• They met on a sunny day for tea.

    George arrived first, which was convenient, for he was responsible for bringing the folding table and chairs, as well as all the food. Had the other arrived first, things would have been different. Profuse apologies would be necessary. George would cite traffic, a faulty alarm clock, anything that would make his tardiness a more polite affair.

    But the traffic had been smooth, his alarm clock had worked just fine, and George was not tardy. As he waited for the other, he pushed the table into standing position and bullied the flimsy lawn chairs into sitting position. He spread a tablecloth over the affair and started to lay out the food he had brought. First came the thermos, still warm, full of tea. Next came a half dozen plastic bins stuffed with the other’s favourite foods – deviled eggs, potato salad, coleslaw, and the like. George wasn’t fond of anything save the deviled eggs, but he had brought it all for the other.

    George wasn’t terribly hungry anyway.

    He set the last plastic utensil into place and stood back to admire his work.

    A gust of wind blew over one of the folding chairs. George sighed and picked it back up, sitting down in it so that it would not blow away again. When he looked up, he jumped.

    The other had appeared. George had not heard him approach nor had he heard him sit down. He held a hand to his chest, feeling his heart beat beneath his ribs.

    “Goodness me, Martin,” he chuckled lightly. “I didn’t hear you sit down. You gave me quite the fright, old friend.”

    Martin said nothing. He didn’t even blink in reply. Unfazed, George twisted the top off the thermos and poured two plastic cups of steaming tea. He slid one over to his old friend.

    “Drink up,” George said, tapping his cup to Martin’s.

    George sipped gently and picked up one of the deviled eggs.

    “Lovely day, isn’t it?” he said, turning his eyes to the sky. His silent companion only stared. But that was okay. George had grown accustomed to his friend’s silence. Ever since the accident, Martin had been steadily more reclusive and silent.

    But George didn’t mind. Company was company, and he hated to be alone.

    George spooned coleslaw and potato salad onto a paper plate and placed it in front of Martin. He split the deviled eggs between them and sat back, watching a flock of sparrows fly overhead.

    “Eat up, Martin, my wife made that food special for you,” said George. “She thinks I’m crazy, you know, having tea in the outdoors with you. I think she’d rather you came to visit us. Eating outside is such a messy affair, after all. But it is a lovely day. It’d be a shame not to take advantage of it, don’t you think?"

    George munched on an egg. Martin seemed not to notice the food or his friend and stared at something very interesting just over George’s right shoulder. George sighed, but it was more of content than exasperation.

    “Oh yes. A lovely, lovely day to spend with friends. I saw your wife at the supermarket the other day. She looked tired and sad. I know your cat is ill – you two must be worried. You’ve had Snowball since your daughter moved out, haven’t you? Such a sweet little animal. Such a shame that you might have to put it down. The worst luck always befalls the best of things.”

    George closed his eyes and bit into another egg.

    “The worst luck always befalls the best of things,” he repeated, slower and quieter.

    His eyes snapped open and his head snapped up. Martin still stared just over George’s shoulder, unmoving and silent.

    “Eat up, old chap, my wife didn’t spend all morning slaving in the kitchen for nothing,” he said, nudging Martin’s untouched plate. “If you don’t watch out, I might just have to steal your deviled eggs from you,” he joked with a wink.

    Martin did not respond. George took another sip of his tea.

    “What a beautiful thing life is, dear Martin,” he said. “Everything is so full of beauty. Babies, trees, the sky… even death. Death is beautiful. Most people will say otherwise, but I believe death is the most beautiful of all. Celebrate mortality, I say. When you think about it, eternal life would be quite a bore after a time.”

    George closed his eyes again and ate his last deviled egg.

    “Eat up, eat up,” he murmured. “My wife worked hard to make this, you know.”


    George’s head snapped up again. Martin was gone. He looked left. Coming up the hill was a man in a purplish-grey jumpsuit, a pair of hedge clippers dangling from one gloved hand.

    “Sir, what are you doing?” the man asked.

    “I am having a tea lunch with my friend,” George replied. “He was just here a moment ago… did you see him leave?”

    “I saw no one,” the other said. “Sir, you can’t have lunch here. This is a graveyard, not a restaurant.”

    “I know,” George said, glancing down at the table. The other watched him with a raised eyebrow.

    “My wife worked hard to make this food,” he said after a pause.

    “Excuse me?”

    “My wife made this food,” George repeated. “I was going to share it with my friend, but he seems to have left without touching it. ‘Tis a shame – it’s a lovely day to spend with friends.”

    The other took a step back. He was beginning to fear this man was crazy.

    “Would you like to eat with me?” George offered.

    The other’s eyes widened.

    “If you’re not out of here by the time that I get back, I’m calling the police,” he said, and disappeared down the hill.

    George sighed.

    “The worst luck always befalls the best of things,” he said. He stood and began to repack the food and furniture.

    When it was all set, he looked down at the gravestone the second chair had been straddling. It marked the final resting place of someone named Martin Sanchez.

    “The worst things always befall the best of people,” George said. “Goodbye, old friend. It was good talking to you.”

    He picked up the table and chairs and disappeared down the hill.