My contribution for Humor meets Horror Month.
As caretakers, the missus and I live in a ramshackle house on the grounds just across the long gravel driveway that snakes into the Cookesville Cemetery. The house is a drafty old two-story built way back in the thirties when I was about knee-high to a grasshopper. My old man ran the cemetery back then and he built the house himself for us to live in. Before that, we was living in a barn out back of the graveyard. No indoor plumbing, no kitchen—just a woodburning stove was all. Don’t remember much about it, but my old man told me years later moving into the house was like getting paroled from prison. And he knew too, being he done some time for robbing a dime store when he was a kid. Anyway, I been living here damn near my whole life. Guess I was pretty much groomed to take over after he passed on. I was digging graves and setting headstones as far back as I can remember. After my old man died some fifty years ago, the graveyard was mine. He’s in a plot next to my mother and my baby brother, Chester, who both died in a terrible train wreck when I was ten. Her and Chester were on their way to spend a few days taking care of my grandma who was hobbled because of the gout. They never made it there. Train run off the tracks just after heading out and dropped off the bridge that runs across the Iroquois River. Not a soul survived. Fifty-two folks perished. Those who did make it through the impact ended up drowned. All these years later, still the worst train wreck ever in this county. Anyway, after I buried my old man, one of the first things I done as caretaker was have a nice, little white chapel built on the grounds for folks to gather for funeral services. It beat standing out in the rain or snow or stifling heat reciting prayers for who knows what reason.
By the time I took over the cemetery, I was hitched to my wife, Mildred. We met at an ice cream social when I was nineteen and she was a few days shy of sixteen. I saw this new gal working behind the counter I never seen before. She had long red hair and green eyes and I knew right then she was the gal for me. I went up to the counter and she said, “What can I get you?” and I said “Pistachio ice cream and your name. I’d like to call on you sometime.” And call on her, I did. Her folks didn’t much like it—especially her old man. Didn’t much take a liking to me seeing as how I was a full-grown man and she was just starting high school. Ended up marrying her though. Married the prettiest girl in the county, I did. Come next April, we’ll be married fifty-seven years. Don’t think her folks ever did care much for me as their son-in-law, but they’re both taking up space in the graveyard now, so it don’t hardly matter no more.
Because of something to do with her lady parts, Mildred was never able to get pregnant. I didn’t much mind—never was one for having a brood of kids running around—but she wanted them real bad. But that all worked out for her in strange way years later, and I’ll get to that. So, it was just the two of us when my old man died. Don’t know what I’d have done without Mildred when he took sick. She pretty much took care of him best she could. Let me tell you, my old man was a stubborn old cuss. Wouldn’t see no doctor. Wouldn’t go to no hospital. He’d just take aspirin and that was it. The last year or so of his life, he pretty much lived on them pills and Wild Turkey. Ever since the train wreck took my mother and brother, there was always an open bottle of whiskey within arm’s reach and near the end it was pretty much clutched in his hand from the time he woke up till he dropped off. Goddam rotgut ate away his liver. Anyway, Mildred did best she could helping him through those last few months. Bathed him, fed him when she could get him to eat something, stuff like that. When he finally passed, I think she felt like a ton of bricks was lifted off her shoulders. I don’t believe in no hereafter, but if there is, Mildred done got herself a ticket to heaven.
The cemetery’s been around about as long as this town’s been here. Was built way back around the Civil War as a final resting place for the town’s sixteen young fellas who lost their lives fighting off them goddam rebels. There’s a memorial near the entrance with their names on it. Also got one for all the others who died fighting for our country in all the other wars since. I’ll tell you, this country ain’t happy if we ain’t at war with somebody. Just added another name to it yesterday. Kid from town got blown to pieces in Afghanistan. One of them roadside bombs them goddam towelheads like to plant. I was one of the lucky ones, too young for Korea, too old for Vietnam. Just as well because I’d have made a lousy soldier. Don’t much believe in killing folks I ain’t got no beef with. I say live and let live, you know? Over the years, the cemetery’s grown and now we got more than five hundred dead folks buried here. I suppose you’d expect I got a plot reserved for myself, but I don’t want to be put in no box to rot in the ground for all eternity. Cremated and tossed out with the trash is good enough for me. The wife’s got one though—picked a spot under a big oak tree because she says she wants to stay cool while waiting for the Lord to come and get her. Already has a headstone with her name and birthdate on it and a space for the date she passes on. Sure hope I ain’t the one’s gotta put that date on it. I couldn’t live without the lady—every bit as sweet as I am ornery. The missus believes in all that religious mumbo jumbo about the Lord raising up and all his believers meeting up with him. I say it’s a crock, but she swears by it, so if she’s right, I’ll just be a pile of ashes in a dump somewhere and she’ll be spending eternity with a bunch of holy rollers. I’ll take the dump over that anytime.
