I had planned to leave once I placed the flowers at the grave, but Wayne’s warning played in my head: You’re gonna have to be careful. Those media bastards are always watching, and they will tear you to pieces if you do anything that a son mourning his mother’s death wouldn’t do. Go visit your mother’s grave. Leave a big bouquet of flowers for the old broad. And for god’s sake, cry a little!
I couldn’t do anything about the crying, but I figured that a son mourning his mother would at least spend some time at the gravesite so I dropped to my knees. A good son would also talk to his mother’s spirit or whatever, but I always thought that was a load of crap so I skipped that part and contemplated the gravestone instead.
Wayne was the one who had picked it out. It was a bronze headstone that had cost me a pretty penny, especially with the lengthy inscription Wayne had insisted on. I was already paying a shitload of money for the Wayne & Wayne law firm, so I hadn’t bothered to argue.
I run my fingers through the stiff bristles of grass beside me. For as long as I’ve known the cemetery, the grass has always been neatly trimmed, even by the close edges of the obnoxious monuments people erect over their loved ones’ heads and even around the small grave markers in the far back that have no names. I think about the guy who mows all of it. It must take him hours. The sign at the entrance says McKinley Cemetery has been around since 1845, so there must be hundreds of graves, maybe thousands of graves, that the guy has to look after.
I can’t imagine that lawnmower being a very happy guy. Driving over a lawn of dead people in his little tractor can’t be good for his psychological health. I’d be thinking about those decomposing bodies beneath my feet and what would happen if one day the ground gave way and I found myself sitting on the half-decayed corpse of someone’s grandmother. That would be one hell of a scarring experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lawnmower ended up as a crazy at a mental hospital.
Six feet below, my mother’s body has probably started decomposing already even though it’s only been a few days since she died. I watched this special once on the Discovery Channel about a body farm in Texas. They shove bodies in suitcases and plastic bags, leave them in swamps and hang them in trees all in the name of science. Something about how bodies decompose differently in different environments. It doesn’t matter, but the point is that people start to decay right away. Like four minutes after they die. If my mother looks anything at all like the bodies at the body farm, then she is not a pretty sight.
Looking around the cemetery, I see an older woman standing by a grave a few rows ahead of me. She’s not paying attention to any of the graves though. She’s giving her full and undivided attention to me. Her body is turned in my direction, and her face is frozen in a mask of surprised fear. I figure she probably wants to leave now that I’m here, but there’s no way she’s brave enough to pass by me to get to the only exit.
I glance at my watch. I’ve been here for all of ten minutes, but I should probably hold out a little longer. That lady will just have to wait.
I turn back to my mother’s grave, but from the corner of my eye, I can see that the woman’s eyes are still trained on me. She’s afraid to blink, afraid to move, afraid of me. I suppress a smile. The people in this town are finally giving me the respect I deserve.
The woman reminds me a little of my mother. My mother was always staring at me when she thought I wasn’t looking. She would give me a look that said she couldn’t believe I shared her blood. If she hadn’t carried me for nine months, she would have dropped me like a hot potato and let me become someone else’s problem. She was a self-righteous snob of a woman whose death has made the world a better place. Unfortunately, the world cares more about justice, and I have to jump through the system’s hoops to prove that I had nothing to do with her death and am remorseful about her death.
It’ll be harder to prove the latter.
Hence, my visit.
My lawyers and their investigators are having a hard time explaining how my mother — an old woman confined to a wheelchair — had made it to the top of the staircase in the first place, but that’s precisely why I’m paying them the big bucks. They’ll figure something out, or at lease create enough holes in the other side’s story to let me off the hook.
Ten minutes later, I am more than ready to leave the cemetery. Conscious of the woman’s eyes on me, I touch my mother’s gravestone before I stand and walk past the army of willow trees. Someone a long time ago, maybe in 1845, must have decided that willow trees were the perfect cemetery tree with their long, weeping leaves. They’re the only ones on the McKinley grounds. I tug a handful of leaves from the nearest willow. They come away easily, and I release them to ground, one by one, as I head to my car.
I had parked right on the gravel path, partially blocking the entrance. It’s not allowed, but I couldn’t stand the sound of the gravel crunching beneath my tires like so many tiny bones fracturing in sync. Besides, I knew that no one would dare to call me out on it. Not today at least.
I look back at the woman, and she is still standing by that same row of graves, still staring at me. I give her a friendly wave before I back out of the cemetery driveway.