Friday, July 29, 2005

Graveyard Shift

The Duwamish graveyard is an interesting place...


``Have you ever seen a ghost?” I asked my boss Stan when I first started working at the cemetery – so long ago, I’ve forgotten when.
He glanced at me sideways, and chuckled.
``Ask me again in a while,” he said.
We were filling in one of the graves. It had recently rained, washing away some of the soil, and the top of a blackened skull was showing through the dirt.
I didn’t have to ask him again, but I guess he knew that.
The first time I saw one I was waiting for the last mourner to leave. There was a steady drizzle, seeping down the back of my neck, under my raincoat.
The mourner, in his plain dark suit, his head bowed so I couldn’t see his face, didn’t seem to notice the rain. After a while, I saw that he wasn’t even getting wet.
I slid down the hill. The man didn’t look up, he just kept staring down at the grave as if he was really pissed off about something.
Stan came walking toward us, making shooing gestures with his hands. ``Come on now,” he said. ``Move along, you shouldn’t be here.”
I thought he was talking to me at first and I started backing away. But he was talking to the man by the graveside.
The man looked up. I couldn’t see anything wispy or ghostly about him. He looked quite solid, but something didn’t quite seem right - his features were out of sync somehow and his hairline kept moving, as if it wasn’t sure where it was supposed to be.
``Run along now,” Stan said, in a kindly way. ``They’ll be waiting for you.” He pointed off in the direction of the trees and the man’s head slowly followed, as he were one of those computer drawn figures in a game.
I felt a soft breeze as he moved past me, then he just disappeared.
``Forgotten already,” Stan said cheerfully. ``Once they forget, they don’t come back.”
``Forget what?” I asked.
``Who they were, what they looked like,” Stan said. ``You see, it all depends how long they can remember. Some of them have been here since the place opened. But once they forget, they’re gone.”
Then I saw Louisa. I was eating a tuna sandwich in my lunch break, and she stood near me. I was about to direct her to Stan’s office, thinking she was looking for a grave, when I realized she looked odd.
Ghosts look odd because they have to keep remembering. Try it - try remembering what you look like, where your legs are, how your arms move. It’s pretty hard.
Some of the ghosts are really good at it. They remember everything perfectly and you almost can’t tell them from the not dead. They hang around the funerals and the visitors and chat to them and you’d never guess unless you knew they were buried there. Mostly they like to remember themselves at their best, as you would.
Louisa’s memory wandered all over the place. Sometimes she was a little girl, sometimes an old woman. The ghosts say it helps if they are still remembered by other people. It’s a kind of collective thing, and it gets harder as the people die off and the memories fade.
Poor old Louisa had no one to remember, or too many people to remember - she slipped about, morphing like a dream. One moment she had rosy cheeks, the next sere and withered cheeks.
``Run along,” I said, ``they’re waiting for you.” But she was still there when I went back to work, cleaning up the graves.
It’s funny what people leave on graves. Little bottles of liquor - Stan takes those - birthday cards, little gifts, perfumed soaps, photographs. The church collects most of it. I guess they pass on anything useful.
The dead are mostly harmless. They usually don’t remember emotions, they are too busy trying to remember the physical things, where the ears should be, which way a nose points. They like to remember the good things, so we never saw any headless ghosts or dripping bloody wounds. Stan says ghosts who hang around graveyards just want to remember what it was like to be alive.
Every time I saw Louisa, I would say, ``Run along now, they’re waiting for you.” The last time I saw her, she actually listened. She was an old, old woman, bent and shriveled. In the end, that was all she could remember. I saw her arm raise, as if someone had gently taken hold of it, then she walked away without looking back. Maybe she had forgotten how.
Stan died quite a while back now – heart attack, under Louisa’s tree. He said goodbye after his funeral. ``Gotta get a move on ,” he said, ``they’re waiting for me.” He was very insubstantial, forgetting as quickly as he could. So I took over from him, and stayed among the dead.
Everyone here is dead except me.

And sometimes I wonder about me.



At 10:33 AM, Blogger Anita Marie Moscoso said...

Hi Gail,

This was the PERFECT Ghost story and the next time I'm at a campfire or swapping tales with friends I'l remember this one...but don't worry I'll start it off with,

Once my friend Gail spent some time in the cemetery in Duwamish and she....

Anita Marie

At 6:43 PM, Blogger Heather Blakey said...

Wow Gail
I just love it. I can see it is going to be some time before you really leave Duwamish. A part of you is here now.

At 7:31 PM, Blogger Anita Marie Moscoso said...

Yeah Gail! Stay here in that Livia has gone off to parts unknown I know we're short a story teller....

Anita Marie

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Believer said...

Whoa Gail -- that was a shocker. I looked at the name twice to make sure it wasn't one of Anita's stories. Beautiful job. You really got me thinking about the remembering part--which way the nose points, lol!

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Karen said...

I loved the small details, as well. The dead are really just a remembrance of the living, aren't they?


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