The Point

Week 56

A Few Words Ere Return to the CPF

I think I introduced The CPF as nothing more than my entry into the vampire/supernatural feeding frenzy that infected the book world a while back, with mixed results. A few read well and had some depth. Most of the others were, to my mind, twaddle barely shy of pornography, and my eyes and brain have yet to forgive me for reading them. Of course, in the back of my mind, when I considered attempting the genre was my father’s poison-tipped spear of a question about my writing: “What do you think you have to say that has never been said before?” Good question, dad. What does anyone have to say that’s never been said before? Dig through enough history and literature, and it seems the “new” is pretty much rehashes of the past that we’ve all conveniently forgotten.

However, what I have hesitated to say is that The CPF is as much socio-political commentary as it is entertainment. There was, as I first wrote it, and is today a kind of thought poison draining the life from the world. A poison that wants to divide and label everything. And they do it, crudely and with intent to harm. In my day, young whipper-snappers, that was Name-Calling and it was as ugly, hurtful and divisive then as it is now. None of it helps us help each other or ourselves to a better understanding of why we are here or what we are to do in this life.

Then why do we do it? Why do we blister each other with stereotypes, deliberate misinterpretation and outright lies? There are several answers, too many of which rely on words of other fallible human beings and no true inspiration. Fewer come from what we “hear,” having no basis in fact or reason. Not to mention too little tolerance and compassion, if there is any at all in that poisonous brew we hear and read and suffer from these days.

And we’re too lazy to give much thought or self-reflection to the nature of the outrages. We want easy, fast answers and results yesterday. Never mind the violence and hatred the “sources’” or “authorities’” labels produce. There are quite a few people injecting that poison long after their own relevance sell-by date had (you should pardon the expression) expired. I have a LOT of trouble believing these pundits have the good of humankind in their hearts when they name-call. I believe they have their bank accounts more in mind. And we’re buying it. G-d help us, we’re buying.

Enough. Back to the graveyard (as if we aren’t living in it already).

P.S. It may be a few weeks before I can share Chapter 10 – serious editing to do there to keep within the genre.

Chapter Nine

A Cast of Dozens

One of the Ten Commandments of bureaucracy has to be that if a problem does not recur, call it a freak “accident.” Or, better yet, say a gas main broke even if there are no gas pipes within two hundred yards of the Potter’s Field. Apologize for any inconvenience to the public, then forget it ever happened. The Board told me to tell the union to bury the expelled coffin horizontally and at an awkward angle so that most of it lay in the Field, but the “feet” of the deceased rested in Section G. I didn’t expect any complaints from the residents unless the new burial still lingered and didn’t appreciate a lot of little children trying to tickle his spectral feet.

Charlie earned back a few of the romance points he’d lost two days ago with the potsch by calling me after the expulsion hit the news.

“What the hell happened?”

“The Board tried a new policy of making the Potter’s Field graves take roommates. The residents didn’t like it.”

“You’re telling me the vampires did this?”

“No.” I took the deep breaths and swallowed my estimation of his intelligence at that moment. “Ghosts.”

His voice hardened into the sneer that I’d wondered more than once if I could slap off his face –before I wallowed in guilt for having such a treacherous notion. “You’re telling me the ghosts thought it would be funny to blow a new coffin out of the ground?”

“Listen carefully,” I said. I measured my words, halved the syllables and continued. “The Board faced a lawsuit from the City over a contract to bury the indigent and homeless.”

“I know that.”

Perhaps it was then that I began to understand a parent’s need for patience with a mouthy six-year-old. All that was missing was to hear him stamp his foot, but the connection wasn’t the best anyway. He always seemed to call from the Book of the Month warehouse, with its background noises of shouted conversation, forklifts’ shrill beeping as they ground the concrete floors in reverse, and clatter of some butterfingers dropping yet again more books than she or he should have been carrying in the first place.

“The Board’s solution was to bury the newly dead on top of an older but existing indigent grave,” I said. “The gentleman who had lain in that grave since 1841 and many of the other ghosts wished to express their disapproval.”

A brief silence. “So ghosts really can move things? In the physical world, I mean. It’s not just camera tricks in the movies.” Well, some of his brain worked. I waited for the rest of the gray matter to sync up with the petulant child cells. “Are you all right?”

Two or three points restored. I’d decide later. “I’m fine. I could use a night’s uninterrupted sleep, though.”

“Good thing I’m working the one more night, then. You’ll catch up.”

