Cemetery Christmas ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Calvin Horne took the wreath out of the back of his car and walked down the hill with it slung over his shoulder like a garden hose to his parents’ grave. It was the day before Christmas and he didn’t want to be in the cemetery; didn’t want to be reminded of death on a joyous holiday. Christmas was about birth, about what’s good in the world.
He hadn’t been especially close to either of his parents. His mother, dead two years, was a difficult and obstinate old woman. The two of them, Calvin and his mother, could hardly be in the same room together without a clash of wills. His father had been dead for twenty years and was only a distant memory.
He trudged down one hill and up another one. It was there, at the top of the next hill, where his parents were buried. His mother had generously offered to buy the plot for him on the other side of her, but he declined the offer. (He wanted simply to vaporize into the air as if he never existed at all.) Now that space was occupied by a stranger that his mother, in all probability, wouldn’t have liked.
His parents had a large and rather ostentatious granite headstone as tall as a man’s head that his mother bought and paid for. In the middle of the stone, at the top, the name Horne was etched in large letters. Below were the names, birth and death dates of Byron and Julia. Under the names were two intertwined hearts with an arrow shot through them and, in fancy script, the ironic words Together Forever. They were together, he was sure, only in the sense that they were both dead.
He took a deep breath, a little winded from his climb up the hill, and pushed the legs of the wreath’s tripod into the soft earth in front of the headstone. Now, if his sister or any other family members came snooping around, they wouldn’t be able to say he hadn’t discharged his duty to his parents at Christmas.
The wreath seemed secure enough to withstand any winter blasts, so he pulled his gloves back on over his frozen fingers and was just about to retrace his steps back to the car, when he heard someone coming.
“I hear voices in the cemetery, don’t you?” a voice said.
He turned and saw a large woman in a fur coat and fur hat coming toward him. “What?” he asked.
“I said I hear voices when I’m in the cemetery. Don’t you?”
He thought she might be making a joke, but he wasn’t sure.
“No, I don’t hear any voices,” he said. “All I hear is quiet.”
“Yes, the quiet of the grave,” the woman said. “Do you need any help?”
“Why, no,” he said. “I was just leaving.”
“What are you doing here today?”
“I came to put a Christmas wreath on my parents’ graves.”
The woman looked down at the headstone and nodded. “They’re dead,” she said.
“Yes, that’s why they’re buried in the cemetery.”
“I’ll bet you were a good son.”
“Well, I can say I at least tried.”
“Do you have other family?”
“A sister and a son.”
“How old’s your son.”
“What happened to your wife?”
“We got divorced. She’s married to somebody else now.”
“What does she…
“I think that’s enough questions,” he said. “Especially since we don’t know each other.”
“Are you in a hurry to get away?” she asked.
“No more questions, I said.”
“I’ll bet you have a girlfriend waiting for you someplace, don’t you? Or maybe a boyfriend?”
“Let’s just say that’s for me to know and you to find out.”
“Okay. I get the picture. You don’t want to talk to me.”
“Well, it’s cold and it is Christmas.”
“Not today. Today is the day before Christmas. Tomorrow is Christmas.”
“Yeah. Enjoy your walk through the cemetery, or whatever it is you’re doing. I’ve got to be going.”
“Can’t you stay and visit a while?”
“No. I did what I came to do and now I need to go.”
“Haven’t we met before?” she asked. “A long time ago.”
“It isn’t likely.”
“I feel as if I’ve always known you.”
“We’ve never met, I’m sure of it.”
“Do you find me at all attractive?” she asked.
“What kind of a question is that? Of course I don’t!”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“I have to be going.”
He started to move away and she stepped in front of him.
“Could you spare me some change?” she asked.
“No, I can’t spare you any change. I don’t have any change. I might ask why you need change in a cemetery, wearing a fur coat, but the honest truth is I don’t care.”
“That’s not very nice. I thought at first you were a nice man.”
“Well, I’m not!”
“Where is your Christmas spirit?”
“It disappeared as soon as you started talking to me.”
“Don’t you like me?”
“I have no opinion of you one way or the other.”
“My brother, Ogden, will be along to pick me up any minute. He went to buy some cigarettes. When I tell him how you insulted me, he’ll be awfully mad.”
“I didn’t insult you!”
“You did! You said you found me unattractive and you didn’t want to talk to me.”
“If you hadn’t spoken to me first, I would never have said anything to you at all!”
“Well, how are people supposed to get to know one another?”
“Can I come home with you?”
