I don’t know why, but I have always been fascinated with cemeteries. As I travel around the country I often walk through graveyards– especially country graveyards– and visit the graves. Back home, I know most of the departed by name.
Perhaps I love cemeteries so much because I can sense... something... about the burial sites. Overall, most cemeteries are quiet and peaceful... but not all. And most graves are quiet and peaceful... but not all. Some graves have a cloud of anger over them. Others radiate joy or peace. I once visited a graveyard on the top of a ridge that overlooked a huge valley filled with farms. Almost all of the graves there, and the cemetery itself, seemed to radiate joy and peace. As I left, I told the people buried there, “You chose a wonderful place and this entire cemetery feels so peaceful.”
Yes, I talk to the graves.
As I left that cemetery, I heard a voice– maybe only in my head– say, “Thank you.” I just smiled and kept going.
Now that my kids are grown, I walk more often down the road on which I live to a small country cemetery. It is a peaceful place. Most of the graves there are what I call neutral, or quiet. That means that there are no echoes of past emotions and no sense that some presence remains with the grave. It feels as if whoever was buried there has peacefully moved on.
Two graves in the old section in the back radiate a great, black cloud of anger that spills over onto other nearby graves. The angry graves are very old graves. It is barely possible to read the names that were once etched deeply into the limestone grave markers. One grave is also marked with an old, corroded Maltese cross of the C.S.A. The grave next to it, which carries the same last name, is marked with an equally tarnished G.A.R. medallion. I often wonder if they were brothers or perhaps father and son who chose, for some reason, to fight– and die– on opposite sides of that bitter war. I also wonder if the anger which still pours from those graves is aimed at each other or at the stupidity of war or just at the violent way in which they died.
The “Lonely Grave” is located out front near the road in the new section. I often spend a great deal of time talking to the woman in the lonely grave. I call it the Lonely Grave because the first time I visited it, an intense feeling of emptiness and longing enveloped me as I approached the gravesite.
Perhaps I should say gravesites. There are two plots there. They have matching granite headstones, but one of them is blank. I am fairly sure that the second gravesite is empty. The first bears the name, Mary Melinda Scarcliff. Beneath the name is her date of birth and date of death. Then beneath the date of death, in a flowing, handwriting-style script almost at the very bottom of the headstone, it says, “A Loving Mother.”
I assume the other grave was intended for the father. I often wondered what separated them. Did he remarry and move away after her death or were they already separated? If so, was he at all a part of their children’s lives as they grew up or did she have to raise them as a single mother. From the emptiness and loneliness I felt fairly sure that he left completely while the kids were still young. But perhaps I am reading my own circumstances into her life.
I often talked to her after Suzy left. I knew that Suzy was too pretty for me when I married her, but she loved me... then. After two kids she decided that she was, in fact, too pretty for me and left to “live out the life she should have had” in New York. I never saw or heard from her again.
Raising two children on my own was very difficult. Whenever it got too difficult– and I had someone to watch Amy and Cliff for a while– I would walk down to the cemetery and talk to Mary. I thought somehow she would understand. She never answered, but before I left I would often feel as if strength had flowed into me.
Last Halloween someone vandalized the cemetery. They spray-painted some of the gravestones with profanities and obscene symbols. Others they toppled. I couldn’t help reset the heavy granite monuments that had been pushed over, but I did spend many hours slowly removing the paint from Mary’s stone and some of the others. For some reason, they didn’t bother the blank stone next to hers. They also smashed a lot of mailboxes on our road. Mine was spared because it was on a tool bench in my garage. We don’t get any trick or treaters this far out in the country, but we do get occasional raucous teenagers out for no good. Usually that means a couple mailboxes smashed by thrown pumpkins or perhaps pumpkins thrown into the yard. No one had ever bothered the cemetery before last Halloween. And they didn’t this Halloween either because I stayed out there all night.
I set the lights at the house on automatic so it would look like someone was still home and drove down to the cemetery. I parked my car behind the caretaker’s shed so it wasn’t visible from the road, and then I set a lawn chair next to Mary’s grave. I wasn’t protecting just her grave, but hers was the reason I was there.
