The biting wind of early autumn made my knuckles ache and the overcast-lighting made the graveyard — an already abnormally unsettling mass of stone identifiers and dry grass — seem more frightening still. I tucked my hands into the pockets of my jacket and kept my chin down, hoping that ignoring the looming sense of dread that always seemed to accompany these most melancholy visits would make it go away. It didn't.
I always hated this place.
Even before it became the resting place for my parents, Gordy and I had made some silent pack, a look exchanged or an absence of sound when we passed it on our way to school, as if we were holding our breath until we were past it: we would never end up here. It was a nice sentiment, the belief that we were invincible despite knowing without doubt how temporary existence could become. But he'd always been more restless than me; maybe I was the only one pretending that I might get to live forever. Maybe he truly, deeply within himself, thought he would be eternal.
Aunt Maggie didn't seem to love the idea of me returning so often. At least not now, when it had been two years since that night and it seemed like coming back only ever made me feel worse, but some nights the burns on my palms seemed so fresh that I could practically smell that awful smell of my own skin burning as I tried and failed to open the door to my parents' bedroom. Some nights, I heard my mother's voice in the wind. Some nights, I woke with a start and swore my father had just been standing at the end of my bed.
I decided to leave the dead to their devices as soon as they left me to mine, and neither of us had budged yet. So, I found myself standing at the mouth of their awful end, and it smiled at me with crooked teeth and a cold, hoarse laugh. The flowers I had planted were dead.
No, I don't think I believed in immortality at all. The sun, the moon, the stars. The flowers in the earth, the frost of winter, the fog that clouded my windows in the early morning. It all would pass, it all would break, it all would burn, it all would end, and I was no different. But it was still nice to pretend.
I noticed a looming presence in the distance, a boy I'd seen on several of my visits. Son of the gravediggers. His parents took the hands of the dead and escorted them to whatever came next, planted their bodies in Vivuus Cemetary and left them to rot.
"Excuse me," I said, walking up to him with my jaw set. He had quite severe features: a painting of a young man more than a real one, with perfectly pale skin and dark curls of hair. He loomed tall and thin, with skinny limbs and eyes of brooding winter nights and, as far as I could recall, a permanent scowl affixed to his face.
"My parents' garden is dead. The flowers need to be completely replaced now." I was aware of the irritation in my voice, but I didn't care enough to apologize. My existence was limited; there wasn't enough time for sorry.
I folded my arms across my chest and waited for an explanation. Maybe the sprinkler system had broken again; it wouldn't have been the first time. Or maybe someone had forgotten to turn it on. Or maybe they thought it didn't matter with winter closing in, and maybe they were right. But I didn't care. Perhaps my issue was not that the flowers were dead, but that my parents still were.
The air is cold again, summer turning into fall as quickly as it takes for me to blink my eyes. When I woke up this morning, it was with a chill settling in my bones, the sun's light hazy and surreal as it filtered through my bedroom window. There has always been something about this time of year that has felt wrong to me, twisted and dark and not quite right, a foggy time in between seasons where nothing is really real and everything feels like its teetering on the edge of something I have no control over.
And I hate not feeling in control.
Walking through the cemetery, my boots are heavy over the dry grass, another sign that summer is truly giving up, and I go through the motions of everything that I'm supposed to check on when it's theoretically my turn to be in charge of monitoring the place. Nothing ever happens here though except for the horrible things we do ourselves, and it's mind-numbing work. Check for damages from grave robbers or for people defacing headstones, done. Check to see if the sprinkler system magically fixed itself, done. Check to see if any plots need digging, and if they do, dig them, done. Sometimes I wish that something interesting would happen.
An event. The slip of a knife into something terrible.
My pointer finger runs over the slope of the letter N before I clench my jaw and walk away from that particular headstone and sit on a bench the family had installed in memoriam of someone who definitely did not fucking ever ask to have a bench. I don't know how long I sit there, trying to banish thoughts of a boy with blue eyes and burned hands before the object of my nightmare shows up. I know the name of every single person who has ever had family buried here, know the sons and daughter of every grandmother whose gravestone I've had to help install, and when Noctem number one shows up with his hands curled into his jacket pockets, I wish that he would walk right back out the way that he fucking came.
I don't want to know him.
And yet—a strange beast curls in the pit of my stomach when he starts walking towards me.
At first, I pretend that I haven't noticed him, wait for his voice to cut through the crisp air. Excuse me, he says, and I look up, eyebrows already arched. Putting the book that I wasn't actually really reading to the side and for only half a moment, I think about replying before he's gotten to whatever point he's come over here to make, want to be in control of whatever narrative we're about to engage in, but there's a part of me that's curious to know what he wants to say to me.
A part of me that's curious about him.
And when he opens his mouth, there's only malice. I wish that I could say that was a good thing, that it was going to make it easier for me to tell myself that I didn't sometimes wonder what he thought about when he stood in front of his parents grave, but then I'd be lying.
I scrutinize him for a long, awful moment.
The thing is this: I know what he's sees when he looks at me, know exactly what kind of mask I have crafted and don't know how to take off. Not irritation exactly, because something about being irritated by him might clue him into the fact that I think about him more than I have any right or desire to, but some variety of apathy. Maybe a vague sense of twisted amusement, and then—I grin at him as though we have been friends our entire lives and hope he realizes exactly how dangerous someone charming can be. I want him to run.
