Sunday, December 08, 2013
The Man Who Talks to the Dead
By OFW editor:
Published: October 09, 2013
When the time came to choose an epitaph for my father's headstone, I offered
Graham was an asshole
I was outvoted.
In the end, my stepmother went with “Beloved father and husband.” Unoriginal and full of shit. Fit him perfectly.
Today was the first time I'd visited my father's grave. The day of his funeral I spent in my bathtub – wrinkling, drinking, and staring. I doubt anyone noticed.
Autumn's red, yellow, and brown suicides remained unraked, even though it was already late November. Snow would come soon and cover it all, so it didn't matter. Most of the families of those buried around my father made weekly visits to trim weeds, lay fresh flowers, and remove the condoms and cigarette butts left behind by teenage lovers.
When he was alive, my father was meticulous with his lawn. Stubborn grass blades that managed to escape his industrial lawnmower were cut with nail clippers. Now, the sight of his cheap plot, overgrown with weeds and suffocating on leaves and debris – I couldn't help it. I laughed. I laughed so hard my nose ran and tears streaked my cheeks. My stomach ached and I doubled over, leaning on his stone for support until an unfamiliar voice shocked me out of it.
“That Graham's a real laugh-riot.”
The intruder rolled out from behind a stone angel. Leaves clung to his wirey, gray hair and swiss-cheese sweater. His eyes squinted. Crow’s feet became crow’s caverns. He rested his chin in his hands and kicked his feet like a toddler. There was no doubt in my mind – he was completely batshit.
“Laugh-riot? You didn't know him, did you?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because anyone who spoke to Graham Richards would never describe him as a 'laugh-riot.' A jerk, maybe. Control freak.”
didn't know him,” the man said, and winked.
“Who are you, again?”
“I,” the man pushed himself into a seated position and leaned against the stone angel looking completely at ease, “am Jacob. I talk to the dead.”
Uh huh. Batshit.
“Don't look at me like that. You're thinking I'm out of my mind. A lunatic. Crazy. Off my rocker. A few nails short of a tool box. A french fry short of a happy meal. A few watts short of a light bulb.”
“But with an obvious grasp of metaphor.”
Jacob smiled. I was surprised to see all of his teeth accounted for. “I'm not crazy.”
“The implication that my father may have had a single funny bone in his body begs to differ.”
“Has, son. He's very popular out here. Mildred over there gets a fit of the giggles every time he opens his mouth.”
He pointed to a grave two plots over from my father's. It was so big I could see the inscription from where I stood:
1810 – 1891
Grandmother, Mother, Wife, and Lover of Us All.
“She's dead,” I said.
“I don't get it.”
“What's there not to get?”
“She's dead,” I said again.
Jacob tilted his head, considering me. “Just because our bodies die, it doesn't mean we don't still have thoughts. That we don't speak.”
I snorted. “Actually, that's exactly what it means.”
Jacob stood up, not bothering to brush the bouquet of leaves that clung to his clothes, hair, and shoes. He looked like a wood nymph.
“Mildred loved to laugh. Everything – her grandchildren's antics, the neighbor who liked to water his garden from his lawn chair, the dogs slopping water from the bird bath – made her collapse with laughter.”
“How could you possibly –“
He tapped the wing of the stone angel behind him. “Aaron was a doctor. A great one. Sacrificed his life in World War II to drag a bleeding man away from the bombs. His wife,” Jacob pointed to an identical angel next to him, “died of heartbreak. They were high school sweethearts.”
In his face I saw sincerity and the kind of ache a person holds when they lose their best friend. But these people were dead. Had been for decades. It didn't make sense.
“So you're... psychic?” I ventured. I didn't believe in such a thing but I was curious.
He shook his head. “I'm no conjurer, kid. I don't 'connect' or 'reach out' or any of that other psychic babble bullshit. With their crystals and moaning and rocking – I may hang out in a cemetery, but they're the crazy ones. I said I talk to the dead. Everyone should. They're the best listeners. What else have they to do besides listen?”
Then, he laughed. Like I laughed when I saw my father's overgrown plot. A deep, tear-filled laugh. He coughed and weezed.
“He said you always were a jackass. Hard-headed.”
I shot a look at the ground expecting... I don't know what. A hand shoved through the ground? The earth trembling beneath me? Night of the Living Dead?
Jacob was still laughing.
“Jackass?” I looked from Jacob, to the grave, and back again. It was a term I'd heard more from him than my own name. “Tell me about my father.”
Jacob wiped the tears from his face. Stood a little taller. “A real jokester,” he began, walking to stand next to me, “He likes when Aaron tells stories of the war. History interests him. He talks a lot about you. Your mom.”
I nodded, unable to tear my eyes from the words “Beloved husband and father.” Jacob patted my shoulder, winked, and skipped across the cemetery, whistling.
When Jacob was out of sight, I sank down on the ground, the leaves crunching under my weight. I picked one up – perfect, untouched since it fell from the oak that stood sentry over my father's grave – and turned it over in my hands.
“Jokester, eh?” I hesitated. “Tell me a joke, dad.”
A breeze rushed past, clearing the leaves in front of me, and I could swear I heard a voice say, “There once was a man from Nantucket...”
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