Someone set fire to the graveyard this morning. It wasn’t like anything you’ve ever seen. I didn’t get emotional when I saw it, unlike the blue hairs who stopped their Buicks on the side of 44th, genuflecting and crying and clutching the crosses around their necks. I pulled my truck over and got out just as sirens started up out east. I expected it to smell bad, like maybe the bodies and coffins would start burning too, but it just smelled like a campfire. I loved that smell. Especially with ribbons of raw venison skewered over top, blood and fat dripping into the heart of the pit. A thermos of whiskey in one hand and your old man leaning back in the chair adjacent, rolling smokes slow and careful like he’s got all the time in the world.
The fire felt right. Like cleansing the clutter that’s grown so slowly you don’t even notice until you can see it in the corners of your eyes when you try to relax. I’m not saying I did it, or that I even know who did. I’m just saying it didn’t strike me as an evil deed. I wish it could have been that easy when we gutted dad’s house and piled everything on the lawn for the estate sale. Just haul out that saggy blue couch and old tube TV and rip up the baby puke carpet and douse it all with a healthy dose of Boy Scout water and light it up. Howdy, Mrs. Johnson! Come on out from behind those curtains and bring some marshmallows! Dad would have wanted it that way, I bet.
Maybe an angel started the fire as a favor to the overused land. Fire brings up fresh grass and stronger trees. Maybe Michael the Archangel snuck down here with a can of lighter fluid. Maybe he knows that graveyards are a vanity that were never God’s wanting. Boy was that fire something.
Whoever did it knew what they were doing. When firemen started spraying water all over, I considered how much gasoline it would have taken to make sure those flames burned as fast and hot as they did. We’ve had a wet spring, so it wouldn’t have been easy. Then again, whoever did it could have gotten creative and sided with the three S’s — sodium chlorate crystals, sugar, and sulfuric acid. I sniffed the air. It was hard to say.
An old woman put her hand on my shoulder and asked if I had a relative in the graveyard on account of me watching for so long. Yes, I told her. She waited for more. Then her wrinkled face puckered up like a dog’s asshole and she went back to crying and saying over and over again Lord have mercy. I wanted to tell her, he does. Look straight ahead.
Patricia McCrystal is the recent recipient of the Slippery Elm Prose Prize and the founder of VIRAGO, a womxn’s writing circle. Her work can be found on PBS and in Heavy Feather Review, South Broadway Ghost Society, Birdy Magazine, and more. She’s pursuing her MFA in Fiction at Regis University.