Festival of lights
CAPTION: Installation by unknown artist in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington Midsummer Festival circa 2000.

Festival of lights

“A cemetery?” she echoed. “That doesn’t sound very romantic.”

Paul grinned and shook his head. “Not just any cemetery. Abney Park is proper old. Victorian. Hidden bang smack in the middle of Stoke Newington.”

She shrugged. It still didn’t seem her sort of thing. “Well…”

“It’s like a little oasis,” he plunged on. “Trees and flowers and wildlife. Though you probably won’t see many birds.”

“Why not?”

“It’ll be too dark.”

She pushed him away. “Paul Shimerman, I’m not going into a graveyard with you at night, no matter how charming you think you are.”

“Don’t worry,” he laughed, “there will be lanterns and torches and things. It’s their annual event, their Festival of Lights, their Day of the Dead celebration.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be at Hallowe’en?”

He frowned. “Um…”

They’d been discussing what to do on their weekend together. Their first chance to steal more than the dregs of an evening and a night’s fractured sleep from their nine-to-five grind. Only, it wasn’t nine to five, was it? Not with the commute and the stern looks if you didn’t stay at least until six. Despite ending up back at his on their third date and him back at hers on the next two, she still wasn’t entirely sure she knew this smooth skinned boy. She certainly hadn’t expected a cemetery to be his idea of fun.

“So, there will be other people there?”

“Lots,” he said.

She couldn’t decide whether to feel relieved or disappointed. “Ok,” she muttered, “But you’re going to have to treat me to a slap-up pub lunch before.”

The meal had been a mistake. Or, rather, the amount of wine consumed had been. A shared bottle with the roast had turned into a second to while away the hours until the sun set. And now here they were, stood before the closed gates staring into a dark shrouded park, the evening sky just bright enough to silhouette the ink-black trees.

“I thought you said it was supposed to be lit?”

As if on cue, white globes appeared in the trees, picking out a path into the cemetery, to appreciative “aah!”s from the expectant crowd. Two hi-vis jackets loomed from the dark, somewhat destroying the magical effect, cranking open the gates and calling out: “Tickets ready!”

“You had to pay for this?” Carol hissed.

“Oh yeah, it’s very popular. Gets booked up months in advance. Don’t worry, my treat.”

He leant in for a kiss that she parried on her cheek.

As they shuffled forward–into the gloom, away from the warmth of the pub–she wondered if she should make a break for it. But by then they were through, the throng thinning out as it made its choices of left, right, or straight ahead.

The white globes, she saw, were helium balloons, mostly lit from below, but some lit from within; a host of low flying moons scraping the tops of the gravestones. LED lanterns marked the edges of the path and somewhere in the distance something flickered. Ghostly sounds drifted towards them.

“C’mon!” he pulled at her arm, “let’s see what that is!”

They found themselves at a chapel, patterns of lights projected onto the high spire in time to the music. A pop-up gazebo hosted a little cash-bar and clusters of people stood around vaping scented clouds.

“Want anything?” he offered over the thumping bass.

She shook her fuzzy head. “Can we… can we find somewhere quieter?”

“Sure thing!”

He seemed far too full of himself, of the joy of the event. As the music deadened behind them, she peered down various turnings, some lit, some dark. “How big is this place?” she asked.

“Oh, pretty big. Easy to get lost in.”

She shook her head, feeling it spin. They were in the middle of London, how could you get lost?

“There are only two exits,” he explained. “The one we came in and one on Church Street. So it’s a bit like a maze. You have to find your way to one of those to escape.”

Ahead, a line of lights crossed the path. The unbroken darkness beyond indicated that this was as far as they should go. Only, Paul didn’t seem to get the message.

“We don’t have torches,” Carol hissed.

Paul pulled out his iPhone. “Don’t need one,” he said, engaging the flashlight.

She chewed her lip. “I’m staying here,” she said, half expecting him to step back over the line. Instead, the rectangle of white bobbed further away. He’d only gone a couple of paces and already the iPhone was the only bit of him she could see.

Now that she wasn’t moving, it began to get cold. She thought again of that cosy pub, with its real fire. It had toilets as well, a need that all that wine made pressing.

Without really meaning to, she began to drift back the way she had come, back past the chapel, the crowd even thicker now, like moths to the flame, and out by the thickest of the marked paths.

“NO re-admittance,” the bored hi-vis steward on the gate said.

She forged on, out onto the busy street, wondering if Paul would be worried. She’d text him from the pub. Once she had a mug of hot chocolate in her hands.

Booked months in advance?

They’d only met two weeks ago.


Cath is a translator and has been living in Hackney for the past 20 years. She’s always loved taking photos, and recently took part in the Dalston Street Show for the East London Photomonth, with an exhibition called Last Light (about the loss of her mother) at Other Café.


Liam lives in Stamford Hill and runs a literary blog as well as hosting the award-winning monthly literary event, Liars’ League. His dark fantasy collection, “Happy Ending Not Guaranteed”, has recently been published by Arachne Press.