“It finally got you, didn’t it! Snuffed it……took a long time though.”
“Who the hell is that?” David Lee Fielding inquired, lying in his flag-draped coffin, “You stink as well. What a smell!”
“Don’t be so rude. You’ll smell in a few days as well. Just wait till the first maggots appear in your body. You don’t remember me, you little shit. I’m Julian, your little brother, and I’ve been here since 1943. I’m over there, and it looks like I have to look at you every day. It makes me sick!” Julian Cameron Fielding said.
“Can’t you wait until the service is finished?”
“What does it matter? They don’t hear and see us. We are just here, mostly forgotten! Waiting, I don’t know what. We’ll wait forever. Remember, seventy-two years ago? You stood over there with your parents on my gravesite. You did not even cry or show any emotion. Little David just stood there, and I was in the coffin, thanks to you. You stupid jerk could not even handle the gun properly!”
“Can’t we continue our chat later? I mean once the people are gone. I can’t concentrate on the service, and I have planned it so nicely. I also want to prepare myself to face God and give an account of my existence !”
“You’ll wait a very long time for that. I’ve been here for 72 years, and I have never seen God. None of us have. We are just here in oblivion: no God, no relief, just endless boredom. First, the maggots and the decay, and then the stench. That lasts a few years. Afterward, only humidity!”
David Lee was listening to the eulogies of his sons. He was touched by the feelings and emotional words they said about him. He liked the song Elizabeth, his granddaughter sang. It made him cry. At least Elizabeth had graduated in biology before he died. So, he knew she was on the right path. She would succeed.
“Yea, I was never able to experience that. You ended my life before it even started!”
“I did not do it on purpose. It was an accident, and you know that very well!”
” Oh garbage, accident, my word…accident! You shot me on purpose because I took your girlfriend. And then the bitch did not even come to my funeral. Her mother thought I was not good enough for them. Not that it mattered, since I was the stiffy in the coffin.”
“You made me angry, but I did not shoot you on purpose. How could I know that the gun was loaded?”
“Look at those people, all sitting around under the shade. Not a single tear. They are probably happy you are gone!”
“They loved me. My people and my family genuinely liked me. I looked after them and made sure that my children became something. I did a lot more than you would have achieved!”
“Well, you did not give me a chance, did you? But never mind. You ended up in the same dump where I am. Just wait, there are more of us. And some of us wanted to have a little word with you. And I don’t mean those standing over your grave!”
“Those wouldn’t have come to say their good-byes if they would not have liked me.”
Ah, well, so much for overestimating the impact you have made on earth! They came because they are bored. There is nothing to do in their dirt towns. Once they had grown-up children, they have to find ways to deal with their boredom. They come to see who else croaked it and how long they have to go before it gets them! Just look at them: There is uncle Caleb. He might be the next one. How old is he now? Ninety-five or so?”
“Yea, I think so. He lost his wife recently. I went to her funeral, somewhere in Georgia, near where I live!”
“Lived……not live, my dear. You don’t live there any longer. Get used to it. It’s all in the past! You lived there, and now you exist here, if one can call that existing. Better to say you vegetate her, housing in the stench and the mud!”
“Why are you so negative? Now I remember you were always like that. That’s why I did not like you. Mother used to note that as well!”
“I know. Mother never liked me.”
“How can you say that? She liked you. You were always difficult and made much trouble for her! She always had to protect you from our father!”
“I know she never liked me. She told me so; remember, she is in here too, and so is dad, the old grump for whom one could never do enough. The only answer to a problem for him was the strap. I think he liked to do that. It satisfied one of his ancient sadistic hangs.”
“Don’t be so harsh and bitter. I’m sorry about what happened between us. But I can’t undo it now, and I have suffered a lot about it during all my past life. You were always there in whatever I did, and I had to deal with that. In any case, now we are both here, we should bury the hatched and see that we get on with each other!”
“And why should we do that? Conflict makes life more exciting. Sorry about the pun, “Life,” I mean. If it does not make our existence more exciting, I don’t know what will. Hanging around here is so dull. And then all these old farts don’t see how pious they want to be. A bunch of hypocrites. There is a guy over there, I think he was from Spain, and he calls us all “Southern hypocrites.” He was shot by some Sheriff in Helena about twenty years ago. You’ll meet him. His name is Jorge Diaz. But he is preoccupied with Sandra Collins, a sixteen-year-old who drove her father’s car into a tree when she was drunk. Her father is here as well, and he does not like Jorge. He always bitches about him and goes on and on and on……”
“You are so ne4gative about things b. Here we are, dead. We can’t go anywhere, and we are all waiting for God and his mercy to judge us and let us get into heaven. Or maybe to condemn us, and then we have another problem.”
