Week #24 – Tombstones

BOO! Here is this week’s Flash, posted in the order received.
The theme is Tombstones.
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tis the season by Coleen Shin
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. Two Graveyards . by Susan Tepper
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The two small graveyards lay side by side like the bodies they covered. One had fancier tombstones engraved upon that told names and dates, a floral motif, or perhaps a Grecian style urn in bas relief on its façade. Some had sweet poetic verse about the dead person. The other graveyard was the slave graveyard with its decrepit unmarked slabs, many about to fall over or already down in the unkempt grass. We went to the graveyards each time we visited the island. This place of the dead— it called to us. It took an hour to get there by public bus. The first time we went was shortly after my dad died and both our families were decomposing. We rode the bus in silence aware of each other in a way that was different. Already, too soon, we knew time was thin. That first visit I found a tombstone with my birth date, and the person had my first name. She died from yellow fever. I thought about dying from fever in a hot tropical place without air conditioning, and what that would be like. Then my husband wanted to go get ice cream cones. So we left.

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. Tatoos . by Frank Rasky
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Boxing Gloves for when I get hit in the head. Mother Love for mother who bought the gloves so when I get hit, it won’t hurt so much. Broken Heart for when my love left me for being a dreamer. Manx Cat to remind me that whenever and wherever I am thrown, I still stand.

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. Castaways . by Len Kuntz
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Our neighbor’s basement was filled with them, dozens and dozens of the gray stones, tall as toddlers, stacked like a macabre museum for the dead.

My brother dated the girl’s father, and on a lost dare, I had to take the creaking wooden steps down there by myself. I was twelve at the time. I’d just started to sprout a few pubic hairs and I felt them bristle inside my pants with each stair I took.

The girl’s father had died several weeks before, but her mother hadn’t started sorting through his possessions, let alone dealing with the shop.

The girl explained that these were the castaways, the mistakes—names spelled incorrectly, dates written down wrong. A few of the tombstones had lightning-shaped cracks cutting across them. They were all grey, some with slick, shiny fronts, others gruff and unvarnished. A chisel and hammer lay askew on the work bench as if dropped there, and, of course, I wondered if the man had had his heart attack here.

Just as I braved to touch one of the tombstones, the room went black.

I felt the musty air swirl around me. Then something brushed my shoulder. I thought I would collapse. I told myself not to panic, but I reached out in the darkness anyway. I felt around on the bench. Found the hammer. Swung hard.

When the lights flicked on, the girl screamed. But it was all too late. My brother’s life was gone, and mine was changed forever.

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. Waveform . by Stephen Hastings-King
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1. For the next-to-last journey he muled a stolen car from Gloucester to Florida. He brought with him a .38 and a bouquet of cheap flowers. He left the flowers at her door on the way out.

2. Their break-up raced through a nautilus shell. In the next-to-last chamber, he balanced a chef’s knife on shelving then jumped onto the blade.

3. The furthest point of the next-to-last journey was a South Florida Motel 6.

He put the .38 on the night stand. But he couldn’t do it.

He bought several bottles of pills then wrote a letter as a narrative inside a narrative, one that outlined his trajectory and its mire and his implausible rescue and the ways it became a chimera, the other chapter divisions comprised of doses and times.

4. I watch her read the letter. Despite its melodrama of forgiveness, the story becomes her fault.

5. When the telephone rings I pick up to hear the circuitry, a vast plain of chatter that expands as I listen, opening onto infrastructure then the echoes of the undersides of voices that gives way to an abstract space of drift and vibrations and spirits. He blows across it, an atomized snarl of grasses caught in a phantom wind, and then through me and beyond become a waveform that rearranges the air and everything that is in it.

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. There You Are . by Martha Williams
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It’s like a waterfall, the cascade of names. The busiest time is always evening, when Clara can’t keep up with the words as they’re washed away in a tsunami of messages. As if these are really her friends.

As if.

When did they last press warm flesh together? When did they last look into each other’s eyes? How many even made it to Marty’s send-off… ten? Twenty? Not the two hundred whose avatars now stampede across her reflection, her face a rock beneath their butterfly wings. Who are they now, these long lost, truncated names surrounded by their pixelated children?

