Fiction Feature – Churchyard

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I’m convinced that people who live in Stratford-upon-Avon shouldn’t be allowed to get married. This is not to consign all the residents of Shakespeare’s hometown to lives of sin, but rather to protect tourists who, like me, want to see Shakespeare’s tomb in Trinity Church.

I have only one day in Stratford at my disposal to see the sights in the daytime and “The Tempest” in the evening. On the plane from Vienna, I had studied the internet printouts and planned the whole day chronologically: to begin with Shakespeare’s birthplace, and to end with a pilgrimage to his tomb in a chapel in Trinity Church.

Trinity Church is surrounded, not surprisingly, by a churchyard. All gravestones there are very old and very mossy. Gravestones should be dry things, representing the dead with permanence, to make up for the quick dissolution of that which lies beneath. They should stand fixed, immutable. But these stones are covered with some kind of green scum, no doubt living matter, crawling all over the names and dates, eating away at that which should by rights be sharp, clean and dead.

The wind blows droplets from the Avon against me. I want to get away from all these damp, dead people I don’t know. I need to get into the church and see what I came all this way to see: Shakespeare’s nice, dry tomb.

I walk through the yard to the oak and iron door of the church. There is a wedding party on the path between me and the entrance. I ease past the celebrants to see a piece of computer paper taped to the door. In an unassuming font it states, just as calmly as you please, “Closed for wedding. Re-opening tomorrow 9:00 a.m.”

The church door opens and out comes a priest in black robes. He motions to the wedding party and they move around me, ignoring me as though I were one of those rotting tombstones. One by one they enter where I cannot go.

First goes the brazen bride in her unseemly spaghetti straps. Is that any way to dress for a holy day? Then, her bunch of cherry-coloured, simpering bridesmaids, each wearing far too much perfume. Their fumes must have been etching away another few lines off these already maltreated stones. Finally the groom and his men go in, still barking at some unseemly joke. Doubtless they all derive their living from tourists’ pounds such as I have spent today. They waltz into the sacred presence, while I, to whom they owe their very livelihood, remain outside.

There is nothing for me here, the outsider, the foreigner, the tourist. My love for Shakespeare won’t buy me entrance. But these lusting unworthies, they will go in and leave with the priest’s blessing, to go forth and bring more of their loathsome kind into the world, to spread like moss.