A long walk at night was Ben’s solace, a little peace from his world. That infernal house and the constant noise. It made him angry sometimes but he knew anger was bad. His left hand flitted around and around the rosary beads in his pocket. Mumbling hail Marys under his breath.
Walking soothed it. Praying soothed it. He often thought of drilling a tiny hole in the top of his skull to let out the built-up pressure, like steam from a kettle. He needed it. He would spend hours walking some nights. In his old cracked leather jacket and bright orange trainers, ill-fitting jeans that sagged under his stomach. Ben’s right hand circled through his long spindly hair that in turn circled his shiny bald head. He knew they laughed at him. Kids and adults. All of them. Night time was better. His Time.
As he walked down the cobble stone lane enclosed by the high wall of the churchyard on one side and the old stone wall of some fancy house on the other, he felt a safety, a security. He was getting closer to her. The streetlamps hummed softly. The gentle orange glow the closest he got to sunlight.
His peace was broken by a muffled shout. This was the worst thing about his Time. There were others. People who also liked the night. On the weekend so many and so loud that he couldn’t venture out at all. Drink done for them all. He was forced to just watch from his high window. But in the week, the others were different. They had their own missions. Their own reasons to walk. He never looked directly at them. Eye contact led to nothing good. Another shout. Closer this time. Be resolute. He turned the corner at the end of the lane and walked towards the front gate of the churchyard.
The church used to be open in the night. It used to be open all the time. You could go right inside and pray, anytime. It was where he received his first communion and made his first confession to Father O’Malley. In recent years, the other night people started to come there. Sleep there. Then they started locking the church doors. But you could still get into the graveyard, where his own mum was laid to rest. Once he found a man sleeping on his own mum’s grave. He had cried and asked him to move but the man was drunk sleeping. Wouldn’t move. No matter how much he pushed and pulled at him. the next few nights after that there were loads of people there. Police. He couldn’t get in. Couldn’t go near the gate even. Too many people. Tonight was quiet though. He would be able to see her.
Approaching the large black wrought iron gates always felt good to Ben, like a homecoming, the intricate curves and spikes looked nice. When he was a boy he could get his entire head through them, he would play around them as his mum spoke to the Father O’Malley. He entered the churchyard just as a man came running out. The man barged right into him and looked. Looked right at him. Ben looked back. In his eyes. He didn’t mean it. It happened too quick. That happened sometimes. In the supermarket or on a bus. Sometimes if you weren’t careful you could see someone’s eyes and they seen yours. It was scary. He froze, completely still. His arms by his side, looking at his feet. The man didn’t stop he just ran off straight down the road. Ben didn’t know if he looked back or not. He didn’t move for about a minute. Just wanting to be alone.
Mum would help him. she always helped him when he was scared. He remembered when he was little, he was being bullied by a boy in the street. They stole his bike. He was only five. The boy had a knife. What could he do. His sister ran and got his own mum and she had come and scared the boy off and held him so tight for so long that all the badness went away and he didn’t even think of it again that often.
He walked through the quiet graveyard towards her grave. She had a lovely spot. In the middle near the church but also next to a lovely big oak tree. She loved it there but she missed Ben.
He crunched along the grey gravel path and could see her stone now. She would be happy to see him. she would make him feel better too. He’d give her a kiss and it would be ok and he wouldn’t be scared anymore.
A man stood up. He had been hiding behind her tombstone. The man pulled up his pants and trousers. Ben looked at the grass. There was fucking shit everywhere! All over his own mums grave and her stone! The man looked Ben in the eye.
“Alright pal.” He rasped.
Ben screamed a guttural roar. His hands went around the man’s neck. How dare he, how dare he.
Ben held tight as the man lay down. Onto the grass. Onto the shit. He wept as he squeezed. He had never been this angry before. He knew he shouldn’t be, but couldn’t stop squeezing. His eyes moved to his mother’s name on the stone and he let go.
“I’m sorry mum!” still weeping.
They were both covered in shit. It was all over Bens jacket and his jeans. He couldn’t touch his rosary beads. They would get dirty. Everything was dirty. Had to get it clean.
He stood up and dragged the lifeless man to the path and up the steps to the large dark studded doors of the church. The man didn’t have a cross or beads or anything around his neck. Another soul too late to save. You have to try though.
He began stripping the man. He stunk. Not just of shit. He needed a bath. Shouldn’t judge though. There are many less fortunate than us. That’s what mum used to say. He took off the mans’ socks and shoes. And put them neatly on the step. He took off his trousers and dirty hoody. And folded them and placed them there too. Then, once he was naked. Used his t shirt and underpants to wipe him clean. Cleanliness was next to godliness. Once he was satisfied he made sure the man’s feet were together and positioned his arms out at ninety degree. Had to be certain God could see him.
He took the man’s clothes and went back to his own mum’s grave and used them to mop the stone clean. He wiped and wiped until it was as clean as could be. The little green plastic vase of pretty flowers had been knocked over and cracked when he was strangling the life out of the man. Ben straightened it up and took the new flowers out of his pocket. A tiny posy of daisies he had picked himself this morning. Then he knelt next to her and gave the stone a kiss.
“I’m sorry mum.”
It began raining.