I took one point back. “Maybe.” What that man did not know or want to know about what I wanted in my bed or on my body would fill half my romance novels. Then again, even if he was willing, there could be complications. Missy and Mischa could drift in just as the clothes came off. Hell, Derek could intrude any time he wished. And who knows who else my mishuggeneh ancestors had invited to come in, in the name of hospitality? Nothing was guaranteed in the CPF. He couldn’t know, so I returned the point.

“That’s wild, Grace. But you’re OK?”

I toyed with giving him a second point. “Yes, Charlie.”

“Hey, you said ‘lain’ instead of ‘laid’ for how the ghost is in the grave. Are you sure that’s right?”

Forget that last romance point. I dropped the receiver back on its cradle.

Candidate Spaccone received more blow-back to his comment about women voting than he might have wanted, but not as much as I would have liked to give him. A right cross to the gut that would send him into one of the Finger Lakes was more in my mind. The man came within syllable of saying, if he were elected, that women would be barefoot and pregnant or in the nursing home knitting. As my Grandpa Dov would have phrased it, “I’d pin that guy’s ears back so far, they should look inside his skull.”

“That’s a very un-Christian attitude,” Mischa scolded me the morning I voiced my grandfather’s opinion in the office while the TV was on. The news buddies were interviewing a trio of pastors who agreed with Spaccone. Missy tittered a little and tried to pull at her sleeve.

“Suits me,” I said. “I’ve never had a very Christian attitude, and I don’t expect I ever will.” I winked at them.

My two gossips took the offense I meant to give them. They whirled in whitish outline and left through the south wall.

The Board’s attorney, some descendent of the original Board attorney once removed, had called me the following morning. They had decided, he said, that from that time forth, I would decide where the indigent would be buried “in the existing Potter’s Field.” Translation: the Board had decided that I should decide and let the City’s ire fall on me if things did not work out.

This also meant I would have to learn who in the Field were still with us, in the spiritual sense. As polite as I had been to all the ghosts I’d encountered there over the years, as many times as I kept Old Man Sharpe from assaulting even one of them, the indigent dead had little to say to me.

Except for my complainer. With all the research I did before the doubling-up started, I still did not know his name. I asked the gossips. They admitted to seeing him, but only Missy gave any impression that she thought hard (her face collapsed into a whitish line with gasses emanating from all sides) before she said, “Nope! We were never introduced.”

I weighed the alternatives. Then I asked the gossips if they would come for me whenever, and I meant at any time of day or night, they saw “the gentleman” up and about. I realized after the words left my mouth that I was asking them to remember something. With ghosts, if the memory wasn’t there when they died, they didn’t have it and couldn’t keep a new one. Asking them to connect me with the gentleman complainer, then, was about the equivalent of trying to pour a solid into their non-corporeal heads. But it soothed their religiously hurt feelings. I would have to keep out a watch on the bench in Section G.

He met me there two nights later. Moon and stars hid behind storm clouds and there was a rumble of thunder headed our way from South Syracuse, if counting seconds between flash and roar is truly accurate. And I’d forgotten an umbrella.

I used to love the rain. As a toddler, I had danced in the nighttime rain with Greta. Each time, Grandpa Dov brought me home soaking wet, swearing Grandma Rose would “skin me alive” when we got back inside. She came close, too, with her line-dried and scratchy towels. She’d strip off my wet clothes with a lecture about ruining my good clothes and what was I going to wear the rest of the week because she was not going to run the washer for me. Then she’d scrape at my baby skin until I shrieked. That was the signal for her to start patting me dry, saving the harder “pats” for my bottom and the back of my head. Later, in my pajamas, I’d get a cup of sweet and very weak tea, a warning to “never do that again” and a bedtime hug and kiss.

And yet I thought, all those years later, that it might be worth sitting in the dead children’s section until the rain soaked me to the skin if I could know my grandmother would be there when I got home.

I felt him before I saw him float up under the pole light. “Your grandmother was a fine woman,” he said.

Yes, the stronger ghosts read minds.

I stood, careful not to step into him. “She was. I wanted to apologize for the Board’s –“ I could not think of a polite word for stupidity.

“That is their misfortune, not yours. I believe you tried to stop the desecration.”

I nodded. “And now I need your help.”

