I met him in the graveyard. My life was never the same.
An elegant vase of lilies sat to the side, waiting while I cleared the area of leaves. Not many gathered since I visited a few days ago. When the grass was pristine, I put the lilies in front of the stone, slightly to one side. I wanted to be able to see her name.
My Bethy. A year gone today. Pain echoed through me, a searing in my lungs as I choked back the tears which constantly threatened. I dreamed of her every night. The dreams of pushing her on her swing, of teaching her to bat, of watching her help her mother make dinner, those nights of sweetness gave way to the dismay of life without her. The terrifying ones of the accident, of identifying her mangled body, of her funeral, those nights of horror gave way to the shaky relief of emergence. My Bethy. It was a long year.
Her mother and I continued to act out our lives. We went to work. We ate our meals. We slept. We did it again, making days pass. Making a year pass. I made myself stop visiting Bethy every day. My therapist insisted. A few times a week now. It didn’t help.
I barely noticed the man walk past me. When he huddled at a stone, brushing his fingertips over the words, I registered I was not alone. Staring at someone else’s grief, I was mesmerized. The man held his battered hat, his dirty jacket unbuttoned and hanging open. Plucking a lily from the vase, I approached the man. Wordlessly, I handed it to him. In a guttural voice, he mumbled gratitude and placed it by the gravestone. I could smell alcohol and filth rising from him. A horrendous thought occurred to me. I spoke with him, suggesting and coaxing.
I went back to work after spending a little more time with Bethy. I would return this evening with her mother. It was the anniversary. It was only right her mother finally visit.
I picked her up at work as always. Murmuring things in the car such as, “this is so hard,” “I think about her every day,” and even, “I’m sorry,” she tore apart tissues in her lap. She sniffled and kept her head turned away. She thought I couldn’t smell the vodka on her breath.
The vase of lilies was tilted when we got to Bethy. I straightened them and stepped back. Her mother stood back until I gestured her forward. She stumbled a bit, looked over her shoulder at me, and went down to her knees. As though making it real, she reached out to touch the gravestone. The stone with her daughter’s name on it. She pulled it back as though scorched. As she sobbed, I walked away. The evening darkened and I walked the path between graves.
Nearing the crypt, I smelled the man even before he stepped out of the shadows. I held out the fifty. Fifty dollars would buy a lot of booze. “Remember,” I told him. “Lock her in the crypt. Got it?” He nodded, shoving the money into his pocket.
An alcoholic dealing with the drunk driver who killed my Bethy. Taking a different path out of the graveyard, I heard a strangled scream. It seemed a sort of justice.