Tombstones and Toblerones

“Sylvie, where are you going?” My mother’s voice is impatient from the living room. I ignore her and leave. After Dad died, she became one of those earnestly sad people, and in our grief counseling group, I didn’t have the heart to tell everyone how her sorrow was fake, playacting for all of them. She got her comfort out of it. She never loved him the way spouses ought to—he was convenient. I didn’t want to leave him under wraps. I wanted Oliver Vaulter to be more than a pitiful epitaph over a grave that contained not a coffin, but an ocean blue urn, slightly cracked. I told our group who he was, of his burgundy winter coat, his brown eyes (a dominant trait, he would always tell me), his summery cookies and how he would say “Cripes!at all inconveniences, something he learned from his grandmother.

I am going to the grave of said Oliver Vaulter because if I don’t, no one will. It has been nearly two years now since he lost control of his car and slammed into a tree. Did you know that you’re more likely to hydroplane if you go over thirty-five miles per hour? The policeman said he was going forty. The speed limit was fifty.

I bike out of our driveway, ignoring the bite of the winter air. The people at the BQuik know me well. I come in, once a week, on a nearly-broken blue two-speed. I buy two Toblerones and then bike to Preston Memorial Cemetery. Though the theory is that one is for my dad, I always eat both of them.

I lean my bike against a nearby tree and sit down on the ground in front of his stone, tugging my grubby rainbow beanie farther over my ears. This Iowa weather’s a killer.

Dad’s got a quote on his grave from the poem “I Am Learning to Abandon the World” by Linda Pastan: “But morning comes.” When he first passed, I thought of it as a double meaning: morning comes, every day a new dawn. Mourning comes, a fresh wave for a different reason every day.

“Hey, Dad,” I say, peeling open the wrapper of the first chocolate, “Mom’s watching the Home Shopping Network again. I got a 94 on my math test. I got asked to the formal dance…do you think I should go? Maria said I would look nice in an emerald green dress. I know you’ve always liked green.”

“He likes green?” an unfamiliar voice behind me says. I turn around.

“Yeah, he liked the way ‘olive’ and ‘Oliver’ sounded similar. Good Scrabble words. That was part of the point behind my name,” I reply.

“I’ve always wished proper names could be Scrabble words, one of the more annoying parts of the game.” The owner of the voice steps out of the shadows. It’s an elderly man. He sits down next to me on the ground, “And your name is?”

“Sylvie.” I decide to stick out my hand to the man, “Sylvie Vaulter.”

“I’m Otis Scott,” he replies, shaking my hand, “Imagine my luck, meeting someone today!”

“Meeting someone?”

“Well,” he clears his throat, “I like to visit a different grave in the cemetery everyday. This is a small town, people can get overlooked. Dead or living. This your father?”

I nod.

He smiles, “I like to know about the people here. What they liked and such. It’s a nice reminder that they were once alive. And still alive in our hearts, eh?”

I hand him the other Toblerone.  We sit in silence and watch the grave.

Finally, Otis stands up, “Well, I better be headed home, my cat’ll be worried about me. He’s a stubborn thing.”

“Thank you for your company,” I say.

“Anytime, for any mourner. Don’t forget to wear that green dress when you go to the dance.” And then he’s gone.

I bike home and look into the living room. My mother is still watching television. I wonder if she’s bought anything new since I left. Probably. I’ll have to deal with that tomorrow.

There’s always tomorrow—morning comes.

 

 

By Edith-Marie Green