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A conversation with Thomas Hardy in St James Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba

The earth moves when I turn
on my machines, says Danny –
the caretaker. He has a vole problem.
Me, TH, I’m always on the lookout
for new wildlife. Still kicking myself
I missed the skunk roadkill. Voles, Thomas,
are bigger than mice, but slower.
And blind. Folks like to think they’re alone
down there. But I can tell you right now . . .
. . . they’ve all got plenty of company.
Not that I can blame the voles for all
these gravestones being at odd angles. No?
And the vandals aren’t just kids. Take a
decent-sized adult to push over some
of these monuments. Come inside.
You an Anglican, Thomas? . . . Um . . . That’s
okay, they only build these churches
for the bad buggers. You and me, we’re
okay as is. Actually, I just like hanging around
graveyards. I know what you mean
Thomas. And if you were wondering
where all the buffalo went. Well, those
are buffalo skin kneelers . . . OKay. Wow.
They’re bison really though, eh? I mean . . .
technically, aren’t they? Well, Thomas,
if you want to get pedantic about it.
So you poison or trap them? Who? What?
The voles. Oh, no. No, poisons or pesticides
here. Can’t have someone pick up a handful
of dirt to throw at a funeral and then
get sick themselves. No, I just dig
out the dens, lay limestone and re-set
the stones on the level. See, we’re an old
cemetery but we still inter. And last Saturday
there was even a wedding. Fools rang
the bell so hard the grille fell off the tower.
Oh dear. And that’s another thing I’ll have to fix.
I got to tell you, Thomas, the last caretaker,
he wasn’t up to much. Couldn’t even take care
of your average badger. Me, I’ve got
to deal with two of the biggest garter
snakes that you’re ever likely to find,
over in Rows 3 and 10 there. They’re here for
the voles, too. You know I fell in a karst once,
when I was a boy. Being a stranger to
these parts, Thomas, you won’t know
exactly what that is. Well, actually– A karst
is a natural pit formation that snakes come
to breed in. And I can tell you, Thomas, I crawled
up and out of there pretty smartly. Those ones
may not bite. But once you’ve fallen
into a pit of breeding snakes, I don’t care
how hard you are, after that you’re a different
person. I bet . . . I bet. Maybe, Thomas, maybe
that was the making of me? See, I was sent
over from St John’s on a mission. I was there
fourteen years, and they sent me over
here to sort things out. ‘Sort things out,’
they said to me. But I still go back to the cathedral
to take care of the tricky stuff. Like last
Saturday I was there around midnight,
putting some 7 on a hive. Now that 7 is a poison,
but don’t you tell anyone, or else. No . . . No,
I won’t. Good. See, you got to go in the middle
of the night. When the wasps are just crawling
around. Not flying. Not flying, just crawling . . .
You know, I had one guy in to help me here, but
he was on the glue. Don’t do the glue,
Thomas. I’ve kept well away from it so far.
And I’ve got a boy who comes in once in
a while. But you’ve got to be careful, Thomas.
You can bugger a young boy up. Their muscles,
their frames, they’re still forming. You can’t
have them digging or lifting too much too soon.
Well, thanks for the tour. You're welcome.
Come back in three years. I'll have everything
straightened out by then. But hold on, before
you run away, tell me now, is your name
really Thomas Hardy? . . . No. No, that was just me
being clever. I’m sorry. That’s okay, Thomas.
I of all people know that all sorts, all sorts of
folks gravitate to graveyards for all sorts
of reasons. So now I’ve got something else
for you, Thomas. Dug it up just yesterday.
. . . It’s the handle off a drawer? . . . Off a chest
of drawers? No, Thomas. No, it’s not. It’s the handle
off a child’s coffin. Oh, Oh, yes. Of course . . .
Wow. But that’s all I found. Must have come up
from down below. Another generation. And ended
up in the fill. See, it has the two hands there . . . Yes.
. . . The two hands shaking. Yes. See that. Yes. God & man,
two hands shaking.
Johanna Aitchison
Michele Amas
Angela Andrews
Sarah Barnett
David Beach
Ken Bolton
Jenny Bornholdt
Rachel Bush
Mary Cresswell
Stephanie De Montalk
Cliff Fell
Tom Fitzsimons
Brian Flaherty
David Geary  
Bernadette Hall
Kerry Hines
Andrew Johnston
Therese Lloyd
Iggy McGovern
Mary Macpherson
Dora Malech
Vana Manasiadis
Emma Neale
Gregory O'Brien
Lucy Orbell
Zach Savich
Charlotte Simmonds
Marty Smith
Elizabeth Smither
Abby Stewart
Robert Sullivan
Jo Thorpe
Cath Vidler
Louise Wallace
Ashleigh Young

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