Eileen Elkinson "Looks Like She's Sleeping"

I have to admit it felt like a prank. An old geezer, someone I never saw in my life knocked on my door, and after verifying I was Maggie Bernett, handed me this ratty old envelope. I looked down at it and then up and I saw him swoop away like one of those movie witches you see so often.

My son Clem, who is seven and a hell raiser, arrived home early. I told him to go watch TV so I could read quietly.

The envelope contained directions and a map of Bonaventure cemetery. The note said, “Please meet me at the cemetery this coming Sunday, April 1st, at 3pm. I will be on the avenue that has a statue of a woman leaning her head on a pedestal. She looks like she’s sleeping. Please come Maggie, and bring Clem, you won’t regret it.”

I can’t explain why I decided to honor this request. It’s beyond me how the mind and heart work, and the crazy things they make you do, but I felt I had to go.

Clem and I left our house early Sunday afternoon and I drove my rickety Dodge Omni to the top of the bluff, entering the cemetery around two-thirty. I tried to leave plenty of time for us to search the gigantic place. It was very old, with moss covering the statues and filled with large elegant oak trees that shaded much of the area – deep moist green – if you know what I mean. We finally found what I hoped was the right statue, there were so many, but none of the others looked like they were sleeping. Clem remained quiet and respectful, something unusual for him. But he seemed intrigued and maybe a little spooked. We both plopped down on the grass in front of the lovely lady and waited.

Clem, the little terror, began to get restless and got up to walk among the tombstones. He didn’t get far before he yelled out to me.

“Mom,” He stopped and checked the stone again. It was a small, flat and easily overlooked. “Mom, come here, this one has my name on it.”

I didn’t have to look; I knew it was Clem Sr. laying there. Who else could it be? He was my common law husband for over ten wonderful years. We had a magical life until Clem got himself drunk and became so jealous he killed a man he was sure I was having an affair with. It was nonsense, but the deed was done. He just left the body filled with knife wounds lying outside a local bar and took off. We were pretty sure the police were looking for him. He was in the bar acting up, and there could have been a witness to the crime. Our imaginations were flying all over the place. We decided the best way to deal with it was for Clem to disappear. He took enough cash to last a while, packed a small bag and was on the greyhound out of Savannah heading west. That was five years ago and it was the last time I saw or heard from him.
I gathered my strength and joined Clem Jr. near the stone to read the inscription: Clem Bernett, 1932-1976, He Died for Love. I reopened the note and saw that it was dated April 1, 1976, and today was April first. I looked around at all the solemn statues one last time, then took my son’s hand and led him out of the cemetery. I didn’t go into it with Clem; I figured we had plenty of time to talk about his dad in a few years, maybe never.

When we got home there was an envelope tacked on the front door. I pulled it down, but was afraid to read it. It had the same aged look as the other one. After I filled a large glass of brandy, I slowly opened it and sat down to read.

Dear Maggie-
I am making this the ‘note’ you leave behind. I will give both envelopes to a friend and direct him to deliver them in one year from today, First the directions, and then this letter, so you’d get it after visiting me, which I surely hope you did. I chose today because it is our anniversary. It was the beginning and end of all that was good and decent in my life. I picked the spot next to the sleeping lady because she reminded me of you, so we can be together in some way. I think you know I can’t live any longer with what I’ve done. Even worse, I can’t live without you and our boy.
Goodbye then-