by Megan Clark
This is your plot. I’m sure you’ll like this one. It’s in the back corner next to the fence, but it’s accessible. I realize it’s farther than the other ones. It’s not right next to the highway. But don’t worry. Your family won’t have to walk to see you. This is America. We got drive-thrus. See? See the paved road that snakes its way up the hill? Your family (or friends, if you have them) can pull right up next to your plot. They don’t even have to get out of the car to see you. Isn’t that nice? They can stay a while if they want, but we don’t provide benches. Benches cost extra. You have to buy your own bench. Then you have to get it approved by the cemetery board. We remove any unauthorized decorations: no wind chimes, no trellises, no arbors, no balloons, no metal fencing, no statues, and no food or drink. Any liquor left will be drank by the grounds crew. Sorry, I was only kidding. We throw all that away.
So, figure out now if you want your family to sit at your side. It takes awhile to get things approved through the board. One lady wouldn’t stop putting up wind chimes in that tree. Took down near fifteen of them before she stopped. Said her daughter used to keep them outside her window. Said she couldn’t sleep without the sound of them. Her daughter, Brittney, died in a car crash, playing car tag with her boyfriend. Blam, she went right off into a tree. Her and the car nearly wrapped clean around it. I agree; they sound nice. But what can you do? They’re on the list; can’t have them.
I realize you don’t like the location. It’s not the most popular section. Unfortunately, the area around the pond filled quickly. Everyone wants to be near Jesus walking on the water. But, sometimes the water gets low. You can see the pedestal under His feet. Wouldn’t want your loved ones staring at that. Up here, we keep the fence free of vines and grass trimmed. You got that tree near you, so it won’t get too hot in summer. The leaves have piled up, but we’ll take care of that. It’s prime real estate. I’m sure you can see the potential in it. From this plot, you’ll be the first to see the sun rise every morning over that hill. It gets real pretty. Yes, we always make sure the gravestones are facing the right direction. Only once did someone face west, but we fixed that. We wouldn’t want anyone to be left behind when He comes back. All stones face east. See? They’ll all be pointing directly at your plot. Jesus will see you right as He’s ascending. You’ve picked out a fine monument with the right amount of information. Name. Birth and death. Forever Missed. Not overly mysterious or overly detailed. Can’t go wrong with polished granite. I would think about removing the picture of yourself. Pictures of the dead give the living the heebie-jeebies. But it’s up to you. It’s nice all the same. You look good in that red shirt anyway.
You just need one plot? Or two? Just the one, then. I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe someone will come along. Someone special enough to buy the plot next to yours. You can put a down payment on it just in case. Only half the price. Well, think on it; you never know. Always good to think ahead. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Even if you can’t find someone to fill that space, you got plenty of good neighbors. You said you knew some of them. A few were family? Great-aunt Rita and her husband and your first cousin Thomas. My dad said Rita was a fine lady. Except for when she drank. Then she’d cuss him up one way and down another, just for looking at her wrong. All the rest are across the line in Tennessee. I see. Not too far then. Here you can nearly yell across the river at someone in Tennessee. So you’re close in spirit. Arkansas isn’t too far for them. But still, I understand. It can be a pain to take a body over state lines. You made a good choice to stay here. When they take vacations to the Gulf, they can make a stop here and see you. Won’t that be nice? You’ll be a destination. If you get a bench, they can sit under this tree and think of you. What a picture.
The other people? Well, I told you that you’re in the best part of the cemetery, people wise. I mean you really can’t get it any better than this. You got your family members. There’s also Clarence Monroe. He’s right behind your plot. He owned the general store down the road, died of a heart attack. Cried out for his momma when he died. An eighty-year old man crying for his momma. But he was real nice. Clarence let people buy on credit until the day he died. Kept him a notebook by the register for your debts. Now his penny-pinching daughter, Anne, posted a sign that says “Payment upon services completed.” Sounds like she runs a dentist office. All she does is ring up gas and Cheetos. She did buy the plot next to Clarence, but she jogs all the time. You can see her going up and down the road at all hours of the day. We don’t expect to see her here anytime soon. She doesn’t come by too often.
