Sarah climbed into the dusty blue pick-up truck and gave Rusty a peck on the cheek. He flashed a grin at her, jammed the shift into first and peeled out of the McDonalds parking lot. They passed the pile of dirt where the go-kart track used to be. Sarah remembered racing around the curves with her dad, when she was too little to drive alone. Now they were building an on-ramp to a real highway. It seemed a shame.
“Steve’s OK?” asked Rusty. Sarah giggled to herself. They usually ate Wendy’s, or picked up subs. Maybe Chinese if he was feeling generous. Steve’s Fireside was like a real restaurant. Like they were adults. It occurred to her that she was 18; was, after all, an adult. She just didn’t feel like one. School bored her; her parents annoyed her. Work was just for money that somehow never lasted long enough. Maybe the only thing lasting in her life was Rusty. She’d been with him almost a year. Forever, it seemed.
The pick-up turned into the lot of the restaurant. Karaoke night. She winced.
The waiter greeted her warmly, like it was OK for her to be there without her parents. Maybe Rusty was used to that - he was 20, worked at a car repair shop down the road. Played softball for the owner, had an apartment off the main road. She’d been to it a couple of times, but didn’t like to go there, much. It felt too ... secluded, being there alone with him. Plus, it was dirty. Pizza boxes all over the floor, stuff in the sink. She liked it better when they went to movies, or hung out at the Auburn Mall. Went to the carnival when it came around. Maybe one would come soon - it was early April, and the crocuses and daffodils were just starting to bloom. Purgatory’s crevices wouldn’t be clear of snow until August, if then ... but soon the flea markets and festivals and other signs of spring would arrive.
“Hey, what ya thinkin’ about?” asked Rusty between bites of his shepherd’s pie. The food had arrived while Sarah’s thoughts wandered. She glanced around aimlessly at the rustic warmth of the restaurant - blazing fire in the fireplace, Keno screens flashing the latest winning numbers. In the back corner, the DJ was setting up the karaoke area for would-be Courtney Loves. She shrugged.
“Nothing. How’s the food?”
“Better than F***ing McDonalds!” He laughed to himself. Sarah laughed along with him. Her parents hated swearing. They snapped at her anytime she said ‘damn,’ even if she was really upset with something. They just didn’t get it. They were never around anyway, off at jobs in the medical center. Always something pressing there. ‘Dr. Armsby to the Emergency Room. Stat.’ Everything was stat, except her. She figured she’d have to get carried in by ‘copter before they started to pay attention to her. Paying attention to what she wanted them to, not just what she was doing wrong.
“Hey, did you want dessert or something?” Rusty snapped her back out of her thoughts. The waiter was standing there patiently. She shook her head no. She wasn’t feeling hungry, really. Working all afternoon in a place that smelled of grease and roasting meat kept her appetite low. Plus, she didn’t know what she would want. Rusty paid the bill and they left into a quickly darkening evening.
It was warm for April; they rolled the windows down as Rusty pulled the truck back into traffic. She glanced over at him. He was built OK; shop work kept him in shape, plus the softball. He had long, sandy hair, with stubble of a beard. It gave him the rough, unkempt look she loved. He glanced over and saw her looking at him; he smiled slyly. She blushed and pulled a brush out of her purse. She began methodically going through her long, auburn hair. ‘One hundred strokes,’ her mom had always told her. Sarah imagined this was a wisdom passed down from mother to daughter for generations. Some magical number. Now they were saying that too much brushing broke hair. Who knew any more. Scientists caused cancer in rats.
The truck took a turn, and she glanced up. A large white house went past on the right. Vallaincourt Folk Art Museum. Her mom and dad had taken her there once. Statues of rabbits, and kids, and all sorts of things, made from old candy molds. Sarah thought it was a shame that such interesting molds ended up making things that you couldn’t even eat. Why not make chocolate, take a picture of it, and then eat the chocolate? Then you could look at the picture and enjoy it too. Seemed to be more reasonable to her.
“Where are we going?” she asked in curiosity. He hadn’t mentioned any plans.
