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Here Lies Steven Fulton
Beloved Brother, Uncle, Friend
Here lies Steve the peeve, Hattie said in a singsong voice. A life with no strife was ended with a knife.
Hattie liked knives. And she hadn’t liked Steve. Because Steve had liked Hattie too much.
Lived Life. Loved Life. Said the inscription underneath.
Now that was just an outright lie. She bet that Steve had not loved life at all. He hadn’t done any of the typical begging when he easily could have. There’d definitely been time for that.
But no, Hattie couldn’t think like that; she was here to pay her respects. Hattie bowed her head like they did in the movies and counted the sixty seconds for her Moment of Silence.
Fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty. Done.
Goodbye Steve. Until next time Steve.
She needed to move on to her next grave. Her visits were timed. Hattie couldn’t be late to her next one, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to visit them all. And they were expecting her. Hattie owed it to each of them to be punctual.
It had rained the night before. Hattie could tell because the earth was squishy beneath her feet. She liked the way it felt under her Mary Janes, which were buckled over her knee-length cable-knit socks that Hattie had to wear because they were part of her uniform. She sunk in a little with each step, an inch closer to her friends. The tiny suction made it harder to bring her foot up again, which made Hattie happy. It made her feel like they wanted her there, to stay with them.
Don’t worry, I’m here, she said. I always come back. Squish, squish.
Always In Our Hearts. Taken From Us Too Soon.
She was taken at the exactly right time, Hattie said back to the headstone. At the time that she was supposed to be taken. No, there was a better word for it. Meant to be taken. There it was. She was taken at the exactly right time that she was meant to be taken, Hattie repeated.
Hattie liked words, but she didn’t like when words were used incorrectly. It was a wicked thing to tell the wrong story. That’s one of the reasons she came to the graveyard – outside of visiting her friends. To tell the stories the right way.
Taken. Now that was a good word. It was the right word. Hattie traced her hands along the indentations of the inscription, feeling the damp, cool roughness of the stone against her fingertips. She curled over the word taken twice.
Adrianne Walter never did falter. Until a new girl was born, whom Adrianne scorned. As hard as the younger girl tried, the older sister despised. So an accident down the stairs was conceived, and Adrianne’s death was achieved.
Hattie stepped back for Adrianne’s Moment of Silence. She didn’t like to stand on the graves when giving them her respects. That was like standing on someone’s stomach, or on their arm, or even on their private parts. And that was not polite.
Twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six.
Hattie liked Adrianne’s grave. It was one of her favorites in the whole graveyard. It looked exactly how a grave should look. A rectangular plot of grass with a rectangular stone standing upright exactly where the fractured skull would be. The sun shone down on the grave as if to agree.
The collection of colors – grass, stone and sky – probably looked pretty in the sunlight, but not to Hattie. Hattie was colorblind, which she liked. Her world was an array of grays. Darker grays, lighter grays, some grays as close to black as it could get. That’s another reason she liked the graveyard so much. Gray felt right in the graveyard. Gray was the way it was supposed to be.
When it was cloudy out, her grays were more muted, more comfortable. But when it was bright like this, everything seemed more pronounced. She felt the corners of her eyes twitch towards graves that were not hers to visit, which Hattie didn’t like. Things in the light stood out where they shouldn’t, drawing her attention from what she was supposed to be doing, which was paying her respects.
Fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty! Done.
Adrianne would always be special to Hattie. Adrianne was Hattie’s first.
Goodbye Taken Adrianne. I’ll see you next time Taken Adrianne.
Hattie smiled. She liked that she’d thought of a new nickname for her sister.
She took out her light gray watch from her coat pocket to make sure that she was on time. If she left right now to go to her next grave, she would be. Hattie let out a sigh of relief.
Squish, squish, squish, squish.
The Lord Is My Shepherd
Joshua Frymark lived in a sty-mark. He was a terrible old neighbor, who always demanded free labor. One day he was cruel, so Hattie pushed his wheelchair into the pool. Not one person in the town missed him as he drowned.
Hattie clapped her hands. She loved when her stories worked out like that.
She stepped back to make sure she was in the right spot and bowed her head like she was supposed to for Joshua’s Moment.
Around thirty-one and thirty-two though, Hattie started to get bored. She could feel her hands wanting to fidget, which was not right for paying her respects, so she put them in her coat pockets to quiet them.
Hattie kept exactly three things in her coat pockets. Two things in her left-hand coat pocket and one thing in her right-hand coat pocket. The first thing in her left-hand coat pocket was her watch. She didn’t like things on her skin, and her pocket was the perfect place for it to go. Her watch kept her on time. And that was important. Dependable people were always on time. The second thing in her left-hand coat pocket was her pocketknife. She needed it first and foremost for safety. And she never knew when one of the tools from her pocketknife would come in handy.
Hattie held her breath while she made sure it was still there. When her fingers closed around the cool metal, she let out the air and enjoyed the sight of her gray, wispy breath. That was one thing she had that her friends didn’t have, which Hattie liked.
Her Moment of Silence for Joshua now complete, Hattie left to go to her next grave. She checked her watch again and was reassured that she was still exactly on time.
Because of the rain, all the little worms were out on the ground. Some of them had already died, which was a shame. But some of them were still squiggling and squirming, which Hattie liked. And the bitter, rotting smell that always came after rain still lingered in the air, which Hattie also liked. It was very appropriate for the graveyard. Aside from the sun being out, this was a very good day for her visit.
Hattie made a game of stepping on the wriggling worms as she made her way over to her next grave. Double points for two plus worms in one step, but minus points for stepping on the ones that were already dead. Wormy hopscotch. Squish, squish, squish.
