When I get off work I walk down the street for a coffee. The sky is overcast, silver with clumps of smoky grey, like ore. The wind is picking up when I reach my car. It’s the second day of autumn and the temperature has dropped accordingly. I drive out of downtown with my window down, and listen to Dire Straights as I wade through red lights.
I park beside the main gate of the local cemetery and walk in. The ring of trees around the area muffles a lot of the city noise, so that the murmur that remains simply recedes into subconscious white noise the deeper you go. A power digger sits unmanned by a fresh grave. I climb a hill leading to a massive willow tree. The wind spikes, and my face tickles as leaves brush my cheek. I have to remind myself that those probably aren’t whispers I’m hearing under here.
Deeper into the cemetery, I pass two girls taking photos of the stones. They look too young to be in college, and I do my best to look non-threatening, the lone man stalking the dead. I sip my coffee, fiddle with my phone, and keep moving.
The cemetery is huge, and rolls across hills until it cuts off against a set of train tracks. At the tracks I go left, until I find a space outfitted with tombs the size of most houses. There’s one here I favor, when I need to think alone. It looks like a small concrete cottage, and there are stone chairs nearby surrounding a table. Generations ago, family members of the deceased would dine here during picnics. In the American South, cemeteries were once regarded like public parks.
Globalization, however, has made this open space as creepy as any other spot where human bodies are put to rot, and I sit alone. A stream burbles by a little ways off, and a heavy oak shades me from the swirling clouds. It’s practically nightfall where I sit, though sundown isn’t for another five hours.
The leaves sound like whispers again. The wind is so anxious even the grass is wavering. An ice cream wrapper flits past, then snags in the crack of a tombstone set to the earth two centuries ago. The treetops are thrown side to side. I hear thunder.
In the trunk of my car sits a test prep book, still stiff in its plastic wrapping. Underneath it is a voucher for half the cost of the fee normally charged when you take the GRE. There are lukewarm letters of reference and research work that smacks of community college.
I silently repeat to myself how much more I have than most, but my heart is beginning to race and my hands shake. I put the coffee down and light a cigarette, failing for several moments until I force myself to focus on the orange flame. I draw the smoke in a practiced breath, and when the ash is halfway down the butt I shake a thick white pill from a prescription bottle. I down it with coffee. Between that and the nicotine, I won’t confuse the wind for whispers, at least until morning.
The anxiety attack is waning. The wind is only wind. A cold sting lights upon my neck. I look to the train tracks, and watch the long brush wave to the rushing clouds.