“It’s laughable. You are talking about waiting for God. There is a guy down there,” and Julian pointed to a place behind him,” he is waiting since 1876. They hanged him by mistake, and he has been waiting ever since to sort out the error. I don’t know what he expects, probably be resurrected, complete his life, maybe publish the book he wrote and complete his tragic life. Be a bit realistic. No one is interested in us any longer. ‘Good ridden s!’ they say, and maybe if you are lucky, they come at the beginning of May and put some artificial flowers on your grave. After a few years, they will even stop that; they walk around and ramble about the past when they come here. They are very solemn, telling stories about us. However, they have long ago stopped telling stories about my life. In any case, most of the stories they tell are not even real, or they are so distorted that you cannot recognize where the truth is. When I think about what I had to listen to every year, it is incredible. They never even talked about me. It was too embarrassing. I don’t exist! Did you know that your sister did not tell her children who I was? Just a relative……. I don’t know what happened to him….he just died …… Yea……so much about truth!”
“I wanted to ask you something. What kind of clothes are you wearing? I mean, I see just tatters. Certainly not something to make an impression. Haven’t you got a suit?”
“Oh, you don’t remember! We were poor; dad was a miner and often drunk. I was not put into a coffin with a suit. The coffin was cheap and leaked all the time. Nothing like the fancy box you came in. I was put into the coffin with just a shirt and some old trousers. I did not even get a pair of shoes. They saved them for you. What I wear is what remains of it!”
“I can see you don’t need much in terms of clothing here, do you? You don’t go anywhere, at least not that quickly. But I want to look presentable when I am before God!”
“Yea, that is the trouble here. We don’t go anywhere, and your God has no time for us. He deals with Rockefeller if he deals with anyone at all. Otherwise, it is dead boring here, funny using the word dead! It only gets interesting when there is a new arrival here, such as you. I like it when the ones we used to hate come. Especially the ones I remember when we were young. Some of them are still the same shits they were when we were teens. Funny using that word, teens, as well. It did not exist back in my time.”
“Yea, things have changed a bit. Language too……. I sometimes cannot even understand what they are saying…….!”
“Do you remember Desmond? He was about eleven when you knocked me out! He did not come to my funeral, and he still owes me a quarter. That was real money then. Mind you, I took a quarter out of my mother’s purse and bought the dirty pictures from Billy at the general store. I gave Desmond some of the dirty pictures, but he never paid me for them. The rest I kept under my bed. Desmond was supposed to pay me two quarters, but you knocked me out cold before I could get all the money.”
“You knew we did not have any money, and you took it from mum? She always said you were shifty and stole!”
“What do I care about now. You know Desmond’s father is here as well. He did not like when I started to talk to Desmond. Mind you, Desmond stinks. I don’t know what they did to him before they put him into the box. Anny told me he had tuberculosis, and they had to disinfect the house. Desmond still has the hots for Anny, but Anny is not interested. She thinks he is too high and mighty……, thinks he was someone because he had money. But you will see it. Today he is in the same tatters as I am. That’s a good thing here. After some time, we all look the same, just bones and tatters and much imagination!”
“Where do you get all this stuff. If I remember correctly, you were not the brightest. You just barely made it in school. And now you have all these views and make these observations! You’ve learned something down here!”
Time is what we have here, and when you have time, you start to think, and when you dig further and ask why and how! It does not always work! But sometimes you get lucky; they put a new guy next to you. Someone who knows things, and then they start to talk. You figure things out for yourself. A few of our colleagues are quiet. They don’t speak, at least not in the first year when they are still waiting for God. But others cannot stop talking. You know how Southerners are. Some don’t want to talk to you if you are not their cousin. Others have secrets, and they want you to know. Some have had a hard life, and others have been bullied, and they want you to know about it. They still hate the guy who bullied them. There are lots of those around!” Julian stopped and paused. It was as if he did not get enough air.
“Are you having difficulty breathing?”
“Well, you know when you killed me, I had tuberculosis. I coughed blood. But no one knew about it.”
“You did not tell anyone?”
