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The Grave Keeper
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The Grave Keeper
[388 words]
Joel Harper
[October 2001]
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The Grave Keeper
Joel Harper

The grey sky presses down on the gathering. Waiting, the gravekeeper stands forlornly, watching the mourners disperse slowly in the howling October wind. It had rained earlier, and might again soon, from the looks of things. A gust rustles the sleeping pine trees, sending drops a tap-tap-tapping against his umbrella, and for a moment tries to wrestle the handle from his frozen grasp. He’d have to be patient mind, the very upset had a habit of lingering. And reporting.
An old fellow, this time. Usually was hypothermia or flu this time of the year with the very old ones. With the young ones, well then there was always cancer, or a car accident, probably. Grizzly work, but someone’s gotta do it.
His belly rumbles, and he remember he has missed his dinner. He chews his pipe, the smooth wood clicking against his teeth, the umbrella resting softly against his shoulder, the sound of car motors turning over, the doors being slammed shut. Well, now they were on their way. Except for the one in the ground, of course. They liked to throw a bit of soil on the wood. It eased the pain but didn’t do much for the filling in. His back would ache, that was for sure, and by the time he was done he’d have a terrible job dragging his suitcase.
The wind rustles his coat, tugs at his ‘brolly, and sends warm smelly pipesmoke curling into nowhere. The hearse, the last car of the unhappy motorcade, purrs carefully, up the drive.
Alone, now. Ah, well that was for the best. No matter how much you love someone, eventually you must leave em where they fall. You couldn’t hold onto someone in life, for someday Lady Death, would move for a divorce, and she would accept nothing less than a complete anullment. Could smell a bit too, once they were out of their coffins.
The grass whispers secrets to his boots. He checks just one last time. Pinetrees. Grave stones. Acres of fertile, bright green grass between them. But no people. Alive ones.
Unnatural, it looked, as if someone had pressed a segment of Earth down, and laid a wooden egg for all to see. Water beads on the cheap glossy wood, and the brass plaque glistens tantalisingly. He removes a hammer and chisel. And goes to work.



"Excellent use of graphic, sensory detail. Maybe you're just writing with an English slant and I misunderstand, however, what is a grave digger doing with an umbrella and suitcase? Perhaps "Grave Keeper" is not a translation of "Grave Digger," and maybe this "Grave Keeper" is just what we in the States call a Tombstone Sculptor, and I believe there's an even more precise name for it. But if it is a guy who chips away stone to form letters and numbers upon a gravestone, then why do it out in the field? I'm sure they're not that backwards, even if this story is set in England.--The Advisor" -- JA St.George.
"I think I may be thinking of a "Stone Engraver." Also this story would have to be set relatively recent as clues in the story indicate that it is at least the 20th century. Therefore it is completely mysterious why this guy is doing what he is doing unless it is some other country's custom, such as England's. I simply don't know.--The Advisor" -- JA St.George.
"Having spent over thirty years working in cemetery-related occupations, I can easily relate to the story told, and to the thoughts of the "grave keeper." The story would be accurate as to the thoughts of the gravedigger as he and co-workers tear down the tent, fold up the chairs and put away their tools, very often in dreary or inclement weather; just another day's work to them; a major upheaval to the family and friends of the deceased. For 25 of the last thirty years I have worked as a stone engraver and own my own monument (tombstone to the lay person) shop. The person who cuts the final date actually does do the work in the cemetery. It is, of course, easier to travel to the stone than to move the stone to the shop. However, two points of clarification: 1.) The date isn't cut immediately following the funeral and is often not cut for several months. 2.) Chisels are only occasionally used and would be used with an air-powered air hammer similar to a miniature jack hammer....most modern lettering is cut using a sandblaster with compressed air supplied by a gasoline-powered air compressor. Not romantic, certainly, but (sorry Joel) the truth of the matter." -- Patric S. Hamilton, Holton, Kansas, USA.


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© 2001 Joel Harper
October 2001

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