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.