In the late summer evenings, before the sun has set, gravestones cast long shadows in the cemetery by my house.
Some stones are big, vast expanses of shiny granite and marble with letters carved legibly, starkly into their faces. Those tall obelisks and wide flat rectangles throw the longest shadows over the dried and dead grass. Some stones are smaller. Rougher. With neglected chipped corners and words so faintly visible it hurts to read them. Occasionally, I bend down and attempt to decipher the language on the stone, to find out what person lies beneath, but most times I pass by. Some stones are laid flat in the ground, nothing sticking above the earth, you wouldn’t know they were there unless you stumbled over it, or you’d been there before.
At this point, the oppressive August heat of midday has subsided and kids can be heard playing on the street, their voices lifted on a slight breeze, finishing their games before the dark, which has lingered long enough, finally arrives and dinner is called. Other times, not a sound disturbs the air except for the occasional car passing on the main road a block below. The graveyard sits uncomfortably waiting for the dark.
When night arrives at last, lanterns come on near some of the bigger monuments. In the dark, they give the eerie appearance of floating spirits as you walk along the gravel road. The wind rustles the thin leaves of the towering black locust trees that were planted, so many years ago, to mark the outline of the cemetery. The moonlight reflects off the clouds in such a way you can watch them move overhead. On rare occasions, you can even see the stars.
The graveyard doesn’t scare me anymore, at least not in the way it used to. No ghosts nor ghouls will rise from the earth and creep into my bedroom at the witching hour. I have long since come to terms with the dead vastly outnumbering the living on my street. What frightens me is being witness to what may be the final testament to so many people. For each of those people, whose bodies have long since decayed, had someone who loved them, someone who hated them, someone they hated, forgave, then loved again. Those memories of human lives, soon if not already forgotten, are now encapsulated in a single rock. And then, even the stone will be gone. First the smaller ones will weather away, chipping and degrading until nothing is left. Then the bigger ones will go too. Season upon season, year after year of rain and snow the final granite obelisks will fall and marble rectangles will crumble. Then, when you dig at the spot the bodies once lay, all you’ll find is dirt.