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The Ministry of Lost Beliefs

By Janey Street

When Agnes appeared, they were in the Memorial Gardens at the edge of the cemetery and all the gravestones looked very small. The Idea That The World Is Flat was leaning up against one of the rose trellises, thinking, while Double Denim wistfully made his way through an uncooked Danish Pastry. Everything was calm and still – until a girl pulled up in an inexplicably white Saab, making a song and dance of her parking job before getting out and walking past. The Beliefs went completely rigid, staring at her with open mouths.

“Listen up, mate,” said The Idea That The World Is Flat.

“What’s up?” said Double Denim.

“This could be it. She could be the one.”

Double Denim sighed. This would be their third Occupation Try in less than a week; The Idea That The World Is Flat was getting desperate. This often happened with Category A Beliefs. Double Denim had only been in cemeteries since the 00’s, but his friend had been floating around the headstones looking for someone to occupy since the 3rd century BC.

 “All right, then,” he said. “What’s the plan?”

 “We’ll follow her and stop her just behind the Underwood vault, ok? It’ll hide us from everyone else. I’ll occupy her first, and then you can try to follow me. Capeesh?”

“Capeesh,” said Double Denim, sighing as he licked the excess jam from his fingers and got to his feet.

*

Agnes was awake at six and at the cemetery for seven. In England the graveyards crawled with ravens but in New Zealand it seemed everywhere she looked, there was another mysterious bird. So in that moment before the sun had even bumberwhacked the hills, she stood listening to  a couple of tuis shuffling overhead and smiled. Bea had described their little noises and calls so well once; ‘sounds like a bag of chestnuts dragging a grandfather clock up a hill,’ she’d joked, and Agnes had laughed and laughed all afternoon, the smash-patterns of Bea’s Glaswegian vowels going jangle jingle jangle in her ears. 

She’d woken up that morning hugging Bea’s oversized black hoodie and Googled ‘karori cemetery wellington is there a car park’  before reading this:

Karori Cemetery is New Zealand’s second largest burial ground, covering nearly 40 hectares. It was the final resting place of about 83,000 people. The cemetery filled quickly and by the 1950s had nearly reached maximum capacity.

It was only once she was there and walking around that ‘maximum capacity’ seemed like an understatement. She delved further into the cemetery from its north-west entrance, ogling the headstones and statues which were vying for space amongst the footpaths and lanes connecting them. They were spilling over the hills, a jumble of granite, marble, moss and lichen. But it was in the Roman Catholic section,  as she waded through shards of gum tree bark and stepped carefully over wrecked stone angels, that she finally reached the right headstone. 

Here lies Dorothy Mercedes Trash,  she read. Who died restfully at Mount View Lunatic Asylum aged 38 years and 6 months, Christmas Day 1907. Gone but not forgotten.

Her plot was tiny and in shadow – it neighboured an enormous vault with sandstone columns and a smattering of bereft-looking marble cherubs which were guarding a bolted blue door. Across the top of the vault, in lettering which looked almost regal, was the family name ‘UNDERWOOD’. Agnes felt for her camera without looking down, kneeling beside the vault to examine the resting place of her great-great-grandmother. It was strange to know that Dorothy was the closest thing to family she had in the southern hemisphere. Then Agnes’ phone began to vibrate, and  she coaxed it slowly out of her pocket with clumsy hands, blinking back tears.

UberMSG: Congratulations! Your friend Paul wants to be an Uber partner. Both of you can make money when you apply here: bit/ty0932. Txt ‘NO’ 2 cancel.

Not having a friend called Paul, she texted ‘NO’ and placed her phone back in her pocket, feeling lonelier than ever.

*

The Idea That The World Is Flat clicked his teeth and let out a low moan. “For Christ’s sake,” he said, “I really thought she’d fall for that.”

“A spam text from Uber?” asked Double Denim.  “Poor effort. Look, there’s a reason they only give us one way to communicate properly with them, and it’s the worst way ever.”

They were standing on either side of Agnes, having just watched her vigorously text the word ‘NO’ back. 

“I’ll be back in a minute,” said The Idea That The World Is Flat. 

“Where are you going?”

“We need Capital Punishment – she’s great at texting. Just give me a second.”

“Ok. I’ll wait here,” said Double Denim. He sat down with his legs crossed, leaning against the Underwood Vault, and watched as his friend trudged wearily down the hill in the direction of the Greek Orthodox section. It was hard to stop thinking about how much he missed his two best friends, Flared Trousers and Accepting Lollies From Strangers. But alone and idling the phone between his hands with reverence, he suddenly had an idea.


*

Agnes was still kneeling in front of Dorothy Trash’s gravestone taking pictures when her phone vibrated again.

BTTRHELP: Need Help Now? Feeling Lonely? Try COUNSELLING by Online Chat So You Can Get Happy! 100% Private Environment, 1 MONTH free trial. TXT ‘YES’ 4 details.

The tuis had appeared once more – they were watching her from the vault, all flashing feathers and dawdle-calls. She paused for a second, thinking about Bea and how every street in this  city seemed to bring back memories of her. The way Agnes’ thumbs tapped ‘YES’ back through the screen felt almost mechanical, unreal.

*

After five long and drawn-out minutes, The Idea That The World Is Flat returned with Electrocuting Depressed People (Normally Women) and Blaming Gay People For AIDs. Capital Punishment was on holiday in Utah and hadn’t told anybody.

“You’ll never guess what’s happened!” said Double Denim as they reached him. His feet were tapping on the ground and his hands were shaking.

What’s that, little man?” sneered Blaming Gay People For AIDs, who, as a Category F idea, was always quite snooty. “Let me guess. You’ve finally learned how to text?”

There was a brief pause. Agnes was looking at her phone and The Idea That The World Was Flat was trying to read it over her shoulder.

“She replied yes to me – just like that!”screamed Double Denim, his eyes orby balls of dream-filth as he hastily packed up his possessions.

The Beliefs were silent as they watched him flurry around. The birds were silent, too, for the most part, so that Double Denim’s short, excited breaths bashed gently against the headstones and off the crowd as they gathered to watch. Somebody, somewhere, opened a bag of marshmallows with a gentle pop, and the perennially drunk Smoking Isn’t Bad For You hiccupped. 

“It’s been a wild ride, pals,” Double Denim said when he’d finished packing up, feeling his body fall into a kind of curtsy as the gathering crowd of Beliefs watched. “And I bloody hope I don’t come back. See you on the flipside, bumblefunchers!”

And with a little bang – followed by the sound of an 80mph gale raging between the gap in someone’s front teeth – and then a modest pop, Double Denim cascaded into the mind of Agnes and disappeared.


Janey Street hails from Bristol in the UK and worked as a bookseller for many years before moving to New Zealand. She has just finished her first book, ‘Au’, which she wrote for her MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is also the co-editor of  Turbine | Kapohau 2019. 

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