"Flower's die," I reply, and my gaze turns hungry, devouring. I want to see if he's going to flinch. "You want them to have flowers year round, then figure out a way to beat death."
I lean back and put my forearms on the back of the bench.
"And when you figure it out, feel free to keep it to yourself. Sounds bad for business, if you know what I mean."
Last Edit: Sept 22, 2020 23:03:11 GMT -5 by kaitlin
It should have come as no surprise when eyes so filled to the brim with clouds turned into a storm, but even still I was helpless against the rain and the wrath of it. I had always felt that, perhaps, the feeling I harbored the most resentment for was sheer indifference. To come and go with the wind. To kiss and disappear. To neither smile nor frown.
To never pick a side.
I set my jaw, either against him or against the cold, quick to hide my hands back into my pockets when I saw his gaze drop to them. It was always like this; it always would be. I'd been branded with my failure, as good as the word itself tattooed across my flesh. When people looked at my palms, the smears of smooth skin shining unnaturally in even the dullest light of September, they saw my attempt at something heroic, or dumb, or dangerous. And then when they found my eyes, they found the lack of success and it was all they needed to know.
"Funny," I said, though it was not, "but clearly you don't much care how booming business is."
I tried to imagine a way in which a burial site could be beautiful and it took effort not to scoff at my own ignorance; it was like wondering how warm a fire might feel within the depths of the ocean, or how refreshing a breeze would be in the deepest reaches of space. Death was never a pretty or pleasant thing. I'd watched it unfold right in front of me, two weeks of Gordy taking tests in school for the both of us because my hands were so damaged that I could not hold a pencil and my mind was so damaged that I could not hold a thought. But even still, it was the thought that counted, right? A cemetery was for the living just as the funeral itself was; the idea of sending in an incomplete casket or a picture of the wrong face was just as cruel as this.
"But fine. I'll do it myself. Enjoy the rest of your break."
I rolled my eyes and feigned backward for a step or two before turning away from him.
When I reached the plot again, I cursed myself for having not brought my gloves along; the boy was surely far enough away by now that he wouldn't have been able to tell, or even cared if he could, but feeling seen like that always felt like the first time and I only ever wished to disappear completely. But I had a point to prove, so without hesitation, I began to rip the flowers up from their roots. They were little more than fragile stems and yellowed core, glorified brush that snapped with ease beneath my grasp, but the thorns were a healthy reminder that once, not so long ago, they'd been as strong as they had ever been, that death did not change it.
I don't understand, not really, not in a way that I think he will ever really listen to but there's something there in my chest. A kind of stirring. A dangerous thing with wings that I'm sure I'll lose sight of and it will tear me apart with its claws. He stands there in front of me with his hands shoved down into his pockets, clearly trying to hide them and the parts of himself that they expose, and I know what it's like to have a piece of you that you don't want the rest of the world to see, the soft creature with tender flesh cowering inside of you that you wish you could just kill.
It'd be easier like that.
That's why I both want and don't want him here in equal measure, because he reminds me that I'm vulnerable. That no matter how careful I am, I could make some sort of misstep, or worse, I could do everything right and the people I care about could still die.
For that, I am weak.
I hate that worst of all, that I and the others have made death our business, and still, we will never be able to beat it.
His anger and frustration does something to that soft-fleshed thing inside of me, the softness that I wish would just crawl up my throat and suffocate me if it was going to insist on doing anything. I hate the way his harsh eyes make me... make me feel. All jagged edged, like a shattered mirror, reflecting back an image of myself that is both me, and yet not. Watching him spit something he probably thinks is cruel and doesn't even realize the depths of its truth, I find there's a kind of ringing in my ears when he turns to walk away, a kind of ringing that sets every single one of my hairs to a stand and my jaw to clench.
I don't want to admit it, but I wanted him to stay.
I hesitate for only a few moments, let him walk back over to the little patch of dead flowers in front of his parents grave. I remember when they got planted, remember Mom was the one to handle and organize everything, said it was too tragic for any of the kids to try and take the lead on. I remember not understanding then too, wondering what I would feel if my parents were dead and feeling only a ringing sense of emptiness.
I find myself pushing away from the stupid little memorial bench with a huff, rolling my eyes and taking long stride over to the shed to grab the tools he's going to need. My hands are scarred and calloused over from years of doing exactly this, but I grab two pairs of gloves just the same.
I don't want to talk about what that says about me.
When I walk over to Gregor, I come up from behind, but I'm sure he hears me. I drop the little bucket of supplies I've grabbed at his side then drop to my knees. "You're doing it wrong," I say, not looking at him as I correct what he's doing. "These are annuals." I grab one of the hoes to dig out the plant he has massacred. "You want something to last, pick a damn perennial next time."
You're a foolish, sentimental child, I remember mom chastising me once. I'd been small, so so small, barely four or five, crying because she'd taken one of my toys away. I'd tried to chase after her, desperate for it back.
If she could see me now.
Last Edit: Oct 14, 2020 11:35:56 GMT -5 by kaitlin