She barely made a sound as she shuffled past the reflective headstones and statues of angels with upturned hands. She knew exactly where she was going, a path she’d made for herself only three months ago on her first trip out here. She’d come with friends to smoke up – “they’re dead, they don’t care,” Bobby had said – but she told him to shut up and inched closer to the plain headstone that had caught her eye. Soon, she found herself returning week after week, weaving the same trail among the plots.
A few feet away, an older gentleman watched from the makeshift seat of his own headstone – Charlie Cameron (1919-1988) – as the young girl slowed her stride and stopped before a simple slate marker. Her fingers – covered in some kind of black nail polish – tugged at the edges of a t-shirt that peeked beneath an olive green army jacket. She didn’t look like the girls in his day – with her leggings and short denim skirt and red converse sneakers. No, in his day the women were feminine and modest and made you wonder what lay beneath their silk blouse and satin camisole.
Classic, was how he always described Maggie. Oh, his dear Maggie. Still bringing fresh flowers every year though he repeatedly told her how much he hated the smell. They got into a fight right then and there a few days ago – “Why can’t you appreciate what I do for you?” she had shouted, holding up the small bouquet. “Why can’t you bring me whisky and a cigar,” he had countered, “instead of a pocketful of posies?” He watched her walk away, a shake of the head and a smile lingering on both their lips.
Even death doesn’t change much.
Charlie turned, glancing at the young man who had walked up beside him. Jimmy Montgomery (1994-2010) died in a car accident three days after his sixteenth birthday when he decided to take his parents’ BMW for a spin out on route 58. The soil hadn’t yet set, and fresh flowers and teddy bears still memorialized his name.
“Her name’s Caitlin.”
“Who’s she talking to?”
They watched as the girl fished into her pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a purple BIC lighter.
“Which one’s he?”
“He’s not here. Died in ‘Nam. Just an empty casket now.”
“Shit.” Jimmy paused. “Does she know?”
“So…Why does she visit if he’s not here?”
“It’s not just us who search for peace here, Son.”
“She back again, Charlie?” A young African-American woman approached, her thick, curly hair peeking out from beneath an ash-laden bonnet, a sleeping baby resting against her shoulder – Lucinda Mayes (1878-1904) and Caleb Whitaker (1904-1904). Lucinda was Caleb’s nursemaid when they both died in a fire started by faulty wiring of the house’s brand-new electric lighting.
“Yep. Sure is.”
“That poor child. All she’s lookin’ for is a li’l guidance.”
“What she’s looking for is answers, and the dead ain’t got any.”
They watched as the girl kneeled down in front of the marker, picking at the blades of grass with her thumb and forefinger before flicking the ashes from her cigarette away from her.
Jimmy took a step forward. “I think I’ll go-”
“You’ll ain’t do nothing, kid.”
“She’s the living. You’re dead.” Charlie eyed the young boy carefully.
“Well, what the hell am I supposed to do here for all eternity? I’m a teenager, I have, like, needs, you know.”
“Eternity ain’t so long, Sugar,” Lucinda soothed, rubbing the back of the sleeping child in her arms. “You’ll realize that soon enough.”
“Hey, Caitlin’s here!” Janie Richards (1952-1961) ran up beside the group, her ponytail bobbing behind her. She passed just shy of her 10th birthday when a classmate dared her to jump into the watering hole from the ridge one hot, lazy summer. They’d all underestimated the impact of the seasonal drought. “Hi, Caitlin!”
“Hush, Sugar, let her visit awhile.”
“So, what,” Jimmy folded his arms across his chest, the defiant teenager in him rising to the surface. “I’m just supposed to hang out and wait for people to show up?”
Caitlin whirled around, a scowl crossing her face. “Will you people shut up! I’m trying to have a moment here.” She rolled her eyes and tossed the cigarette to the ground. “Sometimes I hate living in this goddamn town. Come on, Janie,” she motioned to the younger girl. “Walk me to the gate?”
Charlie stood and watched as the two stepped around statues and disappeared down the hill. “That’s what we do here, Son. We wait.”
Jimmy looked confused. “Wait? You mean us or them?”
“Both. The living wait to die and we wait for them.”
“And in the meantime?”
“In the meantime, you find ways to connect this life and your former life in the best way you know how.”
“That seems like a sucky deal.”
“Give it time, Son. For some of us, that’s all we’ve got.”