by Colleen Sutherland
“The snow covers all.....”
Who said that? she wondered, as she pushed her walker up the hill ahead of her, the tote bag swinging back and forth, the thermos bottle sticking out. “One step at a time,” her doctor told her, after her last fall. “Take it slow. You can accomplish anything if you take your time.”
She would see about that. She pushed on. The little wheels caught in the dried grass. She jerked at the walker, caught her balance and pushed on.
“The snow covers all...or was it the grass?” She couldn't remember. Some poet....
She could see Robert ahead, the green green wreath with the cheerful red ribbon waving in the wind above the headstone.
“Why bother with a wreath this year,” her son asked at Christmas Eve. “Nobody goes up there to see it anyhow.”
He was right. The Old Settlers Cemetery hadn't seen a burial in years. But it was where her parents were buried, where her grandparents and great grandparents lay. And it was where Robert was buried, so many years ago. She insisted and on Christmas Eve, she and her family placed the wreath there. But that was a month ago. It was time to take it down...but they could do that later.
She stopped to catch her breath. The altitude was not so high really, but she was old. The oxygen pack at her side couldn't keep up. One step at a time. She moved on.
Thank goodness Robert had selected a flat tombstone. She sat on it to rest.
The Old Settlers Cemetery was in the High Plains at the plain's highest point. Beyond the Rocky Mountains rose up, the Flatirons thrusting out of the city. The old settlers had chosen this spot for their burial because of the view, she thought.
She shivered. The morning's forecast was for snow. She watched the clouds make their shadows on the stones of the Rockies, pushing the cold ahead of them. She would have to hurry before the ground got too hard.
She reached into the tote and pulled its contents out. The hand spade, a thermos of tea, and Corky. She dropped it all on Robert's grave.
She wanted to take Corky to the vet for his final visit at Christmas. He was so old and in pain. It was time. But the children were busy visiting old friends and celebrating down at the bar so that they didn't have time.
“We'll take care of it on your birthday,” her daughter said. “And we should talk about where you should live then, too. We'll all be here again at the end of January.”
She knew what that meant. They were going to take her out of her house and move her into assisted living, their idea of a birthday celebration. They had found time to call the Department of Motor Vehicles. Two days ago, she had been informed that her driver's license had been rescinded. She had driven here anyhow. What would happen if the police stopped her? Take away her license? After today, it wouldn't make any difference.
Last night, she had taken care of Corky herself. A little poison in his favorite food and this morning he was gone. She would bury him beside Robert, who had given her Corky as a tiny kitten, two months before he died. “He'll be company for you,” he said. A few days later he slipped into his final coma.
She pushed the walker away and slipped off the tombstone onto her bony knees to land beside Corky. She gasped as she hit the ground. It hurt, but then everything hurt these days.
Robert's dates were almost obliterated from the prairie dust. It had been a dry summer. She pulled her handkerchief from her jacket and carefully wiped away the dates. She had her name engraved in the stone, too, and her dates. She had put “19” for her death date, leaving the last two digits for what was inevitable. But she had lived on, and on, and on. The millennium changed and she was still here, feeling foolish about that “19”. The Y2K nonsense was nothing compared to all those widows waiting too long to die.
She stabbed the spade into the ground. It was still soft enough to work and what difference did it make how long this would take. She stopped from time to time looking around at this familiar ground. All around her were graves, some dating back to the Civil War. The cemetery began as a boot hill for miners who died of cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis and gunshot wounds. Back then, few died of old age. They were the lucky ones.
The city was in charge of the cemetery upkeep. Very little had been done of late and with the change of the political scene, no more would be done. The mayor, backed by the city council, had unanimously decreed that the cemetery would be closed. No more burials would take place after a June deadline. The dead could get their perpetual care at the new cemetery in the suburbs. It would save the taxpayers money, that was all that mattered. A balanced budget mattered more than the people buried there and their elderly families.
She stabbed the dirt even harder when she thought about the bastards.
It wouldn't matter to most. It wasn't like there were many funerals over the past twenty years. The few who came here were the Chicanos. They buried their children and for a few years there would be little plastic toys littered around the cemetery, then a few plastic flowers, then the graves were forgotten. This Christmas hers had been the only wreath.
She paused for breath and looked down the hill. Prairie dogs poked their heads out of their burrows to watch, curious about her, but also keeping an eye out for the hawks that flew overhead looking for a plump dinner. The prairie dog town was working its way up the slope. Some of the oldest graves had already been dug through. She thought about bones being pushed this way and that by the furry bodies. Soon they would reach Robert, too, though his solid casket would protect him. He wouldn't have cared if the prairie dogs had dug him up. He loved all wild things, so he wouldn't mind the company.
The hole was big enough. She slipped Corky out of his Costco bag. She gave him a hug, but he was already cold. She smoothed his fur and put him in his grave. She whispered a prayer that cats would go to heaven and covered him up.
She rolled over and leaned her back against the stone. The clouds had reached the Flatirons. She could see the storm as streaks against the horizon. It was time. She reached for the thermos and poured a nice cup of tea into the plastic cup. It was hot but she sipped anyhow. It was bitter. Most of the honey had settled to the bottom of the thermos. She closed it up again and tipped it back and forth, blending the honey in with the rest of the contents. She tried again. There, it was better. She never had honey with her tea, but this was a special occasion.
There....yes, there. She could feel it down to her toes. It was time. Big fluffy snowflakes touched her face.
She turned off the oxygen and set the portable tank to one side. She slowly unbuttoned her coat, and slipped it off. She settled once more again the stone, the yellowed old wedding gown spread over her thighs and legs. Now drowsy, she drank the tea until the cup slipped from her hands.
The snow covers all.....who was it that said that?