“No, I didn’t. In any case, I did not even know what it was. I only found out when I was here. There is a guy here who was a doctor. I often talk to him. He is decent and used to love fellow human beings. He was shot by one of his patients because he performed abortions on women and teens who came to him. He was proud of having done that. The hypocrite who shot him made his daughter pregnant. He is over there as well. A real piece of shit and a strong believing evangelical. He quotes from the bible all the time. Mostly wrongly! Because I have learned a few things about the bible.”
“I was never a churchgoer. Once I left home and went to Auburn, I stopped church altogether.”
“You know what’s so funny? The first thing people talk about is their relatives. Even, or may I should say, especially when they hated them. They become quite intense and stroppy about them. They constantly complain about them and blame them for all sorts of failures in their own life. Then they start to reveal things about themselves. What they should have done and what they never did. And naturally, the people who prevented them from doing whatever they should have done are always their relatives. Then they tell you about all the dirt in the relative’s cupboard, the skeletons in their closet. And then comes the hate. I never realized the hate that existed in families. The large the family, the bigger the hate, cumulatively speaking, that is.”
“There was never any hate in my family. We all loved each other, and we supported each other.”
“Oh, just wait for the first time they come to visit your new home! In the beginning, they will just bitch about you. But when they become an occupant in here, then the hate arrives. They will talk about all the wrong things which they had to endure in their life and who inflicted these injustices on them. Then they tell you what they would do to the people they hate now and how they will tell God to punish them. Once they are here, God is an instrument for them. Someone can use it to get one’s own back. But God is not coming. He has no time for us. He might not even exist. No one has ever seen him.”
“How are you so certain about that? I mean, I have killed you by accident. But then God punished me; he took away my twins in a car accident. There is some connection between what I had done and what God had done to me, don’t you think?”
“I don’t think so. You know the twins are over there, and they talk about aunt Martha and uncle John and how they had verbally fought in the car, shortly before they crashed it. If they had taken more care, the accident would not have happened, and uncle John and the twins would still be alive.”
“I did not know that they fought. The police said the other driver cut them off, and the road was slippery!”
“Well, that is one version. I tend to believe the version the twins repeat. John is not here. And I can’t say what his version was. In the end, it does not matter which version is the truth. The issue is more the hate it generates and how one deals with that hate. If one gets too involved in it and never let go, your mind becomes stale and inflexible. There is a hate-for-ever-lot. Stay clear of them. They are a boring group, and once they get hold of you, they never let go. You are their captive, and their hate will destroy you.”
“Okay, I will be careful. But be quiet now. My people are ending the service, and I want to enjoy the last bit. At least they paid attention to the flag! And now they just stand around. They don’t even mention me. It is as if I never existed!”
“They seem to have been all right. Some of the people cry all the time, and others even fight. Your lot was peaceful and decent. When I was in the box, they were all speculating whether you had killed me on purpose. I could have told them that. But they could not hear me.”
“I must say you have become rather clever. You were never stupid—just a bully who skipped school and never did any homework. You used to instill fear in me, and you always wanted me to do things for you. I remember you were obsessed with sex. You always looked under the skirts of girls. Even took the dime I had and gave it to Anna Campbell to take a peek under her skirt!”
“Yea, I remember that. She was the read head, and she is over there. I went with her behind the outhouse in the bushes. Father almost caught me there. Anna used to smell of pee. She only changed their undies once a week!” Julian paused again as he sat down on a gravestone.
The attendants came and lowered David’s coffin into the grave and took down the folding marquis from over the grave.
“You know the funniest part is when they talk about the scandals and the sex. There are many here who have nothing else to talk about. They are called the scandal noodles! At least that is what Diaz calls them. The ones who had illicit sexual relationships! Those are the interesting ones, you will see!”
“So, you only wait around and gossip or talk badly about other people!”
“What else is there to do? Stories of scandal are the life when you are in the coffin! Sorry about the pun with life! It is sometimes difficult to forget that life does not exist here. We just are, like something in suspense Zombies, as someone called us! I’m sure they now have a new word for it!” Julian was silent for a time as he watched the attendants of David’s funeral disburse and slowly go back to their cars.
“You know that dad had an affair. Dad had two, which I observed!”
“I don’t believe you; He would not do that to our mum. I’m sure of that.!
“Yes, he did. The first one I caught him with was Lea. She was the girl in the general store. She was beautiful and very young! Her father did not know about it, I am sure!”
“How do you know?”