Anyway, I’ve seen a lot of burials over the years. Seen a lot of misery. Seen a lot of tears. Shed a few, myself. Seen little kids too young to have had even a whiff of life, buried six feet under. Couple years back, a school bus full of young’uns skidded on the highway and got broadsided by a semi coming the other way. Bus was cut clean in half, kids sitting in the middle never had a chance. Fifteen of them died. Buried them all. Bawling mothers down on their knees, wailing like banshees. Some of the worst few days of my life. Then there was them teen suicides we had back in ‘93. Two high school girls, best friends with their whole lives ahead of them, decided one night to stand in front of a train. Turned out they left a note behind saying they was lesbians and they knew their folks would never understand. Pretty extreme way to keep from telling your folks you’re a couple of muff-divers, I think. What ever happened to just up and running away? Ran away a couple times myself when I was a teen. I’d have it out with my old man over something and I’d just run off. Always came back a couple days later. I don’t think he ever had an inkling I was gone. Too busy with his Wild Turkey to notice his boy wasn’t around. Got my cherry popped on one of them runaways. I was fourteen just wandering through town when my old third-grade teacher, Mrs. Higgins, come a-stumbling out of Wicker’s Tavern. She must have been forty if she was a day. Had the biggest tits you ever want to see. Also had a reputation in town as a well-oiled whore. Anyway, she sees me just a-wandering around, takes me by the hand and pulls me into an alley. Let me tell you, I learned more from that woman that night than I ever did back in her third-grade class. Found out later a couple of my friends had gotten popped by her too. Guess she had a thing for teenage boys. Buried her about ten years later. Police found her with her throat cut in the same alley she made me a man. They never did charge nobody with the crime. Most folks in town just figured it was her cop husband. Around these parts, cops can do whatever the hell they want.
Yep, I seen it all. And seen some pretty strange things, too. Things that’d make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Things like them stories they used to tell on them old radio shows I listened to back when I was a young’un. Shows like Inner Sanctum. That one used to give me the shivers. I’d listen to it before bedtime, then have a devil of a time dropping off. You’d think growing up in a cemetery and seeing what I seen, that stuff wouldn’t bother me none. But the dead can’t hurt you none; it’s the living ones. If I’ve learned one thing doing this job, it’s the ones left behind that that’ll give you the willies. I’ll tell you all about one of them willie times that happened on an October night way back in the nineteen eighties—eighty-one, I believe it was—when one of them living hair-raisers came a-calling.
It was a warm, blowy evening; unusual weather for that time of year around these parts. The smell of burning leaves hung in the air like the stink of the stale hooch that used to hang on my old man’s clothes. The day before brung us a strong wind blowing in from the south kicking temperatures up about thirty degrees and dropping dry colored leaves all over the ground. The three dozen or so trees we had scattered throughout the graveyard at that time stood naked. Ain’t got that many trees here now. Last spring, a cyclone come through these parts, uprooted six of them trees and knocked down a few old headstones. Tore the roof off the toolshed out back. Knocked down Mildred’s clothesline posts and sent one crashing through the kitchen window. What a mess that all was. Took a few weeks to get things cleaned up. But anyway, there was a full moon the night I’m talking about and under the moonlight, the trees looked like giant ghosts with their arms raised, ready to pounce on any poor bastard wandering by. Looked creepy as hell out there.
Mildred and I was sitting on the front porch, her in her favorite rocker and me in mine, downing our annual fall concoction of apple cider spiked with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. The missus ain’t much of a drinker, but there’s something about spiked cider that she just can’t say no to. And that’s just fine with me, because when she drinks it, she don’t say no to me neither. Not that my Mildred says no all that often to me anyway. She may be a good, god-fearing woman, but she sure does enjoy a good roll in the hay. We may be in our late seventies, but let me tell you, we still screw like we did back in the day. Anyway, we was sitting there getting our innards lubed up for another good roll, when a pickup truck pulled up onto the long gravel road leading up to our place. It was an old Ford—1956 or so, I’d guess—powder blue and rust. The front bumper was gone, the windshield showed a big spiderweb of cracks on the passenger’s side. It was puffing out a cloud of oily soot. How in the world that heap of bolts was still running was a mystery to me. A dark shape was behind the wheel with just the glow of a burning cigarette. The truck came to a sputtering stop a few feet from the porch and the driver’s side door swung open. They stepped out, took a last drag on the cigarette, flung it to the ground and walked up to the bottom of the porch. With that big old harvest moon shining right down, I could see it was a young gal with long blond hair, bright red lipstick and black eye makeup. Let me tell you, this gal was barely covered. She had on a long, see-through lowcut black dress. Big tits spilled out like the tops of a pair of Mildred’s blueberry muffins. Let me tell you, you get your cherry popped by a lady with big ones, you have a liking for them whenever you see them. This gal had on a necklace that hung down into the space between her tits. She had the kind of body old fools like me think about while lying in bed drifting off into dreamland. I’m a little ashamed to say, that night I might have been putting it to Mildred, but it was that gal I was thinking about the whole time.
