(3) The Graveyard Tradition
THERE WAS SOMETHING ODD ABOUT the air, Bethanie noted, when they stepped out of the car half-an-hour later. It was as if it were a little too active, it’s swirling and spinning making it a little too abnormal, as if it were alive.
She supposed it had something to do with the location. “A graveyard?” she asked Dylan as they made their way across the grass. The trees had been cleared from the area, creating what would have been a pleasant meadow were it not for all the dead people. Over the years, it seemed they had run out of space, so the gravestones extended into the trees, their end hidden from sight. Looking across the graves felt like staring into her future and trying to ascertain where it finished. Probably over by that tree, she guessed.
“It’s a tradition,” Dylan replied, three steps ahead.
Her eyes danced over the gravestones, admiring the carvings, the stone crosses and angels, skimming the names and dates.
“Spooky,” she muttered.
He looked back at her. And then, casually: “My mother’s buried here.”
“Oh,” Bethanie said, feeling stupid. Why else would he come here? “I’m sorry.”
He waved a hand. “Don’t worry about it. I usually like to come here on the anniversary of her death, but I since I was busy yesterday I planned to do it today.” He didn’t say anything more. Bethanie didn’t force the topic. She let it drift away on the autumn breeze.
Dylan fell back to her side. “You know, you still haven’t told me why.”
“Why you’re blowing off your friends. Why, after years of barely acknowledging my existence, you approach me with some grand plan for this Halloween.”
Bethanie stopped. The air wasn’t just abnormal now – it was icy cold. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”
They were standing in the shadow of a pine at the edge of the clearing, a gravestone crumbling away by their feet. “Give it a shot.”
She looked down, absently kicking at the dirt, and sighed. “Have you ever felt like you do the same thing each day? Like you have a routine that you stick to, or you follow a set of rules that are meant to guide you towards the best and safest life? It’s like – don’t be spontaneous. Don’t go exploring. Don’t deviate from the path.” She air-quoted. “After we graduate next year, everything’s going to change for me. My parents have already made plans for me to go to a college in the city. And all this – this day-in and day-out of the same conversations, the same parties, the same experiences – will fade. What memories have I made in this town are strong enough to resist that fading? I feel like I hardly even know my own home.”
She took a breath here, feeling shaky and exposed. Why was she telling him this? They barely knew each other.
Maybe that’s the point, a small voice whispered.
“That’s why I’m doing this. Screw the consequences – I want to be spontaneous. I want to explore, to make the most of my life here while I still can. I want to do those things I normally wouldn’t.”
Dylan tilted his head. He was looking at her strangely.
“What?” she asked.
“I never realised,” he said, “that you could be so deep.”
Bethanie laughed. “Ouch.”
Although she didn’t say it, she was thankful that he was making light of her confession. Bethanie didn’t like sharing the truths of her heart. She preferred to keep them in the dark, buried under smiles and sarcasm. It was just easier that way.
[Poem Idea #88: A Funeral for the Truth]
“We’re here,” Dylan said suddenly.
Bethanie looked at him. She hadn’t realised they’d been walking. But now she saw that they’d moved past the clearing to a spot in the trees, a few rows from where the graves spilled out into the light. “Here?”
He nodded at the grave by her feet, a sombre tone to his eyes.
Mary-Anne Josette Corvall
January 15, 1965 – October 30, 2009
Always in our thoughts, forever in our hearts.
“Your mother,” Bethanie said softly. She felt as though she were intruding – a feeling she wasn’t used to. Bethanie Cousins was welcomed everywhere.
Beside her, Dylan was staring at the grave, his eyes reflecting the memories she was sure were stirring in his mind. Realising she should probably give him a moment, she said, “I’ll just be over there,” nodding towards the clearing.
He nodded once and Bethanie left, wandering through the graves. Apart from the wind in the trees, it was uncannily quiet. The whole place had a dead-ness to it, like the death had seeped out of the coffins and into the surrounding world.
When Bethanie broke out of the trees once more, the clouds loomed over, darker than before. She looked down at her expensive black sneakers, praying for it not to rain. It would be a shame if they got muddied.
Back over by his mother’s grave, Dylan was worried by other things. Like the grave not a few slots down from his mothers, resting in a darker part of the forest. The tombstone was by far the largest in the near vicinity, reaching beyond Dylan’s head for the forest canopy. It was also faded, moldy, the edges crumbling as a result of time’s passage. But he had never seen it before. Not once. And he had been coming to this spot for almost seven years.
Curious, Dylan moved towards it. The stone was covered with intricate carvings – triple spirals, Celtic knots and others – many of which had worn away. Below it was an engraving in a state of similar decay. He couldn’t read the name, but the inscription remained mysteriously intact:
An seo na laighe an gheata agus an fhreiceadain
Drawing back, Dylan pulled up his camera and took several photos. Then he took out his phone and copied down the inscription. Before he could translate it however, a particularly strong gust of wind blew through. A part of the tombstone fell to the dirt at its feet.
Dylan put away his phone, frowning. He knelt down, running his fingers through the grass until they bumped into something cold and hard. A grey stone, circular and smooth, with a carved design he did not recognise.
“Dylan?” It was Bethanie, her voice muffled by the wind and trees. She sounded distant in a way that set him on edge. In fact, the whole place set him on edge. The air, the dark, the mysterious grave that appeared ancient but couldn’t have been more than a year old. It wasn’t there last time – he swore it wasn’t.
Dylan had never been troubled by the graveyard, but suddenly he found he was afraid. He pocketed the stone and left.