Fiction by C. Morgenrede

Rows of Jaw Bones and Worn Down Teeth

years ago today, in the past, seven orange cones set on top of a wet tarp for a burial ceremony, a fog rolls in, rocks tumble, things become blurry, unrecognized;

Morrigan is my best friend, he’s had 4 concussions in his life, all of them before he turned 18; Morrigan’s an all-around athlete, mostly contact sports, so he’s got a hockey player smile now, not that he was that happy or cheery to begin with; i’ve never had a concussion, never really been the sporty type, i’m a normal service-industry nobody, my cuts bleed the same as anybody else’s; after Morrigan and I both graduated high school, and not seeing any prospects for ourselves outside the city, we started working in a kitchen at a local diner near Graceland; I see so many tourists and bodies coming and going, it feels nice to give them a meal after traveling to see the King of Rock & Roll’s household tomb;

all weekend long we’ve been prepping for the upcoming holiday season, thanksgiving is only a week away, and that means more tourists, which means more sales, which means more work, which means more stress; Thankfully Morrigan’s red Pontiac got fixed recently after it was t-boned by a drunk driver a few weeks ago (well, the driver was more drunk than Morrigan, let’s say), but anyways, all-in-all the accident was fixed with 23 stitches in-and-out of the hospital for Morrigan; since we got done prepping early, we decided to go out for a cruise in the early afternoon; for this trip Morrigan wants to drive out to Elmwood and look around for old Zincer headstones, but i know what that really means –– he wants to go and to try and find his dads grave again, except while we look, he’s going to show me some of his other favorite graves;

Morrigan suffers from alcohol-related brain damage, his head is always in some kind of pain from the concussions, and drinking helps, but now his memory is all over the place, which means sometimes he remembers, sometimes he don’t; i’m mad at myself because I can’t remember where his dad’s grave is either, but I can at least let him entertain us both with a drive through the cemetery;

As we enter through an open fence, Morrigan stops the car, hold on, you gotta check out this guy, a real fuckin’ gangster,” he points a finger to the grave of Chief Bishop William Christian, a man born into slavery who then obtained his freedom before passing; the stone marker states that William proclaimed: somebody is wrong about the bible,” which is a powerful statement, to be at such a high level inside the church and to question those clergymen above him, I mean you can’t help but wonder who he had in mind when he said that; Morrigan turns to me and says, that right there, that mother fucker needs more than just a grave, he should be in history textbooks,” Morrigan puts his foot on the gas and inches forward, saying, man, i don’t ask for much, but i wish i could be in a textbook;”

Morrigan doesn’t let me see him taking swigs from his pocket flask, but i can always smell the whiskey, he’s been doing it since we got here, it only gets like this around the anniversary; i don’t condone it, but i’ve been there, and i’m not here to judge; if anything i’m glad because usually he smokes but he forgot his pack, knowing me i’d borrow a puff or two and irritate my mouth ulcers; Morrigan looks at me while driving and says, God made a promise that He would never let us be alone in this life, i’ve been thinking about that quote a lot lately, I *hic* got that from the Bishop family, i think, the quote is on a broad black granite headstone;”

The Pontiac slows down right next to the Apperson’s headstone, decorated with different bugs and plants, hinting that the deceased family is enjoying a new garden in the afterlife, one that is lush with blue butterflies, noisy crickets, tall lilies, and baby snapping turtles; Morrigan is quiet looking at this headstone, the family graves are the hardest to look at because his mother would grow fruit and veggies for the family before his dad passed, I tell Morrigan: I wonder if heaven is like the Garden of Eden, you would think so, right, because Adam and Eve left, but the garden never went anywhere…” Morrigan mutters to himself, i bet you *hic* William Christian would know about the Garden of Eden;”

I take over driving the Pontiac so Morrigan can take a passenger breather with the window rolled down; we drive up to a romantic grave for a woman named Roxie, she sends love to her lost man, her speed,” May 20, 1993; Morrigan really likes this headstone, the idea of love and speed, Morrigan fell in love with a girl before the pandemic, the second he met her they started spending all of their time together, they’d stay up all night drinking and then be in all day sleeping; like a bullet those two fell in love with reckless speed, and it’s like they were with each other for a very long time, but then one day Morrigan woke up and the world had shut down and his lover was gone; turns out she’d packed up her shit in the night time, stole his keys to the truck, and just went on her way into an infected new world; despite not hearing back from her, he still thinks she’ll come back to him one day;

We’re driving away from the grave and I see the name Kyzar, in front of this headstone is a no-name headstone that reads: For Someone Special;” a crinkled leaf covers the grass marker of Dayna L. (your family misses you); the feeling of world domination, a flat line being the geometrical symbol for death, extracting wisdom teeth, Morrigan burps, temperature danger zone, annual acknowledgement of a Thanksgiving brain aneurysm; we walk back to the Pontiac and notice weathered columns on top of a hill, there are words on them that read: Life, Death –– Then Life And Love Eternal”

Morrigan: the holidays are tough man, you really start to think about why you wake up in the morning, you think about the family that you used to get along with, the family you should call, the family you never got to talk to before they went away, you think about who matches the definition of family, what will happen when people in your life look at you at an open casket; at my funeral… i want to be cremated, I want the reception to be in one of those modern art galleries with a full american breakfast buffet and Led Zeppelin II playing in its entirety — oh, and an open bar;”

Driving up to the memorial graves, Morrigan and I look at the names of people who have served, but are now laid to rest. Neither Morrigan nor I served in the United States Military. We have older friends that have been overseas, under the water, high up in the sky, but we both went to college instead. It’s not that we couldn’t do it. It’s just, we live in the most powerful country in the world. Why would we need to serve?