Beloved By Family, Cherished By Friends
Mary Roosner was a loser. A girl with so many friends, she lost them all in the end. She had a tongue like a snake, and a laugh that did grate, but no blood was reserved when she got what she deserved.
Hattie was still working on that one.
There were no flowers this time. Last time there had been, which Hattie really didn’t like. She’d had to tear the gray petals up into shreds and hack the stems into little pieces with her pocketknife, which had certainly come in handy that day. She’d stabbed at the flower confetti until it had mixed with the dirt underneath, at least as far as Hattie could see. Being colorblind did have some disadvantages.
It had taken thirty-four minutes and twenty-two seconds to get rid of the flowers completely, which had thrown Hattie’s schedule entirely off track for the day. She’d had to skip seven graves, which upset Hattie because she didn’t get to pay her respects like they were expecting.
Except for Mary’s, there were never flowers on any of Hattie’s graves, which she liked. They made the graves more hers. Besides, flowers just rotted. And there was enough rotting going on in the graveyard already. If she ever had any extra time at the end of her visits, Hattie liked to clean the flowers off of the other graves that weren’t hers.
Even though she didn’t want to, Hattie stayed completely still for Mary’s Moment of Silence. But she left exactly after that. Hattie didn’t need to check her watch to know that she would be ahead of schedule; she was usually ahead of schedule after Mary Roosner. Being ahead of schedule wasn’t great, but it wasn’t as bad as being behind schedule. At the next grave Hattie would linger a little for time to catch up.
But as Hattie squished her way over to her next grave, grinding the corpses of little worms into their own earthy graves, she saw Mr. Peter across the way and stopped short. This was not his usual time.
Mr. Peter was the caretaker of the graveyard. His shoulders were hunched with age, and his skin hung slack over his bones in a skeletal way, but he was still strong enough to dig and fill Hattie’s graves. He always wore clothes that were the same shade of gray, which Hattie liked because she knew what to expect. Gray suited him. Mostly because a general grayness surrounded him: a grayish face, a grayish demeanor. Hattie liked Mr. Peter most of all because he was always nice to her. But this was the wrong time for him to be here, which she did not like. She did not like that at all. It was going to throw off her entire schedule. Nothing would get done after this. Nothing. She knew it. Her friends knew it. The graveyard knew it. Hattie started to breath heavily.
Mr. Peter saw Hattie and waved.
Hattie froze. She couldn’t bring herself to wave back. This day was ruined, destroyed, dead.
Everything okay over there, Hattie? Mr. Peter called out. School let out early today?
School had not let out early. It was Friday, and Fridays were always half days at Hattie’s boarding school. But there was no way for Mr. Peter to know that; he never saw her on Fridays since this was not his usual time.
Mr. Peter was setting up with a gray shovel next to a darker gray plot of land from which the grass had already been skinned, but he stopped and looked like he was going to start walking over to her.
Hattie absolutely could not let that happen. She didn’t like to be close to people unless it was completely necessary. And it was certainly not completely necessary right now.
She had to think of a way that would keep him over there, to reassure him that everything was okay. Even though it wasn’t. Nothing was okay. Her day had been violently cleaved in two. She didn’t know if she would ever feel okay again. Everything was too bright. Her whole body felt tense and tingly.
Hattie whimpered, but that didn’t help. He was going to start walking over any second. She put her arms over her ears. She wanted to scream. Think Hattie, think!
She dropped her hands into her coat pockets and clutched onto her pocketknife, drawing the blade. She had to let some of herself out or she would burst, Hattie knew it. She ran her palm along the blade, back and forth, hard enough until it felt wet, which Hattie needed. The pain was enough to pull everything together again, at least for a little while. Hattie exhaled at the release.
What are you doing Mr. Peter? Hattie finally shouted back, in her best I’m Okay voice.
Mr. Peter seemed relieved by her answer. He picked up his gray shovel, which confirmed for Hattie that he wasn’t going to come over.
Just getting a head start on the next one, Mr. Peter said back in his grayish way.
She didn’t know if Peter was his first name or his last name. It would have bothered her if she hadn’t thought of the solution of calling him Mr. Peter, which covered both possibilities.
Who’s it for? Hattie asked to keep him safely over there, across the way.
Don’t know yet, Mr. Peter said back, laughing his gray laugh. But there’s always someone who comes along.
That’s true. There’s always someone next.
Hattie gasped when it hit her. The grave. It was hers.
All of the pressure in her body released in a whoosh. Hattie no longer felt tense and tingly, she felt light and shimmery. The brightness of the day wasn’t too bright, it was exactly as bright as it needed to be for everything to be in sharp focus. She knew what she had to do. Everything made sense again. Her schedule had been cleared by Mr. Peter for a reason. The day was still hers. In fact, it was more hers than it had been before when she was spending it with her friends. Now, Hattie was going to get to do something special just for her.
Tom Banner was a creature who posed as a teacher.
What? Mr. Peter shouted.
A man with no smile, he did things that were vile.
Mr. Peter put his hand behind his ear to help him hear her.
He made fun of her grammar, so she cracked his skull with a hammer.
Speak up Hattie, you know I love your poems.
Hattie pulled her watch with her bloodied hand out of her left coat pocket and checked it. She was exactly on time again.
Thank you, Mr. Peter, she said loud enough this time. But I have to go now. I don’t want to be late.
She turned abruptly and walked away quickly, no longer caring about the worms or the graves. She had somewhere else to be.
Hattie shoved her right hand into her coat pocket and soothed herself with what was to come. She stroked it up and down, up and down: the last thing she kept on her at all times.