Be my friend.

Like me.

But do not phone, nor bang on my back door. Do not presume to sit and eat with me.

It wasn’t as bad with Marty, the gregarious one who drew people to their table. But after he died, perhaps she was an odd number… or just a sad one. Maybe she just noticed it more.

On the loneliest nights she’d wondered, would anyone come to her funeral? She picked her epitaph one night, half laughing, half crying. Put it in her will. A tombstone engraved with a hand, pointing down, and the words, “Oh, there you are!”

Tonight, she neither smiles nor cries. Just sits, slumped, as the names flicker across her skin. By the end, she figured she’d be lucky to get five.

Assuming, of course, that anyone even finds her.

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. SoApS iN tHe SiNk . by Darryl Price
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Hello ghosts. I’m not ready yet to become
part of your toothless frothing group but I
thank you for the bubbling foamy offer. At
least you care. But really you look just
fine the way you are all meshed together

in silent wail and freezing moan.And I’m
sure on some level that it’s a most
wonderful music you make that creates just the
right imbalance between the swaying and the swinging
note, the glowing perfect atmosphere for such ghosting

together activities. It’s just that well you see
I’ve a few more activities myself such as
the writing of more poems among the bacterium
to perform before I could be called anywhere
near complete and ready to change so picture

significantly. So although I do certainly appreciate the
dear trouble you must have gone through to
present yourselves in such an amusing and creative
way to me I have to decline. I
want to live. It’s ever so much fun.

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. The Green Lady Cemetery . by Susan Gibb
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The cemetery was an old man’s yawn, broken teeth dotting the dry straw of his tongue. Her tombstone leaned sleepily askew.

“Can you can straighten it?” she asked. I wanted to please her but the stone probably weighed 300 pounds.

“I’ll need help, but sure.”

She smiled and I melted. I poured hot chocolate into her cup. I watched the steaming liquid go down her throat. She is a greenish tone and transparent. I’m totally in love.

We met on a dare by my best bud Frankie. “The cemetery’s haunted!” he’d said.

Friday night, two carloads of kids, some six-packs, and then The Green Lady herself. Kids screaming and wheeling out of there lickety-split. I passed out.

***

“She’s beautiful,” Frankie said. He held the stone level with a crowbar while I shoveled dirt underneath.

“You’ve seen her?

“Well…just that night.”

No one else has felt the cool breeze of her lips. A real woman–well, not real, but more of a woman than any of the girls I’ve dated.

“Lift it up so it don’t settle in low.” I tossed in some stones for form, and tamped it down with the shovel. Together we eased the crowbar out and the tombstone settled in place. “Perfect!” I said.
***

I usually saw her on Friday nights but now I couldn’t wait that long. There she was, admiring the tombstone. I almost fainted for there too was Frankie, handing her a coke.

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. Warming . by Michael Webb
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I sat on the floor, my back warm from the radiated heat of the stove, and looked at the paper disc that came from the package, with its unreal red meats and creamy, hyperwhite cheese. The smell of it cooking was spreading through the room. My stomach lurched at the thought of eating.

“TOMBSTONE”, it said. “Pepperoni and Cheese”. I stared at the plastic wrap on the floor next to me, torn and wasted and useless. I looked at the paper disk, cheerful with images that suggest communal eating. I should get up and throw it away.

She was gone, and I felt lost. I drifted, going to work, coming home, sleeping, eating out of habit more than anything. I didn’t watch TV, stopped reading, and hardly listened to the radio anymore. Since she left, it hardly seemed worth the effort.

“I can’t live with you,” she had said, 4 weeks ago, her face aflame with fury, throwing her clothes into a large duffel bag. “I can’t stand it, all this negative energy. I’m exhausted from dealing with you. You’re draining me. ” I didn’t disagree with her, letting her leave me alone in the silence.

The oven buzzed, interrupting the moment with the jagged sound of the world going on without me. Tombstone, I thought, gathering and crumpling the trash in my fist – a reminder of who and what used to be.

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. Vestiges . by Randal Houle
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The Earth is stone, laid bare under an endless sky. All else is rotting flesh and vegetation.

BURIED HERE: THIS DATE AND TIME.

