portion of the artwork for Thaddeus Rutkowski's stories

Cemetery Walk
Thaddeus Rutkowski

The path is known to me, so I lead my mother and sister along it. At first, the track looks like a dirt lane over a hill—up one side and down the other—leading from the house where we all used to live. We are walking because my mother is able to walk. We are taking advantage of her ability as we head toward the cemetery.

As it turns out, my mother knows the path better than I do. She leads us through the parking lot behind a church, then across a yard to the highway. I’m not comfortable walking at the side of the macadam—I don’t feel safe. Cars travel fast, and pets and people have been hit and killed. Still, it’s not far to the turnoff, and our mother is doing well. She is energetic, animated, probably because she wants to get to the cemetery.

My sister is not doing too well herself. “I can’t see where the ground goes up and down,” she says. “It looks flat to me.”

My mother and sister hold hands, and I walk in front of them. I hear a sound of impact, turn and see they have fallen. They must have tripped on something, maybe a fallen branch, and must have gone down together because they were holding hands. I’m afraid they’ve sprained or fractured bones, but they get up unharmed.

“We didn’t see anything,” my sister says. “One of my eyes doesn’t work.”

We take an unmarked road that leads uphill. On one side is the old burial ground, and on the other is a newer area, with fresh-turned earth.

“In China,” my mother says, “my family has only a marker. There’s no room in the ground for graves.”

I assume we’re going to the newer side—we knew people who rest there. But my sister wants to go to the old part, where the stones have dates from the 1800s.

“Let’s find the grave of Keturah Candy,” she says. “Our father liked her.”

I see the occupant of the grave lived to be only 16.

“Our father wanted to talk to her,” my sister says.

“He could talk to her,” my mother says, “when he lit the right incense.”

We cross the road and find the marker for my father and brother. It is not large, but it is new and polished. And it was free, given by the U.S. government for my father’s military service. My father and brother were always at each other’s throats, but now they share a stone.

When my father passed, a friend sent me a sympathy card. It showed a field and sky, and in the sky the friend had painted a miniature flying saucer. A space alien was in the cockpit. The creature had green skin, a bald head, and tiny antennae. He was looking out of the saucer’s glass cockpit at me.

“We can talk to all our ancestors,” my mother says, “if we burn incense with black smoke.”

As we walk away, a shadow crosses the ground. It must have been made by a fast-moving object between us and the sun. The object wasn’t a cloud; it was moving much too fast. It might have been a jet plane—we are on a flyway between cities. I look up but see no plane, no vapor trail.

“Did you see that?” I ask.

“All I see is a bright, white sky,” my sister says.

“Let’s keep looking,” my mother says. “Let’s look everywhere.”

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 55 | Spring/Summer 2020