I LIVE IN THE CEMETERY
by Faye Reddecliff
Cemeteries are not scary at night. At least the dead are not what’s scary. They’re peaceful — the vandals and drunks, now that’s something else.
I know because I live in the cemetery. Other than that, I think I’m your usual person. In the daytime, I’m a waitress at a coffee shop. I talk to people regularly. They’d never guess. Take Lorraine, she’s a waitress on the shift after mine, and I guess my best friend. She thinks I’m staying at the motel on the edge of town. Just until I find an apartment, I told her.
So, how did I get into this living in the cemetery? It all started with Lloyd. I met Lloyd at Tops Café where I work. He’s a mechanic at the garage down the street from the Café. He was a regular customer — coffee and doughnut in the morning, every morning, before work. Got so, I’d just set out his cup and saucer and a fresh doughnut as soon as he walked in the door. One morning, as he lay down his quarter tip, he up and asked me out. One thing led to another and a couple of months later, on a drunken weekend trip to Reno, we got married. For myself, I think I wanted some kind of connection, another person to make me part of the world. As for Lloyd, maybe he just liked the way I waited tables. That was pretty much most of our interaction after we married. I waited at the café during the day and at home at night.
So right off, I think, we both had the wrong ideas about marriage. Like any other marriage, I guess, we had our ups and downs except it seemed like more than our share of downs. It was like we weren’t on the same wavelength. He had his ideas and I had mine. The part I wanted, the connection, didn’t happen. In fact, being with Lloyd just made me even more aware that I didn’t have it. It began to feel lonelier with Lloyd than when I lived by myself. There I was with another person and I was still alone.
One day, we were driving out in the country. We’d just had a really big fight over him, as usual, wanting to watch a football game and me wanting to talk. He watched the game and then, to make up, suggested we go for a drive. I figured I’d go for the drive but, to get my own back, wouldn’t speak to him.
It was a fall day, the kind with a beauty that’s full of sadness and regret: the sky an intense blue and a kind of gold light in the air that tints everything. Those days just make me feel there’s something wonderful out there and that it’s something I don’t have and can’t ever have. It’s hard to bear.
We’d been driving about an hour, neither of us saying anything, when he suddenly spoke. It startled me. I’d been daydreaming about going out to dinner. I imagined the whole works – fancy place, candles, romantic – getting waited on instead of doing the waiting. I couldn’t make out who I was with at this dream restaurant but it was not Lloyd.
“My folks are buried there,” Lloyd interrupted my dream, both hands on the steering wheel, looking straight ahead.
We’d been married a year and this is the first I’m hearing about these “folks.” As far as I knew, Lloyd had no folks except a stepmother in Cincinnati. “What? What folks?”
“You know. Ancestors,” he said, still staring straight ahead without slowing or looking at me.
He certainly got my attention. “Lloyd!” I don’t know who or where my folks are, if I have any. I grew up in four different foster homes after my mom died when I was two. Having folks seemed major to me not something you’d mention out of the side of your mouth. “Lloyd!”
He finally looked at me.
I could have slapped him. “To the cemetery!”
“For god’s sake, why?” He didn’t even slow the car.
“Because!” I grabbed his arm.
At this, he slowed and pulled over. “Cass!”
My name’s Cass for Cassandra. That’s not what my name was in the foster homes. I changed it to a name I liked when I was eighteen. I’m pretty proud of that. At least, I can have me.
”What the hell’s wrong with you? Are you trying to get us killed?” He was looking at me now.
“No. I want to see the cemetery.”
“You’re likely to more than see it with that kind of stunt.” He grumbled but he did turn the car around.
We drove back a ways before he turned up a narrow road. The road wound around quite a bit before we finally turned off onto an even narrower road that took us between two huge stone pillars with worn carvings and under a wrought-iron arch that connected the pillars. Lloyd stopped. On either side of us there were trees and underbrush and beyond were relatively open spaces. Among the overgrown shrubs, weeds, and grass were strewn tombstones in various positions. Some bent almost to the ground. Some stood near each other but leaned in opposite directions like magnets that repelled each other while others almost knocked together. There were mostly rectangles and cubes except for the occasional angel or lamb. In front of most stones, the earth had settled marking the dimensions of each casket or, pine box maybe. The dates were mostly worn away but I knew the lambs were for children. It wasn’t only that the depressions were smaller there was just a different feeling around the lambs. Like something was being asked of me. A question or need for which I had no answer.
Turned out, Lloyd didn’t know where these “folks” were. “I’ve only been here once before,” he said, by way of excuse, “and I was only a kid.”
