The Victorian graveyard hadn’t had a new corpse in years. Moss frosted every gravestone, and ivy strangled the railings.
It was also the quickest walk to work. I must have sauntered down the central path two thousand times on the way to the office. On the two thousandth and first I spotted the palm tree.
Those famous shredded leaves and serrated trunk seen on so many tropical holidays had no place in a frozen, urban graveyard in mid-December. Spreadsheets and phone calls started in ten minutes, but the temptation to get closer was too great. Frosted leaves caught on my brogues, but under the tree it was Mediterranean. Somewhere birds called, their tune from an unfamiliar species.
And though deadlines and quotes needed sorting by ten o'clock, I loosened my tie, and squatted against the palm, suddenly tired. The bark was rough against my shirt, the ground underneath warm, almost sandlike.
Sweat daubed my brow, and my shirt was unbuttoning before I realised it. For the first time, I spotted coconuts on the branches, brown and hairy like the carcasses of large spiders. How did they grow in such cold climes? A sea shanty played in the background.
The graveyard was around me, but also very far away. Words and images scored themselves into the trunk, running up the branch, across the leaves, down the bristles of the coconuts. Sailor tattoos of skulls and anchors. Great wooden ships, waives battering at the sides. Mermaids frozen on branches. Hidden islands in the swirling ocean, beaches a thousand miles long.
The rapidly cooling face of my watch declared the time to be three in afternoon. My world was sauna hot, my clothes as damp as sea water. I crawled away from those images, that music. Back to the tundra of the path, my breath an icy cloud.
Tiny snowflakes spiralled down. Somewhere birds cried, and sea shanties played. Each flake within the circle of the palm tree melted on impact, churning the ground to mud, building an island amongst the tombstones and the dead.