She forced a smile and said, “Good evening.”
“Why, good evening to you, young lady, what can we do for you at this late hour?” I said.
She nodded her pretty head towards the chapel. “I hear you do weddings in there.”
“Well, you heard right. It was built for funerals years back, but one day some young folks just about your age asked us if they could get hitched in there, so the missus and I decided to open it up for weddings, baptisms, or whatever. It ain’t tangled up with no religion, so we don’t turn nobody away. Looking to get hitched, are you?”
“I am. My fiancé and I were planning to get married next year, but something came up and we decided not to wait.”
Figuring she was talking about her being knocked up, I took a peek at her belly which looked flat as a pancake. Must have been early on, I thought.
“When would you like to schedule the wedding for?” asked Mildred.
“This Saturday, if that would be OK.”
“Saturday? You know that’s Halloween, right?”
“Is that a problem?”
“No, no problem. That should be fine,” said Mildred. “How many guests are you expecting? The chapel is quite small. Only seats about two dozen or so, though there’s some room to stand.”
“That won’t be a problem. We won’t have any guests. I just need to find someone who will marry us.”
“My husband can take care of that. He’s an ordained minister, aren’t you Fred?”
I nodded. As I said, I ain’t no believer, but when we started letting folks get hitched here, Mildred coaxed me into getting ordained by one of them churches that ain’t got no religious ties. Just had to fill out some papers and mail them a check for like ten bucks. Anybody can do it. They sent me a certificate saying I was ordained by their church. I took it to the courthouse here in town and made it all legal. Makes it easier for folks just looking for a warm body to stand up there and declare they’re man and wife. “But if you ain’t gonna have no guests,” I said, “why don’t you just have it done at the courthouse? Judge Hampton can do your I dos just as well as I can. Hell, he married me and the missus back in ’62. You was probably just a baby back then.”
She shook her head. “No, actually I wasn’t born until ’65.”
I about choked. “You mean you’re only sixteen?” Let me tell you, no girl that age should be put together like that. Even so, I guess I didn’t think she was too young for me to be thinking about her in ways I shouldn’t have been later that night.
“Yes, sir. I told you, something came up and we gotta get married.”
“I see. Well, again, why don’t you two just go on out to the courthouse?”
“Because I’ve always wanted my daddy to walk me down the aisle in a pretty chapel like this one,” she said. “I think every little girl wants that…don’t you think?”
“Why of course, dear,” said Mildred. “If you want to use the chapel so your daddy can walk you down the aisle, you do just that. Right, Fred?”
“Sure, don’t make no bit of difference to me. Now you understand, young lady, there’s a fee of two hundred dollars. You can pay that at the ceremony. Check or cash—we don’t do plastic. You also gotta bring us a filled-out marriage license from the courthouse saying it’s legal. And, of course, you gotta bring a groom. Ain’t never hitched a bride without a groom, though a few years back, one young lady come here wanting to marry her horse. Told her the law don’t allow for that kind of thing. Anyway, you do all them things and we’ll get you two hitched.” I looked at my watch and said, “Good lord, it’s getting late…a couple ticks before midnight. How about you come on back here tomorrow and we’ll finish up making plans.”
The next day was another warm one…temps in the eighties. Indian Summer we used to call it when I was a young’un. Not sure what Indians had to do with it, but that’s what we called it. Mildred and I had just polished off breakfast—scrambled eggs, toast and jam and coffee—when the blue Ford pickup pulled up outside a-sputtering away. I felt my heart pound a bit. I might have been old enough to be her daddy, but not too old to enjoy a pretty, young gal when I seen one. I got up from my chair and stood to greet her on the porch.
She hopped out of the truck in a bright yellow sundress with them titties a-bouncing. “Oh lord, if I was eighteen again,” I said softly so as not to be heard…I thought.
