Jan. 22nd, 2015

jexia: (Me me)
40 years ago...

I don't know how Chuck got the whisky, but he did. I'd never tasted it before, but when my first sip seared its way down my throat, I tried to refuse the next.

Chuck laughed at me. "Come on, Jimmy, you gonna come all the way out here and not have a drink? It's too cold to just sit here."

He had a point. The autumn air was brisk, and the warm glow of my first sip smouldered nicely within me. Wordlessly, I held my hand out for the flask. The second sip was smoother, and didn't seem so determined to ignite my sinuses. I took a third.

He grinned at me. God, I loved that grin. I didn't have words for how I felt about him, but that was okay; I knew I could never speak them, anyway.

"That's more like it." He settled back against the fence and stared up at the bare branches of the overhanging trees, taking a swig. I leaned back, too, careful not to touch him, but intensely conscious of the warm length of his thigh, stretched so close to mine. The scent of Old Spice, pilfered from his dad's bathroom, drifted around us. We watched the moon in companionable silence, sharing the bottle back and forth. I closed my eyes with each sip, aware that my lips were where his had been, knowing it was wrong.

"Man, this place is a mess." Chuck gestured, bottle in hand, to our shrouded surroundings. The crisp light of the moon made mysterious hummocks of the headstones, engulfed in masses of ivy and moss.

"Mum said the council is talking about cleaning it up, maybe opening it up again. Redhill Cemetery is nearly full, and this one still has plenty of space."

"Huh." He took another swig. "Good luck getting anyone to work here. What with the ghost and all." He handed me the bottle, warmed from his hand, and I took a mouthful and savoured it. Maybe this stuff wasn't so bad.

"Oh yes, the terrible ghost." This was something we'd done together since we met in first grade, traded ideas back and forth, making up stories together. "He wanders the cemetery every night, you know."

"Looking for the pants his wife stole." This struck us both as hilarious, and it took several minutes for us to hiccup our way back to sensibility.

"It's a tragedy, a man without pants," I said. "If only..."

"...if only, he'd kept them on."

The whisky spoke. "When his boyfriend came to visit." Chuck put his head back against the fence, his whole body relaxing and shaking with laughter. His leg touched mine, and I froze. My blood was racing through my body, driven by whisky and desire. He stilled, and I held my breath as he turned to look at me. In the moonlight, his eyes were the colour of smoke.

A moment passed.

Chuck scrambled to his feet. "School tomorrow. We'd better get home," he said. He tucked the flask into his jacket pocket and offered me a hand. I stood up, braced against his warm grip, and we walked to our houses in silence.

35 years ago...

"Hey, Jimmy." Chuck leaned over the cemetery fence. I'd never found work after graduation, so when the council finally got around to sorting out the old cemetery, I went for the job. A dollar an hour pulling up ivy and digging up weeds. The work was hot and hard, but muscles formed and bunched under my skin, and I bulked out from the angular teenager I'd been.

"Hey, Chuck." He threw me a beer; it fizzed as I opened it. I chugged it as he half-unzipped his greasy overalls and lit a cigarette. "How was work?" Chuck always had a story about something that had happened at his dad's workshop; how old Mrs Williams filled her car up with oil instead of petrol; the dodgy magazine they'd found under the seat of the pastor's car.

"Old man Montgomery brought his truck in today. He backed it into his wife's clothesline and put a leak in the gas tank. He patched it with gladwrap and bandaids to get it to the workshop." Chuck took a long drink from his can of beer, and offered me a cigarette.

I accepted, and held it between my lips as he lit it for me. "Really?"

Chuck snorted. "Don't know how it held together. He had a black eye though, said his wife was pretty cross about the clothesline."

I laughed. "Wives, eh. Who needs them?"

"I'll drink to that." We clinked cans, and drained them dry.

"Speaking of Montgomeries, I found another one today," I said. "Over under the oak tree." I gestured to the furthest corner.

"Oh?" he said.

"Ebenezer Montgomery, 1910 to 1928."

"Huh, right age to be Monty's... brother?"

"I figure so." We often did this, discussing the headstones I'd uncovered. So many of the surnames were familiar.

"He's the one that joined the circus, right?" Chuck grinned at me.

"Yep. Such a tragic end. Death by lion."

"That's what you get when you sleep with the liontamer's wife."

We laughed. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than this, forever; standing in the sun with Chuck, inventing stories about their lives, much more exciting than our own. It was amazing how many of the people buried in our little town had travelled the Amazon, or explored the Arctic.

But he wanted desperately to leave town, to see the world, to do bigger things. Every paycheck was squirreled away, saved for his escape. I saved, too; I liked our little town, but I wanted to go where he went.

30 years ago...

I'd long ago cleared the cemetery, though the ivy had a way of sneaking back in. It was no longer spooky, beyond the usual unease that cemeteries generate. I was proud of it, proud of my service to the town, and glad that the council kept me on as a groundskeeper and gravedigger.

I dug Chuck's grave.

He'd come by after work as usual. He was in a bad mood, bitter about being tied down. His dad was ill, and he couldn't leave the workshop. We'd drunk our usual beer, and followed it with extras. It had warmed me, and I'd done something I'd dreamed of for years.

I'd kissed him.

He'd kissed me back.

Then he'd turned, got into his car, and driven away. He never made it home.

Each shovelful of dirt was salted with my tears. The preacher spoke of loss, of friends and family, and Chuck's dad leaned on his cane with a trembling, accusing glare. He blamed me.

I blamed me.

20 years ago...

The council bought a little digger to dig the graves. It's not dignified. Easier on my back, though. I did the weeding and mowing, tidied up the flowers when the wind came through, that sort of thing. At the end of each day, I'd sit by Chuck's grave and talk to him.

But then Chuck's dad died. The bitter old man hung on longer than anyone thought he would. His headstone glowered at me, stark and stern next to Chuck's, and I couldn't shake the feeling that he was listening in. It was never the same, after that. I couldn't tell Chuck how I was feeling; just "Good morning, Chuck" and "Good night, Chuck".

1 year ago...

The council set up a team to handle all the cemeteries; Redhill, my one, and the new one they opened on the south side of town. They said I was too old, that I couldn't handle the work. It was true. All those cigarettes took my breath away. But I didn't like the job they did; their weedwhackers were quick, but the ivy is smart enough to just stay low. It'd take over if I let it.

So I kept doing my rounds, tidying up, weeding where I could, and checking on Chuck. It got harder every week, especially in winter when my breath whistled like the wind in the branches, and I thought about staying at home.

My little one-bedroom flat had little appeal, though, and I couldn't leave Chuck out there, alone. I'd bundle up warm, and shuffle out to his grave, sitting in silence, thinking the thoughts I couldn't speak.

One day I got there, and his headstone was gone. His father's stone still loomed, but Chuck's was gone. Those bloody teenagers, always hanging out here and mucking around, must have broken it. I was so angry that my chest hurt.

With tears in my eyes, I knelt beside his grave, in the spot that I'd worn bare of grass. "Oh, Chuck," I said.

I smelled whisky and Old Spice. I knew it was him, before I felt the warm grip on my shoulder.

Now...

I must be dead. There's no other explanation for it. I don't mind. My body is firm and fit again, no aches and pains, and Chuck is here with me.

The afternoons are endless. We sit together against the fence, sharing a flask that never empties. He flashes that grin at me, and we spin stories back and forth between us.

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