I heard several cars full of noisy teenagers drive past. And once an empty beer bottle came sailing into the cemetery and crashed against one of the stones closest to the road. It started getting less noisy around eleven and as midnight approached the road became totally quiet. I stood in front of her grave and said, “It looks like things are quiet now. The drunks and crazies seem to have called it a night.”
As I was folding my chair a lady’s voice said clearly, “You don’t have to leave, you know.”
I started to say that I was tired, but then I realized that the voice wasn’t just in my head. I was actually hearing it. I spun to face Mary’s grave. My mouth opened in shock at the sight of her standing there smiling at me. Her clothing was a bit out of date, but her naturally wavy, black hair could pass for a current style.
“How... How... How... How is this possible?” I stammered out.
“Almost anything is possible at midnight on Halloween,” she said sweetly.
As if to reinforce her words, the bell of the clock in the church tower in town could be faintly heard ringing out the midnight hour.
“Are you Mary?” I asked.
“Who else,” she said with a smile and almost a giggle. Then she pointed at a blanket on the ground and said, “sit here with me.”
“Why are you here?” I asked softly.
“Do you mean before... or now?” she replied. Then she continued, “When Ralph left me and the children, I was filled with anger at first. Then it was replaced with... emptiness. I managed to raise the kids despite having no help from Ralph or his family. They wouldn’t even talk to me. He had told them from the beginning that marrying me was a mistake. I thought having children would make him truly love me, but it had the opposite effect. When David, my second, was born, he left.”
She sighed and pointed at the blank tombstone. “We had purchased gravesites when this new section of the cemetery was established. The cost of the lots included a free headstone... to be engraved at our cost when needed.” She looked me in the eyes and said, “Some of the old biddies in town said I died of a broken heart. That wasn’t true. I died from working eighteen hours a day to raise my family. I cut back to more regular hours after they were grown, but the damage had already been done. My kids both moved away to find jobs in the cities. I died young... and alone. And then I was buried here... alone.”
She stood for a moment and walked over to touch her tombstone. “You would think that I would have wanted to get away from the loneliness as soon as I could, but emptiness isn’t empty. It is a very heavy thing. It weighs you down. It can hold you back. I stayed here crying and feeling sorry for myself until you came along. Your pain and emptiness was so much like mine had been, but you had someone to talk to... ... me.”
She returned and sat down next to me on the blanket. “As you poured out your problems to me, for the first time since Ralph pulled away from me, I didn’t feel alone. After a while, the empty heaviness was gone. I was ready to move on.”
“But you didn’t,” I said softly.
“No,” she said, “I didn’t. I had come to know you and had grown to love you. I wanted to stay... for you.”
“Thank you,” I said. There were tears in my eyes.
Then she leaned in and kissed me.
“How is that possible?” I said, drawing back.
She gave a slight laugh. It was a bright, silvery laugh. “As I said,” she murmured, “everything is possible at midnight on Halloween.
I leaned back in and kissed her. This time my only surprise was that her lips were warm and moist. She pulled us both down so that we were lying facing each other, side by side on the blanket. She continued to kiss me while running her fingers through my hair and down my chest and back under my coat.
It had been a long time since I had made love to a woman... even longer since I had struggled with a woman’s clothing outside on a blanket, but I still remembered how things were done. And I still couldn’t get a bra undone with one hand. Mary paused as I had to reach around her with both hands to release the clasp.
Taking off each other’s clothing was not a mechanical thing. We both kissed and explored each other’s bodies as we peeled off layer after layer of clothing. The only real break was when I had to stop and untie my boots so I could take them off. Then we got back to kissing and stroking and sliding clothing off each other’s bodies.
Once we were both naked, Mary said breathlessly, “We have until first light.”
I took that as a request to go slowly, and so I did. We lay there kissing and nuzzling. I ran my hands along the outside of her legs for some time before finally moving to the inside. And even then, I stayed below the center of her thighs. I nibbled slightly at her earlobes and at her nipples, but didn’t suckle or press strongly with my lips. She had said we had time and I was trying for a slow fire, not a roaring flame.
