The Meeting Place. TWO.
Pushing the red messenger bag through first, Liv wriggled forward as the yielding chain link scratched at her back like fingernails. She felt the dampness of leaves on her palms as her knees sunk into the mushy earth. A hopeless mess already, once completely under, she flopped onto her back, arms at her side, palms up. Seeing her patchwork bell bottoms sloppy with dirt, she sighed, succumbing to the bed of roots and pebbles. Sure, she could have come through the gate, but what fun would that have been? And how foolish. With one hand, she reached for the bag and with the other grabbed a fist of humus, inching it toward her nose. The composting stew smelled of age and rot and magic and for a moment she wanted to stuff it in her mouth and chew it like a potion that would make her disappear.
She could have lain there forever — at least she felt that way for a minute or two. Then her elbows pushed her upward, the mud oozing through her jacket, her head still thrown back to face a wrangle of branches against the brightening sky. The sun traversed her face in spider webs of light and glinted in her golden hair. She imagined how she might look at that moment. Back when they were on better terms, her mother suggested that Liv had a Grecian profile. After an investigation in the dated encyclopedia that Grandy had given them, Liv decided that it was as close as Mother had ever gotten to saying she was pretty.
Eyes still upward, the crafty intruder spotted a squirrel’s nest in the oak spires just as an acorn plummeted into a nearby sea of leaves. Her memory dashed to the lunar capsule when it returned from the moon landing, how it splashed into the open sea right there on the black-and-white screen in the den. How impossible it seemed that the thimble would ever be found, but it was.
Liv pulled herself up to a cross-legged seat, stretching right then left, scanning the headstones, reading what she could, what the moss hadn’t invaded. There, near the acorn splashdown was an undisturbed stone: Karl “Bird” Newton / Forever in Our Hearts / March 10, 1934-May 17, 1949. Fifteen years old. She contemplated the coincidence of their ages and pulled a spiral notebook out of her pack, took a Bic from her jacket pocket, bit off the plastic blue cap, and scribbled circles in the margin until the ink started to flow. Then she bent over the clean lines and pushed her left-handed scribble across the page, her lips pursing. Her back, still covered with leaves and twigs, hunched in a pose half-yogi, half-villain.
Karl “Bird” Newton Obituary!
Young Karl “Bird” Newton was a good boy until he decided that he wasn’t. How that happened is a family shame. He sang in the choir of the First Baptist Church until the fires of hell and damnation burned his throat to a crisp. Word had it the devil had slithered right into it the night he had traded his very soul for a peak at The Eternal Truth. He died on the hill behind the cemetery in a lightning storm just as the witches adjourned. They scanned the landscape as they came upon the limp creature laid low by shame and longing. Blessed one, they whimpered, as they reached for each other’s hands before they removed the rope from around his neck.
Oh, there’s more where that came from, Liv thought as she imagined a fan club shouting More! More! Tell us more! She hadn’t spent her youth eavesdropping on prayer circle meetings for nothing. She had captured so many notions that stories poured off her like grease off bacon.
Liv shoved the notebook into the bag and then flung it over her shoulder. She pivoted to get a better look at the markers near the opposite corner of the small cemetery. Vines twisted from stone to stone and stubborn ivys braided themselves from granite to marble and back again like lost children trying to find their way home. Liv wandered among the erratic headstones and unfamiliar dead, each branded to calendars long past, each summarized by span of years dissolved to a dash. When was the last time any hearts had remembered the likes of Bird Newton?
An upright gravestone confronted her in a sparkle of light. Carved of rose granite, speckled with flecks of black and white, the pink reminded her of Grandy’s polished nails. The stone had been cut to look like an open book, and considering the bible verse embossed above the name, she could guess which one.
Perfect, Liv whispered. She swung the bag around toward her hips and pulled something free. She took one last look at the stamp on the back — Imperial Crown China, Austria — then she swung the plate forward and back in slow motion until she knew where it would graze the granite edge. She wondered one last time about how much it might be worth.
Twice more she calculated. Then three. two. one. A crow cawed high in the branches as a crash ruffled the air. Shards scattered. A howl stirred deep inside Liv’s gut, but by the time it hit her throat, it turned to laughter, and she ground her heels into the geometric glass, her arms raised in release.
She wanted to believe she was done with all of it.