This (stolen)

Life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Mick Re­gan

MY work de­pot is next to a ceme­tery and at times, to break with con­ven­tion and bore­dom, I drive through it on my way to the next job. It re­minds me of driv­ing through a small coun­try town, quiet and peace­ful with at­trac­tive av­enues of var­i­ous ma­ture trees.

I no­tice an el­derly, small, thin woman retriev­ing some­thing from the back seat of her car, which is parked by the side of one of the many nar­row roads. I stop the truck and she un­steadily makes her way to­wards me. Ev­ery­thing she wears is black: dress, hat, sun­glasses and shoes, ex­cept for brown ban­dages on each wrist.

‘‘Do you work here, be­cause I need to talk to some­one,’’ she says. From the ac­cent she is a nonna — an Ital­ian grand­mother. No, I re­ply. She is in some dis­tress and be­gins cry­ing. ‘‘Some­body has stolen my vase; you know it has been there for 12 years.’’ She stops weep­ing and be­gins talk­ing again. ‘‘I don’t re­ally need the walk­ing stick you know, but I haven’t been well and I have asthma and I bruise easy, that’s why I got these ban­dages. And now I can’t clean the boys’ graves and my other son won’t help me, he says he doesn’t want to come to this place and my hus­band is buried on the other side of the ceme­tery.’’

I ask her the name on the head­stone. She says she doesn’t like to tell strangers her per­sonal life and then says: ‘‘Agostino! And their graves are just over there.’’ She points to a large head­stone on which sits a bunch of plas­tic yel­low flow­ers. ‘‘Who would steal a vase?’’ the nonna asks, ‘‘and it’s their an­niver­sary next week.’’

She starts cry­ing again. I’m be­gin­ning to think, ‘‘how I can con­sole this old woman’’, then I tell her I have ac­cess to a large rose gar­den and next Thurs­day I’ll pick a big bunch and leave them for her boys. ‘‘Will you?’’ she says with a hint of sus­pi­cion. But it’s good, be­cause she tells me roses are one of the few flow­ers she’s not al­ler­gic to. With her spir­its lifted, what she says next takes me by sur­prise. ‘‘You look like that man on The Farmer Wants a Wife. You know that show?’’ I tell her I’m aware of it but rarely watch TV. Does this bloke that looks like me get a wife, I ask? ‘‘Yes,’’ she says tri­umphantly. Well, it’s def­i­nitely not me. I’m not so lucky.

The fol­low­ing Thurs­day I pick a bunch of 15 roses of five dif­fer­ent colours. I ini­tially panic. I for­get where the bloody graves are, but I find them. My hor­ti­cul­tural eyes spot the yel­low bunch of flow­ers.

I care­fully place the roses in the new vase at the base of the smil­ing faces of the Agostino broth­ers. There is a piece of pa­per ask­ing, ‘‘Please do not steal this vase.’’ I smile at the soft­ness and sin­cer­ity of the mes­sage. It also oc­curs to me this is the first time I have laid flow­ers for any­body, and I won­der what hap­pened to these two young men.

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