He moved a little closer. He smelled of cold earth and rain-dense moss. He must have died in his thirties, from the look of his eyes and gentle mouth, but hunger and too many nights sleeping out in the cold upstate winters had aged him with deep lines in his face and an almost white beard. The hard life he must have lead had left his ghost a skeleton of a spirit. “You need to know who still remains in our Field and where your Board can dispose of the poor.” He turned and drifted towards the graves.

No umbrella, I did remember a notebook and pencil. For two hours, in a soft, soaking rain, he took me grave by grave, listing the souls who had passed on and who still lingered. He only asked that I not share this information with the Board. I was to assign the vacant graves and let the Board think their problems were at an end. “No need to involve them. The living prefer their own ignorance, anyway,” he said.

I made notes holding the notebook inside my sweater. Some of it would smear, but I had the larger part of the information. “Thank you,” I said. He nodded. The wind had picked up and I smelled the coming rain. He turned away. “Wait, please. I don’t know your name.”

He turned back for a moment and I swore the toothless gap between his lips was meant as a smile. “I was David. Good night, Grace.”

The cuckoo clock twittered eleven times when I returned to my home for my first good night’s sleep in days.

And my last for the foreseeable future.

The gentle rain lost its patience and turned into a thunderstorm that passed over more like a debate between the candidates Spaccone and Kluzky: more flash and noise and less of anything useful or sensible.

The Board sent me the directive for the digging of the gravesites that I chose for them. When Meecham questioned my choices, I lied and said those were not flooded by the recent rains. This arrangement, he admitted, would suffice.

The date was June 1st. The beginning of the Mothers in Pearls business. I noted in my business ledger that the union sent Varney and Trumbull to deepen and clear the drainage ditch and then mow the grass. They definitely used their “outdoor voices” when swore their displeasure at having double duties. I stayed inside while they worked; though I fully expected a trash bag or two of wet clippings and three or four extra headstones knocked out of place by the time they left.

With the grace of hindsight, I should say that wiping marble and chasing ghosts might well have been worse. The soggy clippings were too heavy to fly up much against the headstones. Varney knocked two extra headstones up out of their seating, but those souls had passed on years ago, so I had only the regulars to tend to after sundown.

Missy and Mischa stopped me at the north arch.

“He’s out again!” Mischa shrieked. Think of Missy’s nails-on-blackboard scream and lower it an octave. I winced. “He threatened Missy over by the south hedge!”

Missy looked appropriately, if insincerely, mournful. “He told me raise my dress. He said he was going to, to – “

“Make leather out of her hide,” Mischa finished with some tact.

“Did he try?” I asked.

Missy shook her head. “I fell into the bushes and he couldn’t find me there.” She giggled. “He went off howling for Bridget and Mary Kate.”

“Is he the only one out tonight, besides you two?”

“Oh, everybody ‘spiritual’ ran for cover when he started yelling,” Missy assured me. “But Derek and his people are doing something in Section E. You really don’t want those young monsters egging him on.”

“But they will if you do not pick up your heels and run,” Mischa warned. She shook an opaque finger in my face. Strangely, I smelled pencil lead.

“You two go keep Lallie and Rin down tonight. I’ll deal with this.”

Some of the newbies must have had their way with him by the time I found the old ghost in the middle of Section C. He hovered on his knees over the damp grass and sobbed into his see-through hands. I heard the muttering again. And some laughter heading towards E.

I made my bow. “Come on, Mr. Sharpe, it’s late.”

“Alone!” he bellowed. He raised both hands in fists to the night sky. “I’m alone! Those terrible vampire children, they told me! Bridget gone! Mary Kate gone! I’m alone! Curse those children!”

“Yes, young vampires suck,” I said without thinking.

He stared at me. “Of course they suck, you stupid girl! They are vampires!”

Yes, I’d walked into that one. “Let’s get you to your bed.”

“Why? I’ll still be alone!” He howled the last word better than any wolf or hound I’ve ever heard. “Why do I go on? Why do I not go to my Heavenly reward?”

Three possible responses came into my head: one, “Yes, why do you?”; two, “Are you sure your reward is Heavenly?”; and the third, which I did allow out of my mouth, “Because we need you here. Let’s get you tucked in.”

To your question, no, some personality traits do not change or go away when we die. Neither do what we can loosely call “needs.” I like to think both are designed to help the souls pass on to wherever their life’s faith told them to go. However, I can’t help but also think that the Designer who put this mixture of ego and need into corruptible flesh might have miscalculated the traits’ adhesive nature to the world created to serve them. Then again, I’m one of the corruptible designs and He has more understanding. And more patience.

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