The Dead Flowers
Through the wrought iron fence, gray headstones stood like books. There was even writing on the books, but I couldn't be bothered to read the words. I could only barely read a few words at the time. The sun was red and sinking into the ground. Interment flowers and red, white and blue flags were stuffed into vases and decorated the stones. The smell of honeysuckle, fresh cut grass, and the damp humid smell after a fresh rain rose up off the decrepit and fractured sidewalk around the cemetery.
"People are just dying to get in there," Mama laughed at her own joke.
Black crows strutted around on the other side of the wrought iron gate, cawing on the manicured grass.
"What is it?" I asked.
"It's the bone yard," Delaina turned and gave me a nasty look. "Don't you know nothing."
"I know it's a graveyard." I turned to away from Delaina and whispered loudly, "Why-come they call it the bone yard?" I asked Mama.
"Because nothing's left but bones when you're dead long enough, goofy girl," Delaina flicked my head with her finger, the way you might dismiss a particularly annoying insect.
"Ow, quit it," I whined, drawing out the last syllable in a way I hoped she found doubly annoying.
"It's where they bury people that have died because their bodies give out on them," Mama smiled at me, but she was looking around nervously. She inhaled on her cigarette until her nearly caved in around it. She exhaled. "Don't worry. Their spirits are up in heaven with Jesus and the angels."
The crows were rasping what sounded like angry instructions to each other. I didn't know what they were saying, but the idea that maybe they weren't crows kind of nestled down into my brain the way a mama bird sits on her egg. Maybe they were the souls of all those poor dead people that had fought in them old wars and couldn't go to heaven because they had done something bad or they loved their families too much to leave them. Mama said folks left flowers on the graves of their loved ones on morial day.
"You're not going to die are you?" I said. "I don't want you to die."
Delaina was walking up ahead of us singing and Mama told me I would have to be the lookout. I didn't know what exactly a lookout was, but I nodded soberly figuring I'd understand in a minute. Mama was tall and beautiful and I never wanted to leave her side not even to walk up beside Delaina or nothing. She was like looking at a picture, but her eyes were the darkest and saddest I had ever seen.
"I hope I'm not going to die anytime soon," Mama smoothed my hair. "But if I do I'll look be looking down and watching over y'all from heaven."
"Will you watch over me, and Delaina, and Daddy even?"
"Sure will," Mama said. "I'll have big powerful angel wings and a bolt of lightning in my hands. I'll fling it down on any bad people who try to hurt you."
"Don't die, Mama," I said. It was too terrible to think she wouldn't be a human woman.
"Quit crying you bawl baby," Delaina hollered at me from where she stood before a stone cross that was almost as tall as she was. She stretched out her hands with her back against the cross and let her head droop off to the side. "Guess who I am, Memphis? Guess? You don't even know. You're so stupid. You bawl bag!"
"She doesn't mean it," Mama whispered to me. "She cries plenty herself.
"Those flowers are beautiful," I flipped the bangs out of my face to see them better.
"That's an awfully big word," Mama said. "They are beautiful and we're going to take some of these flowers away with us. You deserve nice flowers, baby." She looked in all directions and gave Delaina the high sign. She said she was going to give her the high sign in the car, but all I could imagine was a stop sign. It just meant she waved with a little flutter to her hand like she was kind of playing like she was roping a calf.
"What in the world are we going to do with all of them? They won't fit in our house."
"We're going to take them down to the auction and sell them while they bid on someone else's old stuff. Ain't we, Mama?"
"Maybe we'll sell out in front of Wal-Mart," Mama said. "Or, Shop-N-Go."
Delaina was gathering up vases. She had one with a bunch of white and purple flowers. She was walking funny trying to balance the vase just right and she did a kind of dog trot that made me laugh and slap my knee.
Next, it was Mama's turn. She managed to carry three of the green pots full of flowers. She didn't look quite was funny as Delaina, but she was goose-stepping across the graves. When she made it to the car she took out the flowers, dumped the water out of the vases, and put the flowers in one pile in the trunk and and the vases in another pile. She looked at the growing mound of flags, finally deciding to toss them next to the flowers.
"Hurry," Mama hissed at me. "Hurry up! Go grab you a pot and bring it here."
"C'mon lazybones," Delaina said. "Get it in gear!"
I picked up a pot from a grave stone that said LYNCH on it. Most of the flowers were lillies. Some were real and some were fake, but we were taking all we could fit in the trunk. I hefted it up and the weight of it made me walk like a duck. I had to set the vase down every few feet. It was a big one. Someone real important must have died.
"This base sure is heavy," I said. "Why they make these bases so heavy."
"It's vase, tittiebaby," Delaina said.
"Mom!" I said. "Delaina called me a tittiebaby. Tell her I ain't no tittiebaby."
"Just get the flowers," Mama said. "Set that vase down."
I threw myself down on the grass and buried my nose in the easter egg green grass.