Mildred was standing inside at the screen door. “Stop drooling at that girl. She’s jailbait.”
“Yeah, but she might be worth a few years in the clink.”
“Good morning,” said the gal.
“Well, good morning too you, young lady. You’re looking lovely.”
“Thank you, Mr.…uh…”
“Oh, just call me Fred. Fred Horton.”
The screen door squeaked open. “And I’m Mildred,” said my wife extending her hand. “I’m afraid we were all so tired last night, we never formally introduced ourselves. And your name is?”
“Ah, Mary,” I said. “Lovely name. Was my mother’s name, matter of fact.”
“Won’t you sit down?” said Mildred, nodding towards the porch swing. “Can I get you something to drink? Coffee, iced tea, lemonade?”
“Lemonade sounds good, thank you.” She sat down on the swing, her legs dangling as the seat swung forward and back. I tried not to stare. Mildred was right, a 42-year-old man slobbering over a gal of sixteen just ain’t right.
“Looks like another hot one today,” I said.
“Yeah, didn’t think I’d be pulling this dress out of the closet until next spring.”
The screen door swung open and Mildred hauled out a tray with three canning jars of ice and a pitcher of lemonade. She set the tray down on a table, poured a jarful and gave it to Mary. “Here you are, dear.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Oh, please call me Mildred,” said the missus while hunkering down in her favorite rocker. “So, you’ve already told us you’d like to have the wedding this coming Saturday. What time did you have in mind?”
“I thought midnight would be a good time.”
“Midnight! Why so late my dear?”
She turned and kind of stared off at the graveyard and said, “Oh, I have my reasons.”
“Well, I guess we can see why you won’t be having guests. Can’t hardly ask folks to come out at that hour for a wedding.”
“No, it’ll just be me and my fiancé and of course, Daddy.”
“How about your mother?” asked Mildred.
Her eyes kind of stared off over my shoulder and her face turned almost ugly. Never quite seen such a pretty face turn ugly so fast. “She won’t be there. I hate my mother! She’s a bitch!”
Mildred and I looked at each other and I said, “Well, I’ll need the groom’s name as well as yours. Doesn’t look good if the minister don’t know the names of the folks he’s marrying. ‘Do you, whatever your name is, take what’s her name to be your lawfully wedded wife?’”
The gal’s face turned pretty again and she giggled a bit. “His name is Trevor…Trevor Brewster.”
“Will you be doing your own vows? Lots of folks these days like to do that.”
“No, I’m afraid Trevor and I aren’t terribly good at that kind of thing.”
“That’s just fine. Is there a religion in particular either of you belong to? I got different spiels depending on that. Even done a Jewish wedding a few weeks back. Wore one of them yamikas or whatever they call them little beanie things.”
“No, we don’t belong to any religion. Just kind of spiritual, but not religious.”
“OK, then I’ll just use the standard heathen spiel I usually give.”
“So, we have a date and time—this Saturday at midnight—approximate number of guests—none—and kind of ceremony—nondenominational,” said Mildred scribbling notes on a pad of paper. She looked at me and said, “Anything else we need, Fred?”
“Not unless the bride has something else.”
The girl shook her head, thanked us and left.
As I said, I’ve seen some strange things in the bury ‘em or marry ‘em business, but a midnight wedding with just the bride, groom and her daddy was a new one on me. Mildred looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and went back inside.
That evening, the missus and I was sitting in front of the boob tube finishing off the pumpkin pie she whipped up the day before. Mildred’s pumpkin pies have won first place ribbons at the town’s annual Octoberfest more times than I can count. She says the secret’s in adding just a little sprinkle of cayenne pepper. Gives a little bite to the sweetness. Don’t know if that’s really what does it, but ain’t never had a piece that didn’t call for a second, and a second that didn’t holler for a third. Anyway, we was eating pie and watching an old rerun of The Beverly Hillbillies when I said, “That Mary girl seem a bit off to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, her wanting a midnight wedding on Halloween, for one.”
“Yes, that was a little weird.”
“A little weird! That’s a whole lotta weird!”
“Well, she did say it was because they met at midnight on Halloween last year, so maybe it ain’t all that weird.”
“Maybe not, but how about the way she kind of stared off at the graveyard and said she got her reasons for a midnight wedding?” I said. “And how about the way her face turned all dark when she talked about how much she hates her mother? I’m telling you, something about that gal just ain’t sitting quite right with me.”
“Well, I think she just has a lot on her mind, wedding and all. She is a lovely girl, don’t you think?”
