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Forty-one short stories
by Holly Gramazio

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24 down

Why did we have to come here?

Leaves scatter. Something purple flies past, then catches in a tree. They don't want to spend the rest of the afternoon picking through mud and corpses, but the office is closed and the touchscreen lookup outside isn't responding.

"Give it a thump then," Li says.

"It's not a toaster."

"Maybe it is, maybe that's the problem. I bet you didn't bring any crumpets."

Graeme tries again, but it's stuck on the introductory screen. "No," he says.

"It shouldn't be that hard to find, anyway." Li looks out across the cemetery. "Most of the graves here are fifty years old. We just need to look for the new ones. Danielle, sweetie, get down from there, you'll fall off."

"No I won't," Danielle says, and doesn't. "I'm keeping my shoes out of the mud, like you said. Why did we have to come here? You said we were going home."

"In a little while," Li says.

Graeme gives up on the touchscreen and steps down to the map. The plots are sectioned off like museum rooms: Ancient Egypt, Australian mammals, Islamic graves. "Where would he be? One of the main plots? Catholic section?"

Li shrugs. "How would I know?"

"He's your cousin."

"Second cousin," Li corrects. "And I don't even know what a second cousin is. I only met him once. We can probably rule out the Jewish section, anyway, and the Society of Friends. You go north and we'll go south? He's got to be somewhere."

"It means you shared a great-grandparent," Graeme says, but Li's already coaxed Danielle off the wall, and she's heading south. Graeme watches her as she walks past the graves, uneasy, then turns around. Somewhere within shouting distance there's Li's second cousin, one year into a fifty-year lease, freeing up a four-bedroom house that even Li hadn't known existed until she found out it was hers.

Under the pine trees, needles are lying on the ground so thickly that the headstones are almost buried, tips pointing out and names hidden. To the left, where the trees are sparser, the graves look new, so he follows the path and watches flowers start to appear: first a few poppies in a jar, most of their petals rained off, then a daisy, and then he turns a corner and the whole row's overflowing, half a dozen plastic colours on each grave, tulips and roses and strange alien growths of unguessable origin. Pools of real water well in their centres, refracting hard resin dewdrops.

They didn't bring any flowers, he realises. For a moment he squats down by a stock of plastic chrysanthemums and rearranges them a little, wondering whether one or two would be missed, but no, he can't do that. Further down some pink roses have spilled across gravel, so he picks them up and tucks them between an angel's feet.

The wind spins paper down pathways and into bushes, and an umbrella thuds out of a tree into one of the graves. He picks it up. It's patterned with cats, orange and green, and when he pulls at the fabric it tears loose, leaving a spider of metal with ridged legs. He tries folding the cats into a flower shape, but it doesn't work, so when a pinecone falls with the next gust he picks that up as well and forces it onto the end of one of the spokes. A few of the scales fall off, but he keeps pushing, and it sticks. None of the other cones will, though, they're all too hard or too brittle, so fallen leaves go on the next spoke, and the one after that, then he catches an empty chip packet for the fourth.

Footsteps grow loud from behind and he turns around guiltily, but it's only Danielle. "Hello," he says. "Did you two find it, then?"

"No. The graves over there are all boring."

"These are a bit boring as well, aren't they?"

Danielle shrugs. "Mum's are just writing." She's looking at the rose-toed angel, and the flowers. "She said you had more statues."

"Okay," Graeme says. "I'm done here, though. Ready for the next row?" It can't be any of these: too many flowers. If there was anyone else to bring flowers, then Li wouldn't be getting the house.

Nothing down the next path looks likely, or the next. The path after that, the graves are newer, but there's a man in a suit kneeling on the ground in the mud, head in his hands, shaking. Graeme's embarrassed, for the man and for his own casual t-shirt and lack of grief; he hurries Danielle past.

He fills another umbrella spoke with a leaflet for discount air-conditioning, and another with an old bus timetable, and then the last two with more leaves. "What're you doing?" Danielle says, picking up one stone from each patch of gravel and dropping it into the next.

"Nothing much," he says, looking down at the contraption. He can't take it back to Li. He hasn't found the grave, either, so he leaves it on a patch of empty grass, twisting it upended into the mud. The leaves and paper flap and the arms clatter, and for a moment he thinks it's going to spin like a washing line, but the handle's anchored too firmly.

"Should we go and see if your mum's found the grave?" he asks Danielle, and she nods, but when they find Li she's halfway back to the gates, picking her way between overgrown bushes and graves that are far too old.

"It's covered in ants down there," she says. "I didn't find it, anyway. We can come back again when the touchscreen's working."

"I don't want to come back," Danielle says. "I don't want to move either. Amy was good, though, with the flowers in her toes."

Graeme tries the touchscreen again as they pass.

"I bet Amy's house is good. I bet it has cats."

"Don't climb up there again," Li says. "Is it working yet?"

Graeme shrugs. "Doesn't look like it."

"We should leave a note. They'd have a sign out if they knew." She rummages paper and a pencil from her handbag, but when she tries to tuck the note under the office door it blows away, flattening against a gravestone for a moment and then on into the trees.