A Grave Without Flowers

The two sisters lived together in their tiny cottage, which was nestled in a bed of flowers a little ways from the village. Their parents had long since gone away, leaving the girls in poverty. In spite of this, however, life was not unhappy. They had each other, the soft-spoken young woman and the bright-eyed child; and the flowers they had sculpted into a quaint garden around their home. Every Sunday, the little sister would go out and pick a bouquet, carefully arranging them in a vase that she always set by the window.

Somewhere along a narrow brown path from their house, there was a cemetery. People milled in and out of it to visit their loved ones on every day of the week, but on Sundays it was always empty. It was said that then, the spirits of the dead rose up and walked about amongst the tombstones. So the villagers, born and bred on the superstitions of their ancestors, avoided that cemetery on Sundays.

One day, the younger girl grew ill and died. She was buried in the cemetery the next morning. That afternoon, her older sister came with some flowers she had picked from the garden. It was Sunday. Nobody else was present, but during the earlier days of the week, the villagers had already left flowers for their loved ones. Before every grave, there had been left bouquets for relatives, friends, and even ancestors.

But the young woman looked at the grave next to her sister's and saw that it was bare. No flowers had been left for the person laid to rest in that place.

The girl went back to her sister every Sunday after that to leave a small bouquet of flowers at her grave. She talked to her as well, telling the child how the week had gone and how their garden looked. The girl was not sure that her little sister could hear her voice. Nevertheless, she continued to talk her. She didn't want to think that the little girl would be lonely.

Every Sunday, there were fresh flowers at all the other graves in the cemetery as well, except the one beside her sister's. The only thing inscribed upon the tombstone was the year in which the person had died. There was no name, no date of birth- nothing. It saddened the girl to think that whoever was laid to rest there was remembered by no one. She began bringing flowers every week for them as well.

One day, the young woman saw the graveyard's keeper trudging through the garden. He was cleaning up litter, along with flowers that had wilted by the tombstones. The girl asked him who the grave beside her sister's belonged to.

The old man scratched his head and thought for a moment. "I believe it belongs to a youngish fellow who used to live somewhere hereabouts," he finally said. "From what I hear, he was something of a loner. People said he was a wizard, so they steered clear. He spent most of his time holed up in a shack some ways from the village. They found him lying dead there one day, stretched out on his cot. No one ever found out how he died. No one much cared, either, I reckon. After that, the village council scraped together a bit of money for that tombstone and set him in there." He shrugged and went about his way.

The girl went to her sister's grave with two sets of flowers in hand, thinking. She thought about the house she and her sister had lived in, the house that was now cold and empty. She thought about the long, quiet days that went by with no company. She thought about living in that empty house and through those quiet days, with only herself to fill up the loneliness. Then the girl thought of her little sister and the garden that they had planted together, and how it was always there for her to come home to.

She bent down and laid the two bouquets down at the graves. Then she went back to her empty little house to work in the garden for a while.

The girl and her sister had planted a small rosebush there, just before the little one had taken sick. It was young, but rosebuds were already budding all around it like white stars. However, the people of the village hated that rosebush. White flowers were said to bring ill fortune. But the little sister had loved roses- although she would rather have had them red- and there were no other colors of them to be found. The older girl was sorry about this. While she enjoyed the white blossoms, she knew that her little sister had wanted very much to have some red roses in their garden before she had died. Regardless, the white rosebush was the last thing the child had planted there. It gave the girl comfort to see it every day.

That evening, as she watched the rosebush through the window, she thought about the young man who had been quietly buried in the cemetery.

The next Sunday, the girl gathered up her gardening tools and put them in a bag that she slung over her shoulder. Entering the garden, she bent down and carefully uprooted the little rosebush. Carrying it awkwardly, she made her way over to the empty cemetery and approached the bare grave. The flowers she had left the previous week had wilted and had already been taken away by the cemetery groundskeeper.

The young woman dug a small hole over the grave with her trowel. She set the rosebush's roots into the soil before carefully covering them up. Then she patted the dirt down and gave the plant some water.