Then, you got your Aunt Rita there and on your right is Lucy Reid. Now, Lucy never spoke ill of another soul as long as I knew her. Well, except for her sister, Tilly. They couldn’t stand each other. They were born only nine months apart. Always trying to steal the other’s boyfriend, eventually each other’s husband. Can you imagine that? Grown women. One time, Lucy had relations with Tilly’s boyfriend when he was stone cold drunk. The best Tilly could ever do was make out with Lucy’s next three boyfriends. They went at it like that for years. Tilly is buried way down there with her husband’s family. Right there. Said if she were to roll over in her grave, she didn’t want to know she’d end up facing Lucy. Couldn’t stand to be near each other. Tilly’s grandchildren are always up here keeping her flowers fresh, so it never looks bad. Maggie and Macy are here nearly every month. They tread lightly. Your grass won’t get trampled. People do like to stomp on old Buck Hardy down there. He got caught touching some kids behind the playground a few times. He’d already bought the plot, so we had to let him use it. Dead is dead. We keep the graffiti off the best we can.
Then there’s Terrence Caulfield further down. A minister. Got his inspirations from the Bible and liquor cabinet, if you know what I mean. Then there’s Mrs. Caulfield. Died after being swept off a bridge during a storm. Found her over a day later; tail end of her car caught on the river bank. Coroner said she was a sight after being submerged so long. The lamb marks their baby boy. He was two. Their other son, Micah, lives up north in Missouri. We don’t see much of him. He’s one of those Memorial Day people. You know what I mean. Only show up once a year. He clears off the ratty wreaths from the year before and puts out new ones. They barely last. Probably from the dollar store. See how faded the roses are, barely even red. The cemetery board is trying to pass a rule that lets us throw out flowers as soon as they turn south. Do you think he’ll believe someone’s stealing his wreaths? Don’t you think that’d be funny? Well, I guess he would figure it out eventually. You look about his age. You ever met him? He hasn’t bought a plot up here yet, so you’re ahead of the game.
Then on down the line, you got some Woodhams, Mr. Porter, and poor Andrew Mason. Most of the Woodhams were crazy, but nice people. You know, they’d threaten to kill you one minute and give you a smile the next. Shoot at your dogs and then bring you a beer whenever they got sober. But, see, they all bought nice tombstones; they all match. Don’t want you to think we’re putting you next to the loony bin up here. Well, Derek Woodham – the flat monument right here – did kill himself with a shotgun last Christmas. But, he’s all buried and squared away now. They were even able to put most of his head back together. Andrew Mason is a little ways down there. I said he was poor, but wasn’t really; he had money. Maybe too much money. Who am I to say? He’s actually from Atlanta. He got caught taking money from the county treasurer’s office. What a scandal. Andrew was supposed to go back to Georgia to be buried with his family; they have a large plot in their hometown, someone said. But he went bankrupt and made them bankrupt too. So, he ended up here. I told you we were a real steal. You’d end up with wealthy people. Mr. Porter at the end there, the blank granite. Kept to himself. Never married or had children. But someone leaves him a daisy in a mason jar about two or three times a year. Glass containers are prohibited. No jelly jars, crystal vases, no mason jars. We leave it there about a day or so. Like to let Mr. Porter know he isn’t forgotten. Then we throw it away. We never see who leaves it for him. But they keep coming back.
What else is there to say? You got all the pamphlets. Is there anything I missed? Oh, no tin cans either. It looks trashy. The Woodhams use them all the time. I understand it’s all some people have, but there’s rules. No solar-powered lanterns or reflectors. We get reports of spooks from people driving by whenever that happens. You won’t hear the traffic noise up here. It’s peaceful here. See, you won’t miss the pond or Jesus up here. It’s nice. Friendly neighborhood. If you don’t have any more questions, we can go back toward the pavilion. We get a good turnout on Flag Day and Memorial Day. Lots of families, lots of food. A real picnic. It’s close enough to your plot without you having to be in the middle of it. When your family drives down, they can make good use of it. I bet they would like it. See? Just a real short walk. Thought about your other arrangements? Oak, pine, cherry, mahogany, yew? Don’t think too hard on it. Just be sure to get a vault. Always good to have that kind of insurance if you are going into the ground. We get do some groundhogs that burrow. Plus, whatever else is crawling done there. You want to look good when eternity rolls around. Best advice – don’t play “Sweet Beulah Land.” Your family will be too focused on how often they’ve heard it at other funerals. They won’t even be thinking about you. Come on in. I’m glad you settled on it. Never too early to plan. It’s the best we’ve got. You’ll like it.
Just sign here. We’ve got your deposit. We’ll have you done in no time.
Megan Clark is currently working toward her MFA in Fiction at the University of Arkansas. Despite having lived in Fayetteville for the last five years, she says her heart still resides in a tiny (461 population tiny) town in Ozark foothills, where she was raised by a piano-playing mother and cattle-wrangling father. “For me, I cannot write about anything but the South,” says Clark. “I’ve tried, and it never rings as true as stories that have God-fearing characters or a vast, rural landscape.”