The wrought iron fence leans to the south in most areas. In other spots it still stands straight and black as intended. A thick chain secures the gate with a pad lock, the key to which has long been misplaced. Not that it matters, the hinges having been seized with rust for at least two decades. Next to the gate stands a maple tree, left to grow recklessly, veiling the black and white sign affixed to the fence. The sign, battered by a hundred years of braving the elements, reads Juniper Valley United cemetery.
From the crossroads at sixth line and nineteen side road the resting place appears forgotten. Surrounded by long grass and weeds the youngest grave marker erected in 1966 and bearing the name Gilbert. The oldest is from 1880, it also reads Gilbert . Many of the other head stones also carry same names. Family names which still exist in and around the county. Not that any visit the ancestors buried here.
In the summer the inhabitants start to wake while the sun is up. Late afternoon, just before supper time. No different then in winter but in winter when it gets darker earlier the ghosts are easier to see. Martha Gilbert is usually the first to rise. She perches on her granite marker like queen of the garden. Martha is the youngest and still remembers things about the living. Her favourite living activity being gossip. Once everyone is up she will lean against the fence and peer out as far as she can. All the while blathering on about other people’s business. Her great-great-great-grandfather Herman rolls is eyes. He comments that things were a lot more peaceful around here before the sixties.
Residents of this night garden are not all alike. Some specters are only partial haunts. A glimpse, an idea or the word lost on the tip of your tongue. Others are fully formed like Martha and her grandfather. Then there are the graves no one ever comes up from. While these are all curious differences the souls left behind in Juniper Valley United cemetery never question it. Each spirit seems lost to their own world. Remembering things they can’t forget, forgetting things they want to remember, paying no mind to one another. Day in day out time has no markers in the life after life. An August day like today should be no different. Maybe it would be if the farmer from down the road, his name is Jackson Martha informs loudly, would stop swinging his chainsaw at the maple tree. It is late in the day for this kind of work and old Jackson is disturbing the at peace.
By one a.m. the moon is bright and Martha is the last to turn in. She relaxes on her headstone and fades away.
As the August sun travels west Martha is on her throne again. Today She is confused, something is different. When the others rouse she travels to her usual spot against the fence but today she cannot find it. Disoriented she turns back. It appears as if every spook in the place is sitting on her stone. “Get the hell of my stone you bloody ghouls!” Angry at being ignored she moves towards the cluster of ghosts. All the grave stones have been moved to the back of the cemetery, lined up in such a manner that they are now side by side front to back without space in between. As the apparitions awoke they were forced to look for their headstones like a game of musical chairs. Now they sit shoulder to shoulder on marble and granite like theatre seating.
Martha is not concerned with the rearrangement of the cemetery. Her plan is to lean against the fence all day. If she could just figure out where it is. Martha begins to search. She walks around and around, up and down, back and forth, muttering then shouting. Finally Herman notices her. “Shut up and get to your fence you silly girl.” Exasperated Martha looks at her old ancestor and asks “can you see the fence?” Herman looks. Then for the first time in a half a century he moves from his marker. When he reaches Martha he is quiet for a spell, then says “I think the fence is gone.”
The two Gilberts stand where the fence had stood. The black and white sign now fastened to the shorn maple tree. Martha asks “do you think we can cross?” Herman contemplates this query. He hums and haws. He picks up a twig and throws it across the fence line. Herman can not remember a time when he thought with questions and answers. Everything in this afterlife had always just been. At last he looks at his great-great-great Granddaughter and says ” Well, I don’t rightly know.”
Martha has been imagining all the homes and families she could visit. All the drama waiting to be witnessed, gossip that waits to be chewed on and passed around. It is such a tempting idea. The fence is gone, there is nothing keeping her in . So Martha looks ahead and takes a step beyond.