Andrew Taylor

Waiting for Mr Right

The Spectator Christmas short story

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I live in a city of the dead surrounded by a city of the living. The great cemetery of Kensal Vale is a privately owned metropolis of grass and stone, of trees and rusting iron. At night, the security men scour away the drug addicts and the drunks; they expel the lost, the lonely and the lovers; and at last they leave us with the dark dead in our urban Eden.

Eden? Oh yes — because the dead are truly innocent. They no longer know the meaning of sin. They never lose their illusions.

Other forms of life remain overnight — cats, for example, a fox or two, grey squirrels, even a badger and a host of lesser mammals, as well as some of our feathered friends. At regular intervals, the security men patrol the paths and shine their torches in dark places, keeping the cemetery safe for its rightful inhabitants. Finally, one should not forget to include Dave and the woman Tracy, perhaps in a special sub-human category of their own somewhere between life and death.

In a place like this, there is little to do in the long summer evenings once one’s basic animal appetites have been satisfied. Fortunately I am not without inner resources. In my own small way I am a seeker after truth. Perhaps it was my diet, with its high protein content, which helped give me such an appetite for learning. In my youth, I taught myself to read. Not for me the sunlit semi-detached pleasures of Janet and John. My primers were the fruity orotundities of funereal inscriptions, blurred and sooty from decades of pollution. Once I had mastered my letters, though, I did not find it hard to find more varied reading material.

We live, I am glad to say, in a throwaway society.

It is quite extraordinary what people discard in this place, either by accident or design. The young prefer to roam through the older parts of the cemetery, the elderly are drawn to the newer. Wherever they go, whatever their age, visitors leave their possessions behind. Litter bins have provided me with a range of periodicals from The Spectator to Marxism Today. The solar-powered palm-top personal organiser on which I am typing this modest memoir was abandoned among the debris of an adulterous picnic on top of Amelia Osbaston (died 1863).

I have also been fortunate enough to stumble upon a number of works of literature, including Jane Eyre and Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Charlotte Bront