The sod conceals what remains while my tombstone festers, obscured by the surrounding grass. The trees shroud this corner of the cemetery in shadowy stillness. It is a peaceful place of reflection.

Under the loam, a corpse wastes away, feeds the feral growth above while the forgotten granite putrefies in a dense layer of grime, overgrown lawn, and mold.

Even the fruit from the nearby orchard (which I, in part, nourish) batters my stone to rot.

The sinister weight of filth and soil and stillness smothers his voice under all decay and I have lost my sight, my way to the world. The stonework is blind. It is concealed, masked in an unkempt prairie

The familiar has passed, but there are others now, separated by time, bound by genetic duty, or of curiosity.

It has been so long – those early visitors have joined the corpse somewhere. There are still others – if only I could be found. They may trim the grass and scrub the stone with a stiff brush and soapy water. Then I will see the sky again.

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. Interment . by Catherine Russell
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Agatha’s tiny grave fit her perfectly. The pink box protected the contents of her body from the assault of elements and scavenging animals. Birds would not peck her innards to line nests, crows would not steal her bright button eyes, and her cotton skin would not degrade from rain and snow.

The family, clad in mourning, assembled in the backyard to witness the somber event of Agatha’s interment. Molly’s little brother sniggered but quickly hushed with a look from his mother. The girl recited a short prayer and placed Agatha in a Hello Kitty shoe-box, then lowered it into the hole. She threw daisies over the top before using her plastic beach shovel to cover the cardboard coffin. The deed done, everyone left except for one small mourner.

Molly planted a white cross on the grave and prayed again, hoping the funeral would be enough to put Agatha’s spirit to rest. Without a priest, she didn’t know if the doll would find her way out again. The girl shivered.

She knew she shouldn’t have used the doll to play tug of war with the puppy. If she did come back, Agatha would never forgive her.

From the back window, the puppy watched them bury her newest treat. She wondered if it was a bone.

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. A World Drained of Color . by Al McDermid
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The road through the city’s largest cemetery is lined with ancient flowering cherry trees and for a few days in spring, the canopy is a riot of pink. The petals fall like snow, forming drifts in the curbs. Although I would have sworn they were still leaved when I walked through here only last week, the trees are now bare and skeletal against the anvil gray sky. In the predawn light, the world looks to have been drained of color.

A crow squawks at me from its perch atop a pitted and moss-covered Celtic cross before flying off. I follow its flight, gazing across the expanse of stone monoliths and sundry statuary. I see too the other crows, hundreds of them perched on the grave markers. As the first crow passes, they launch themselves en masse, a storm of black that floods the sky.

No cars pass me along the way, nor do I see any as I exit the cemetery. Nothing is open, not even the 24-hour convenience store where I usually stop for coffee. I see no other people.

Because I can, I stand at the center of a usually busy intersection, marveling at the austerity of the cold, silent buildings towering above the empty streets. A slight breeze echoes down this steel and glass canyon, blowing a single sheet of an old newspaper against my legs. It’s faded and dirty, and the news stories are unremarkable, but the date catches my eye: December 20, 2012.

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. STONE . by Linda Simoni-Wastila
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Every day Man shuffles through Land of Stones hunched over his stick. Bright-Eyes chitters loud and scrambles down Oak. My tail twitches, alert. Hungry. Sun scared away Rainclouds and the acorns are small and hard. Bright-Eyes hides them in our secret nooks anyway, for the kits who will come after Snow.
Bright-Eyes looks thin perched on top of Stone. Man hobbles slowly. He looks thin, too. When he arrives, Bright-Eyes scampers behind the tree, waiting. Man stops, leans on his stick, and sighs. He stares at Stone. He waters Earth with his eyes.

“Carol,” he says. “I miss you.”

His hand plunges into his skin, grey like Sky. Seeds shower the yellowed grass. Bright-Eyes dashes out, filling his cheeks with corn and nuts. Blue Jay swoops down from the branch for his share. Man watches with sad eyes, then leaves.

Every morning Man sprinkles his Water and Seed before Stone. Bright-Eyes lines our nest with fallen leaves. Sky turns black and blows cold. Bright-Eyes brings me acorns but does not eat. My belly swells.

