I buried him myself. Deep, in the graveyard of the village where we used to live. It took me the whole of the longest night of the year, shovelling soil in the dark until there was no more soil, and when it was all gone I emptied my library of hard-backed books and brought them there one by one and piled them on top of him and added a few stones for good measure. It took all the books and stones I could carry to weigh him down, because he was so light, as light as bones with his wispy hair and windblown hands and voice that shredded all the words he threw away.

And when dawn broke I went away and shut the churchyard gate on his words and wondered if they would make the grass grow, and I came with the shears and clipped the turf neatly once a week from that day to this; and whenever I was there at dusk and the pink clouds piled up in the west I would remember him, remember how light he was whenever he lay across me; I would feel a pinprick of sensation in my hand and it was enough.

He came back once or twice over the years and flitted off again, but he chooses this day of all days to talk to me, leaning over my shoulder to look at the flowers in their plastic on the path beside the grave, letting his wispy hair flop into my eyes, letting his hands flap against my shoulders, his voice shredding his words into pieces.

'Is there a pulse?' he says in my ear, and dashes off to the far end of the graveyard.

He has on that white shirt with the braille stripe. The double cuffs with no cuff-links hang down below his finger bones, clinging as if they're jointed to them. As if he was an angel. And pointing like one at the flowers.

'Lunaria,' he says. 'Myosotis, then lunaria.'

I stand up. He squats down behind a gravestone.

'I'm alive,' his voice calls out. 'You buried me alive.'

He frightens me for a moment into goose-flesh. But I don't panic, I think about it, I shake my head. He never knew any Latin. He couldn't be alive.

He gets up and there are grass-stains on the white shirt.

'You see?' he says. 'Grass and soil and worms in the soil. The worms kept me from starving. And a lot of books, musty and so heavy I couldn't get up. All those years of smoking. Couldn't get my breath.'

I turn my back. I'm not going to humour him. I'm dragging the brown stems from the vase and they lie like the slime of dead worms on the path. All those years. Smoke and unwashed clothes and a bed stinking of dead flowers.

'Lunaria,' he says in my ear. 'Funny thing about death. Death is good when it's a lid that gets fastened down. Not so good when it's a door that swings and spins you round. Back from death's door, that's me. Question of semantics.'

Now I'm sure. He wouldn't know the meaning of semantics, as I might have said to him once. He laughs, the laugh that was always more than half a cough, that carried him away once too often. I'm clearing up the plastic and dead flowers when he head-butts me from behind and lays me out along the path. The vase rolls away and a tongue of water shoots out in front of my grounded chin and follows it. The water wicks into my skirt, into my knickers, makes me smell like twenty years of water in the vase.

His damp hair flaps on my neck.

'Get your attention,' he says. 'I didn't die. Read the papers. Read the gravestone.' The weight lifts off my back. He was always so light, lying across me.

'I finished all the worms off years ago,' he says. 'I'm hungry.'

I'm getting up and dripping. Dripping water down my thighs, brown veins of it down to my ankles. I turn round and he's mostly bones and slept-in shirt and trousers and no angel in the fingers pressing on my wrist.

'You see?' he says. 'I knocked you down. How's that for a dead trick?'

I get my wrist back. My pulse is pounding like it does when you're very sick and your body's trying to heal itself.

'If you don't talk to me I'll go back out there,' he says. 'I'll disappear but I won't be dead. There must be something better than worms outside.'

I know it's just that he's forgotten. He's forgotten that he died, he didn't go away. He went away so many times it feels the same to him. He used those words so often that in the end just the shreds of them were left to slap in my face. The words and the smoke-cloud that came with them, that lingered for days in the bedroom. That finished him off.

'I'm fed up with this,' he says, twisting to look at the churchyard gate, his white cuffs swinging like the bell-sleeves of a saint. 'I'm getting out of here.'

I shake my head. He can't get out, he knows he can't. Not unless I let him. Suddenly he's behind me again, breathing smoke into my neck.

'Myosotis,' he says. 'You've kept me here against my will. You can't stop me.'

But I know what to do, I've done it so many times before when he was still alive, I can remember. I'm dropping down, away from his words. I'm pulling out the stems of the new flowers and the purple ones especially and I'm racing now, to get them into the vase, into fresh water, before he starts on me again. And I hear something, the creak of the churchyard gate, and I relax, he won't stay around with a stranger coming up the path, already the flapping of those sleeves and hair is lighter, hardly flicking me at all.

'You're dead,' I say to the vase, forcing the flowers into the shiny metal holes, breaking off the side shoots, the stems bleeding green as I push them down. 'Lunaria.'

And I work on at the grave right through the evening, cutting buds and shaping greenery, trimming the words from the grass, while the pulse gets lighter, runs down into nothing, too faint to even be a pinprick when the pink clouds pile up in the west. The purple flowers have to be thrown away, they're drooping, nearly dead already. And I don't look round to see whether the gate's standing open, there isn't any point, I know how to tell when he's gone. Stink of dead flowers in the bed, how I always knew, waking cold and on my own in the morning because he was so light I'd never felt him leave.

© Roberta Dewa 2007
(First published in Staple 65, Summer 2006)