Contractual obligations


It was years since I’d been here. Walking among the weathered stones, I realized I was lost. None of the names were familiar, when once I could recited them like a favorite nursery rhyme.

At the end of the north side, I finally found the kneeling angel facing the Woodmen totem. Turning to the east, I headed along a row of cavalrymen. Spread out like a walled city, the crypts loomed in the shadows of the far corner.

Seeing the black, mottled lichens on the vaults, reminded me how long I’d been away. Last time I was in the stone garden, the marble was pristine. The surface was slate grey, with flecks of sliver and emerald flashing in the southern sun.

For the interment, I dressed to complement the stone. A little black dress, accessorized with my dearly-departed’s emerald cuff links fashioned into a pendant on a slender silver chain. I did my obligatory soft sobs, and breathy hiccups. I practiced my soulful, doe eyes for days prior. My performance was award-winning.

Then I left. My debt paid.

Except it wasn’t.

When I noticed him sitting on the meditation bench in front of the family crypt, I tried to stay inconspicuous in the shade of a pin oak. I thought it was odd, him simply sitting there. I never considered that anyone would really use the bench, that and he should still be dead.

“You know, I can see you.” Without turning his head, his voice carried, an unearthly echo across the lawn.

Stepping out of the shadows, I walked around the crypt so I was facing him.

“You’re looking well.” I tried to project a calmness I didn’t feel.

He was wearing his old pair of Ray-Bans, hiding his eyes behind the amber lenses. His black suit was dusty, but still looked like new.

“I’m tired, but glad to be back.” He sat without moving, his hands resting casually on his knees.

“Your invitation caught me off guard.” Tilting my head, I tried to see beyond the glasses to get an indication of his mood.

“I’m sure it did.” A smirk broke his deadpan expression, a chuckle escaping from deep inside his chest.

I noticed his shirt cuffs peeking out of the ends of his jacket sleeves, and my hand went instinctively to my neck, fingering the emerald pendant I wore at his funeral.

When I didn’t say anything more, he took off his Ray-Bans, and stared at me with milky eyes.

“We have some unfinished business,” he said. “You didn’t fulfill your part of the contract.”

Keeping a demure distance between us, I sat beside him on the bench. “I want to renegotiate my terms.”

Inspired by “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” by Wallace Stegner. ”He was the only one left to fulfill that contract and try to justify the labor and the harshness and the mistakes of his parents’ lives, and that responsibility was so clearly his, was so great an obligation, that it made unimportant and unreal the sight of the motley collection of pall-bearers staggering under the weight of his father’s body, and the back door of the hearse closing quietly upon the casket and the flowers.””

13 thoughts on “Contractual obligations

  1. For some reason while I was reading this I kept envisioning the cemeteries in New Orleans. I don’t know why, but the story gives me a New Orleans, creepy, shadowy, kind of flavor. Enjoyed it…


    1. I’m glad you liked the story. I love old cemeteries, and New Orleans has some amazing graveyards. While I wrote this piece, I was thinking of an old cemetery near downtown Pensacola. There are graves there that pre-date the founding of the city.


  2. An excellent tale. She almost got away with it too. I love the line:

    “You’re looking well.” I tried to project a calmness I didn’t feel.

    I can feel her nervousness here, and at the same time, her desire to remain calm on the outside. Nicely done Tara.


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