White arrives. Man does not visit. We wait and wait. Still Man does not come. White piles higher than Stone. Bright-Eyes returns with the last acorn. He gives it to me.

One morning, White goes away. Yellow Bird rumbles beside Oak and digs through White and Earth with his beak. Men circle around the hole, but not our Man. They fill the hole and right another Stone.

White returns. Bright-Eyes does not wake. I wait.

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. Target Practice . by Jeffrey Miller
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As he strolled through the foreigners’ cemetery in western Seoul, Mark Thompson asked the caretaker why many of the tombstones appeared damaged—some had noticeable bullet holes; at least two looked mortar-damaged.

“During the Korean War, the North Koreans and later the Chinese were bivouacked here,” the grizzled caretaker said in passable English. “They must have gotten bored and used the foreign ones for target practice.”

Thompson, who had recently moved to the city, grunted and moved on to another group of tombstones. History was for the dead, he thought. He just bought some land adjacent to the cemetery and planned to build some new apartments that would overlook the Han River; too bad this cemetery spoiled part of the view.

“Come here, I want to show you something.”

The caretaker took Thompson further back in the cemetery to a secluded spot where a tombstone had been toppled; what had once been a stone cross on top had been broken, the pieces missing.

“Korean War?”

The caretaker shook his head. “Look again.”

When Thompson bent down and looked at the tombstone, the caretaker took a piece of the tombstone he had been gripping in his hand and bashed Thompson in the back of the head. The first blow wasn’t enough; he had to hit him two more times.

There would be others who weren’t that interested in history and he would have to take care of them, too. He just needed a little more target practice, that’s all.

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. Equilibrium . by Nicolette Wong
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For Julien Tatham

Heroine

The morning puts on a translucent blue coat, held for it by broken rays of sun. I draw loneliness on charcoal paper for her to unravel. Now unbounded, with a conquering violence, she bleeds open in my hand.

***

Drawing

The day is spent, unlucky in smoke and rain. On my path are silent lives breathing in cells: in buildings, rooms and compartments in the minds of strangers. Traces of her are blurring in my coat pocket—I cannot hold her.

***

Equilibrium

I shift in between the repercussions of her voice, cold and unyielding like the sleep of stone. An image of her multiples and rushes down memories: her handwriting on a cigarette box, my waking up to a room of mist, to a nip on her little morsel of flesh.

***

Stones

The story is scorching. Falling down ashen as the tip of the pencil breaks. It invades my present: a pair of tombstones in a faraway place, dew on wet grass, treading on softness until all is oblivion.

It should be so easy to give up.

***

Flame

In the darkened room the flame penetrates and is gone.

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. Here Lies Jack . by Elizabeth Kate Switaj
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Here Lies Jack
Family Man, Community Leader, and Honest Businessman
with two families

Here Lies Jack
Beloved Husband and Father
of two wives, which I guess makes him a tax cheat too

Here Lies Jack
Look, I don’t know who you are or what your problem is, but please stop defacing my husband’s tombstone with your lies.
Don’t believe me? I can prove it. Meet me here tomorrow at dusk. My son has his eyes.

Here Lies Jack
without a tombstone:
his wives spent the money
on each other
at Ann Summers.

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. Guilt edged love . by Barbara-Lucy Hosken
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First on the left as you enter graveyard
by open wrought-iron gate
tall railings ran behind tombstone
on Grandpa’s grave
all visitors passed as they walked
the drive to the old stone church
I recall one childhood time
when a friend and I were seen
decorating his grave with spring flowers
to bring it alive with colour
showing my gilt-edged love

It was Easter, graves overflowed
with daffodils and tulips
which we decided to share all around
so not one grave would be empty
grandpa was getting a beautiful bunch
which my neighbour commented on
I couldn’t admit to stealing them all
from others which had lots
just a few at a time so no-one would know
my embarrassing guilt edged love

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. a mother speaks to a stone . by Quenby Larsen
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Hold the heart of stone in your embrace. Spread your wing over the troubled ground. Tip your head to her sleep. She is a dream of prayer. She was my dream.

I will with your daughter stay. When you are home tonight, spread yourself on her bed. She is where you take her, but I will enable the care of her body soul spirit.