“She’s more than lovely,” I said. “She’s a real looker. But I still think she’s a bit crackers.”
“Oh, you’re crackers, you old coot.”
“Maybe I am, maybe I ain’t. But I’ll tell you right now, I got me a hunch this midnight wedding is gonna be one we ain’t gonna forget for a long time.”
That Friday was even warmer. Temps topped out near ninety. That morning, I had two funerals to do. A few days before, a forty-year-old fella from town had a big fight with his wife, about blew her head clean off, then turned the shotgun on himself. Put the damn thing right up under his chin and blew half his head off. Word was it was all over her whoring around with all his friends. Imagine that, your wife screwing guys you go drinking with, hunting with. Guess he couldn’t bear to face any of them guys again—too embarrassing—so he took himself out after he done her. Now they’ve spent the last thirty-eight years rotting side-by-side in Row 3, Graves 68 and 69. Mildred and I have had our share of tussles over the years—every couple does—but not once have I ever thought of doing her any harm, though I don’t know what I’d have done if I found out she was spreading for half the town.
Anyway, after the funerals, Mildred and I went into town and had lunch at Porky’s diner. Had the best pulled pork sandwiches in these parts. Ain’t there no more. Got closed up back in the nineties when Porky—Howie Hammerdink was his Christian name—got sent away for selling crack out the back of the restaurant. Undercover feds arrested him right there in the restaurant. Hauled him off to the clink, they did. He got sent up to the state pen up there in Fester City, wasn’t there a week when they found him hanging in his cell. Tied a bedsheet around his neck. I buried him too—Row 7, Grave 13.
So, as I was saying, we went to Porky’s for a bite and after we got back home, I went and dropped the happy couple six feet down into their plots, dumped dirt on them, and laid down some sod. That’s when I noticed the sun shining off something on the ground. From time to time, kids come by in the wee hours and knock down headstones, steal flowers, stuff like that. Usually bored teens just looking for something to do in a nothing to do town. Lots of bored kids in this town. Not much to hold your interest here. That’s why young gals like Mary get knocked up at sixteen, kids like my old man rob dime stores, and why I got my cherry popped by a horny teacher at fourteen. Nothing to do except raise hell or screw. Hell, sometimes they even screw right there in the graveyard. One night, Mildred and I was sleeping with the window open in our bedroom—says she likes the feel of the breeze blowing in while she sleeps—and I could here some voices coming a ways away. I got up and peeked out the front window and could see a dim light out beyond one of the bigger headstones. It was the gravesite of the town’s mayor back during the Civil War. Fella named Chester Cooke. Owned most of the land here. Town was named after him. Anyway, I snuck closer and I could hear panting and moaning and such. I peeked behind the headstone and sure enough a couple kids was going at it hammer and tongs, you know. I jumped out from behind the stone and hollered, “Boo!” Well, you should have seen them two young’uns run off naked as a couple jaybirds, running for their lives. Probably thought I was a ghost or something. Had a good laugh, I did.
But as I was saying, I noticed the sun was reflecting off something on the ground near the two graves I just covered up. And I thought maybe some kids was fooling around one night and lost it. I picked it up and seen it was the same necklace Mary had on the night she first come by. I tell you, the sight of that thing hanging down between her titties that night was burned into my brain, so I recognized it right away. Had a heart-shaped locket on it, said “Daddy’s Little Girl.” Thought it was a mite strange seeing as how she took off in her truck that night and never went over to the graveyard. Leastways, I didn’t think she done that. Didn’t think much of it though, maybe she knew the folks that was just buried, I thought. Didn’t see her at the funeral, but maybe she come by after it ended while Mildred and I was in town having some lunch. I dropped the necklace in the pocket of my overalls and made me a mental note to return it at the wedding.
Halloween morning, a cold front come moving in like a freight train knocking temps down into the mid-forties, and with it come a bone-chilling wind and clouds darker than night. After the warm temps we’d been having, it felt like we woke up in the middle of Alaska. Mildred and I warmed our innards with a breakfast of oatmeal, biscuits and gravy and hot coffee in front of the fireplace while watching the morning weather report on the boob tube. The weather fella from the local station was pointing to the map saying we was in for a heaping helping of cold, wet rain all day with a big thunderboomer to blow in later that night. The idea of doing a wedding at midnight in such awful weather—even if it was indoors—sent a chill through my bones. After breakfast, I stoked the fire a piece, then sat down in my rocker and thumbed through the morning paper. As had been the last few days, the front page was filled with news about the murder/suicide couple I buried the day before. When something big like that happens in a small town, the local rags won’t let go of the story. Ain’t nobody snoopier than folks in a one-horse town and the papers know that. There was old pictures of the couple in happier times, cutting the cake at their wedding and such. One was of them with their baby girl, both looking down at her, big smiles on their mugs. Sad to look at them pictures and know the ugly end that waited down the road for them. We all got us an end waiting down the road for us, but ain’t too many ugly as that one was. I wondered how the daughter, prolly pretty much growed up by then, was dealing with it all.