“Remember the small shed we had where the distillery was. The one where we were not allowed to enter? Dad had a sofa in there. The old one from Ms. Gilbert, the old lady who lived in the house next door. There was a gap in the shed, and you could look into it from the side of the outhouse. There I saw him on top of here with his trousers down. Lea made much noise and always shouted, “give it to me’” I never understood what he was supposed to give. Because we did not have anything.”
“It’s just something one says when one gets excited in sex. It does not mean anything, just excitement!”
“He must have been excited as well because he groaned and made all sorts of noises!”
“Well, that is just like that. But I can’t think why dad did that. Especially to our mother. She was always kind and looked after him, preparing his lunch when he went to the mines.”
“Maybe it was just boredom. Father wanted to get out of the rut, the daily life of a provider. In any case, he had another lover, and I saw that as well. It was the organ player in the church we went to. Was she not called Ms. Christensen?”
“Yes, but she was old. Why would dad have any sex with her? She was older than our mother and not very nice looking. Did he do it with her in the same place?”
“No. he didn’t. He did it with her in the grass behind our lot. It was funny because I was on the grass with Tracy. You remember Tracy Briggs, our teacher’s youngest. She saw it as well. She thought if they do it, so can we. She only wanted to kiss at first. But then when we watched, she said we should do it. She is over there, and you can ask her. She talks a lot. She is quite different now from the time you knew her.”
“I still can’t understand why dad did that. I mean, he had a good life. At least until our incident. I know he drunk too much. However, he stopped when he was no longer in the mine and got the job washing the coal on the big machine. But he always had a job, and he was a union foreman. So, he was someone. Why did he risk all of that?”
“Maybe he saw no risk. Maybe he was just lustern, and his mother could not give him what he wanted. So, he looked for it somewhere else. Lots of the people here had that experience. And most of it was in secret.”
“Damn, it gets hot in here. I wish I had a fan or air conditioning!”
“Ah, we don’t have these new-fangled things here. You have to get used to it. It helps in any case what some guy in here called putrefactive fermentation.”
“What is that?”
“You should know, you taught science; did you not? It is what the guy, a former biology professor, calls it. For simple-minded people, the falling apart of the body and the resulting gases that make you stink! At least for the first few months or maybe for a year!”
“Did you ever ask dad why he did it? Why was he looking for other women?”
“I tried, but he gets furious and says that is his private life and none of my business. He is still the old authoritarian; thinks he knows everything and only what he knows is right.”
“Yes, I remember that. Dad used to give me the strap when I came home from school, saying what the preacher says and what’s in the bible is not right. The world was not made six thousand years ago. It is much older. Telling that cost me five evening meals and the strap! My mother then brought me some food late at night when the old man had left for his shift!”
“I never had those kinds of discussions with him. My interchanges with him were always short. You have not done this, or you have done that, and then it was the strap, the leather belt he likes to use so easily and frequently. He was quite violent. Probably learned this all from his cronies in the mine.”
“But he provided for us. More or less or at least within his capability.”
“He did, but so did all or most of the others around us. At least the ones who worked.”
“I have forgotten, then there were the ones who did not work because they lost the jobs at the mine. The mine owners were ruthless. They just threw them out of the houses. Do you remember the enforcer, the bully who helped to throw the people out on the street? What was his name? Was it not Nic? He had a lovely daughter, but otherwise, he was a swine!”
“He is in here as well. Over there in the fourth row. He became one of these raving Christians. He is now our local religious foghorn. But no one listens to him because many of the people here suffered under him. But he says God will sort out the real sinners, and the lazy ones!” Julian stopped again and sat down.
“Are you all right?” David asked.
“Yes, I am. I can’t overdo it. I have to take a break and go back into my hole. But I will be back, and we will continue soon, I promise you. Talk to you soon!” and then Julian got up from the gravestone and strolled away.
“Are you going to forgive me?”
“I will, ultimately, but that still has time! We are here forever, and I am no longer angry with you. I am sure we’ll sort it out!” Julian said, slowly walking through the rows of gravestones.
David looked at him, just bones and tatters, he thought, but interesting. I hope we have another talk, he murmured to himself.
©2019 – bertberger – 4150-2 words
This story, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author. The scanning, uploading and distribution of the story via the Internet or in any other means, including storage in any form of information or retrieval system, without the expressed written consent of the author is illegal and punishable by law. The exception to this is if newspapers, magazines or other reviewers wish to quote brief passages in connection with a review.
If you want to contact the author, send an email to