I sit among the dead to ponder living.
Julia (b. 1896 – d. 1973) lays beside her beloved Cornelius (b. 1891 – d. 1977) in death’s long sleep. They neither hold hands nor kiss. Where once flourished fond affection, love, children, and laughter, is only silence and finality. Their sole, prone lookout is the under-sod, the dim other-side of green sprigging Zoysia. They do not feel the cordial breeze nudging my elbow and rippling my shirtsleeve as I sit beside their marble headstone, the sun glinting on the granite nameplate, the teeming brightness of this shining May afternoon kissing the glossy names of ghosts.
Julia and Cornelius, my newly-adopted-but-long-departed friends, can’t hear the humming traffic or the burring lawnmower nearby. They are deaf to the chirping baby robins and the jetliner I hear overhead. They can’t see the whopping black ant tracing the outline of my note-binder or reach out to crush it with an unmerciful finger. Their eyelids, stitched tightly over long-empty sockets, will never see children or grand children or great grandchildren playing ball or eating chicken salad.
But, I am breathing now, sucking in and blowing out my borrowed breaths. Each inhalation-exhalation takes me closer to Jules and “Corny” —see how fond we’ve become! The “living” and the “not-so-living” in communion, the sympathy of souls, as I sit hunched over their grassy beds like a hungry graveyard vulture.
Their secrets long misplaced, who now knows the flushed face or shy swooning Julia felt the first time she saw Cornelius so many years ago or if he was faithful to her his whole life? Perhaps he was, or perhaps he loathed her insufferable fussiness and punished her with coldness, the coldness they now sip together like chilly mint juleps. But, does it matter? There, at my feet they lay, the two of them. There they lay until the steaming rot of time itself swallows them dead again.
I once saw an egret plucking geckos from the bushes for his lunch. A stealthy bird with spindly legs, he was all beak and neck and belly, stalking tender young lizards. In one elegant lurch he snatched his kill between two teeth-less scissor beaks, over and over, lizard after lizard. Each one wrenched, twisted, writhed, and was swallowed helplessly whole, its fatal figure embossed, protruding from the bird’s long, thin neck until it sank out of sight.
I, too, will be stalked, snatched, and swallowed whole. God will watch as I watched. He will see my helplessness; my ludicrous struggle, observing my twitching form as I am pushed down death’s lean gullet to its dark swollen belly. He saw Jules go down and Cornelius, too, and all the dead laying all around me now. Not one soul escaped His sight.
I laid down on the newly greened grass beside Julia and Cornelius, resting under the tall oak that spread its spring-budding branches over us. As I dozed, they sat with me. He like Clark Gable and she Emily Dickinson, his handsome locks greased back and she, her dark hair pulled tight, bunned neatly, pinned for the long haul.
“Our four years apart were the hardest,” she pined, as if she had died for the beauty of her words. “I couldn’t wait for him to get here.” “And I couldn’t give a damn” spoke Cornelius in his best movie star imitation, his voice not quite his own, musty and dank, so long unused, so long silent. He winked wryly toward Julia in the way he always had when teasing her, but she had no blood with which to blush. A few moments passed, the air between us a thinly grayed veil. “It’s not so bad, really” she said distantly, looking past me to the stones and oaks behind. “God sees” she said. “God sees.”