In my hometown, death is just another relative. To understand that, you need to have been born here, where you can’t turn the other cheek without being introduced to yet another cousin, or someone whose aunt was such great friends with your aunt you’re practically blood cousins even though the only common genetic inheritance you have is the one you share with the rest of the human race.
So, death is an aunt. A kindly one, whose face is familiar from many family gatherings, who remembers your grandmother and all her brothers and sisters, and insists on recounting how sprightly and keen they were when she last saw them alive. Her neck smells like an amalgamation of sawdust, spice and a hundred white flowers wilting in water. She grasps your wrist and kisses you, and tells you she loves you, and will see you again soon. You hug her back, wave goodbye, and forget about her until the next gathering.
Yesterday was All Saints’ Day, and other vehicles were sparse on the road to our hometown. In past years, we would have walked to the family tomb and spent the entire day there. Since Lucien’s birth, it’s just been my mom and my sister. I haven’t seen our place since 2004, when we laid my Lola Que to rest, and that one turned into a comedy because an aunt who was wailing and gushing tears hit her head on a crossbeam and suddenly stopped and hysterical laughter rose in the ensuing silence.
While Lucien slept the afternoon away, I finished Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.
It is a sweet, swift read. I saved it for All Saints’ Day, even though my sister bought it three weeks ago. Bod (short for Nobody) Owens grows up in a graveyard, raised by ghosts, after an assassin makes sure his real family can’t. His guardian, Silas, is neither dead nor alive.
Neil’s worlds are always bigger than the stories he chooses to tell, so I (and I’m sure millions of others) have high hopes for more stories set in this one, where the dead seem to have a better grasp of life than the living. I thought it was a different way to remember my dead; I was lighting candles of another kind, perhaps.
On our way home, we stopped by the house of my recently-deceased grandaunt. Right before I took a shot of her husband’s pipe collection, the living room lights flickered, then turned off by themselves. I managed to take the picture – what else is the N82’s Xenon flash for? – but I deleted it when I got home. If the dead tell me something, I listen.