When she reached down and began lightly stroking my prick, I knew it was time to speed up. My hand moved up to the top of her legs and began playing with the skin just outside her labia. My mouth moved over to her breasts and I began clamping my lips tightly around her nipples and pulling them into my mouth. My fingers moved up and down on her labia and began to dip inside her now moist slit. When her body began undulating slightly, I moved so that I was on top of her and lined myself up with her sex.
We both froze for a moment when I slid in. I felt that we had become one in a way I had never before experienced. Then I began moving... slowly. She pushed back up against me as I slid in and held tightly to my back with her arms as I pulled back.
I don’t know how long we kept up our slow dance of passion, but eventually things approached the tipping point and I could no longer stay slow. I began ramming myself rapidly into her body and she began thrusting herself upward to meet each stroke. In only a few moments, we both climaxed. She gave a deep, wavering groan as she went over the top. The thought flashed through my mind for an instant that if someone heard us, they would think that there was a ghost in the graveyard... which, of course, there was.
We lay side by side on the blanket. After a long while watching the stars overhead, I asked softly, “Why did you appear to me tonight?”
“I said,” she replied, “that I loved you.” She then grew very quiet. Her face lost all signs of emotion. I could tell that there was more. She was hiding something.
“There is another reason,” I said softly. “Please tell me.”
She pressed her lips together for a few moments and then said rapidly, “I didn’t want you to end up lonely like me.”
“I thought you said that your emptiness had passed,” I said, rising up on one elbow to more clearly face her.
She stood up suddenly and pointed to the two tombstones. “I didn’t want you to end up like that,” she said. And then she started to cry.
I remained quiet as she cried and for several minutes after she stopped. Finally it dawned on me why she had been crying and I said, “Ah... do you have any idea how long?”
“Your doctor will make a guess,” she replied. “Mine did. But it is only a guess.” She was silent for a moment and then said, “But I think someone else will have to protect the graveyard next year.”
I arranged an appointment with my doctor the next day and he sent me to a specialist. Stage four cancer is not a good diagnosis. Stage four mixed cell cancer is a sure death sentence. After a long series of tests, the oncologist sat with me and Cliff. He had flown in to be with me for the final diagnosis.
“You have at most six months,” the doctor said.
“I will last twelve,” I answered. “There is something I have to do.”
“We can extend things a little,” he replied, “but it would be harder on your body than the cancer itself.”
“Then I will opt for... palliative care, I think you called it.” I said firmly. “And I will make it through to next Halloween.”
My son, Cliff, turned to me and said, “What is so important about that, Dad?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” I said softly, “but I will write things down in a story that will explain everything. I’ll put it on the desktop of my computer and keep it up to date.”
I patted his hand and said, “You discovered years ago that I like to read stories on some... interesting... websites. When I am gone, after you read it, post my story there.”
He agreed, but didn’t quite understand. He and Amy were also confused that I hired a lawyer to find out how to purchase an unused plot in the country cemetery down the road from my house. The lawyer fees were significant. Private detectives to trace the family members who still legally owned the grave were expensive. But the cost of the plot itself was inconsequential. The second tombstone is no longer blank. It has my name and date of birth on it. They will add my date of death when I finally pass. I thought about adding “A Loving Father,” but decided that was a decision for my children to make.
To the surprise of all, I’ve made it nearly twelve months. I’ve got a hospice nurse that stops by every morning and every evening to give me pain injections. Last week she said, “I don’t know what keeps you going. There must be something you have to do.”
I just smiled at her and said, “Soon... soon it will be done.”
Dad passed away some time during the night on Halloween. I got a call from the hospice nurse early in the morning on November first that Dad was not at his house and she didn’t know where he was. I told her to have the sheriff check the cemetery. How he drove down there I will never know. He could barely stand and hadn’t driven in months, but his car was parked behind the caretaker’s shed. He was sitting in his lawn chair in front of his... their... graves. The sheriff said he looked real peaceful. After the funeral, Amy, who inherited Dad’s interest in cemeteries, said, “These two graves are the most peaceful and joyful of any in this cemetery. I think Dad found someone with whom to spend eternity.”