A Three Book Prequel Series
The Reparation, WIP
'A Blue Cloudless Sky'
a scene placed in Bucks County Pennsylvania. Inspired, in part, by a visit to Robert Frost's gravesite in Old Bennington Cemetery.
A blue, cloudless sky stretched down to the huge trees that lined the bottom of the graveyard. Row, after row, of gravestones terraced the hillside. Stone walls banked the earth of the upper terraces. Abruptly, the walls turned to grassy slopes that spread-out on either end, creating the overall effect of a grand staircase.
The beauty of this place was one more inconsistency that surrounded the death of my mother’s Uncle John.
I watched as cars and trucks began to file into an orderly line along the hill, meaning that the gravel parking lot behind us was already full. Heavy, metal doors swung open, and then slammed shut in an echoed rhythm. With sweaters or suit-coats already draped over their arms, mourners made their way up the hill or cut through the tree line unto the grounds. Still, the hearse had not made an appearance.
As mourners joined my mother’s group in the parking lot, a low, steady hum of determined voices erupted. The hum grew louder as clusters formed here and there as they made their way up the hill. The collective bearing of the mourners was anything but funereal.
Emily had jumped, from where we stood, to the terrace below. Glancing back at my mother, and then at my patent leather shoes, I walked to the closest set of the steps embedded in each of the stone walls. As usual, my mother was speaking and as usual, everyone was listening.
Emily jumped again, and again. Without a backward glance toward our mother, I hurried down the steps my curls bouncing up and down. Mimicking the wisp of Emily’s white dress that darted in front of me, I zigzagged through the gravestones, made my way to the next embankment, and jumped.
The further our descent, the more the stones looked like chess pieces. In front of a fenced-in, board-game-like, plot of graves, I caught sight of her. Bent at the waist, she rested her hands on her knees. Slowing my pace, I realized that we were in the middle of the cemetery.
Leaning back on the fence, I scanned the hillside. Emily stopped panting, straightened up, and joined me. We watched as the adults meandered and browsed among the stones with what appeared to be a purpose. No hearse yet or everyone would have moved uphill. I expected to see my mother spastically waving her arms, beckoning to us, but the only thing that glared down on us was the sun.
Emily and I continued to make our way downhill, becoming careless in our attempts not to walk on the increasingly unkempt and overgrown graves. Jumping the last stone wall, we broke into a run. Straddle-jumping the shorter, thinner stones, we raced down one grassy slope after another. I slowed to a stop, hiked-up my dress, and sat on a stubby, little, stone to wait. Emily trotted down the slope. The curls my mother had torturously twisted into her hair hung limp and stuck to her head and neck.
I stood up and looked around. We were in the oldest part of the graveyard; the stones here were ancient. The tallest leaned this way and that. The oldest graves were on the flat ground near the line of trees at the base of the hill, another four or five levels down. No amount of squinting would bring anything engraved on them into focus. I wanted to venture to that last row.
I hadn’t noticed that Emily had moved back up the hill until she called to me. “It’s a baby,” she said as she knelt to get a better look.
Not worrying whether I tramped on anyone’s grave, I bolted up to where she was. The stone was small. Though it set along the row, it remained by itself.
Baby Barger wasn’t even given a name. He, maybe she, was born and died on the same day.
I could see that baby laying there in its little white gown, its head turned to the side in eternal sleep, and I felt like crying. I thought of my mother’s baby, all by itself somewhere, and fought back the emotions that were rolling over me.
Out of respect, Emily squatted to weed the grave, in one moment, my estimation of my baby sister grew exponentially.
A couple of months ago, the word exponential was my brother Mark’s favorite. Everything was exponential until everyone wanted to hit him exponentially over the head.
I concentrated on Mark; thoughts of him were always good for replacing any emotion with annoyance and anger. I had to get myself under control because I had something to tell Emily. I watched as she continued to weed until finally, I was able to it blurt out.
“You better watch that dress. Mom will beat your butt red if you get it dirty.”
Point struck home, mid-pull she dropped the clump she was holding and stood up. She swung to and fro surveying her clothes.
“See anything?” she asks purposely.
Emily spat in her hands and rubbed them on the grass almost becoming manic until she got every speck of dirt off of them. I turned my attention back to Baby Barber.
Emily took my hand and squeezed it, then pointed to the bottom of the cemetery. She smelled like grass.
“I bet there is a lot of weird stuff on those old fossils.” She meant the tombstones.
Fossil — another of ‘Mark’s word of the moment’. His saying, not mine.
I laughed. “Okay”
We continued our descent and looked at the changing style of the stones as we went.
“Grayce, look at this one. Is that a skeleton head with wings?”
“Looks more like a ghoul.”
“Strange, but they’re pretty. Aren’t they?”
I lost interest when I looked downhill and saw all the American flags — with thirteen stars — fluttering on the two levels below us. Down the slope, I ran toward a stone with an engraved drum. I yelled for Emily to follow.
First the baby, now this boy. My forehead itched. “This boy wasn’t much older than Mark.”
“Couldn’t see Mark on a battlefield, but I could see an army taking potshots at him.”
She walked to twin tombstones. “This lady died in 1792 at the age of eighty-nine and was — I don’t know this word — of Wyll Walker.”
“Consort? I don’t know either.”
Emily wrinkled her brow. “Think it’s like Cora?”
Even Emily knew that dear old Uncle John had been sleeping with his housekeeper.
“Like Cora? I don’t think so, or Mary Walker would have never made it to eighty-nine. They would have stoned her to death.”
“Don’t want to think about that.” Emily skipped away. She called over her shoulder, “I’m hot.”
The sun had climbed higher in the sky; heat radiated from the multitude of stones. I trailed behind my sister, who had drifted uphill toward the meager shade of the trees on the wooded border of the graveyard. I came to a stop. Situated in the wood stood a mausoleum, my mother’s maiden name inscribed above its door, a large familial plat surrounding it. Countless plots fenced in ornate wrought iron, replete with monuments and stones, looked more like Grandma’s flower garden than grave lots. I hastened up the path, jumped a couple of steps, and tried the metal door. Locked.
“Grayce, come on!” Emily shouted.
Shouting back, “Mom’s family’s graveyard.”
She trotted down the hill and up the path into the wood taking in the mausoleum and the grounds. She was impressed. I scratched my forehead.
Emily crossed her arms over her chest. “Oh no, we are not looking for mom’s dead baby. I don’t care what you’re feeling.” She went on yammering about how she wasn’t going to do this or that when she stopped talking mid-sentence. I followed her gaze uphill and there, surrounded by scrub trees and underbrush, set a monument removed from the rest, not only by distance but by preeminence.
Emily pressed her fingers to her temples. “Is it glowing?
“Let’s go see.”
Pushed forward as Emily stumbled into me, I felt a determined tug on my dress, which wrapped around my body as I turned to face her.
Emotion registered in her large black-brown eyes, which rivaled the rigidness of her body. The hem of my dress balled in her hand, she pulled again as she pursed her lips.
“No,” she whispered as if someone could hear. At Emily’s touch, her clarity washed over me. Registering my discomfort, Emily let go. “You felt it.”
“There’s something I’m meant to know.”
“No!” Her voice shrieked, hiccupped, and whispered all at the same time.
“I know, but I have to.” I turned and moved toward the stone.
Emily slipped her hand into mine. She had accessed her options — trek back up the hill, her very presence and my absence an interruption to our mother, or move forward.
We were close now. In unison, we each rubbed our brow.
Emily hissed, “It’s cold here.”
A rank smell, like urine, invaded my nostrils. If Emily and I weren’t afraid, who was?