Grant approached each of those gravestones with reverence and glee. He often asked himself: How could one not experience awe upon touching that granite? Paradoxically, he also could not deny the small starburst of joy that rose up from his stomach and tickled his throat each time he advanced. He felt a strong need to unite these two extremes of emotion, the profane and the holy, a small synthesis of some sort that might extinguish his guilt. For one should not experience joy on one's knees at the home of the dead. Yet he did, along with the sense that each plot below ground contained scraps from the cosmos. The infinite, extracted.
That God's own small expansion chose its great spread in the guise of a green-grass studded park, filled with bright flowers that bloomed with a fierce vivid pride, seemed poetic and random, a grand joke lacking mirth. Grant came three, four mornings a week to Fairview Gardens And Lawn, and each visit confirmed his own confusion as constant. Why should the final resting place of the dead be so fragrant with scents that engendered such hope? Each rose that he sniffed filled him up with the sense that his life might bring joy. An elongated happiness, extending through years yet to come, with friends he would make in the months from this moment.
These thoughts, as he wandered the paths that wound through this large park. Other thoughts, however, invaded his space and refused to give way. All well and good, that the flowerbeds he enjoyed brought a certain peace to the living, but what of the dead, who were housed here for good ? Did those bones underground understand his small joy? Would they care if they could? How is it fair that the cramped darkness they dwell in, submerged in raw dirt, is offset above ground by petunias that bloom with such inborn intent? Does it make a difference at all to those skeletal fragments who patiently wait for their winter to end? Questions like these -- what Grant hoped he might answer by coming here often.
Nonchalance was his preferred mode of action, a kind of concerted, casual bereavement. He imagined cemetery staff taking note of his strolls: Yes, yes, a sad gentle chap. Comes a few times a week, he does. Kneels before various headstones. Family members, I suppose, or friends. People do tend to lose a lot, as life goes along. Can't really blame him for paying respect, though he's here more than I am, and I'm here quite a bit.
However, it became hard to vary one's stroll and disguise your ambition when days became weeks, with months soon to follow. There were various groundskeepers and guards always poking around; he often gave them a wave, certain that this semi-friendly gestures of theirs meant they had unearthed his true plans. Soon he understood that was silly -- they couldn't care less who came in or stayed put as they mowed lawns and locked gates. This was an open space, a public space; as long as you weren't pissing on gravesites or lurking on after dark, you were free to roam or stay still, your choice yours alone. They weren't watching anybody, let alone him. Besides, the whole grounds were quite large, winding well past the main gate and the large staff building beside it. He needn't worry about his naturally strange way of walking, that truncated shuffle-step, or the habit he had of bending down at each grave, his left knee first to the ground. Nevertheless, he always took care to look dour and crestfallen, and he began to vary his route, starting each day at different graves and small gardens, a cautionary pose. Eccentricity had its own form of action, and he eventually acquiesced to its arc.
Lately, the gravestones around the big pond demanded his touch. The cemetery had two ponds: a small one by the road that the the ducks never went near, and a larger body of water far from the park's gates, whose surface held charms only ducks might decipher. Why the ducks didn't want to even sample the smaller pond's water remained an enigma. To Grant, anyway. Perhaps nobody else considered such thoughts. Grant did, because spending the bulk of one's time in the realm of the dead made each day a pursuit of old patterns ignored. Ignorance was not bliss, but neglect's sordid cousin. The headstones near this pond would not join that sad family, if Grant had his way.
To begin with, a child. Always bad, to start with a child, but there was a concrete order in place, literally, established and solid, so what could he do, the dice had been tossed. (Who threw those dice in the air from the get-go was the question he longed to ignore but could not quite dissolve.) He always proceeded from the left to the right, the logical path; this procession, no matter how basic, gave him some form of a grip on a slippery gamble. (To examine these deaths, even half-removed in this way, required a kind of control, no matter how fragile.) The first headstone was small, barely waist-high, as thin as the slice of white bread he'd wolfed down for his breakfast. At first he refused to believe it was stone at all; it looked more like scrap paper dyed gray, and almost as fragile. Grant reached out with his finger, then pulled it right back, as if he had felt the heat from a flame reach out for a singe. He was afraid that his touch might topple it over. Scolding himself -- don't be a ninny, you fool! -- he tried once again, and this time he touched stone, the letters, the name:
September 24, 1944 - March 21, 1949
OUR SON AND OUR BROTHER
NOW AT REST WITH THE ANGELS
A light breeze ruffled his hair as he traced each letter and number with his finger's soft tip. Was it the wind of the season, announcing its start, or eternally young Harold Gibbs, reaching out from the heavens?