At one, we threw on some heavy duds and stumbled our way through the wind and wet stuff to the chapel doors. I could hardly pull the big heavy wooden doors open because of the wind. Then a big gust snatched onto one of the doors and slammed it wide open smashing in the stained-glass window next to the doorway. Another gust yanked Mildred’s umbrella from her hands and sailed it off into the clouds. We never did find the damn thing. Could have ended up in Timbuctoo for all we know. I followed the missus inside holding onto her hand like a blind man; drops of the wet stuff on my specs made it damn near impossible to see. Inside, I turned up the thermostat, then we peeled off our wraps and Mildred went about to cleaning up the broken glass while I hammered up a good-sized sheet of plywood over the opening, shutting out the wind and the god-awful howling.
“Who in god’s name is gonna come out in this awful shit to get hitched?” I said.
“Fred, that girl is determined to get herself married. Long as she and the groom make it, we’ll have us a wedding,” said Mildred. “Now let’s get this place looking pretty. We’re gonna have us a wedding.” She opened the big oak storage chest I built years ago and pulled out a few white bows. Mildred had made them bows for her niece’s wedding just after we opened the chapel. How that girl ever found a man to marry her, I’ll never know. Cross-eyed, bucktoothed, pimples all over her face, built like a brick shithouse. Not a pretty sight. Groom wasn’t no prize neither. Looked like that Junior Samples fella from Hee Haw. Then they went and had themselves a slew of kids every bit as hard to look at as them. Good lord, them two set loose some ugly genes into the pond. But I guess ugly folks got every bit as much right to populate this planet as other folks. Anyway, since that day, them bows have been a regular wedding decoration. Mildred attached a bow at the inside end of each row of pews. Why, I didn’t have no clue. Seemed like with no guests, that was just gonna be a waste of time. But that’s my Mildred…things gotta be done just so no matter what.
While she done that, I pulled the pulpit I had built for such occasions from out of the closet and set it up at the front of the chapel. Nice piece of oak furniture, if I say so myself. And sturdy—still use it today. Usually, I’d attach a microphone to the pulpit so folks could hear me a mite better, but since there weren’t gonna be no guests, it hardly seemed worth the trouble. They’d had to been either deaf or dead to not hear me, I figured. But then I could hear the wind a-howling like a coyote and thought better of it, so I hooked up the microphone, all the while thinking how lucky all them uninvited guests were to not have to go out in such shitty weather.
Mildred pulled her sheet music from the chest and propped it up on the organ. She set herself down at the keyboard and pressed a couple keys, then started playing that wedding song everyone always uses. Truth be told, the missus ain’t much good on the organ—not the music kind anyway. She took lessons when she was a young’un, but never took it no further. She’s just barely good enough to be bad, but bless her heart, she tries. Can’t sing, neither. That don’t stop her none, though. Every Christmas, she drags me to church—the one day out of the year I bite the bullet and join her there—and caterwauls loud as she can all them hymns and such. Sounds kind of like a cat getting skinned alive, but she looks so gosh darn cute just a-singing to the heavens, my heart melts just a bit.
After getting the chapel ready, we went back home and took naps. The dark end of twelve straight up is an hour the missus and I hadn’t seen in some time…ain’t seen it since, neither. Gotta admit, we didn’t go right to sleep, if you buy what I’m selling. Like I said before, one thing Mildred ain’t never lost in all these years is a hankering for a good screw and I ain’t never lost it neither. I just pop in one of them blue pills and I can go long as she wants it. Didn’t need no pills back then, though. And let me tell you, thirty years ago, that woman could bend herself every which way. She ain’t as bendy now, but she’s still one hell of a ride. Anyway, a good workout followed by a few hours of shuteye had us refreshed and ready to go. We ate a late supper—beef stew if I remember right—watched some Johnny Carson, showered and threw on our marrying clothes. Why we didn’t just wear pajamas is beyond me. Ain’t nobody should be getting all duded up at that hour. But Mildred insisted we look as nice as we would for a noon wedding. So, we did and as usual, the missus looked just about as beautiful as the day I married her. I’ll tell you, I seen gals half her age can’t hold a candle to my Mildred. It’s a wonder she ain’t never left me for a younger man. I know for a fact half the fellas in this town would bed her down in a New York minute if they could.
