The beer we snitched from Daddy is hot now and the cigarette butts are gone. I slosh the can and hand it to Sissy. Just one more sip left. She laughs at some joke Bubba just made that I didn’t hear. As usual I’m looking off into the distance, dreaming.
It must be a hundred degrees on this Arkansas road but that don’t bother us. We’re used to the hot dirt roads. The others are wearing flip flops and I don’t even have those on. Once I stepped on a snake and just kept going. Couldn’t see him anyway.
My brother Eddie comes tearing back down the road to us slower ones. His eyes are big with excitement as he points back the way he came. “It’s a graveyard! Hurry up!”
Bubba, Sissy and I pick up the pace. A side road veers to the right and Eddie scampers down it. Overhead the trees grow together at the top and shade us for a minute from the sun’s heat. A simple fence surrounds half an acre of tombstones, the open ground waiting for more. We make a game of looking for the oldest one. “I found a Civil War soldier!” Bubba calls out. “He didn’t die in the war, though. 1889.”
“That’s pretty old,” Sissy says.
Eddie’s eyes twinkle behind his glasses. “This one ain’t as old but it’s a man with a wife on either side and kids down by their mama. He wore her out and got another.”
“I can’t read this one it’s so old!” I yell.
Bubba comes over to where I am and looks down at it. Bubba’s almost sixteen, nearly grown. He’s a straight-A student and knows an awful lot. “Granite’s not as good as marble for headstones,” he tells me.
“Guess not.” I finger the dates. “Can’t tell if that’s an eight or a six.”
“It’s a pretty safe guess there’s no one from the 1600s buried out here.”
“Smart ass. Ow!” I smack a big, red ant off my ankle then shuffle off in case there are more.
“A new grave over here!” Sissy waves to give her position. There are a few lavender ribbons hanging from an arrangement whose flowers have mostly dropped to the ground. From the height of the mound it’s been around a week since the burial. No rain has fallen to flatten the dirt and it looks recently turned.
We don’t walk on the graves. It’s not out of superstition. We’ve all been baptized and belong to the Church of Christ. There’s no such thing as ghosts but a whupping from Mama means a whupping from Daddy, too, and since Eddie got one for walking on a grave after Mamaw’s funeral the rest of us got the message. It’s a matter of respect.
“Oh!” Sissy cries out. Both her feet are planted wide to straddle a grave and she’s bent with hands on knees to look at the headstone. “This one has a picture!”
“No way!” Bubba says. We all run over to see what Sissy’s found, through the tall, tilting stones and between the more modern ground-level plaques.
Sure enough. It’s a pretty rose marble piece with a rounded top and the engraving style of the 1800s. “Lydia Turner. Born January 5, 1829. Died October 21, 1868,” I read.
“She was young.”
“I don’t see no husband next to her. She musta been an old maid,” Eddie figures.
Sissy huffs in defense of her discovery. “Not necessarily. Maybe he moved on.”
“Maybe she was the schoolteacher,” Bubba reasons.
“How you figure that?” I scoff.
“If she married, her husband would want her to stay home and take care of the house and kids. Then the town would have to find a new teacher.”
“Oh.” That sounds sensible. I reckon that’s why he gets the good grades. From thinking instead of shooting off his mouth like me.
I stare at the bubble of glass over the picture of a young, pretty face. She’s wearing a high collar with a thin, black ribbon threaded through it. Almost she’s smiling, her eyes not looking directly into the camera. Like she knows a gentle secret. Around the glass is an oval of brass, joined so perfectly with the stone that not one drop of moisture has gotten in to ruin the picture.
Eddie says, “There ain’t no other Turners near her. Nobody that looks like her family.”
“Who was she?” Sissy wonders, running her fingertips over the slightly convex glass.
“A dead lady named Lydia,” Eddie answers, getting up from a squatting position. He runs ahead and gives a leap, slapping the lowest leaf of a gnarled tree. “Let’s go swimming.”
I was not quite twelve but I knew what she was. Immortal. Everyone who saw her gravestone would learn who Lydia Turner had been, at least what she’d looked like. And she’s always going to look like this, still young and beautiful. Death had not won. She had.
Dee Caples is a lifelong Texan and animal lover whose homemade wines are over twenty proof. She has recently been published in Altered Reality Magazine.