(Originally published in Twisted Dreams Magazine, June 2008)
The summer I turned five, my parents’ first new house was being built. We made many trips to the place that would soon be home; exciting, interminable drives to the inner clockworks of a child. The route to this new world slowly became familiar – a winding road from the comfortably old to the exquisitely new. From playing around a forbidding, locked carriage house in an alley to standing on ripped and clotted amber clay, in utter awe of the neat concrete slab, pipe-and-wiring entrails and a growing skeleton of wood. I shuffled too close once, gouging my ankle on a rusty rebar snake that hadn’t yet been trimmed, and left behind a bloody trail. I can still find the scar if I look for it.
Bulldozers tore away farm and trees and almost everything that wasn’t fresh and new; just about everything that held a memory of what once was. Bright light, the scents of spackle and paint; symmetry and order, Formica and plastics replaced the must and ochre, the rich shadows and contours, the haunted cellars and mystical grape-arbors, the burdened and elder weight of the only home I’d known. It was a newborn world, and I ran with the other children in the freshly-sodded meadow behind our houses, before wood slat and wire fencing cubed-off our homes into distinctive principalities, forbidden zones and the occasional no-man’s lands.
Still, I dreamed of cemeteries. Solemn men and women dressed in black wide-brimmed hats, long coats and dark shawls. Of roughshod hills and gullies, of protruding belly-mounds of earth, of crude stone, and wooden markers. Of a silent procession in the black of night, led by torches, delivering a black casket to its grave amidst bare trees and cloud-swathed moonlight.
And the sporadic visit by the Blue People.
Facing our house: to the left, another young couple, a girl and a boy; playmates. To the right, a quiet couple, who at least seemed elderly to a kindergartener. In between, the little pink house, home.
I remember it as a balmy summer night when I was perhaps seven – it could have been spring or fall, but there wasn’t the feeling of school encroaching. It had been too quiet, too peaceful, too idyllic an evening for something not to have happened. The shriek of a woman, the sounds of clatter and activity. The insistent pounding on the door. My father, a police officer, answering the call for help from our quiet neighbors in the brick house.
Activity. Adults – raised voices followed by murmurs, soft sobs. Porch lights and flashlights, and neighbors congregating in the yard, in front of the brick house. Whispers and shushing and “Stay in the house!”
I wandered out to the front steps but dared not go any further. They were looking at something in the front yard, not far from the curb; flashlights playing over something that looked like stone. “Who could have done this?” and words like “Cruel” and “Heartless bastards” drifted over from next door.
Hurried trips in and out of the house. Phone calls. “Stay out of the way.” A police cruiser arrived, and uniformed cops peered at the object, talked to witnesses, took notes. Somewhere in there, the object was taken away. The couple from the brick house clung together. Stooped as if from a great weight, heartsick, they returned to their home. Neighbors and police left. The porch lights clicked off one by one.
Aroused by a noise, perhaps a loud dull thud, the couple from the brick house had found a grave stone had landed in their front lawn. It belonged to their son, who had been killed in the Korean War.
They were convinced that night that it had been a cruel prank. How could it possibly be anything else? What were the odds? Who could have done it?
Over the next few days, there was a thorough investigation. An old cemetery nearby was being moved to make way for another housing development. That particular night, an overloaded flatbed truck rumbled down our street. This gravestone and this one only fell off of the truck and landed in our neighbor’s front yard, past the curb and into the grass.
None of the workers knew our neighbors or where they lived. No knowledge, no intent, no malice was ever discovered.
From then on, I remember our neighbors in the brick house, who used to smile and talk across the fence, as gray and silent and broken as the slab that fell into their yard that night.
It was some time after I was married that I was told that the little pink house, and most our neighbors’ homes, were built on the site of another old country cemetery.