You, Visitor by Jane O’Sullivan

You don’t like her much, not that you can tell her that. Slugging along behind you, hands in pockets. Sullen as a fish despite the fucking dawn rising over the city, the glory of it. Why can’t I stay here, she’d moaned, eyes slitted, when you’d pulled back the covers. You know why, you’d said. Meaning: your mother warned me about you. Meaning: not on your nelly, you little thief, not my house.


Billy races ahead, cavoodling to his favourite headstones, favourite smells, telegraphing whole other worlds from the wet grass.

Behind you, your shithead granddaughter—how many chances does she think she’s going to get? how many does she think you got when you were sixteen?—kicks the cemetery gate. A clang to wake the rich fuckers in their mansions up the hill. Not just them.

I know why you brought me here, she yells into the wind.

Do you! you want to say, but don’t. Sixteen and slouched by the gate, sneering at a cemetery she thinks she’ll never join. Albert is just a name to her. The foggy concept of a grandfather, an early heart attack. She doesn’t know anything. Not a single bloody thing.

Real subtle, she says, but less sure now. Creeped out, despite herself, and you miss her then, as deep as if she were already dead. That short hair whipping across her face. That bottom lip so like her mother’s.

I’m not stupid, you know.

No. Not that. You made that mistake with her mother, and you won’t make it again. You say nothing. She’s no child, not anymore.

Essie still resented you. Three decades on, and your conversations were still trade talks. Tense negotiations about benefits and ammunition. You know she hasn’t given you the full story. Drugs, but not the bad kind. Things going missing. She’d kept her voice flat when she’d called, but you’d heard the desperation anyway. Felt that old steel again.

It’s only for a few nights, she’d said. I’ll be back as soon as I’ve given my paper.

Albert would’ve known what to say to them both. Everyone had trusted him, every neighbourhood dog too. He’d crouch and wait and they’d come sniff his hands. Tails wagging, the very lot of them.

You used to feel him here, in the cemetery, but now he is nowhere. And you—you still have work to do.

Billy is over by his usual crypt now, the stone walls protecting him from the wind as he hunches and begins to strain. You pull the bags from the pocket of your anorak then and toss them to your granddaughter. She catches them, surprised. And there: that old glint of pride in her own speed. Her reflexes. Her body still remembers.

She stands there, clutching the roll of lurid green biodegradable bags. The wind keeps tugging and tugging. Billy has that drifting look on his face now. Joy and relief. Another winter morning. The small business of being alive.

You can’t be serious, she says.

I bloody am, you tell her, and Billy takes off into the grass, running because it feels good and he knows the way home.

Jane O’Sullivan is an Australian writer. Her fiction and art writing have been published in Meanjin, Passages North, Going Down Swinging, Vault, Flash Art, Art Monthly and Art Guide. Her work has also won the Rachel Funari Prize and Joanne Burns Microlit Award, and been included in the Spineless Wonders anthologies Pulped Fiction and Play. She lives on Bidjigal and Gadigal Land and can be found online at and @sightlined.

strange statue leaning forward in a cemetery
Image by Adam from Pixabay
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