Whatever. I don’t think there’s any excuse for losing your folks. We wondered around the cemetery for almost an hour. Lloyd muttering all the while. What, I didn’t care to hear.
“Wait, a second, Cass.” He paused at a grouping of three gravestones. “I’m getting something here.”
The writing on the stones was so worn we had to read it with our fingers as well as our eyes. The stones were warm in the sun, like living beings.
“Renfield. This is it. Eighteen fifty-nine, eighteen ninety-nine, nineteen thirty-four.”
He straightened. “Okay, we’ve found them. Let’s go. I’m starving.”
I would have liked to say, “Go. Let me stay here a bit. You can come and get me in an hour or two.” But I didn’t. I just followed him back to the car. On the ride back, we were still mostly silent but this time I was thinking my own thoughts not worrying and angering myself with what he might or might not be thinking.
After that, I came often to the cemetery usually by myself. It felt so peaceful. Through the wind in the treetops and the occasional bird cry, I thought I could hear sighing. Not frightening sighing at all just a quiet longing sighing. I brought flowers when I could and pulled weeds and listened. I came to know the names on the stones and a bit of the history of those people whose graves they marked. Emily Candless: born 1848, died 1898; George Reynolds: born 1918, died 1978, ‘Rest in Peace, You Are Loved’; Lorraine Evans: born 1902, died 1968, ‘Beloved.’ I began to imagine their lives — hopes and dreams, suffering and loss — maybe not so different from my own.
Meanwhile my own life went on. Lloyd and I finally threw in the towel. Probably a good bit later than we should have. He went his way and I went mine. He took the car and I took the pickup and trailer. We let the apartment go and Marcy, the weekend waitress at Tops, lent me her couch until I could figure out what to do.
I continued to visit the cemetery. Although they were Lloyd’s folks, I had more of a relationship with them than he did. By now I cared about more than just Lloyd’s folks but other people’s folks, too, – folks that nobody seemed to remember or care about – never any flowers on the graves, overgrown with weeds. They had me now. And, I had them.
Finally, I just moved into the cemetery. I had no idea I was going to do it until the very day I did it. I told Marcy I was going to stay at the motel outside of town for awhile and I planned to do it, too. But in my car, towing the little trailer, I stopped at the cemetery on the way and then just stayed for the night. One night became two and so on and so forth.
In the days, I still waited on tables — waiting for people to decide between lemon meringue and coconut custard and in the nights I wait to know why they sigh or why I do.
No one suspects, when I come into the Café in the morning, that I live in a cemetery.
Lloyd found out. I don’t know how. I think he might have followed me one night. It was late at night and it gave me quite a start when he came to the trailer door and pounded on it. I mean how would you feel? There you are in a cemetery and there’s a knock on the door? Too scared to ask who was there, I hid under the fold-down table until he shouted, “Cass! Open up this door!”
When I opened it, I saw he’d been drinking and he was furious. His face was all red and contorted.
“What do you think you’re doing?” He shouted at me.
“I’m taking care of these folks.” It was the first time I’d actually put what I was doing into words.
“Have you gone completely round the bend? For god’s sake, they’re not even your folks!”
“They are now.”
“Cass, it’s not safe out here by yourself. A woman alone out here?!”
“Lots of women are alone out here.” That should have been obvious.
“I am serious. I take care of things out here. I care for them.”
He stomped off and I heard gravel spray as his car dug out.
About an hour later, I heard his car again. I know its chug sound, surprisingly heavy for a little car. The engine cut off just over the hill. I waited wondering if he’d come by to try and convince me again. When he didn’t, I wondered if he was going to try to scare me in the middle of the night. I sat up all night but heard nothing from Lloyd. It was about 6 in the morning when I heard his car leave.
That night, just after sunset, he returned.
It’s been two weeks now and Lloyd has been coming every night since then – comes late and leaves early. He must sleep in his car. I know he’s there. He thinks I don’t know it. Even though I don’t see or hear him I can feel his caring. Just like I imagine somehow all the dead folks can feel my caring. I look out the trailer window and see everyone safe — the moonlight touching the stones. I think of Lloyd’s car in the moonlight, too, out of sight over the hill with Lloyd curled up in the backseat. I wonder if he’s warm enough and worry that he can’t stretch out to sleep properly. I’m thinking tomorrow I’ll take him some cocoa.
About the Author:
Faye Reddecliff was born and grew up in Pennsylvania. She now lives in northern California and writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has had her work published in various magazines.