Jim Hedgerow was the boss of Riverbank Cemetery’s burial crew, and this morning he was scratching to make sure he had enough help to “open up” a few places for “quick deposit.”
“Monday,” he said to his gang, “is a pain. You all know that. We’ve got two late shows to open up and I have heard whispers there’ll be a third. So we have our work cut out for us today.”
He looked casually at his number one man, Bill Blakeslee, and said, “Bill, take a peek in those trees down at the end of the river road. I’ve heard some rumbles about nighttime shenanigans going on down there. Fellows sleeping out there will be gone come the cold weather. I know they fold up and hide their few blankets and an old shelter half once in a while so we won’t find them. They’ve done that all summer. Hell, I know there’s a few old vets in that group, and I won’t chase them out on a bet, even if the Police Chief or the Board of Selectmen tell me to do so. We owe them.”
He sent off a slow salute to the far end of the cemetery. His crew understood the acknowledgement.
The following morning, Blakeslee said, “Jim, some of that ground near those first two we dug yesterday seems like something’s been in there. Maybe an animal. A big one. Dirt is scattered from under the green tarps we use to hide it during the final services, but I can’t figure it out.”
Hedgerow said, “Will the cement vaults fit down in there okay? That’s all I worry about after the hole is dug, of course.”
“Oh, yeah, that looks fine. I was just curious, that’s all.”
The burials went off that week as smooth as ever, and all “insertions” skidded like grease. Hedgerow was pleased at his crew and their dedicated efforts. He told them, at day’s end, “If you guys aren’t in a hurry to get home, I’ll treat everybody to a few pints down at Spud’s place. A quick stop. A quick thank you, so there’ll be no noise at home.
Six days later, all the sites were fitted with memorial stones containing appropriate inscriptions, grass seed put down on the exposed earth, and the initial watering completed.
In the morning, Blakeslee, at the completion of his morning stroll to make sure all things were okay and still in order, called Hedgerow to one of the new sites. He pointed to a newly inscribed stone that said, “Herbert Sendall 1932—2010” and on the next line, “Sarah Sendall 1936—“
On the stone was also inscribed, with a dull drill of some sort and inlaid with a black paint, the words, “Also Henry.”
“What the hell do you think that means, Jim?” Blakeslee said.
Hedgerow mused a bit, nodded, and said, “Probably kids. It’ll go away, unless the relatives make a stink about it. Might cost them for a clean-up. Let it rest.”
A few days later Hedgerow was in the diner down the street. One of the homeless vets he knew spent some of his nights in the trees by the cemetery, and worked as a dishwasher in the diner, was talking at the kitchen door to someone outside. “Yeh, a few nights ago, we had a service and had to put old Henry down. But he’s safe now. Out of all the hullabaloo.”
Hedgerow saw him toss off a quick salute.
In some cases, eternity may be twice as long as forever.
Tom Sheehan has published 22 books, has had multiple work in many publications: Literally Stories,Ocean Magazine, Rosebud, Linnet’s Wings, Serving House Journal, Copperfield Review, KYSO Flash, La Joie Magazine, Soundings East, Vermont Literary Review, Literary Orphans, Indiana Voices Journal, Frontier Tales, Deep South Magazine, Western Online Magazine, Provo Canyon Review,Vine Leaves Journal, Nazar Look, Eastlit, Rope & Wire Magazine, The Literary Yard, KYSO Journal, Green Silk Journal, Fiction on the Web, The Path, Faith-Hope and Fiction, The Cenacle, etc. He has 30 Pushcart nominations, and five Best of the Net nominations (and one winner) and short story awards from Nazar Look for 2012- 2015. Swan River Daisy, his first chapbook, is just released and The Cowboys, a collection of western short stories, is due shortly.