Joseph H. served with the Marines in France, 1901-1922; William M. served as a captain in the confederacy, fighting in the battle of Fort Donelson; H. Chalk (Mississippi) PVT US ARMY WWI (1900-1948); Brig. Gen. A. J. Vaughan, fought in the Army of the Confederacy until the surrender, Morrigan points out the last sentence on Vaughan’s grave, lost his leg on July 4th, 1864;” a few steps away is Lieutenant Frank Harris, (July 15, 1887 — October 10, 1915), I read out Harris’ last words: help the others first;”

Morrigan and I switch seats while we’re parked near Ole Larsen’s grave, as we start to move forward Morrigan asks how I’d want to die, I don’t hear the question and don’t answer right away because of my mouth pain, it’s from excessive clenching, gum chewing, it’s been months since i been to the pharmacy, usually i have pain pills, but not today, sometimes when i sleep i scrape my teeth like a sword on a grindstone, now i’m all tense and shit, licking at my craze lines, i don’t want to think about dying, the absurdity and what not, I wonder if Morrigan has any more whiskey, i hate having to take care of these week bones in my mouth, it’s all the gin at home, the coffee at work, it’s times like this i wish i could smoke a cigarette like during the old car rides — it’s best if i try to refocus myself;

After enough awkward silence has passed, Morrigan starts to speak, you should really go to a dentist, they *hic* can help you––,” but I finally turn to Morrigan and say: if I had to die, it’d be by firing squad, all the executioners equipped with 10 gauge double barrel hammer guns, either publicly or privately; sorry, you’re right, i just, look over there, that tall grave, that one reminds me of Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk; you ever get the feeling that identity dissipates and reorients itself around pain and solitude; in my dreams i feel the thrust of an ivory tusk, the long-held sting of grudges, the small ting of rotted roots; it’s weird, i’m stuck in 2003 with a strange kind of longing, graves are like mirrors, in a way; just think about it… also… can i get a sip from your flask;”

Handing me his flask, Morrigan continues looking at chizzled names: Goodbar, Read, Montgomery, Quackenbush, there’s the monolithic monument for the Hill family, Bigelow, Hemker, Tong, Pacello, Oates, Gyulai, Cooper, Utley (mother), Talbert, Connell, Gipson (attorney at law, buried with his wife), Wilmot, there’s my last name over there, over here is Adams, The Haynes are now with Jesus (1964, 1999), Dublin, Shelby, Griffin, Jackson, Evander R. you are forever in our hearts,” Ellie, Chu, Neudecker, Reeves, Bedford, 26 yr old Robertson (philanthropist, true friend, faithful Christian), Shotwell, Campbell (a reverend and servant of God), Wiggins, over there is Friend, around the bend is a mausoleum for the Urquhart family (born in Canada, died in Memphis), Milton Whitford’s stone statue stands atop his grave, his left arm holding his cap, his right arm missing, as Morrigan points out, he was born Dec. 6 1862 and died Mch. 12, 1902.

There is no horror here there is only a quiet peace, a calm, atmospheric reminder of that ever-present vulture circling above; a security guard drives by the Pontiac towards us as we’re walking around the center of the cemetery, we hide our flask quickly before the groundskeeper asks if we can share; when the time comes boys, be sure to exit the grounds by driving carefully over the Morgan Bridge over there, have a good evening y’all;”

Before we get back in his car, I stop Morrigan from falling over onto the marker of Samuel Drake (1939), this grave depicts a sailing schooner etched over a stanza from Lord Tennyson’s poem Crossing the Bar” (1889), Morrigan reads it out loud so that all those resting can hear:


Morrigan starts to cry as I drive us around because he’s too drunk and he admits again that he can’t remember where his dad’s headstone is located in the cemetery, I tell him it’s okay, it’s about time for us to go before security gets mad, plus we were almost out of whiskey; I take a small swig of the flask and accelerate, wincing only slightly when the stinging bourbon washes around my stained premolars; as i start to drive towards the visitor center, Morrigan tells me to stop the car so he can get out and throw up;

The rays of the sun bounce around differently in a graveyard like Elmwood, the commemorative stones have a dimmed shine to them, white bronzers stand out like glowing constellation stars, like lighthouses and buoys in a calm, dark sea, warning captains of their close vicinity to those depths of obliteration; Morrigan and I try to avoid stepping on the leaves as we get back to the car, it’s hard to avoid them in November; the noises from the cars driving down Neptune and Walker are hushed by the barrier of the surrounding fence, we notice that the serenity of existence can only be felt within this timid space, the world of the up-turned negative;

As I’m army-carrying Morrigan back to the Pontiac, we notice this one tree in Elmwood that produces berries and under the tree is a broken headstone with one name on it, Mary, and right there we both promise to repair the headstone, one day we’ll both come back to the cemetery, we promise each other that, we’ll come back and pick up the pieces to repair Mary’s grave;

Dedicated to those men and women laid to rest at Elmwood Cemetery.

C. Morgenrede

Twitter: @metadegenerate

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