"Delaina!" Mama sighed. "She ain't no tittiebaby. She's a sugardoll. Got it?"
"Got it," Delaina snapped her fingers. "Now get up, sugardoll." She started laughing like it was too hilarious to think that I could be anyone's sugardoll. Well, I had news for her. I'd been eating her secret stash of Reese's Pieces that she kept hidden in her underwear drawer.
I did what Mama said. It was lots easier just carrying the long-stemmed flowers. She said they were lillies. I pitched them into the trunk.
"Be careful with them," Mama said.
"What are we gonna do with them?"
"Remember?" Delaina stuck out her tongue. "God!"
Delaina pitched hers into the trunk. She took me by the hand and we went way over by the concrete stones. One looked kind of like a bed. Delaina said there were mummies in there.
"This is what you call a MAS-O-LE-UM. It's where rich folks gets buried. Look at that big stone angel they paid for to watch over them. Look at all these here flowers. You grab those flowers there and I'll get them pretty vases."
Mama's face looked worried. There was a green pickup driving down one of the lanes. It stopped. The doors opened the way a cat's ears will lie down flat on its head when its hissing at you. She was motioning to us to hurry. I looked over my shoulder to see what she was so worried about. A man and a woman were coming toward us. The man was old and he ran toward us. His big belly bounced under his shirt as he ran, but he was so big it wasn't funny. It scared me to see him coming right at us. He had a mean face that looked like it could kill someone. He had a nasty looking mouth that looked like he could eat little kids.
"Stop!" the man wheezed. "Stop there, little girl!"
I couldn't stand it anymore so I started screaming the loudest I had ever done before.
"Throw those flowers down and come on!" Mama was waving us on to hurry.
"What the hell's wrong with y'all," the man's voice vibrated as he ran. "You're stealing from the dead!"
Delaina dropped her vase and ran to beat the band. All assholes and elbows is what daddy would have said. Mama slammed down the trunk and was already sitting in the car with the engine running by the time Delaina made it to the car, but I was too slow. The old man sounded like a monster from an old movie that came on Saturday night's Creature Feature. It sounded like he was saying, I'm going to get you. I'm going to get you. Or, he might have said, I'm going to die for you, heaving and grunting all the way.
"Wait for me, Mama! Wait for me! Don't leave me!"
Delaina jumped in the back and slammed the door shut.
The tail lights flicked cherry red a time or two, but finally the car tires squawled on the damp cement.
I turned to look behind me again and the monster was there almost on top of me. Probably going to eat my brains like the zombie movie me and Delaina watched on the Creature Feature. Just as I turned to look in front of me I tripped over a little gold-plated stone marker and landed hard partly on my side and all the way on my arm. It felt like something snapped in my arm when I landed. I squinted my eyes shut. The zombie man's arm touched me and turned me over but I was too afraid to open my eyes.
"Y'all stealing from the dead!" his red face panted into mine. His breath smelled like beer. "That ain't right. Don't y'all have any morals."
"OW," I said. "I hurt my arm."
"Was that your Mama?" the old man said. "Was that your Mama left you behind."
"This here's just a baby girl," the old man said to the woman behind him. "Her Mama had them stealing flowers. It's just pitiful. Just pitiful. What's the world coming to, my Lord!"
"Maybe they need the money, Daddy," the big girl said with a stern face but I could tell she might be on our side.
Just then I had a terrible feeling of warmness wash over my legs.
"Oh no," the girl said. "Look. You scared her so bad she done went and wet herself."
"Shit," the man said. "I thought that's what they was doing, but I wasn't sure until they took Daddy's flowers. Try going to that house across the street and asked them to call the law. That woman will come back for her kid, don't worry."
"Did you just hear what I said," the big girl sighed and trudged off across the cemetery toward where Mama had been parked.
Before the fat man could answer I began to scream and flail around, "She left me!" I wailed. "Mama left me! I want Mama! I want Mama!"
"It'll be all right," the man stood me up and brushed the freshly mowed cuttings off my pants but now they was sticking to the wetness.
"I want Mommy!" I screamed in his face.
"She'll be back in a minute, baby girl." He took me by the wrists and turned my hands over and examined the palms. "Hands are okay."
"She's one of them Poseys," the girl said with real venom. "You know they ain't nothing but trash."
Those cherry break lights kept blinking right before my eyes pressed on my memory like a black rose even as I stared at the spot where the Plymouth had been. I thought the fat man and the big girl were going to take me to jail and have me locked up. A cop did show up in his police cruiser. He asked the man a few questions and kind of shrugged. I wanted him to turn on his siren but he pretended not to hear me. The girl said I'd hear plenty of police sirens in my life before it was over.
Daren Dean's work has appeared in the Chattahoochee Review, Image, Poetry Southeast, Stir, Inscape, Ardentia, and others. He has an MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Currently, he divides his time between marketing and acquisitions at the University of Missouri Press.