You seem more than stone. Why do I think you more than stone? I have never seen a figure more tenderly wrought. Are we women together?

A child’s heart has become our home. We are women.

Who made your wings? Who draped your dress? Did you hold the granite heart when they engraved it, when they set my child’s picture there?

I am always everywhere at once and in you and here. These other things concerning me are at once known and essentially known as every detail of the child in my care.

Are you God?

You are given me, then, to comfort. You are real to me. I believe because I must.

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. Matthew Says There Was an Earthquake
. . by Katherine Nabity
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“Are you sure about this?” Bill strained against the stone, pressing with his back, putting his legs into the effort. His stubby wings got in the way.

“Certain,” said Harold. “It was on the work docket. I figured after the Garden incident, we should take initiative.”

“You didn’t mistake the cherub docket and the cherubim docket again, did you?” On paper, fat little putti-cherubs were always being mistaken for ferocious, four-winged cherubim.

“Nope. I’m sure,” said Harold.

With a grunt, the stone moved an inch more.

“Why are we supposed to be opening this tomb anyway?” Bill couldn’t see Harold shrug.

“Heave!” Harold gasped.

The tombstone rolled, and Bill and Harold tumbled into the tomb. Bill’s sense of accomplishment was diminished only slightly when he saw that The Man inside the tomb had been the helping hand. Bill recognized him immediately.

“Oh, sir! I didn’t realize–!”

The Man smiled, kindly but quizzically.

“Behold!”

With the word, the earth outside the tomb shook. Bill peaked around the stone and there was Adair, bellowing, all four of his wings arrogantly shedding. Beyond Adair’s radiance, two women and one of The Man’s scribes fled when they saw the stone rolled away.

“You two!” The cherubim kept his voice to a dull roar. “My earthquake was supposed to–” Adair fell silent when The Man stepped past Bill and Harold.

“Sir!” Adair stammered. “I didn’t realize–!”

The Man smiled again, shrugged, and disappeared in glory.

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. Elspeth . by Tom Allman
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Deep in the Old Forest there was a forgotten graveyard. The weathered and broken tombstones were scattered like so many broken teeth. It was the quietest place on Earth.

But, on the first day of spring a troop of tiny homunculi jump and frolic around a lonely marble monolith. Nut brown and as big as a whisper they were a gift for the daughter of a forgotten Wizard. He’d made them from the good earth and her tears.

“Oh Elspeth” they sang, “Walk with us to Silvery Stream and dance amongst the daffodils.” A friendly breeze would stir the gentle Willow. Then all was quiet once again.

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. She Doesn’t Live Here . by Roberta Lawson
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2001

The trees on these street are magnificent. Young families with dogs and prams walk happily down it. Here – number 77 – the house she almost bought.

The rooms are large and airy. Her loom glorious in the sitting room. The overgrown garden. In her first year here, her business prospers. She acquires a boyfriend. Giddy dates, leading into a settled life. So much love. Friday night take-aways from the Indian restaurant on the corner. Saturday morning sex. Saturday afternoon Scrabble games and cinema trips. Friends laughter around the dining room table. A fat contented cat. Sunday brunches in the pub opposite. Autumn-leaf stomping in the woods down the road. The deer, the blackbirds, the quiet burial space. Sunshine picnics in the Summer, skimming stones in the river.

2011

The trees on this street are barren. Families hurry down it, huddled over prams.

Rising damp stealthily climbing the large airy rooms. Her loom neglected in the corner. The recession hit her business hard, her boyfriend’s harder. Her worries hit the relationship harder still. His drinking didn’t help. Friday night anger. Saturday morning failed attempts at reconciliation. Saturday afternoon stagnation. Quiet around the dining room table. Sunday mornings watching the football in the pub, and staring into their drinks.

Her boyfriend’s car backing away, a fat cat in the backseat.

There’s the woods down the road. The thick green trees, the lazy river. There are the deer, the blackbirds, the burial space. There’s her tombstone.

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. Eat, Pray, Network . by Kim Hutchinson
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That morning when she logged on, an old illusion soared across her social networking stream, cutting her like shrapnel. Softly backlit, the photo showed her as part of a matched pair playfully leaning on one another, look as much like brother and sister as a couple.

