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Memorials by Clare Lewis

This story is to remember Gertrude Stewart who planted a tree on 18 October 1909

Somebody once said to me that no-one dies until their heart knows where it wants to be buried.  If I am feeling morbid, it makes me scared that my heart doesn’t know this yet.  It twists and turns with all the choices.  Sometimes it thinks it wants something solidly English. But then it flirts with Russian orthodox chapels, Syrian mosques and takes a walking tour of Highgate. Venues have been marked in and crossed out of my will, until there is a ridge of tippex and now white freezer labels. I have to be very careful crossing roads and ascending steep stairs, because my heart so resolutely refuses to let itself be pinned down.


I remember being let loose from church, and playing in a graveyard that Rupert Brooke himself would not have been ashamed off. Ancient graves in a picturesque village. The kind where bankers live. No weeping angels here. Just solid, square, English headstones, where we would run after Sunday school, looking for the babies and the people with rude names. At least the boys would run, I had to be careful, because my Mum would have killed me if I’d smeared my pretty lavender and white chiffon with moss.


Then I went to Paris on a school exchange and ate baguette with that grated cheese that tastes like wine, perched on a bench in Pere Lachaise cemetery. I felt exquisitely misunderstood and sorrowful for the lives of Oscar Wilde and Colette. Somewhere though, I thought that they deserved more than Pere Lachaise, with the trooping tourists and the smell of car exhaust pipes.  So, this was how people died in towns, stacked up on top of each other in a cramped dirty space. Now I knew why we‘d been told not to drink the water from the taps. No-one wanted to die in Paris.


At university, my heart thought maybe it had found its home. A churchyard sheltered from the ocean by the ruins of an ancient cathedral. Me and my friends would picnic by the plaques of notable Victorian men. We would drink champagne and read Keats and make expansive toasts.  Fat frowsy cabbage butterflies darted over the speedwell, offset by the deep blue of the sea. Nothing could be a perfect as this. But then someone remarked how strange it was that, on such a day, none of us were in love. And by graduation, I knew my heart would never go back there, living or dead.


I visited limestone villages in the Mediterranean heat, bodies piled into tombs like safe deposit boxes. Terrifying impromptu shrines, on busy curves on catholic roads, decked with candles and plastic flowers. Islamic graves, spikes, pointing up towards Jannah. Tombs of the rich and famous in the Blue Mosque, Notre Dame or Westminster Abbey, where I befriended an ancient verger, who, each Thursday evening would take out a slender pocket torch and show me hidden treasures, a tiny monkey chained to the wrist of a medieval lady. My heart thought that the Abbey was a bit too grand. And it didn’t like the way that the stones in Prague fell over each other in a drunken heap either. Or the geometry of death of the clipped rows of white by the Somme.


Not long ago, I thought I had found it. A secret garden, perched on the hills of a Mitteleuropa city where Catholics, Orthodox and Jews lived happily besides a Balkan gangster, his granite tomb like the side of a spaceship. We would visit on Sundays and walk down the colonnades, straight from an Edwardian country home, and admire the limestone angels, weeping gently onto ivy and laurel. Yes, I thought I had found it, until I went on all saints, following the trail of flickering candles carried by the mourners of brothers, mothers, lovers. And my heart saw that my own hands were empty. There was no-one here for me to grieve, so I hid behind the President‘s tomb to watch the procession.

I travelled back to where the village clock always stands at ten to three. If I wanted to, I could tell the children, lately freed from a christening, dressed in ridiculous ruffles, the best places to hide. I could tell them about the secret place where we used to bury our small pets. I can describe the precise way to ascend the cherry tree which is next to the lynch gate, although I am not so sure of the route back. But these children will have been warned not to speak to strangers, so I leave. My heart keeps looking for the perfect place, so perhaps I am immortal.