Grave Goods

by Bayveen O’Connell

My father was a grave robber. How my mother tolerated his hands on her I’ll never know. He brought her corpses’ jewels as courting gifts. Faded rubies and dull gold—he just dusted them off. Sure, what use had the dead for them? He stripped rich folk of all their valuables and carted them off to the back entrance of Surgeon’s Square to meet his man and get his few bob. 

But the graveyards were hard to wash away, he took the smell of them into our lodgings with him and left it there. High, meaty, musty rot; I could taste it on my tongue after the broth, I could feel it crawling across my face as I tried to close my eyes for slumber. 

“It’s money,” he snarled if he caught me shrivelling my nostrils. 

“Aye, and what if one of your cohorts lifted our Ivan?” I minded him of his son, my little brother, taken by the fever. 

“They wouldn’t,” he shook his head. 

“Wouldn’t dare get in ahead of you,” I snorted at him. 

Rattled, he reached into his pocket and produced a shoulder of spirits. 

“Hush,” Mother said, more of a gulp than a word. Pale and wasted, she shook, “I carried him, bore him, nursed him and buried him. There’ll be no man of science plucking at him on a cold table while I live.” 

My gaze met my father’s over the only thing we both loved. Of all the gems my father gave my mother, none compared to her only lad. 

“I swear Maggie, Ivan still sleeps where we tucked him in, on that wee patch behind Canongate Kirk,” he sealed his promise with a swig of whisky. 

And I wished I believed him.

Bayveen is often adorned in a cape. David Bowie visited her in a dream set in her Granny’s house a week before he died.
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