Readers Gazette Short Stories


Short Story The Burial

The Burial by Joanie Chevalier Relationship short story

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A cool, gentle breeze rustled through the Magnolia trees, dispersing the sweet fragrance of the flowering buds and jostling a lackadaisical bumblebee. A teenager in a borrowed, over-sized suit stood next to a pile of dirt in an approximate twelve by twelve area, surrounded by an obviously homemade, knee-high, aged wooden fence.

His boyish face, spotted with evident pubescent acne, also showed signs of a sparse blond mustache, more in the line of “peach fuzz” It was obvious that the boy-man stood in the midst of a cemetery for pets, since the area located at the back of the u-shaped complex contained miniature homemade headstones and crosses with markings that read “Blackie, Smartest Cat,” and, “Heather, Turtle.” Some of the miniature crosses had obviously been standing long and proud for quite some time, evidenced by the faded printed words and the peeled paint.
 
Two rows, neatly lined up, of mismatched kitchen chairs faced the cemetery. The aroma of comfort food ‒ scalloped potatoes and ham, baked beans, and a macaroni & cheese casserole ‒ mingled pleasantly from the warming crockpots on the card tables along the perimeter of the courtyard.
 
There were people milling about, talking among themselves in hushed conversations, obviously waiting for something to happen. Most wore cardigan sweaters despite the warmth, and walked with canes, the women with similar styles of short, permed, blue-tinged hair, the men bald or sporting comical comb-overs. Several men shared a pack of non-filter Lucky Strikes, and occasionally spat out bits of tobacco. They held their cigarettes with yellow-stained fingers, careful to keep lit matches away from their neighbors’ portable oxygen tanks.
 
A beautiful sound interrupted the hushed activity, and the older woman creating the magical melody was apparently an excellent violinist. The melancholy composition sounded familiar, and came alive as if the musical notes floated up from the violin and circled overhead: light and airy, inky black, swirling and intricate.
 
Marian closed her eyes in concentration as she played, her pudgy cheeks flushed, the fingers of her left hand flying over the strings while the fingers of her right tenderly directed the bow.
 
When Marian stopped playing, she walked over to Kevin, the teenager in the borrowed suit, and gave him a heartfelt hug. Kevin stoically accepted the hug, blinking his eyes quickly, obviously desperate to keep his composure.
 
The tenants stayed silent, and a few of the women pulled out embroidered hankies from sweater sleeves to dab at watery eyes. The men, who had met death head-on during wars and whatnot, stood rigid, their hands behind their backs, some absorbed with memories of their own beloved boyhood dogs.
 
“Buddy, you’ve been a good friend of mine.  I’ll never forget you.”  Kevin wiped his eyes with the rough wool of his borrowed suit sleeve. A tear broke free and splashed on his right sneaker, the sneakers that he had scrubbed clean only that morning with Nana’s spare toothbrush, dabbed with white shoe polish Pops had purchased for him from the corner drugstore.
 
Without notice, Kevin’s legs crumbled and he fell to the ground. All the boy’s pent-up emotions spewed forth furiously, and his sobs seemed to bounce and echo throughout the courtyard. The varied trill of the Song Sparrow hidden in the hedgerows was his only interruption, and it acted as if it were the boy’s backup singer, trilling in between Kevin's deep gasps for breath.
 
Kathleen was the first to arise from her metal green dining chair, and she knelt beside Kevin, shoulder-to-shoulder, wanting to comfort but hesitant to interrupt the grieving of a boy for his dog. Soon after, Lucy slowly made her way to him and stood on the other side, the intricate carved cane in her right hand and her left, blue-veined and mocha-spotted hand resting lightly on Kevin’s shoulder.
 
Marian took this opportunity to play another favorite hymn, and Kathleen began to sing along with her sweet, quiet voice. During the second chorus, Kevin slowly stood up and brushed the dirt from the knees of his baggy black pants. He began to clap in time with the music. Those kneeling stood up too, and they gave Kevin some space, a little surprised that he had such natural rhythm.
 
He and his Nana locked eyes. Wise, loving eyes met with young, hurt eyes, and Marian nodded to Kevin, almost as if they had communicated telepathically. She picked up the tempo and shouted, “For Buddy!”
 
Soon everyone began to clap, hesitantly at first, but then with enthusiasm. There were smiles now instead of tears. It was as if Charlie Daniels’ ghost had visited Marian’s soul as she played a fast-paced bluegrass rendition of the familiar hymn, I’ll Fly Away.
 
The mourners sang with bursts of laughter as they tried to keep up with Marian’s flying fingers. Marian played with passion, and her body swayed as if she were standing in a small boat immersed in choppy waters. The bun holding her long, thick, gray hair loosened, and several large bobby pins flew out as if they were hyperactive hummingbirds.
 
When the song was over, a great quiet settled in the courtyard once again. Pops shuffled over to Kevin with a shovel.
 
“Son, it’s time.”
 
Kevin nodded in compliance and took the shovel. He began shoveling dirt on top of the wooden box in the shallow pit. Held inside was Buddy, his best friend and beloved Golden. After several shovelfuls, Kathleen appeared next to him and placed her hand on top of his. His eyes widened, surprised at her touch.
 
“May I?”
 
He released his hold of the shovel and Kathleen scooped in some dirt, her beautiful, mature face intent on the task. The rich fragrance of California earth rose with a scent like dark coffee and the other pets that had lived and died on this land. The residents took turns shoveling dirt, and Buddy was buried. Kevin pounded his homemade cross into the soft mound with a rock.
 
The colors in the evening sky changed from orchid to light, steel blue as Kevin and the small gathering silently focused on the newest, hand-painted, dazzlingly white cross in the old, familiar pet cemetery. Someone whispered the words written in black sharpie as they said a prayer.
 
Buddy, Dog Extraordinaire.

To see more of Joanie Chevalier work, click the link to her website or scroll down to the bottom of the page to view her member details Visit Joanie Chevalier Website.

Images used for the story are Pet Cemetery

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