The image was startlingly unfamiliar. Looking at it, no one would guess it had been their last attempt, their last failure. No one would believe that they had never really been that way, or that the life they shared was built on mind games, manipulation and subterfuge.

No one would know that the woman in the photo no longer existed.

She looked through other albums and saw other illusions with new eyes. She hastily deleted two, then left the rest as markers of a deceased daydream.

The next morning, sunshine filled her heart. She happily recalled a conversation five months earlier with a woman she had known was only pretending to be her friend and was probably one of his lovers. She had gone along with the ruse anyway because she was weary of counting, of caring. The other woman had offered the latest bullshit bestseller advice: In three years, you’ll be happy again.

She smiled, wishing she could tell the other woman that it hadn’t taken nearly that long and to be very, very careful or one day she would no longer recognize herself in the mirror, and that in the end, a life of pretending isn’t a real life.

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. The gathering . by Guy Yasko
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Child one slumps in his chair; only his head is above the table. Child
two hovers behind the diners, giggling with her cousin.

– We’re leaving.
– Which car are you taking?
– We’ll walk.
– Come on you two. We’re going.

Out of the gathering, out the farmhouse door, onto the road.

– It’s hot.
– It’s not that hot. Let’s go.
– Where?
– Cemetery. We’ll see your uncle. You haven’t been there, have you?
– No.

Down to the crossroads, over the bypass, past the new houses.

– Can’t you walk faster?
– We’re tired.
– I guess so.

The children poke at ants with their sticks. Father waits under the gate.

– Where is it?
– I think it’s just over the top of the hill, on the other side

It isn’t.

– She was my friend’s mother.
– He ran the paint store.
– He was my teacher’s husband.

They find a grave from 1835, but they don’t find Uncle.

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. Stones . by Fred Osuna
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“I have something to show you,” Mother says. We drive to the memorial park that overlooks the rolling landscape as it rises up to the foothills of the San Jacintos. Snowcaps have just begun to appear on the peaks. Behind us, less than two miles away, is the Pacific Ocean.

We roll to the highest crest. The manicured lawn rolls down either side of the knoll, punctuated with flat stone plaques, the occasional bouquet of cut flowers, a smattering of faded eight-inch American flags. A ten-foot Christ of the Ascension stands atop a pedestal, arms outstretched over the grass, angled to encompass both the mountains and sea with his alabaster gaze. “Here it is.” She takes a puff from her inhaler and slips it into her purse.

We walk a line along the tops of the headstones that are nestled in the thick Bermuda grass. I offer my hand to hers and balance her unsteadiness. At the marker, we stand astride the undug grave, looking down at her name. Two roses frame the phrase, In Loving Memory. A simple cross is carved between her birth date and the smooth blank surface that awaits the stonecutter’s chisel and rasp. I glance to the side, to the green stretch of sod that parallels hers.

“That belongs to you,” she points with her free hand.

I stare at the turf in silence. I can’t imagine what that stone will say. I’ve never been much of a planner.

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. Tour Guide . by Matt Potter
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“I just thought I should wear Italian,” I said. I looked down at my broken shoe on the floor next to my chair.

“It is not your shoes the Americans complained about!” Roberto yelled, sitting behind his desk, cigar smoke curling around his purple face. “It is your UNDERWEAR!”

“Hey!” I said, standing up. “Where does it say in the Tour Guide rulebook that you must wear underwear when leading an English-language tour through ancient Rome?”

“Nowhere!” he barked. “Because the rulebook was not written for crazy Australians!”

I thumped my fist on his desk. “All of my longer skirts were filthy,” I said. “So I had to wear this short skirt. And the elastic in my underwear broke on the Via Marsala.”

Roberto slumped in his chair and looked away.

“I was professional. I didn’t abandon the tour.”

Roberto flicked cigar ash on the floor.

“At least I’d waxed.”

Roberto’s eyes pricked. A smile curled behind the cigar.

“So the busload of eighty year-old Americans can’t complain about being treated to wild muff,” I said. “When my stiletto got caught between the cobbles and I landed sprawled against the tombstones.”

Roberto sat up in his chair, smirking. “I think I would like you to have dinner with me tonight.”

I cocked my head. “What about my job?”

Roberto waved his hand dismissively. “Ah, it is nothing. I will tell the Americans this no underwear is a new regulation for all foreigners in Rome.”

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. The Days of The Olde Burying Yard . by Doug Bond
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On the short walk from school we scuffed our shoes through dry leaves. I kicked a pumpkin in the gutter down a hill. At the graveyard, Mrs. Denson showed us how to hold the paper against the stones and rub from the center out using the long side of the crayon, not the pointed tip.

I’d been held back to do 5th grade again, so I knew how it worked and showed some kids. The place had been holding dead bodies for over 300 years. I said to Cindy to follow me, I’d show her the best one.

At the far corner, almost off in the woods, I found it, the one that had the poem. There were black chestnuts lying rotted all around.

“Phennias Jessup” is his name. “That’s his death’s head scroll, an hourglass, bats, spirals and angel’s wings on either side of the top part of the stone. That’s called the tympanum.”

Cindy had short blond braids and black buckle shoes. I told her to rub the stone so we could read the words.

From youth and vigor soon he fled
And here he rests among ye dead
Uncertain here we draw our breath
How soon we pass from life to death.

“Cindy, Phennias Jessup was only 9 years old, and here we are standing on top of his head!”

She screamed at me and stomped up the hill to tell Mrs. Denson. When they headed back down I ran away flapping my arms with the wind.

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. Paula Mae . by Grey Johnson
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A lamb lies on its side, legs stiff, hooves dirtied by bits of broken mortar. Its sculpted fur is stained with grime from the highway. Straight away, we set it upright upon its low, narrow pedestal. There are no trees or still waters here, and although close to the road, this place retains a special hush. We look for a water spigot and there is none. Across the highway is a house, so we take our bucket with us, and explain ourselves. We are given access to the faucet by the garage. Bleach, brushes, rags and a camera are in the trunk of the car.

We scrub for a long time in the strong sun, worrying if the bleach will ruin our baby lamb’s fur, and puffing from our effort while wishing for gloves. Eventually, we pour straight bleach over the baby’s coat, and by doing so finally gain the purity we seek. I take a picture of my husband, bending on one knee, with his hand on the baby’s gleaming back, smiling proudly with sad eyes. Our work is done. We wonder if we should have the mortar redone on the pedestal.

The picture is printed, and we realize that no picture was taken of me. Somehow, this seems appropriate, as if our precious lamb should be tended to by someone outside our clan. We mail the picture to my Grandmother Lib, and she puts it in the pocket of her bathrobe. She carries it there forever.

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. Get Off This Quatrain . by J. Bradley
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Are you Angelina Jolie, because you look like a bone collector?” said Mattie J.T. Stepanek.

“Who are you supposed to be?” Lara Croft slowly drew out one of her holstered pistols, careful to not let sticky dart load misfire.

“I’m Mattie J.T. Stepanek, one of the greatest American poets of the 21st century, at least according to Oprah. Can I read you a poem I wrote for you?”

Lara aimed it at Mattie his left knee. “God, I wish I could make you crippled physically. I mean, you obviously are emotionally. Go ahead, read your poem.”

“My penis has purple veins and a heartsong. It can make your heartsong into a drum machine. Will you see me in the morning? I promise we won’t be boring. We can do it in this wheelchair. I promise not to pull your hair.”

The dart stuck onto the tombstone of Mattie’s forehead. “You might not get my phone number but you could win the costume contest tonight.”

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. Whitechapel . by Matthew A. Hamilton
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She left the Frying Pan Pub at 2:30am. She walked in zigzags and talked to herself. She turned onto Bucks Row. The boarding school was dark and silent. She thought she heard a child’s voice up on the roof—they often played there—but realized it was only the wind whipping across the alleyway bringing the last smells of the afternoon thunderstorm.

A man approached her and offered her money. Having little she accepted. He took her hand, guided her deeper into the darkness. He gently spoke to her. “My place is very near here,” he said. I have warm food and beer, tea if you rather take that.”

“Thank you,” she said. “You are a kind man, kinder than that bastard on Thrawl Street.” She cleared her throat and spit. “He kicked me out of his Inn, you know, said I didn’t have enough money. I assured him I would have it very soon.” She took off her black bonnet. “I showed him this. I told that bastard to save a bed for me.”

“The bonnet was a gift?” the man said. “From your lover, perhaps.”

“Yes,” she said, “a gift.”

“What is your name?” he said.

“Mary,” she said. “Mary Nichols. But my friends call me Polly.”

“May I call you Polly?”

“Certainly.” As they neared the Blackwall Buildings she asked, “Do you live here?”

“Yes,” he said.

He drew his knife. Polly saw it flash under the street light. Before she could scream her mouth filled with blood.

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. Dyin’ at the Improv . by Walter Bjorkman
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Why is it that we put the birth & death date on a tombstone? I mean, are these the two highpoints of our life that we want to be memorialized for? The first one you have no recollection of, except somewhere deep inside you that this shit really hurts! And the death thing, well hell, that’s why you’re lyin’ there in the first place.

I rather have: Wednesday, April 6th, 1959 – aced history test without studying, instead listening to Fats Domino and Buddy Holly for the week prior.

Or: Saturday 2:00 AM, February 2nd, 1970 – had Little Richard as a cab fare, got a joint for a tip.

Or: Tuesday, August 8th, 1978 – gave Petula Clark the finger and the Ratso “I’m walkin’ here” on 52nd street when she almost ran over him in her limo.

And the epitaph – Beloved Father and Husband, well, one out of two ain’t bad, but again, mine should read:

Poets should not try to be stand-up comics. Evermore

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. Full Moon . by John Wentworth Chapin
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The ancient cemetery was reported to have been the site of an impromptu vandalism party; police said that every stone had been felled. A geologist from Hopkins said it was likely that some toppled in the storm; the serpentine barren on which the graves had been dug was a shelf of solid rock.

Q: So how did they dig the graves back then?
A: It was the site of a crude pre-Revolutionary chromium mine, later abandoned; the land was repurposed as a family graveyard.

Marriottsville was on edge after the decapitations. Few actual tears were shed; the five boys were bad eggs with bad parents and punctured mufflers and few prospects. But they were five, nevertheless, and they were known.

Q: What about the gaping crevasse between the fallen stones?
A: Some sort of ancient mining sinkhole, exposed by the storm.

One cop secretly thought the scratches in the earth looked like claw marks, another thought they looked burnt, but neither said anything. When the boys’ still-warm bodies were found, people gossiped it was the full moon that called the boys into the graveyard. The local meteorologist said that was a ridiculous theory: the full moon had occurred at 12:17 p.m. the next day, so the ensuing night would have been the full moon. Creatures of the dark don’t follow daylight savings, fool, hissed the shriveled, bespectacled woman at her television.

Q: Where are the boys’ heads?

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. Two Trees . by Michelle Elvy
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--They don’t have tombstones.

-Why not?

-Because we didn’t bury them.

-Why not?

-Because they returned to sky and water and earth, in that order.

I watch my mother and my daughter, each wondering in her own quiet way about where this story will go next.

They are rolling Sunday morning biscuits. My daughter is perched on the counter where I sat a thousand times. She’s been humming and rolling and swinging her legs, just as I did, but now she’s grown still, thinking about the uncles she never knew. I see my mother swallow hard and I know she’s pondering what to say.

My daughter looks quizzically at my mother, wrinkles her floury nose. Mom inhales, says Come, and they head out the kitchen door. I don’t follow. I know they will go to the garden, where my mother will kneel down and tell a story of one boy who loved the sky and the other who loved the sea and how their ashes were swallowed by both. She will not speak of heaven or God or a pink-marshmallow place where her boys wait for her. She will not sugarcoat the story of their deaths.

I peek out the window and see them huddled together, my mother and my daughter, dwarfed by the two magnolia trees which were planted the year my brothers died. It is March, our saddest month. The trees hang heavy with large buds, ready to open in glorious fragrant bloom.

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The Editors of 52|250 wish to thank Coleen Shin for her picture “tis the season”

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Filed under Wk #24 - Tombstones

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