New Deer is a classic example of Andrew Collins’ “Shire Gothic” work and regards a changing rural Aberdeenshire.
Claire McInnes didn’t remember laying the flowers on the grave. They weren’t there the last time she came up to the little cemetery on the hill above the village. That was only three days ago. She hadn’t left them. His parents were down in Edinburgh. His brother was in Australia. It was well past the point where friends would come and see him. Where had they come from?
The unfamiliar presence on the grave had thrown her. She stood well back, seemingly afraid to approach too close, as if she was interrupting something. She searched the graveyard for an answer to this riddle, but, save for the crows in the skeleton trees looming high above, she was completely alone. The air fresh from its flight across the fields to the north told of a coming snow, and silence reigned but for the laments of the birds. She was vacillating between more emotions than she could keep track off. One moment she felt she ought to turn and come another day. Another she felt sick with anger that someone else had intruded on her mourning. She could cry as easily as she could dash those flowers to bits on the hard ground. But what was provoking these feelings? Did flowers left by another on his grave really have to be suggestive of anything? Why had she jumped to such hurtful conclusions?
She breathed deeply, letting the frigid air into her lungs, momentarily numbing her cares. She took a couple of steps forward and noted the flowers; they were your typical supermarket fare; did that mean anything? They lay carefully on their side, diagonally across the grave. His simple stone, standing forlorn above, spoke of a life cut cruelly premature, spoke of a man so dear to a mother, father, brother, and wife. Now who was encroaching on this? She reproached herself for being selfish in grief. She didn’t have a monopoly on his mourning; for he was a good man, much beloved by friends and colleagues. Why couldn’t she allow for this? Did it not say so much more about her own self-esteem that this unexpected sight was challenging something in her?
The sight of the flowers was becoming more and more egregious to her. She felt incensed by the sight of carnations, she wished to trample the roses into the spiteful earth. She checked herself, she was clearly overreacting. She gazed down towards the village, seeing the languid plumes of smoke from the chimneys, she could smell the peat that was so indicative of this time of year.
Suddenly it was if someone had pricked her heart. Or her conscience. She felt as if she could cry again. But not for herself. But for this soul who had gone to a supermarket, picked out an eye-catching bunch of flowers, paid for them, remembered to remove the price sticker, travelled to this hushed placed, and lain them on the grave of someone who clearly had meant something to them. There was something so precious in all this, and she, this brute of a woman had wanted to destroy this token of someone’s loss. Someone trying to find whatever catharsis there was to be had in this sorry state of things. She wanted to know who this was; who had cared for her husband, who took the time to let him know, wherever he was, that he wasn’t forgotten. She wanted to commiserate with this kindly stranger. She wanted to wrap her arms around them and weep; for him, for them and herself.
She crouched down and doing so caught the first faint zephyrs of fragrance. It was a scent that entered and coiled around her comfort, she felt at peace, she felt connected to someone, to a nature that grew such beautiful, elegant expressions of emotion. She saw a little envelope.
Feeling as if on the other side of a door to a place she could find resolve, or greater pain, she hesitated. Was this a line? Was this definitely an intrusion into the heart of another? Did the mere fact it was her husband in the earth below permit her to look; to see what another offered to console, to balm? She could feel the turbulence of her bile shaking something in her. Those precious feelings were now cloying. She began to resent again, to question, to feel an entitlement. She quickly snatched the envelope, for fear her pique was about to throw the flowers over the wall onto the empty lane behind. With some care she removed the card from inside. The sound both soothed and rankled.
Its outside cover had a simple picture of some pink roses; she tried desperately to reclaim that empathy she’d had before, she felt this rancour to be most unattractive. But it was difficult; she was afraid she was about to find something crushing inside. Not fully understanding why she raised the card to her nose; nothing, or was it? Could she smell something, something perfumed; her mind was no longer cooperating.
Clearing her throat, as if she was to project aloud the contents, she opened the card. It read simply;