The man was very old and very frail. Yet he was tall and only slightly bent. His hair was pure white and thinning, but he still had a lot. It curled softly on the collar of his thick, furred jacket. It was easy to see that the man, for all his wrinkles and the obvious ravages of time, had once been strikingly handsome. His face still kept faint traces of its long-past beauty when he smiled, as he was doing now. And his eyes, of the deepest blue, still held some half-forgotten fire. In his youth, he had often been described as ‘smoldering’. This could still be applied to the ancient man who stood, motionless, at the foot of the grave.
The man looked thoughtful and introverted. As old people do sometimes, and younger people in times of grief, he began to speak softly to himself. Or was he addressing the oblivious inhabitant of the plain, undecorated tomb?
“We’ve had a good life together, Ray. More years than I would once have thought possible. And yet I did not have enough of you, of your companionship, of your love. I had you for such a short span of time! Only fifty years… And I sometimes dream of our first kiss, and I feel young all over again… Then I wake up to this ruined body, and the empty place in the bed where you used to be. Where you’ve been for the most meaningful years of my life.”
The man shifted from one leg to the other, leaning heavily on the cane that was not merely and affectation, as it had been some years before, but a true necessity. All his life since he sustained it, he had suffered intermittently from the knife wound in his back, the one that had nearly punctured his lung. Now, the ache was almost constant, had been for some time. The more so since Ray’s death, three months and a half before.
Bodie was thankful to whatever deity existed for the way Ray had gone. Since after they retired from their job as joint CI5 controller, years after Cowley’s death and the not-so-surprising decision he had made of appointing them both as his successors, Ray had been suffering from heart weakness. His doctor has diagnosed a cardiac disorder partly due to the strain Ray’s heart had endured when Mayli Kuolo had shot him. The problem had never been very acute, only an encumbrance, worsening ever so slowly – until the day where Ray’s heart abruptly stopped beating, and there was nothing to be done. Bodie consoled himself with the knowledge that his lover had not had time to suffer. He just faded out of life like a light – one moment smiling at him and leaning against him as if to rest, the next limp and forever gone. The worst had been to take the necessary steps for the funeral. Bodie had felt as if he could just wait besides his friend’s body until his own turn came. But reality intruded, and the old man found the energy to arrange for everything, to send word to their mutual friends, and to attend the funeral.
He did not even feel sad. There was a sense of peace and finality in the neat, unadorned grave. The name and dates, and a very sober inscription – the one Ray himself had chosen. And, under his lover’s name, the place where Bodie’s own name would be written when his day came.
The inscription, oddly, was one which had its roots in Bodie’s past. Till death do us join. Ray had loved the ambiguous phrase, and had told Bodie that he wanted it on his grave – on their grave. They had been able to live openly together only after they retired. Until then, their liaison – they privately thought about it as their marriage, had had to be hidden from the public eye. In death they would be forever together. The notion had not even implied any sadness or morbidity. They had discussed it as they would have any other arrangement, like where to take their holidays or what brand of washing machine to buy to replace the broken one. All their friends knew that they wanted to be buried together, and it was in their wills.
“It feels odd, Ray. I always thought you’d outlive me. I don’t know why, since I’m younger than you. Maybe I did not want to think of what I’d do after you were gone. Now I find I don’t have anything left to do, except come here and talk to your grave and long to be with you. The young man who brought me here – god, he’s fifty-five, Ray, but how young he seems to me now! – is waiting reverently in the car, not wanting to disturb an old fool’s ramblings. And yet he respects me, as he respected you, the previous controllers of CI5. After he’d replaced us, he could have gone his own way, forgotten about us. But he has not. We taught him all he knows, all the tricks he’ll need to survive and remain sane when heading this madhouse! And only one of him, where it took both of us… But then Cowley knew that none of us was complete without the other. Our weakness, maybe, but our strength too. We kept the fort twice longer than Cowley, and that is as it should be, for we halved the responsibilities and strain of the position. How long will young (yes, young) Mathiesen last? He’s strong, but he’s a man alone. You and I, Ray, were never alone after Cowley’d partnered us. Even before we became lovers, all the years we were only partners and friends, we were no longer islands. I’m not an island now, but I feel like dead wood, floating on the surface of the sea, going nowhere at all speed…”
The man straightened at the cost of an additional pain in his back, and went to the headstone. There he bent forward again, carefully, painstakingly, and lightly stroked the graven name.
"I won’t come here again, Ray. Not until I’m back for good to stay under the ground with you. It shouldn’t take very long. I am so very tired…"
The man remained lost in thoughts for some more minutes; then he made his slow, faltering way back to the car where the controller of CI5 awaited him. A man no longer in his prime, yet a young man compared to the very old man who, together with the late Ray Doyle, had been his mentor and spiritual father. Two men who had not fathered children of their own, but helped make the world a slightly better place for other people’s children. Or so Mathiesen believed – had to believe, to do the job he did, as these men before him must have believed too.
When they had chosen him for their successor, a lot of years before, and began to groom him for his task, they had made the dangerous choice of telling him the truth about them, feeling that total confidence was needed if this was going to work. Robert Mathiesen, who had never felt a twinge of lust for another man, had envied them nonetheless – their rapport, the communication they shared, the way they simply existed together. It had seemed so natural that the revelation had not even surprised him – it was as if he had always known.
When he saw the old man return slowly to the car, Mathiesen went out and opened the door for him. He was worrying for his old mentor, and so was very surprised to see an expression of total calm on the weathered face. The still-young eyes were full of an inner light that seemed to spread out to encompass the world. Bodie murmured his thanks as Mathiesen helped him settle on the passenger’s seat. Understanding that some kind of peace had been made, and that no other words were needed, the controller of CI5 turned the ignition key and negotiated the curb which led out of the cemetery.
Somehow, he knew that the next time he’ll visit the place, it would be for Bodie’s burial.
And the prospect held no sadness, only a sense of wonder. For who knows what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil?