The funeral was about over. The coffin was already mostly covered by dirt, the sermon was long passed, and what little crowd of people had gathered has trickled away. Wormwood, however, was still here. Most people here only knew him as some neighbour John had had. When describing John, the statements “elderly” and “quite often a pain in the ass, frankly” would usually fall. John had pestered all the younger people about helping him out with chores and the like, and after a month or two Wormwood actually had agreed to help him out once a week, even if it was mostly to get him off his back the rest of the week.
So he tended to the old man’s "garden" (calling it an allotment garden would be generous), replaced the fence or painted the walls, whatever he felt like doing. He was not really needed for the work, although the signs of neglect due to the inhabitant’s old age were visible. No, both of them knew he was there so someone was listening to John rambling through his stories. At first, that was annoying, albeit slightly interesting at times. Wormwood lacked real human interaction at this time, mainly going on business contacts, so this was his way of getting used to mortal relationships again.
John turned out to be a Jackpot, however. He had a sad life, and thus, often was deeply sorry for something he did, sad about how his relationship with his kids turned out or desperate about another one of his old friends dying. Often, he talked about how he was afraid of dying alone. People meeting with him usually guaranteed tempers to flare or similar outbreaks of emotion – a wonderful source of Glamour. Was Wormwood using John? Why, yes, of course. Just like the old man was abusing other people’s pity to load his stories on them. So the whole thing was an exchange of goods, as far as the Darkling was concerned. However, John was basically starved for human contact and deeply, deeply hurt by loss. When the changeling came to realize that, he felt an inkling of a bad conscience. He knew the feeling all too well, himself, after all.
After some time, John had no stories to tell anymore, but that did not stop him from doing so. He made things up, misremembered or changed things, and through doing so made Wormwood laugh out more than once. Soon, he contributed to the tales, and they spun silly stories over a beer. It was not too long, however, before John started to ask Wormwood questions about himself. Not all of them easy to answer. To his surprise and dismay, Wormwood found himself answering most of them. He would often fidget around the topic or straight out ignore a question. In John, he found a patient listener, however.
Sometimes, a whole quarter of an hour would pass in between two sentences, while they sat in the park, played backgammon or chess, drank beer and simply stared out into the world. John was old folk, he knew the old stories by heart, and despite Wormwood’s reluctance and care, the changeling was convinced the old man had understood more of what he said than was intended. Then again, maybe the old jester simply had him played for a fool in that regard.
The last months of John’s life were neither sad, nor lonely. He wasn’t telling stories anymore, either. He was discussing things, both big things that could change a life and little things of basically no import. With whom, his family sometimes asked, fearing someone was out to trick him out of his money (or rather, them out of their -meager- inheritance). Well, to put it in John’s words: “A friend who understands.”
He was not alone when he died.
Wormwood was still standing at the grave, now no more than a patch of fresh dirt. It must have been raining, for despite the sky being clear blue, Wormwoods face was wet.
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