Jenny Ferguson is a Canadian studying for her PhD at the University of South Dakota. Her recent work can be found in Thrice Fiction, 605 Magazine, Spittoon Magazine, and Architrave Press.
Festival events: 2013 AWP Boston; 2014 AWP a reading eXperiment Boston, 2014 AWP a reading eXperiment Seattle
Poppy liked the feeling of her sunglasses sitting tight and high on her nose. She walked along the stone-lined path in the graveyard with a scarf that she had let Juan-Aarón buy for her from the market earlier tied up in her hair. This graveyard was nothing like what she knew from back home. No sunburnt grass, no bunches of dead flowers piled next to drab, grey stones. Not a single creepy plastic angel holding a battery powered candle between her praying hands so that the dead would never be in the dark. Those angels they were always girls and this struck Poppy as something she’s happy to be far away from.
This impromptu tourist excursion, a sidetrack from their planned walk into the countryside, was nothing like what her body remembered: leaning down, the grass biting her bare knees as she placed cheap carnations on a grave too fresh to have a stone to mark his place. Instead compact mausoleums painted in turquoise, yellow and salmon covered the hill. Each one had a little laneway, leading up to a braided metal gate with a keyhole, the kind an antique key with a long neck would open.
“Is it not the nicest final resting place?” Juan-Aarón asked. “Do you like it? Families housed for eternity together.”
“Better than most I’ve seen.”
“Do you believe in ghosts?” He took Poppy’s hand.
He smiled. One side of his mouth rose higher than the other due to a hardly noticeable scar running through his upper lip. “So do I. My, ah, mother she is with me always,” he said, placing his free hand on his heart dramatically. “Perpetually.”
They stopped in front of a mausoleum with a tarnished gate and the family name inscribed in the stone archway. The gate was locked. Inside Poppy could see porcelain vases topping flat stones on the floor, plush teddy bear, old and well-made.
“I saw my grandfather the night he died,” Poppy said as the sun slid behind one of the clouds beginning to form. The rain was coming. “He came to see me. I was just a kid, sleeping on the couch in my basement on a school night, the television playing late night infomercials for some kitchen appliances that you only needed one hand to operate. I remember him looking at me, looking at him. I think my dad bought a jar-opener from the TV after I told him that.”
Juan-Aarón raised his eyebrows as he nodded. “Yes. Yes, I have heard of such things. I very much wish my mother would come to me.”
“No you don’t,” she said. “The other one, a high-school-aged boy my brother killed, he follows me. He creeps after me. It’s not nice.”
Juan-Aarón laughed. “You are kidding me, Poppy! No?” He dragged the “o” out unnaturally.
“I’m kidding, yes.” She dropped his hand to move closer to the mausoleum. Poppy lifted her sunglasses to the top of her head. Inside, in the shadows, next to the patriarch’s gravestone, she could see the boy’s wispy, dull blonde hair, covering what she knew were slightly puppy-like ears. She could smell familiar aftershave mixed with the dust.
Slight movement, her fingertips waved and she wondered if he spent time stalking her brother too.
Juan-Aarón placed a hand on Poppy’s shoulder and was happy when she didn’t brush his hand away. He smiled in the graveyard, feeling a touch of Catholic guilt.
Just Like It Should
Barbara’s parents weren’t frustrated, irritated or angry when she told them over roast chicken that she wasn’t going to go on to study Sociology at university in the fall, that she would rather stay in town and work at the beauty counter at Sears giving old women free makeovers on weekday afternoons, then watching TV in the living room most evenings with big-armed and warm hearted Mike. Her mother didn’t even furrow her manicured eyebrows like she normally would have while her husband cleared his throat to begin the lecture that would steer their oldest daughter in the right direction. Barbara’s father asked her to pass the bowl of mashed potatoes down the table even though the bowl was within easy reach of her father’s arm. Her mother said, “That sounds like a plan, honey. We’d be happy to have you around the house for a little while longer.” Her eyebrows were expressionless. Patricia started talking about the dance next week at school.
What Barbara did not know was that Mike had met with her father sometime the week before in that old ceremony between father and potential son-in-law where Mike got down to the business of asking for permission to ask for Barbara’s hand. Her parents promptly stopped worrying about topping up the college fund and how Barbara would fare in the big city’s downtown campus. Thirteen days later, Barbara got a new car—not the sporty sedan she wanted to buy for herself but a four-door, wood-paneled station wagon—a Bob Marley cassette tape and a modest diamond ring for her birthday.
Their engagement lasted a little less than a year. Barbara’s parents spent her college fund on a white wedding with all the frills in their backyard one idyllic afternoon in July, the peak of the short summer. Patricia played the role of bridesmaid for the high school sweethearts. That very week they took the step of securing a mortgage from the town credit union with Barbara’s parents as co-signers. At nineteen, Barbara was fully grown-up with a house of her own, a little yard where the new puppy played and a husband who recently received a promotion at his job. He brought home a bottle of the expensive wine to celebrate and they laughed and watched TV.
When schoolyard friends moved away to go into the city to follow their dreams or boyfriends, Barbara found herself in the company of the girls who had dropped out of school to have babies. Barbara would spend her free afternoons sitting on park benches watching toddlers play in sandboxes, stealing a bite or two of an afternoon snack as she chatted with young mothers who smoked cigarettes while they calmed their toddlers’ younger siblings, sometimes passing the babies off to Barbara while they chased their ambulatory children away from the road. Soon enough Barbara joined the young mothers with her own baby and she watched him grow from that bench.
While Barbara held her infant daughter Poppy and watched her toddler son running around the park with the other kids in his new trainers, she thought about her upcoming twenty-second birthday. Mike had organized a sitter for the kids, a co-worker’s teenage daughter. Mike told his wife that he wanted to take her to one of the nice restaurants off the highway so they could celebrate “being on track.”
Life was just like it should be.
From the forthcoming novel-in-flashes Border Markers