The most convenient time for her to go there was in the afternoon, and she often did.  Morning was a time she'd tried too, just for a change.  But afternoons were best – safest, in a way, because that was the time of day she was least likely to be needed.  She called it her break place; because that's why she came here, really, to take a break.  This was her own spot, private; it was quiet, peaceful, and here she could feel more alone – safely alone – than she had ever felt before in her entire life, so far as she could remember.  And she loved it.  She looked down at a tombstone and read:  Sarah Tillerson, along with the dates of the woman's birth and her death.  Sarah, it seemed, had lived to the ripe old age of eighty-one and had been both wife and mother; though now, the tombstone informed, that was over; she was God's Child.  She walked a few paces more and stopped in front of another stone.  Alexander Fugot, this one read, and he had lived a mere twenty-four years as a mortal soul before being struck down in his prime (Alicia pictured a tree, tall and stately; she saw the white flesh exposed by the ax's blows).  She wondered first if he had been killed in one of the past wars – but then spied, next to his stone, that of his wife's, and noted that she had died just two days before him.  Disease, then, Alicia thought.  Part of an epidemic perhaps.  Or, possibly, an accident.  Involving . . . farm equipment.  Ye-es . . .  Or a storm . . .

She walked on, moving slowly, almost ponderously through the cemetery, following the winding paths, dirt mostly, though some had once been paved with gravel or brick, these now sunken into the earth and grown over with grass.  Great towers of trees with bunches of scraggly, tangled limbs, a few old brown leaves still hanging on up top, rose before her here and there; below them, huge old overgrown bushes, all foliage gone now, were interspersed.  And of course stones, everywhere there were the engraved stones.  Occasionally as she walked her hand strayed to her belly – but not often.  It was November, and she was wearing a heavy woolen coat; the life she felt under her palm was too muffled and indistinct at the moment to hold her interest for long.  And after all, it's not as if the surety of its fruition were a matter of debate.  Alicia had borne three children already, all healthy and bouncy and wise.  This was to be her fourth – and her last.  Roger had already gone in for the operation.  She was now twenty-six years old, he, twenty-seven; and both had agreed that four children were enough – two more than enough to be perfectly frank about it.  And Alicia could be perfectly, perfectly frank here as she could nowhere else.  She smiled to herself as she strolled along; looked about her and smiled still, even though the leaves were off all the trees and the air was thin and chill and the sky (she checked) barely blue.

She wandered about amongst the stones for several minutes more, glancing about her here at a tall one and there at a short one, here at a long one, there a curved one; then stopped, noticing suddenly how few birds were left so late in the year – almost none from the sound of it – and how, because of their silence perhaps, she could hear so much more clearly the whooshing of the wind as it stirred in the trees.  It was her favorite sound.  In all the world it was her favorite sound:  The wind, the wind.  She wandered farther, listening hard.  It was all the different kinds of sound the wind made; that's why she loved it so.  It was better than music.  After a bit she stopped again, blinking a little and taking in the world afresh.  Somehow she was not surprised to find that she had arrived at the place she came to almost (though not always) every time she was here.  She looked down at a row of very old, tall, thin granite stones, and found her own.  Alicia Clark, it read.  Yes, there she was.  Still.  Always.  As one with the angels – At one with the Light.  Ah, they had chosen sweetly.  And below that:  Beloved wife of . . .  But wait, that wasn't Roger's name she saw there, but instead one Bartholomew Clark.  For this was not her grave, of course, though the name of the woman buried there was her own, but that of Roger's great-great-great (etc, etc, she could never keep track of how many greats there should be) grandmother.  Alicia remembered the first time Roger had brought her here.  It had been a beautiful, warm summer's day, and Roger had been courting her (it was a phrase he favored) for some six or seven months by then.  And he'd driven her out here in his second-hand car down a long country road and shown her what had once been the town's sole cemetery, until it (the town, that is) had migrated some twenty miles east and now boasted not one, but two cemeteries all its own while this one meantime lay fallow (so to speak, Roger had said, which made her giggle), and the subject of nothing but neglect.  Somebody was paid by the county to mow it, and even did so, sometimes; but everything else, trees and bushes, had been left to grow wild; and the gravestones were crumbling, toppling over and so forth.  It ought to be made an historical site, Roger had said.  Then it could be preserved.  But it lay outside the town's legal limits now, and there were questions of jurisdiction, and property rights, and funding of course, of cold, hard cash . . .

Alicia sighed.  Roger knew all about these things; had talked about them to her often enough.  He'd been so proud that day, showing her the ancestral tombstones, watching her face as it registered surprise at the sight of her name, her very own name, and that coupled with his no less.  And she'd understood, of course; he wouldn't have dared bring her here otherwise.  She'd understood enough, but not too much.  She'd understood just right.  There she was.  She looked down at her name, more her own now even than it had been then, inscribed in stone.  She recalled the sudden sense of vertigo she'd experienced, looking down at it that first time; it was as if the world were made up of walls, walls that had unexpectedly shifted and tunneled downward as she looked.  She'd toppled too, like a gravestone, but inside herself.  And then stood again.  There was the cemetery; there were the trees; there, the sky.  And there she was – new, but not new.  Herself again, but not quite.  There was no explaining it.  But she counted it as one of the most vivid experiences of her life.

Alicia and Bartholomew, she murmured.  They sound . . . grand somehow.  Almost mythical.

They were grand, Roger agreed.  They were the first.

To settle the town?

No-o-o, said Roger slowly.  Just the first of a line.  Bartholomew Clark was my great-great-great (etc, etc, she still couldn't remember how many) grandfather.

And Alicia, she replied, was your grandmother.

Great-great-great, said Roger.  He tipped his head downward, smiling at her shyly.  But as to mythical . . .  Who is it, I would ask, stands before me now?

She smiled back at him, her smile turning into a grin as he took her in his arms.  But I'm not mythical, she said, and gently, playfully, bit his lower lip.

No, he said, pulling her closer still, you're not.

It wasn't that he had proposed to her that day, or even that she'd realized she was in love with him.  But it hadn't hurt either, coming here.  The surprise of it, the pride he'd taken in showing it to her, the strange charm of seeing her name . . .

Alicia touched her belly again, still smiling a little to herself.  This would be a winter's baby.  She liked that, somehow; liked that this would be the only one of her four to be born at a time when the world was full of ice and snow.  Who knew? that world seemed to ask.  And who did?  Perhaps this child would turn out to be her favorite.

She turned to go, a little surprised at the reluctance she felt.  It was so quiet here just now, at this time of year.  Just a little wind stirring – and then, suddenly, the raucous cawing of a crow.  She looked about her, searching the trees.  Was that the fluttering of wings she saw, or only tattered leaves?  But she must go.  And that slightly bruised sensation she felt forming inside her chest, that small ache – that was just a matter of saying goodbye.  For she would not be coming back here soon.  Next week it was supposed to begin to snow; she wouldn't be able to risk the walk.  And then the baby would come.  And then . . .

And then she would stay at home.

But someday, she thought, someday, maybe, she'd come back here.  When the child was three, four, she'd bring it here, perhaps in the spring.  Yes, why not?  She'd bring it back here and show it . . . what?  She looked about her at the stiffly erect trunks of trees, the tangled masses of bushes, the ruination of stones.  To show it all this, she thought.  She wanted to show it its ancestors graves.  She wanted it to know.  She wanted it to see its mother's name, written in stone.  She wanted it to know, to know, just as she knew, that it was possible to be alone, to be alone and happy and at peace in this world.

~ END ~