I walk home, and when I get in, I leave the lights off. Maybe tomorrow will be different. Better. But not today. Nobody replied anyway.

Lily Bland

Lily Bland



Lily Bland is an enthusiastic reader and new writer (and less enthusiastic lawyer and migraine sufferer) from Bristol. 

IG @booksandbristol

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