2/20/14

Prompt: In a cemetery

Graves

There was something comforting about the old cemetery, with its weathered white headstones, emerald green grass, and perfect view down to the pond on the Commons. No one came there; each plot had been bought and sold at least fifty years ago. Almost no one alive knew any of the people who now moldered in rotting wood below. The only ones she shared the place with were the occasional genealogical scholar from the library, sent to take a few pictures, record a few names, and make a rubbing or two. From them she got one or two curious looks—a fifteen-year-old sitting on a memorial bench with an open book must look strange—but those interruptions were few and far between.

Mostly it was just her and the wind, which swept down the hill from above her and muted all sounds save for itself. All that summer, she'd listened to the wind, felt its cool breath cutting the power of the sun, and heard its voice sigh, pause, and gather strength for more. She'd listened to the wind and watched the pond, noticing how the swans stuck to the deeper water, gliding and diving for weeds, while the ducks gathered close to the shore, where young mothers took their toddlers to throw them bits of bread. When the wind was right, kites dipped and dived through the sky. Sunny days brought families with their bright blankets and stocked coolers, but the wind kept their voices and the smell of food down in the valley.

She watched them, and remembered. She remembered days like that, walking around the pond with a friend after going to Dunkin' Donuts down the street and then to A&B Video, which rented new movies and sold old ones for $7.50. She remembered the occasional picnic with cold cut sandwiches and mayonnaise-y potato salad. Back then, the old cemetery on the hill had been nothing but a specter of the past, a morbid reminder on the outskirts of her consciousness.

Before this summer, she'd only been to the cemetery once, as a Brownie in pursuit of her "My Hometown" badge. After going to the old theater and the town hall, she needed one more local landmark to fill out her presentation. Her mother recommended the mausoleum of the Van Mueller family, and they had gone together. At the time, she was only interested in taking some pictures and recording the dates of birth and death.

One thing from that trip had stuck in her mind from that day to this. A Van Mueller baby had a spot in the tomb: but its birth and death dates were the same. She'd asked her mother if that was a mistake, and learned about infant mortality in the process.

It didn't seem possible that something could die the same day it had been born.

Thinking of it, she shut her book. It still didn't seem possible.

But her mother had died forty-seven years, three months, and eight days after her own birth…when that could happen, anything could, couldn't it?