The Gravestone

Contributor: Tim Gerstmar

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The nitre oozes from the cracks of the crumbling stone. The water drips and runs along the grooves of the epitaph, life reduced to a few Roman letters and dates. The water rolls along the stone and falls into the deep puddles that drown the grass. The limestone dissolves slowly, minute by minute, hour by hour, as time has wanted it to do. Out of the cracks unnameable things crawl, slithering and sliding as the storm clouds thunder above and send the rain, renewing the land. They are the eaters of the dead, tearing off bits of flesh with their serrated mouths. However, they can only ingest solids, energy is another matter, in this case the energy of love.

A woman stands before the grave. Her long cold hands tremble. It's been fifteen years, and yet still she comes. She places the bundle of red roses wrapped in wet newspaper at the foot of the stone. She does not cry, and she never has.

The birds sit on a wet branch above her. They shake their feathery bodies and think about food and safety, and the young. They don't know about death, only birth. Such a small thing, and yet it can survive the elements, the harsh cold, and the damp that cuts and kills. To them there is only each and every agonizing moment.

Deep beneath the soil, past the roots and the stones, and the tunnels of earthworms, inside the wooden casket, pregnant with moisture, the parasites go about their noiseless patient task. A large drop of water forms on the inside of the lid and falls on the skeletal brow. It splashes right between the eyes, the space of sight, of the third eye, of remembrance and longing.

She cannot stand in front of the grave for too long, because then the real memory comes back, of passionate nights, of the thrill as they put him to rest permanently. Then they held each other, her and her lover, in the embrace of youth with the dampness of sweat all over them. They had finished him for good. They lay together in lust, fresh from the barbaric savagery and the pleading of her now murdered husband. The pain is too much now, and she turns away.

She walks down the long lonely overgrown path, back to her car. The wet autumn leaves stick to her cold bare ankles. A branch breaks above the woman, and some drops of water fall on her, sending a chill through her as they splash on her neck. The flap of wings and a black bird takes to the air, cutting a dark wedge shape in the sky, the branches of bare trees like veins against the clouds. Then there is something else, a cracking sound and the thump of something heavy hitting the ground.

It's amazing how unreal and distant it all seems now. She and her lover planned it out well enough. Her lover. Then he left her suddenly. She recalls the twisted wreck of the car and the police lights, the gleam of wet pavement. Then there was the horror as she saw him there, twisted and lifeless. How could he leave her like this? How could he let her suffer the guilt alone? She tells herself that she will be home soon, and that she will be warm in her own living room with the television playing low. She tells herself many fictions. She also tells herself that she doesn't hear the slow agonizing tread of footsteps on the trail behind her.

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Tim Gerstmar has been an ESL teacher for twelve years. He has traveled extensively through Asia and worked in Korea and Thailand. During his free time he enjoys writing short horror and science fiction stories.
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