by Martha J. Allard
We started hanging out in the cemetery because my mother hated Brian. Well, hate is a strong word. He made her nervous. When we couldn’t go to my house, the tradition of wine coolers in the cemetery was born. This was the summer before Brian and Paul, my two best friends, went to their separate corners of the country. Our last summer together.
My hometown is pretty stereotypical. It’s the picture people get in their minds when they imagine the Midwest. Downtown is two blocks of brick storefronts, lined with wrought iron lampposts, instead of streetlights. The cemetery is tiny, right off Main Street.
Giant pines shelter the graves. The oldest stones have no names or dates left, scoured away by decades of snow and rain. The ground under the heaviest stones has shifted, slanting them like crooked teeth.
A Civil War monument anchors the middle of the cemetery. Atop a tall granite pedestal, General Grant salutes the town’s dead. Brian and Paul and I chose the base of Grant’s pedestal as our spot, mostly because I am squeamish about drinking on a stranger’s grave. Also, the fact that the monument is out from under the canopy of trees made it relatively free of the huge amounts of bats that live in them. We realized, as soon as we took the position, that it gave the best view of the whole cemetery. As we talked, mist curled around the headstones and dark clouds rolled across the moon. It could have been a scene from any old horror movie.
It was like time slowed for us there, like maybe August would go on a week longer, so we could get everything said that needed to be said. Unfortunately, everywhere else, things turned cold right on schedule. Paul and Brian had to go.
When one of them visits, we always go back to the cemetery. We say we know that it won’t be the same, but I think we always hope it will. Brian came at the end of summer this year on a surprise visit. Neither of us was surprised at where we ended up.
Bats swooped and pinwheeled in the night sky as we talked and sipped our coolers. The sameness of the place helped us over the awkwardness of people who haven’t seen each other in way too long. We slipped into the old days quickly. For a while, it was almost like we weren’t usually separated by three thousand miles.
But I knew that you can only nurse a wine cooler for so long and this was very temporary. In the morning, Brian would be on a plane and I would be driving past an ordinary cemetery. August was slipping away again and things were still left unsaid.
This was initially published in Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries in 1994.
Martha J. Allard is the author of Black Light, a rock’n’roll ghost story. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines like Talebones and Not One of Us. Her story “Dust” won an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 19th edition, edited by Gardner Dozois. Her story “Phase” was nominated for a British Science Fiction Award. They are both collected in the chapbook Dust and Other Stories. You can find her on her blog at marthajallard.blogspot.com.
About the Death’s Garden project:
For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married or did anything else unusual in one. The submissions guidelines are here.