One Down, One In the Ground

Chapter Twenty-Nine

One Down, One in the Ground

For the record:

On the morning of August 6th of this current year, I duly desecrated cemetery property and sawed off a branch of the Section A oak tree. I used my grandmother’s kitchen knife to sharpen it into a weapon. I took my grandfather’s short-handled mallet, his 1970s flashlight, the stake and an oil can (I’d had enough of that squawking gate on the crypt). The stake I pushed into one of my jeans pockets, where blunt end proceeded to jab my armpit with every step. I walked in the early morning hours, not more than an hour after sunrise to the P’broke mausoleum. I oiled the hinges, then set down the oil can. Flashlight and mallet in hand, I sidestepped down the treacherous steps to the crypt.

No, it was not until the moment I faced Ambr’s stone sarcophagus that the question of how I would move the lid by myself entered my brain. Rational thought had not left the office in my house with me. I’d left rational and tactical thought behind with the news buddies on TV

Such organized thinking had, however, found a home in someone else’s brain, if that’s what one calls it in a vampire. The lid was off and upturned on the crypt floor like a cradle waiting for Ambr’s child to lie next to her. My current favorite for that displacement is Derek, but I have no proof and there are arguments to be made for any one of Derek’s basement of vampires. Perhaps even Nikki Vine had offered to help in exchange for keeping her head. Truth was, Ambr’ had not been working or playing well with others of late.

Derek left me Post-it note on the side of the stone cradle: “No more than six inches can protrude from her chest or she will not stay down. Stand on the lid’s edge.”

I wanted to ask him how many times I had to strike the stake, too. The answer, I’m sure would have come with a sneer and comments about the feebleness of my lazy race and gender.

As it turned out, I needed four good, solid overhead blows. I must have found Ambr’s one and only soft spot. She woke with a gasp that sucked in every mote of dust and insect in the crypt. Then she coughed blood and flew in a horrible rage that I had ruined her good dress. Her painted claws flew up and I had to jump back into the dome of the lid before she could seize my throat.

“You little Jewish bitch!” she spat out with blood that dotted my face. “Look what you’ve done! You dirty little whore!” And there the effort against the stake exhausted her. I assume. I ran all the way back to the house and hid in my room.

Sleep took me early that night and was kind. No dreams of stakes and blood and Ambr’ Cadwallader. I can’t explain why.

I woke with the ridiculous hope that Charlie could be downstairs cooking eggs and bacon.

But instead there was a telephone call.

“Grace Farmer?”

I did not recognize the voice. “Yes?”

“This is Sergeant Heck at the Onondaga County Jail. Charles Tischler had you has the next of kin slash person to be notified in case of emergency.”

I felt my organs liquefy and sink into my legs. “Yes.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but he’s dead.”

I was on the floor at this point reaching for anything solid to hold in my shaking free hand. “How – what happened?”

“No idea, ma’am. Tischler met with his attorneys last night around 10 p.m. and next we all knew, he was on the floor, dead. Like his heart gave out.”

“His a-attorneys?”

“Yeah.” Paper rustling. “Zanger and McNulty. You know ‘em?” My knees gave. I sank cross-legged on the floor. “Yes.”

The sergeant talked me through the procedures. I promised him I’d arrange for the body to be retrieved and buried. I called the Board President and bullied him into giving me a part of the old Potter’s Field closest to my back yard. Giving me, not selling me at a discount, not offering me free upkeep and flowers. Giving. He owed me. They all owed me.

The president did not argue.

I waited there on the floor until the sun was gone. With no light in the house aside from the partial moon, I fell over on my side with my knees up to my chest and I cried until sunrise.

Derek kept his distance for the next three days. He left no Post-it notes at all until I buried Charlie in that patch near the yard. Then the loopy scrawl invited me for “information” if I would meet him by Charley’s grave that night.

Something sent me wandering the whole CPF that night. The war veterans. The influenza and AIDS victims. The children. The dead and gone aristocrats who put more money into their headstones than they ever did the community that revered their money. The gravel paths burned my feet. I shied away from the bench where I’d first tried to kiss Charley, the memories writhing over its slats and ironwork like vipers. I cleaned some clippings from David’s brass plate and wondered if he and Charley had met yet. David could explain a lot of things I’d never had the chance to tell Charley. Probably explain it better than I could. My pride, my stubbornness, what Grandma Rose called my “women’s meshugahs” kept my lips shut, even when my heart screamed to tell him everything.

Finally, I shuffled through the stubbly grass – the new mowers had set the blade far too low for healthy growth, but that was the Board’s problem. I squatted down and ran my fingers over the cold brass plate over Charley’s head. I had no more tears to cry, only the leaden sorrow that pulled me towards him in the ground.

Then I felt cold on my neck. Long icy fingers caressed my head. My back stiffened again.

“This is your idea of saving him?” I said without looking up at Derek.

“He’ll be back with you again in another day or so.”

I swallowed nausea. “You didn’t.”

“No, I didn’t. Ian, however, was more amenable.” I groaned, running my hands the length of the new grave. Derek sniffed.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “And thank you for your services, as well.”

“How is she?”

“On a strict diet of rodents, but defiant still.” He shifted from one foot to the other. “Will you attend the initiation?”

“Must I?”

“He will need some cleaning up. I believe this is perilously close to the location of your ancestor’s outhouse.”

I caressed the dirt over Charlie’s chest. “You know this means I am the end of my family’s line.”

“Possibly. Possibly not. Which among us knows the future?”

I laughed with a mouthful of acid.

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