Home > Red at Night

Red at Night
Author: Katie McGarry

1

Stella

I like cemeteries. They’re quiet, well-groomed, and overall possibly the safest place in the city. I can talk all I want, and the company doesn’t talk back. At least for now. Someday, as Joss often reminds me, the pathetic remains of my sanity will crack and she’ll find me conversing with crows while I try to convince her that the dead souls that inhabit the black-feathered bodies are real and are warning us of an impending apocalypse.

For kicks, I like to flutter my eyelashes and tell her it’s really the blue jays she needs to worry about.

I brush the dried leaves off the grave marker. It’s one of the cheaper ones, made of gray stone and buried flat against the ground. If it weren’t for people like me, these spots would be overwhelmed with grass, scattered brush and dust. They’d become, like me, forgotten.

“Do you think she wanted more?” I fall back onto my bottom and wrap my arms around my bare knees, as my jean cutoffs were “cut off” a little too short, thanks to Joss. She’s all about skin and believes everyone else should be, too.

The boy six spots down from me is still absorbed in the fairly new grave, his hands shoved into his pockets. He’s got to be roasting in his jeans and dark blue T-shirt. The September sun can be brutal to those who are unprepared. It’s how I found Lydia. Thanks to the towering tree, her stone has shade.

“I said, do you think she wanted more?” I repeat. It’s the third time he’s been here this past week. The tenth time in a month. That type of behavior signals serious grief issues, and that’s not healthy. And on the selfish side, he’s cramping my alone time. “Her name was Lydia. She was twenty-four when she died and she has a flat grave marker. Did she like understated or was this chosen for her?”

He’s sluggish turning his head. Sort of like he’s in one of those action flicks that thinks it’s emo and cool to slo-mo the flying bullets. “What?”

“I like Lydia’s grave. Actually, I just like Lydia. Year after year, dandelions pop up around her marker, even when they spray for weeds. I believe it means she was sweet.”

No response, but he’s still gaping at me. It could be because of my violet hair and not because he’s questioning his reality. There’s not a person on the planet who doesn’t look at another human in a cemetery and wonder for a split second: Is that a ghost?

I normally don’t talk to the newbies. They usually visit in the first two weeks after the burial and then drop off the face of the planet. The seriously grieving continue to visit once or twice a month, but they eventually also move on. Then you have men like Rick who visit daily, waiting until he can be buried alongside the woman he loves.

This kid is my age—high school, maybe lower college. It’s hard to tell with the curved-in lid of his baseball cap hiding a good portion of his face. The black Charger he drives says he’s bankrolled, so he’s either already on the way or is currently college material. Overall, too young to be mourning like Rick.

But then again, I shouldn’t judge. That is, after all, my pet peeve.

There’s a slight chance that this guy could be a freak like me who doesn’t know a person buried here and, if so, it’d be nice to finally have a kindred spirit. I get tired of being alone. “My grandma used to pick dandelions and rub them under my chin and if my skin turned yellow it meant I was nice.”

On the other side of the cemetery, an industrial mower springs to life and happily hums. I pick the largest dandelion of the bunch and hold it out to him. “Come here.”

“Why?”

I shrug. “Because if you don’t you’re going to go home and be ticked because you should have.”

It’s a clear day. Bright blue sky with an occasional fluffy cloud. He takes a particular interest in one that resembles a duck. Obviously he’s going to need more coaxing. “We’re surrounded by a couple hundred dead people. Think there’s someone here who left regret-free? Take a risk and come here. Or are you scared the dandelion will tell on you?”

“Tell what?” He angles himself in my direction now, and I like what I see of his sweet build. He readjusts his baseball cap to expose freshly cut light brown hair, and there’s a sharp ache in my chest when I meet his blue eyes.

I know him. Rather, I know his friends. I also know what he’s going to say about me at school tomorrow and that once he recognizes me he’ll be out of here like a hearse after a funeral.

But his eyes possess the same sadness as old man Rick’s and I have a choice: I can be like this kid and his friends or I can be better...I can be more. That decision is often why I’m here, and if Lydia’s taught me anything it’s that life can be short.

Inhaling deeply, I twirl the flower in my hand, knowing tomorrow I’ll regret this. “Come here and find out.”

2

Jonah

The keys in my pocket dig into my skin as I grip them. I should go. Leave. I’ve got no business being here, but no matter how I try to continue forward I end up going backward and returning to this grave.

I glance down at James Cohen. Which is it, dude? Would you have gone home or would you have taken a chance and talked to the crazy girl?

“The dandelion is calling your name. Can’t you hear it?” She rests her wrists on her bent knees and flicks the yellow weed back and forth in her hand like a pendulum, then switches her tone. “Hey you, guy over there...come here.”

Her mock dandelion voice is seductive. “You know you want to.”

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