It was still pouring down buckets when we headed back over to the chapel. This time, I covered us up in a big sheet of plastic and we made it there without too much trouble. The lights flickered a tad while lightning crackled and thunder made the ground shake a mite and set the windows a-rattling. Mildred went about lighting candles just in case we lost power. We both knew nothing was gonna stop that gal from getting her wedding. Even if a tornado come along and whipped us off to Munchkin land, she’d have insisted on having her wedding with her daddy walking her down the aisle. Like I said, the girl was a bit crackers…cute as hell, but crackers.
I stood at the pulpit of the chapel and read over my lines. I’ve married a heap of couples through the years and could recite the lines frontwards, backwards, sideways and upside down even if I was in a coma, but something about this wedding had me a bit on the jittery side. I looked at Mildred seated at the organ and she gave me a nervous smile. I checked my watch, it was eleven-fifty. Just ten more trips around the clock until the bride was supposed to walk down the aisle, but still no Mary, no groom, no nothing.
At exactly eleven-fifty-nine, the chapel doors swung open and a young fella wrapped up in a slicker, stumbled in, shook off the rain like a wet dog, folded up his umbrella and limped down the aisle. He was dressed up in one of them god-awful powder blue tuxedos they used to wear back then. Looked like a clown. The left leg of his trousers was tore open at the knee, blood running out. He held out his hand, “Hello, sir. My name is Trevor.”
“You OK, young man?”
“Yessir. I slipped on wet grass and fell is all. The weather’s a bitch out there.” The kid threw his hand up over his mouth and his face turned red as a monkey’s ass. “Excuse me, sir,” he said. “I didn’t mean to swear.”
I chuckled, “It’s OK, young man. You’re right, the weather’s a bitch out there.”
Mildred pulled a first aid kit from her purse and set down in the front pew. “Come here, dear. Let’s have a look at that.”
The kid plopped down on the pew, turned sideways and pulled his leg up to her lap. While the missus tended to his wound, I said, “So, I guess you’re the groom, young man. Am I right?”
“You are, sir.” The kid checked his watch and said, “Have y’all seen Mary yet?”
“No we ain’t…you’re it so far.”
“Good lord, I hope she’s OK.”
Mildred slapped a bandage of the kid’s wound and said, “Perhaps she went to pick up her father.”
“Pick up her father!”
“Yes, didn’t she tell you? He’s going to walk her down the aisle.”
The boy’s face turned white as rice. “That’s impossible.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Because her daddy is dead. He was buried right here in this cemetery yesterday.”
“You mean the fella what killed his wife and his self?”
“Yeah, that was Mary’s daddy. Soon as she found out what happened, she insisted we get married. I figured anything to get her through the pain, so I agreed.”
Just then, one of the doors swung open. The wind caught it and done tore it right off the hinges. I could see it tumbling out towards the cemetery plots. I could also see Mary’s shadow standing at the entrance just as a bolt of lightning lit up the sky. She turned and with her back to us stepped back out into the storm and pulled something though the entrance. As she turned back towards us, I could see it was a two wheeled dolly—the kind you use for refrigerators and such. Something was strapped to it with a blanket draped over it. As she pushed the dolly up the aisle towards us, I could see her white dress was soaked through with rain. Black makeup was running down her cheeks. Her veil was all twisted, barely hanging off the side of her head. She stopped just in front of the pulpit, set the dolly down next to her and yanked the blanket off the thing she was hauling. More lightning and a loud crash of thunder shook the chapel. I stumbled a few steps back as a sharp pain like a knife shot through my ticker. It felt like I was having a heart attack. Strapped to the dolly was the corpse of her daddy staring right at me. The mouth hanging open, one eye wide, a big hole under his chin where the shotgun blast ripped one side of his head clean off. I looked at the groom still sitting in the pew, with his mouth wide open barely choking out his bride’s name, his eyes bugged out big as a barn owl’s. Mildred gasped, then damn near fainted falling off the pew and down onto her knees. I held onto the pulpit fighting to keep from passing out myself. Another crash of lightning and thunder, windows crashing in, the other door ripping off the hinges.
Mary tossed the blanket aside, looked up at me with the scariest smile I ever seen and said. “OK, we can start now. Daddy’s here.”
I grabbed my chest and keeled over.