He turned the truck off to the right, onto a small dirt road. He pulled forward and stopped. She gazed out the window in wonder - it was like a small castle built on a hill, in the deep twilight. A small woodpecker, the red of his cap visible in the evening glow, flew past her window to settle on a stone pillar a ways in front of her. As her sight adjusted, she realized it was an old graveyard. A very old graveyard. Ringed by a stone wall on three sides, the right half marched in tiered rows along towards the back. She counted thirteen levels. She wondered if that was unlucky. On the left, a tall hill was cut into a series of steps, with stones strewn haphazardly amongst them up to the very top.
“Armsby Cemetery,” he said. “Nobody ever comes here.”
“Is it really called Armsby?” she asked, surprised. “I didn’t know there was a cemetery named after me.” The thought seemed ... spooky, somehow.
“Nah, I don’t know,” he replied off-handedly. “It’s on Armsby Road. I just call it that.”
Rusty revved the engine and headed up the center trail to the top, pulling the truck over to the right. From there you couldn’t see the street; just the low stones, and occasionally a tall marker for an entire family. He clicked the key and the engine stopped. Sarah glanced at him, but he was rummaging through the back of the cab. She opened her door and hopped out onto the spongy grass.
It smelled ... earthy. She’d never been in a graveyard before, at least, not that she remembered. The ground was soft beneath her feet. Crickets chirping in the woods beyond the stone wall, the moon shining a glow over everything. She wandered over to the stones. Hall, King, Wells. Little plots for little families. A tall pillar for the father and mother, smaller stones for their kids. How bizarre. Did the whole family just stay in the same place their whole lives? Or if they moved, were their bodies shipped back after they died? She wandered along the back wall. Rusty caught up to her, carrying a big jug of wine and a box of crackers.
“I thought we might celebrate,” he said sort of awkwardly. “You know, a year together and all that.”
Sarah blushed, hoping the darkness would cover her embarrassment. She hadn’t realized they had actually hit a milestone. She glanced down - there was a little double-marker next to some larger ones. Anna, 10 months. Frank, 7 months. Babies. They had markers for babies. The thought troubled her; she’d always thought of graves as being for old war veterans, like the stones that had flags fluttering by them up on the hill. Old, gray, worn-out people that had no more use for living. Not little kids. She wondered why they died so young.
Rusty took a swig from the bottle and sat on the moss. Sarah sat beside him, pulling off her old sneakers and socks, then scrunching the grass between her toes. She loved the velvety feeling of moss. She loved the smell of growing things and dirt and the soft breeze blowing through the trees. Rusty handed her the bottle and she took it with two hands, drinking slowly from it. She wondered if all wine tasted that way - sour and dusty. She didn’t mind - she liked the fuzziness it brought later. When she didn’t have to think. Rusty ran his hands along her leg, and she smiled. Yeah, it was a nice night. Through a gap in the trees she could see the Hale-Bopp comet, still shining overhead. She remembered when she first saw it, when her science teacher, Mr. Fitzgerald, pointed it out to the class in pictures he had taken. How excited she’d been when she could find it herself, waiting for Rusty after work one night. Now it was just there, a fixture in the sky. Soon it would be gone, and she’d never see it again. But right now it seemed like it’d been there forever, and would always be there, even after she stopped looking. She took another long swig of the wine.
The wine took hold and her mind started to wander, just like Rusty’s hands on her arms. She giggled to herself. Rusty was like her mind. Aimless, wandering, looking for fun. She giggled again. Rusty started kissing her, and she couldn’t stop laughing. She wondered if it was sacrilegious to have sex in a cemetery. Would the ghosts mind? Maybe they’d enjoy the break from boredom, from the same old birds and worms and squirrels. Lucky she didn’t know any of them.
She laid back to put down the half-empty jug of wine while Rusty tugged off his jacket, glancing at the lichen-covered stone behind her - for the mother to the dead buried children. Its words sent her into a new fit of nervous giggling, one that lasted, in fits and spurts, until long after Rusty drove her home.
Sarah E. Armsby
wife of Newell Wedge
died Oct 30, 1863