When her work was finished, the girl stepped back and surveyed her work. The rosebush looked nice there. She hoped that its presence would help the young man buried beneath it have a more gentle rest.

Under her arm, the young woman had also brought a small bouquet of flowers for her little sister. She laid them by the child's grave, asking how she was. She told her sister about the rosebush; how it had grown lovely since she had gone away. Next she talked about the young man in the grave beside her, how he had lived and died alone and unthought of, so she had planted their rosebush by his grave so he wouldn't feel so lonely. Her little sister would not have minded her doing that. When the girl finished telling her these things, she went back up the narrow brown path and into their house.

The older sister went to the cemetery again the next Sunday. When she got to her sister's grave, there was someone standing in front of the rosebush by the grave. It was a young man. His hand reached out towards the flowers, as though he were about to pull them out.

The girl rushed forward. "Please don't do that," she said in distress.

The man quickly pulled his hand back and looked at her. "I'm sorry." He turned to the rosebush again. "Did you plant this?"

"Yes." The girl blushed in embarrassment, remembering that the people of the village hated white flowers. "It was the only bush in my garden that was small enough for me carry, and I wanted to plant something here. I'm sorry- I know the flowers are white-"

"No, they're beautiful," the young man said quickly. "Thank you. If I may ask, who are you here to visit?"

"My little sister," she replied.

"Ah." The young man glanced at her for a moment before kneeling down to give his attention the rosebush. "She must have been very young, then." Now he looked down at the bouquet in her hands and asked, "Do you come here every week and bring her flowers?"

The girl nodded. "When she was alive, my sister would pick a bunch of them to place by our window. She liked to have them in our house .But she isn't there to see them at the window anymore. So I thought I would bring them here for her."

The man smiled. "That's good of you. Is that why you don't plant a bush at her grave as well?"

The sister shook her head. "No, that isn't it. To be honest, I would like to plant a rosebush here too. But if I were to give a one to her, I would want it to have red flowers. She had these white roses in our garden while she was living, but she very much wanted red roses there as well. So I've been looking for some. There are none to be found in this area, though."

The man nodded in sympathy. "Yes, I know. That's unfortunate."

The girl looked at him curiously. "May I ask why you are here? None of the other villagers come here on Sunday. They are afraid to, because they say that it is when the dead walk about."

The young man shook his head. "I am not afraid of the dead. I came here to see someone, as you did." He hesitated, for some reason. Then he gestured toward the tombstone before him. "Was this also someone you knew?"

"No." She shook her head timidly. "I had never met him in my life."

A look of both surprise- and something else- came over the man's face. He reached out and put a hand under the chin of one of the white roses. "Then, you- why would you plant this? Something so dear to you, for a stranger?"

The young girl was silent for a moment, thinking of how to explain such a thing. She began, "My sister and I were very poor, and we had no friends in the village. But we planted a garden together, and its flowers made us happy. She died and there was no one to go home to, but our garden was still there. I didn't feel so lonely in when I am in it."

A wistful look flickered briefly across the boy's face. "Lonely…" he repeated.

The girl nodded and said in a small voice, "Yes." She cleared her throat before continuing. "Anyway, whenever I came here to visit my sister's grave, I saw that this one next to it was always bare. I asked the groundkeeper here about it, a while ago. He told me a little story- about a boy who used to live around here, until he died all alone. And nobody cared about him, they just buried him here without knowing his name. So I wanted to share some of our flowers with him. Maybe it's foolish, but I hoped maybe—just maybe, it was something I could do to make his rest less lonesome."

The man looked at the girl for a long moment, not saying a word. Then he turned to the tiny rosebush again, speaking softly. "I daresay it will. You've got a kind heart." And then he smiled at her one last time, before pointing towards the grave of the girl's sister. "Look there."

The girl turned around. There was a bush full of brilliant red roses in front of the tombstone. "Oh!" she gasped.

But when she turned again, the young man was gone.

A/N: Will be editted more extensively, hopefully soon.