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The Stone Woman, pt. 7
by Lab Rockstar
Gail stood numb, panting, in an old graveyard that overlooked a valley dressed in winter splendor. Through the silent snowfall, she could see the peak of the Scofield’s Bed and Breakfast below, behind a row of evergreens. Further toward the horizon stood a church steeple that, to Gail, made the scene strangely evocative of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. But it wasn’t nighttime yet, even though the sun was moving lower on the horizon. At Gail’s feet, there were ten graves or so, worn with age, but they still collected flakes of snow in the hollows of the family surnames.
There is surely no better place to spend eternity than here, she thought. But the sentimental parts of her that were soft and cellular still yearned to become solid on Michael’s grave, despite the stone’s argument that six feet was as much a barrier as three hundred miles. Gail tried to envision herself in that White Mountain cemetery, standing solid amongst the graves with her quartz eyeballs fixed forever toward the changing seasons in that valley.
But then she remembered staring in disbelief at Michael in his casket. He was thin, pale, and bald with disease, but the mortician had rouged his cheeks and lips until he looked like he had just closed his eyes for a nap. She, standing over him at the funeral, wanted to grab his shoulders and shake him. It was cruel, she thought, to make the dead look like the living.
She couldn’t take her eyes away from his corpse, even when someone finally ushered her away from the casket. He still wore his wedding band. Even when the flesh was gone and he lay rotten in the earth, Gail thought, she would love the bones that remained. But then, fear overcame her because even when she was dead, she would be separated from those bones forever by coffin walls and dirt. She wanted desperately to crawl in beside him and rest her head a final time on that firm, familiar shoulder. Her hands grew cold. Surely there is no loving God, she despaired, if people can die suffering and leave living people who would so willingly have taken their place.
Standing amongst the graves on the hilltop, Gail rotated the wedding band on her finger and thought of its mate, which she would never see again.
“It is decided, then,” she said aloud. She would go back to Boston and find Michael’s grave. It is there, she thought as she turned to leave, where I shall stand until I have eroded to sand.
As her eyes searched for the mouth of the narrow path, the heavily falling snow led her gaze downward to the four graves in the row where she stood. Large block letters on a particular stone worked their way into her brain. She stared until they made sense; they formed a word: “SCOFIELD”. Gail’s brow furrowed and, with audible popping in both knees, she squatted before the grave marker and brushed away the thickening shade of snow.
Gail could see two more names beneath the surname: “Charlotte 1898-1970”, and “Edward Sr. 1898-1970”. She wondered distantly if this Charlotte was the namesake of the Charlotte in the Scofields’ hallway. It didn’t matter, really, she told herself. Standing up, Gail hugged her waist, feeling the coldness of granite in her belly.
Gail walked as briskly as she could back the way she had come, past the lake and the yurt. The snow fell more thickly as she plodded, but she blinked it away. She was out of breath, but with her mind resolved, Gail did not feel so tired. When she finally stepped onto the front porch of the Scofield’s house, the sky had just turned from gray to navy blue with the onset of dusk. She stepped into the house, out of the snowstorm.
In the mudroom, Gail took off her boots and coat. I shall thank the Scofields for their kindness, but tell them that I need to leave, she thought. When they tell me I shouldn’t drive in the snow, I will insist. Gail prepared the words in her mind as Mrs. Scofield addressed her from the kitchen.
“Gail? That was quite a long walk. But it’s good to get out sometimes and get some exercise.” Mrs. Scofield appeared at the doorway to the kitchen and held out her hands to take Gail’s coat. “You must be freezing! Take those wet things off and come stand by the stove.”
Her resolution still firm in her mind, Gail followed Mrs. Scofield into the kitchen. The stove crackled energetically and the scent of stewing vegetables and warm bread with butter swam in the air. Gail’s stomach clenched.
“Mrs. Scofield,” Gail said suddenly, “thank you so much for having me here, but—”
“Well thank you for coming to visit!” Mrs. Scofield chuckled, opening a drawer of the old china cabinet and pulling out a handful of yellow placemats. “You’re no trouble at all, so don’t you go thanking me too much.”
“Yes, well I do appreciate it—”
“It was Ned’s idea, really,” Mrs. Scofield went on, “after he heard the news. About your husband, I mean. And speaking of which I’ve been meaning to say that I’m dreadfully sorry for your loss.”
“It must be difficult. Pancreatic cancer, was it? I never heard of anyone getting it so young.”
“Yes.” Gail nearly swallowed her own tongue. “Neither had I.” She gritted her teeth.
“But as I was saying,” Mrs. Scofield continued, spreading three placemats on the table, “it was really Ned’s idea to get you up here, to get a change of scene and things. He was going to send a letter, you know, but he wanted to see you again anyway.”
“I’m glad I came,” Gail said quietly. Mrs. Scofield turned to get some silverware and Gail stiffened her resolve again. Her mouth opened. “I thought I would go…”
“Where did you go on that walk, anyway?” Mrs. Scofield interrupted, continuing to set the table. “You must have seen just about everything. Did you see the yurt?”
“Yes—,” Gail said.
“And the lake, I presume? It’s hard to miss that.”
“I saw it.”
“Beautiful lake, isn’t it?” Mrs. Scofield paused as she looked outside. “Oh, look at it coming down out there! It’s a blizzard! I’m glad no one is going out tonight.”