This earth has spun around the sun thirty-eight times since that all happened. When I keeled over at the pulpit, Mildred somehow gathered herself and run to the house to call for help. Turned out I had what them damn doctors called a “small” heart attack. Let me tell you, it didn’t feel all that small to me. Anyway, I paid a couple days in the sick bin recovering. Was sent home and told to take it easy with the sex, but I wasn’t gonna have none of that. Mildred was afraid, but I talked her into it. I mean a man’s got needs, you know? Sure enough, I had another one—this a big’un—a month or so later while Mildred was riding me like a cowgirl. I remember grabbing my chest and thinking if I’m gonna go, by golly, this is the way to do it. Turned out I had a real bad ticker. About a year later, they popped a new one inside me. It come from a college kid that died in a car accident. Just out joyriding like boys that age do. He’s over in Row 14, Grave 7. Ain’t a day goes by I don’t stop and bow my head to that kid. His heart’s been ticking just fine ever since they put it in me.
After the cops got to the chapel, Mary was hauled away to the psych ward at the same hospital I was at. They put her in one of them straightjackets. Later, after they done some examining of her, she was declared insane by the shrinks and sent away. If they’d have asked me, I could have saved them a lot of time. I kind of knew the gal was crackers almost from the get-go. Course, when you got the looks that gal had, folks will overlook some of the crazy stuff. I did for a while. Long enough for her to snatch her old man’s body from his casket while me and Mildred was having lunch at the diner that afternoon. Lost her necklace doing it. When we came on back, seems I buried an empty casket. After all the crazy shit went down, her daddy’s body was sent back to the morgue and I buried him again after I was sprung from the infirmary. All these years later, Mary’s still cooped up in a mental institution upstate. Mildred and I try to get up there when we can, but at our age, it ain’t so easy for us to get around no more. These old bones just ain’t a-working like they used to. When we do make it up there, she just kind of stares off into space and don’t say nothing. Mildred holds her hand and talks to her some, but she don’t say nothing back. Despite all that happened that night, we kind of felt an attachment to the poor girl. Growing up in a home where your folks ain’t getting along, your mother whoring around and it ending ugly like it did…well that had to really be rough. And when it come down to it, the girl just snapped. She just couldn’t accept that her daddy was gone. Ain’t nobody should go through what that girl gone through.
Now, as for the groom, that boy run out of the chapel faster than you can say Jack Robinson and he ain’t never showed his face around these parts again. Some town folks say he run off to Mexico. Others say he’s a hermit somewhere in the Smoky Mountains. Wherever he run off to, can’t say as I blame the poor bastard. That gal might have been a looker, but she was nutty as they come. Like I said, looks like hers will make a guy blind to other stuff. Pretty sure that boy wondered about her from time to time, but when she wheeled her dead daddy down the aisle, that was just too much. Anyway, turned out she really was pregnant. Had the baby in the nuthouse. Me and Mildred ended up adopting and raising the kid—named him Chester after my little brother. He ain’t really a kid no more—just a couple years short of forty now, hitched to a nice gal that popped out two kids, a girl and a boy. They call us Mamaw and Papaw, the young’uns do. Chester does most of the grunt work around here now. Built himself a nice place back where the old barn used to be. He’ll take over when I ain’t nothing but a pile of ashes. We ain’t never told him about Mary. Some things are just best left alone.
With a younger man’s heart ticking in my chest, I’m frisky as ever. I might be pushing eighty, but I’m screwing like I did when I was forty. Lucky for me Mildred still enjoys a good roll now and then. I’ll tell you, she don’t look a day over fifty. We don’t do it as often as we used to, but often enough this old fart can’t complain. Gotta get it while you can, you know? I know it ain’t gonna last forever. Everybody passes on sooner or later. Seen too many of ‘em pass sooner than they should have. Seen others hang on way too long. But everybody goes. That’s what’s kept us busy here all these years.
Anyway, that’s my story. Yep, I seen lots of things in the bury ‘em or marry ‘em business. Most of it just regular, everyday stuff. But once in a blue moon, a gal like Mary comes along and gives you something you ain’t never gonna forget. That gal wanted her daddy to walk her down the aisle more than anything and dad gum if she didn’t kind of made it happen. Some nights, sleep don’t come easy. I see that man strapped to the dolly wearing a suit drenched with rain, a flower hanging on the lapel, his head half blown away, Mary looking at me with a creepy grin, and I spring up in bed gasping for air. My PJs are soaked through with sweat, my mouth dry as desert sand. I tell myself it was all just a bad dream, lay my head back down on my pillow, snuggle up to my Mildred and thank my lucky stars I done got me a good ticker.