I drove around for a while. I didn’t see any point in going back to the office, and I wound up at Rose Hill Cemetery. It just seemed like the right place to be.
On the hill was a gathering of about twenty people. Dressed in black and seated on wooden folding chairs, they stood out in stark contrast to the green grass, perfect rows of granite markers and blue sky. A few cars and a limousine were parked on the nearby street.
It was a burial of course – a graveside memorial. I cocked my head to one side as I watched. The casket was a pewter-colored box on a pedestal or something.
I parked and got out of the car, moving closer – discreet but attentive to the memorial. Someone is saying some kind words about… Whoever. The casket is open and I can see the body inside is that of a middle-aged man. Even from this distance, it’s easy to see that they went too heavy on the rouge, his cheeks almost red on his otherwise pale face.
I realized that I was intruding on a sacred and personal event, and the friends and relatives probably would not appreciate my staring, but no one seemed to notice me, as usual.
When the ceremony ended, they lowered the casket into the ground. I watched as everyone rose from their chairs and filed back toward their cars, in pairs or sometimes alone. One woman stepped to the edge of the grave and tossed in a flower – a rose I think. After a moment, she turned and walked back towards the parked vehicles.
Once everyone had made their way from the grave site, I slowly approached, stepping to the edge and peering into the hole. At the bottom lay the pewter box with a single white rose resting on its lid. It looked so serene.
Sitting down on one of the folding chairs, my jacket rode up on one side and something poked me in the ribs. Reaching around, I pulled out the package I had picked up at the post office, still wrapped.
I tore the paper off to reveal a rather plain black book with an elastic band stretched around it. Embossed in gold on the cover it had one word:
I removed the band and opened it. The cover creaked a little with stiffness as I turned to the first page and read it.
“This is the Journal of Jonathan Bocks.”
This was my father’s. I never knew he kept a journal. I flipped a few pages and read the heading:
“Went out for the swim team. Failed.”
Apparently, my father had started keeping this journal on or shortly after his sixteenth birthday. For the first time in longer than I could remember, I was excited about something. I could hardly wait to read the book, not only that it was my father’s journal, but a long time ago, my father, or someone, had arranged to have it sent to me now.
I leafed ahead sixty pages or so and stopped on a page that read, “Today I became a Father.”
“Red and wrinkled, the newborn baby wriggled in the hospital crib under the harsh fluorescent lighting in the ward. Everything is white except his little blue stocking cap. The label on the crib reads, ‘Robert Bokes’ written in black marker. That is my son.
Next to him and all around him are identical cribs with nearly identical little red and wrinkled babies wearing blue or pink stocking caps. The babies all seem so isolated in each little crib, compartmentalized.’
I stopped reading and looked at the grave in front of me. It was hard to see any difference between the beginning and the end.
The voice startled me and I stood up from my seat to see a dark haired woman in her twenties. I recognized her from the funeral – she dropped the rose in the grave. I was caught off guard and didn’t know what to say. I just stared at her.
“I forgot my umbrella.” She said, pointing down next to the chair I had been sitting in.
I was paralyzed, partly with fear from having been discovered next to a stranger’s open grave and partly because I was always awkward around women, especially women this pretty. Except for Tanner, – she was the one exception, the one woman that I didn’t feel the need to try to be something other than myself.
When I didn’t move, the woman reached down and retrieved the umbrella resting near my feet. “Did you know my father well?” the women asked.
“No, not well.” I replied.
The woman nodded her head.
“Neither did I.”
This seemed a very personal thing to tell a stranger and now I was really unsure of what to do.
“It was a nice ceremony though – very… pretty.” This was all I could think of.
“Yes it was.” The woman looked around the cemetery. “I’ve always liked the fall. The changing colors, it’s so beautiful.”
She picked up a bright red leaf sitting on the chair next to her. She held it by its stem and twirled the leaf by rolling the stem between her finger and thumb. “I wish the leaves always looked like this.”
I was trying to think of something appropriate to say and blurted out the first nearly relevant thing that came to my mind. “They do!”
The women gave me a puzzled look.
“The leaves – they’re always that color. Each leaf is red or yellow or orange, but you just can’t see the color through all the green chlorophyll. When the cold weather starts, the tree prepares for winter by drawing the chlorophyll back in to the trunk, and that exposes the color that was always there.”
The women smiled at me. This time, her smile was not sad.
“Then the leaf… dies, and falls off,” I added, realizing that I should have stopped while I was ahead.
“Well, it’s too bad we don’t get to see its true colors until its life is over.” Her sadness seemed to return, but then she added, “But I’m glad it makes that last effort. It’d be a shame if it died without at least giving us a glimpse.”
After an awkward pause, the woman gestured toward the other guests milling next to their cars and said, “Well, I better get back. Are you going?”
I was enjoying talking to this woman, uncomfortable though it was. I almost forgot that I was in a cemetery. I had forgotten what Dr. Maddox had said. The reality though, was that I had more in common with the residents of the cemetery than with those who attended the service.
“No, there’s someone else here I need to visit.”
“Well it was nice meeting you. And it was very informative,” said the woman, flashing a charming smile.
In a different place, with different circumstances, and if I were a different man, I might have asked her to coffee or dinner. instead, I smiled and nodded slightly. She extended the leaf she was holding to me, and I took it.
I looked at the leaf in my hand and then up at her as she walked down the hill toward the waiting group. I absently slid the leaf between the pages of the journal and walked away in the opposite direction.
Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet
©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender
Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd. www.rubiks.com
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.