Leaning our bikes against the wall, Amy and I left the hot, midday sun behind the heavy, carved doors. From above, organ music washed down the mural-hung walls flooding the air around us. We looked up and Amy asked me where I thought the organist was hiding. I laughed at her and touched one of the giant urns placed in between high, marble walls standing three stories high. Even though it had been a year, we could still smell the new carpet and concrete.
The visitors lot had been empty, but to be sure we took turns walking then running down the rows to double check. Despite the stillness, we still felt a presence and screamed at the top of our lungs just to be sure. Our voices hardly penetrated the gloom, but I swore the organ music stopped for just a second.
Amy suggested we play hide and seek, but there really wasnt anywhere to hide. I gave up and stopped to trace a grooved name pressing around edge of the marble for the secret button that would reveal who was sealed inside. The dead were spread out leaving gaps between the names. Its to give them space, Amy said when I called out to her and asked why.
She counted down the years of one girls short life on her fingers and took a deep breath. I placed my nose up close where the four corners met and sniffed, but I didnt smell anything. Facing away from each other, we stretched out on a pair of benches separated by one of the huge urns and closed our eyes trying to imagine what it felt like to be dead. I stretched open my arms glad I wasnt trapped inside one of these walls.
Towards the back of the building there was a stairway leading up to a landing. We walked up and stopped to rest our heads against the tall panes of glass and looked out across the graveyard. I pointed out where my father was buried. It was a newer grave and the grass was still growing in. From up here, I was startled by all the bright clumps of color and felt bad. I thought about stealing a handful of flowers from one of the other graves, or asking Amy for a boost to grab some of the plastic ones that floated in glass vases suspended along the walls behind us.
Amy spotted a dust devil swirling in an empty area and said it was Satan out swiping souls. She grabbed my hand and told me we needed to pray. I nodded, thinking of my father, and we crossed ourselves when the column of dust staggered and collapsed.
Behind us the black mouth of the elevator stood openempty and dark inside. Did the dead venture out for rides, I wondered. Did they come out for visits? Drawn by this idea, I told Amy we each had to ride up one floor alone. You go first, then, she said, already running up the stairs. I flinched as the pitch black swallowed up everything. Hands out, I spun around reaching for the cold, metal walls and had to recite the Our Father, to keep from panicking.
The car came to a quiet halt and I turned toward the sound of the doors opening, marveling when they peeled back and I saw Amy form from her middle out. She asked me what it was like, but I put my finger to my lips and pulled her inside. I pressed the button for the third floor and leapt out of the elevator racing to the next level wanting her to see what I saw, wanting to watch the look on her face when she saw me appear from inside the darkness backlit by a halo of sunlight.
|The Gathering Chorus
Scattered in the dark woods outside Bend, Oregon, campfires blaze and snap casting shadows on groups of trailers and pitched tents huddled close like covered wagons. Seated in fold-up plastic chairs, men chew Copenhagen and talk about their day in the logging camp. One of the men, whose arm is missing, rubs the stump at the elbow where the chain bit hard and recalls the events of that day in vivid detail. All of them have their scars and stories to tell and never tire of repeating them. The women are weary from their own hard labor. They stay quiet and tend to the fire, keeping an eye out for their children. The teenagers are the ones who need watching. The little ones have long since said their prayers and been put to bed.
The older kids stand in the shadows speaking in low tones about driving into town this coming weekend. They look forward to these occasional trips. They don't go to school; instead they're taught from the Bible and donated schoolbooks, learning just enough to keep social workers away. One of them, a boy, who secretly wants very much to go to school, needs reading glasses and considers advice on how to best ask for them.
A girl and boy, fourteen and sixteen, stand apart from the others holding hands and not saying much. They're promised to each other and will marry when she is sixteen. It will be a day long ceremony in the neighboring camp presided over by one of their church elders. They ache to kiss each other, but know that if caught there would be trouble. They'll be together plenty, soon enough, is what her mother says. Right at this moment, sixteen seems a long way off, though. The girl looks into the boy's eyes and smiles. This will have to do for now.
Two young brothers share an upper bunk in a nearby trailer. They listen as their grandmother begins to play her guitar and softly sing. Her repertoire consists of half a dozen hymns taught to her by her father. She still practices them, and the two boys stay up to hear her every night. Here comes their favorite part, after every verse, her hand knocks out a three-time beat: thump-thump-thump.
Restless in the upper bunk of one of the trailers, they aren't even able to straighten their elbows as they mimic the rhythmic thump-thump-thump overhead. Quietly, though, so they won't be overheard. Last month they'd been separated for a week for making too much noise, and they wouldn't let that happen again. They'd rather be beaten than kept apart. Their father knew that and precisely what punishment to dole. Desperate and lonely, they'd cried themselves to sleep every night until the following Sunday when they had to stand for the entire service for this and other sins.
They both need to go to the bathroom, but they keep it to themselves, knowing they can't climb down until dawn. Instead, they stifle their giggles and the accompanying rise of panic that their bladders might puff up and trap them beneath the tin ceiling.
Unable to turn over to peek through the curtains, they soon fall asleep thinking about the bright and blinking eyes of the chipmunks and deer their grandmother says come out of the darkness each night to hear her play. In their dreams, just audible over the rising frog croak chorus, they can see the forest creatures - can almost hear their footfalls - as they gather beyond the edge of the fire.