“I’ll bet you have a beautiful home, don’t you?”
“None of your business!”
“I’ll do anything you want!”
“None of your… I don’t want anything from you except for you to stop annoying me!”
“If you get to know me, I’m sure you’ll like me.”
“Dear Lord, why me?”
She lifted her arms up and put her hands behind his neck, locking her fingers at the back of his head.
“Stop that!” he said. “What do you think you’re doing?”
He took hold of her wrists and forced her to release her grasp.
“You don’t like women at all, do you?” she asked.
“It isn’t any of your business what I like! When I leave here, I’m going straight to the police station and tell them there’s a crazy woman in a bearskin coat accosting people in the cemetery. They’ll send a squad car out here and pick you up.”
“Well, you don’t have to be so unkind about it!”
Down the hill she saw Ogden, her brother, lurking behind a tree. She called to him, he spotted her and began walking up the hill. In less than a minute, he was standing before them.
“Who’s this bozo?” Ogden said with a sneer. With his fat face, fur coat and fur hat, he was the male equivalent of the woman.
“He wanted to leave, but I kept him here,” she said.
“Good work, Bootsie girl!” Ogden said.
“Your names are Bootsie and Ogden?” Calvin asked.
“Yeah, what of it?” Ogden said.
“He insulted me, Oggie!” Bootsie said.
“Oh, he did, did he? How did he insult you?”
“He doesn’t like me. I offered to go home with him and do anything he wants, but he said he’s not interested.”
“Well, that’s not very gentlemanly, is it?”
“Oh, I get it.” Calvin said. “She’s a whore and you’re her pimp.”
“Ooh! Some words are so ugly, don’t you think?” Ogden said.
He pulled a small gun out of his jacket and pointed it at Calvin.
“You’re wasting your time robbing me,” Calvin said. “I only have about two dollars.”
“Prove it!” Ogden said. “Give me your wallet!”
Calvin removed his wallet and handed it to Ogden as if it was something he did every day. Ogden opened it; after he had thoroughly examined its interior, he looked back at Calvin with hatred.
“You’ve got two lousy dollars? And no credit cards? What kind of a loser doesn’t have any credit cards?”
“I always pay for everything in cash.”
“You’re a deadbeat, you know that?”
“I told you it wouldn’t do you any good.”
“How about if I drive you to your bank and you withdraw about two thousand dollars from your account and give it to me and Bootsie here as a Christmas present?”
“What makes you think I have two thousand dollars in the bank?” Calvin said.
“Fellows like you always have lots of money in the bank.”
“The bank is closed for the Christmas holiday.”
“Well, isn’t that that just too convenient!”
Bootsie whispered in Ogden’s ear. His bewildered expression faded and he smiled. “I’ll bet you’ve got an expensive watch, haven’t you?”
“I have a Timex. It cost twenty-nine dollars and ninety-five cents and I’ve had it for six years.
“All right, Mr. Smart Aleck! Hand it over!”
Calvin unfastened the watch and gave it to Ogden with a smile.
“All right!” Ogden said. “I have two dollars from you and a cheap watch. If that’s the best you can do, I’m going to have to kill you and if I do nobody will find your frozen body at least for a couple of days, since it’s a holiday and all.”
“No, don’t kill him,” Bootsie said reasonably. “He’s not worth it. Just let him go.”
“And he’ll go straight to the police.”
“We’ll be long gone by the time they get here.”
“He knows what we look like, for Christ’s sake!”
“So what? Do you really want to spend the rest of your life in the penitentiary? I don’t think I do! Only a crazy person would kill a guy over two dollars and a cheap watch.”
“I can’t just let him go without doin’ nothin’ to him,” Ogden said.
“Just kick his ass good.”
“No, I know!” Ogden said. “I’ll make him strip naked and he’ll have to walk home with his best parts on display for all the world to see.”
“You really are sick, you know that?” Bootsie said. “Nobody’s going to strip naked! It’s too damn cold for that shit!”
“Hey! You know what?” Calvin said. “I just saw two police cars turn into the cemetery. They’ll be on top of us in about one minute!”
Ogden and Bootsie turned all the way around in confusion and, seeing nothing, began running down the hill to get away.
“A couple of professional criminals!” Calvin said to himself and laughed.
He picked up the gun where Ogden had dropped it beside the trunk of a tree and slipped it into the pocket of his coat. He doubted the gun would even shoot, but it would be an interesting piece of evidence to turn over to the police so they could know he wasn’t just making the whole thing up.
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp