I wrote this story after I figured out how awesome graveyards are. It’s a fictionalized version of actual events. The only changes are the jogger’s gender, the squirrel, and the motive for leaving. I don’t care what people will think of me when I’m dead. I know I’m awesome.
He had nowhere to be. Which is not the same as to say he had nowhere to go; he could have gone anywhere. He was alive. Fire in blood, steak on the stove and girl in the backseat alive. He could have gone anywhere, but he was tired from the feet up and he wanted to go home. He took the long route, down the dusty backroads and through the woods. He remembered: There was a cemetery down here, just on his right as he headed towards the highway. He wanted to stop. He wanted to get out and feel the crisp March air on the back of his neck and the tips of his hair, to smell it as it traveled from one piney tree farm to another on its way to oblivion.
He put on his blinker and pulled into the gravel drive and parked past the jogger clambering down from her ATV. He checked his pockets: chapstick, keys, lint. That was all. He wanted an escape from time and place. He left his phone behind.
He walked and walked and looked at the chiaroscuro on ground produced by the stone monolith in the center of the bone orchard. It was beautiful. He liked the way the gravel crunched under his feet as he read off a dead man’s name: Burt Scoggins, WWII Vet, Purple Heart. A squirrel sat a ways off, near a gravestone, devouring an acorn. He remembered was hungry, and how his feet ached for slippers and the sofa in his living room. He sat down on a bench dedicated to Jerry Watkins, eternally grateful to the poor man’s kin. In the distance now, he could see the jogger run by, her arms in cadence with her legs. She looked tired. He wondered why she did not do as he had done, and sit on a peaceful park bench—there was more than one in the memorial park—and rest her breath for a minute. It made him uneasy, so he stood to relieve himself.
He now walked past the budding magnolias, one branch hanging so low he had to brush it out of the way; it kept him vigilant. There was a second bench on the other side of the trees, beckoning his world-weary bones; but the sun had already begun to set in the distance, and a youthful vitality kept him going. He walked past more dead poets and sinners, one name in particular sticking out to him: Mary-Alice Campbell. The name seemed familiar, but there was something else about it that clung like a barnacle to his brain. He lost himself in thought and almost fell off the path, surprised by the sudden appearance of a dog by the fence.
The dog lifted up its leg and made dirty yellow water for flowers to drink. He could not help but stare at the innocent. He stared, and the dog caught his gaze, and walked up to him and sat and wagged its tail and licked its snout until he put out his hand and rubbed its crown and made it happy. It made him happy, too: contact with the living in a place of death.
It hit him, then, why the name had disturbed him so much. She had had a date of birth, and a name, and an epitaph, but no date of death. She was still alive. A living woman with a dying tombstone. He fathomed, and thought, what will be said of me when I am dead?
Haunted, he moved across the graveyard, faster than he knew his feet could carry him, but not fast enough. He placed the key in the ignition, relieved by the thoughtless sound of Willy Nelson, and turned the gravel to thunder as he drove off.