SAYING GOODBYE TO CLEM
The cemetery was empty, just like it was the last time I visited. As I was walking I slipped on a moss covered flat gravestone and came face to face with a pretty young girl. She stared at me calmly with empty grey eyes. I realized she was another one of the weathered marble statues. Her headstone read: Little Gracie, 1882-1889. Seven years old, about the age of my son Clem. It's hard to imagine children resting here alongside so many elders. I reached out and touched her cheek, smooth and cold as glass, and whispered, "I'm sorry." It was all I could think of to say.
I was taking it all in, the musky exotic aroma, the dominance of all of those long oak branches flowing with silken moss, the silence that starts out like silence and then becomes something loud and incoherent. This was Bonaventure Cemetery, and I was there on a personal mission to visit my late husband's tombstone.
Clem killed himself two years ago, probably in a dumpy motel on some strip somewhere. I don't have the exact details, but he did write me a short letter explaining his decision. He tore my heart open one more time. I loved that man and he hurt me without even knowing it. When I found out he had killed himself, I put it together as fear and loneliness. No better reason needed, people do it all the time.
As I was looking at more tombstones, an extremely tall man walked towards me holding an opened big black umbrella. It wasn't raining, nor was it particularly sunny, so it didn't make sense. I was all alone, but scared as I was I stood my ground. He stopped in front of me smiling and bowed.
"I see you met Little Gracie, she's a treasure, isn't she?"
This man was wearing a costume from another century. A long flared coat, a vest, loose fitting pants pushed into knee high boots, and white gloves. When he bowed, his long black hair fell like a mop being shaken out. I was leery, don't let me pretend otherwise.
"I felt a great sadness when I saw her. I could never understand children dying, barely understand adults dying. It takes its toll coming here." I took another look at him and went on, "Is there a party you're heading to?"
"No, delightful creature, my party days are long gone. I live here, write my stories, and rest with the giants of the earth every night. Oh, and I shouldn't leave out my three helpers, they're the best company a man could have."
"Personally, Mr." I started.
"Oscar, call me Oscar," he said.
"Okay then Mr. Oscar, call me Maggie. Let me tell you from my heart, I wouldn't spend one night in this place for any reason whatsoever. I don't have that much experience with cemeteries, but this one gives new meaning to the word scary."
He laughed at what I said. This was some weird fellow. I figured it was best to move on.
"Well, I'll be going now, but I do need to ask you one question."
"I'm sure you are filled with questions, it's not everyday someone meets an angel."
He crossed his arms and stood as if prepared for anything.
"Why do you carry an open umbrella when there's no need?"
He tilted his head, like he couldn't believe what I asked or he was thinking. I'm not sure."
"The umbrella keeps some of the younger angels from pulling my hair. See? I swing it around so they can't sneak under it. I thought you would've known that."
“When I start knowing things like that they better cart me off to the asylum.”
I was serious, but laughing at the same time.
“I hope we meet again Mr. Oscar, when I have more time to talk, but right now I have to hunt for my husband. I feel like I have to say a final good-bye to him, and maybe clear some things up at the same time. Mostly, I need to tell him I forgive him.”
Oscar gave me a strange look, then seemed to make a decision, and said, “I can help you with that if you’d like.”
“What do you mean Oscar? What could you do?”
“All I have to do is close my umbrella, and after the angels have their fun pulling my hair, I can ask them to help me will Clem up here for a visit.”
“I feel like I’m about to faint.” I felt my heart racing. “I can’t believe you could do that."
We walked over to the statue of the lady that looks like she’s sleeping. I pointed out the tombstone I remembered from my last visit a year ago. Oscar bent over to sweep a little mulch off it and we saw his name, Clem Burnett: Died for Love. Oscar slowly began to close his umbrella, and so many memories flooded my brain, I could hardly separate them.
I remembered the day that I first met Clem at the state fair, him taking a bite out of my cotton candy, and then laughing like a fool. Moving in together to a house we couldn’t afford, him working at the local gas station and me at one of those fancy wedding cake bakeries. I’ll never forget the joy I felt after giving birth to our son Clem Jr. We shared so many good years, and then it all got turned around.
I came out of my trance to see Oscar slapping around his head, to make the angels stop bothering him I guess. I couldn’t see them, but I believed what Oscar said was true.
I began to talk to Clems tombstone, and Oscar continued to fight off the angels.
“Okay, so here it is Clem. I hope you’re listening because I will only be saying this one time. I understood when you left that you had to go, but I didn’t understand why you never contacted me again. I want to forgive you for that because I know your intentions were good. I suppose you thought I’d start a new life with some fine gentleman, and our son would have the love of a new father, in short, that it would be better if I completely forgot you. Well, that might have been your thinking. Let me tell you how it worked out. A day never passed when I didn’t miss you, I felt like a hollow shell and if it wasn’t for Clem Jr. I might have taken the same route you did. But what would little Clem do? I could never leave him. He is the hope that holds me here, and connects me to you. So hang on to it, I’ll be seeing you soon enough.”
There was a rumbling sound coming from the stone, and when I looked up Oscar was gone and in his place I saw a transparent figure. I could see it was Clem, holding his arms out as if to embrace me. I stepped into the center of light that was coming from him. He leaned forward and I could feel his lips on my cheek. We stayed that way for a few minutes, then the light began to lift and I could feel Clem was no longer with me.
Oscar suddenly appeared in the empty spot, and quickly opened his umbrella.
“Did you see them? Did you see how they pester me?” He said as he swung the umbrella around.
I stood with my hand on my cheek smiling, tears running down my face.
“Yes Oscar, I saw it all, I can’t believe it, but I did. I couldn’t admit I didn’t see the angels, I think I was blinded by the light that came from Clem.
“What’s that on your cheek, it’s something shiny?” Oscar reached out and touched it and just like that, he disappeared.
I hoped he was still in earshot when I called out, "Oscar, I'll be back."
Eileen Elkinson has been writing for about two years and has published works in Bewildering Stories, Dew on the Kudzu, The Shine Journal, Western North Carolina Women, and is an editor/reader for Mezzozine Magazine. She lives in Asheville, N.C.
in the mountains.
****This is the follow up story to "Looks Like She's Sleeping" which published on January 12.