At the time they lived here, the average age of death for women was around 25, can you imagine that? 25!
She could see that was true. She only had to walk along the first row of graves, Sycamore seeds helicoptering to the ground around her, and she could see that was a fact. And, no, she couldn’t really imagine that. 25 was such a beginning, how could it also be an end?
So, you’ve got them all buried in the vault in the church, you can’t visit their actual graves or anything. The 2 sisters, Branwell, the mother, father, and the 2 younger girls who died early before the ones we know better got started. Only Anne isn’t here.
Anne was the lucky one, she thought. She was buried on a cliff top with the raging North Sea beside her and the wild open air all around her. She thought most about Emily here. She supposed that was a cliché, but she couldn’t help thinking about Emily being cooped up in the vault beneath the church. Didn’t she love the open air? Wouldn’t she have wanted to be closer to nature?
You’ve got to remember how bad sanitation was at that time here. You know, excrement ran down the street, the very street you’ve just walked up, imagine that. There were no sewers and people lived in such crowded conditions, disease would have been everywhere and it didn’t care how young you were.
Most of the graves she passed also had the names of infants chiselled into the stone. 6 years old. 10 months old. 3 years and 5 months.
And the Bronte’s lived right there. They were actually better situated than many, certainly better than anyone who lived further down the street, because, as if it wasn’t bad enough, decomposing…matter was seeping into the water supply from the grave yard…I mean, little children drinking the water…
She felt suddenly as if she was stepping on these people’s lives. Stop it. It was bad enough that this had happened, that any of this had happened. She stopped when she got to the end of the row. So many young lives, so many lives that never lived. And Emily, encased in stone in the family vault with no earth around her, the land separated from her. Then there, at the end of the row was a gravestone flat on the ground, broken in 2, with a tree literally growing around it. The tree had found a way around the stone, had found its way to reach up and live, despite being born so close to death. Where the bark met the grave stone it lipped over it like steam from a covered pan. The tree had become part of the stone and the stone was attached to the tree now. Neither could break free of the other. They were tied, and the tree had grown so tall and old, the broken stone a memory at its roots. She thought Emily would have liked that.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
To read the first page of Orange Balloon, see a sample illustration, or purchase direct, please visit our shop: