Yesterday after Bea and I fetched Cora from preschool, we headed over to Goodwill to see if they had any decent picture frames. This is a post-convention tradition for me, and I’ve come away with good finds in the past.
“Can we go to the playground by our house?” Cora asked.
“We can after this,” I said. “First we’re going to Goodwill.”
“Goodwill.” I said. “It’s the charity place where we drop off our stuff. You can buy things there too.”
“Ohh,” she said.
Bea played on her tablet. Cora spent most of the ride describing the things she’d seen at Disney World.
“Dad,” she said, “Have you been on the Tower of Terran?”
“It’s the Tower of Terror,” I said.
“I know what it is,” she said. “That’s how I like to call it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been on the Tower of Terror. It makes me sick. Didn’t you think it was scary?”
“Yeah,” she said, “It dropped me lots of times.”
“Bea said she wanted to bring home some ‘ghosties’ from the Haunted Mansion,” I said.
“Yeah,” Cora said. “It was full of monsters. There was one in the cart.”
“Did you see the big fireball at Indiana Jones?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, “Bea hid under the seats. There was a big rock and they tried to squish him with booby traps.”
She also claimed she didn’t get to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, but she’s not always a reliable reporter. I’ll have to ask her mother.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the Goodwill building that used to be Books-A-Million (attached to a Planet Fitness and a Burlington Coat Factory that split the building where Kroger used to be, which was a Wal-Mart before that), Cora said, “Dad, can we go look at the stones your dad is buried under?”
“Sure,” I said. “Do you want to go after this?”
“Yes,” she said. “I want to see them and touch them.”
“Okay, but first we have to go get some frames.”
I hopped out of the van and opened the sliding door so I could release the girls from their car seats. While I undid their restraints, I told them they had to hold my hands before we started toward the building. When we’d made it across the parking lot and through the glass doors, I released the girls and paused to hang Gina’s aviators on the collar of my Doctor Who t-shirt (I have yet to find a pair of shades I like better), and they sprinted ahead of me.
I made my way along the left wall toward the back, where they keep their wall hangings, and the first thing I noticed was that someone at Goodwill had adjusted the prices up to weird totals. The frames used to be marked “$1.00” or “$2.00” and now the lowest one I could find was “$2.57” and it was trash. Just about everything else was three dollars and up, which was devastating to a guy who’d walked into Goodwill with seven dollars in his pocket and expected to make a haul.
The girls had found a kids’ exercise bike ten feet behind me. They’d been arguing over who was going to ride it first and Cora had won out. “Dad, can I buy this?” she asked as she pedaled.
“How can you buy it?” I replied. “You don’t have any money.”
“Aww, but I need it.”
“You have a real bike at home. We don’t need more junk. Let’s go to the stones. This stuff is garbage. I can get new ones for this much at Target.”
I walked back toward the exit and the girls started weaving in and out of the clothing.
“Hey,” I said. “Hey.”
Cora went into the jeans and they swung precariously on their hangers. Bea followed her lead and ducked inside.
“Hey, do you want to go to the park?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Then walk right.”
They plunged beneath the racks again.
“Okay, I guess we’re going home,” I said. A tank-topped gentleman on the other side of the fixture looked unimpressed.
“Noooooooo,” the girls moaned in concert.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Two customers on their way out held the doors open for us and we entered the parking lot.
“Thank you so much,” I said. “Thank you.”
At the edge of the sidewalk, Cora grabbed my right hand immediately. Bea prepared to spring across the asphalt.
“Bea, you have to hold my hand,” I said.
I grabbed her right hand with my left and she pulled away hard. I tightened my grip.
“You’re hurting me,” she said.
“Stop pulling,” I said. “You have to hold my hand or you’re going to get hit by a car.” We started off across the parking lot.
We were halfway to the van and she still hadn’t let up. I could feel her little knuckle bones grinding on my palm.
“Bea. Bea. You’re going to get hit by a car and die,” I said.
If the statement meant anything to her, she didn’t acknowledge it. I picked her up with my left arm and carried her the last thirty feet.
I opened the van, they climbed in, and I crawled into the back and buckled them in. Cora knows how to fasten her own belts but she often won’t, and Bea has no idea.
After we were all secure and had set sail across town, Cora asked again if we were going to the stones. I said yes, we were, and after that we’d go to the playground. She asked again if we were going to get out so she could see them up close.
“Yes,” I said. “We’re getting out.”
“What if the gate is locked?” she asked.
“There is a gate,” I said, “but it’s open during the day.”
We turned left into the Jonesboro Memorial Park Cemetery and drove about a hundred yards to Dad’s plot. I pulled over to the side of the narrow, paved path, stopped, and got out to open the doors. I looked toward the office, which was about fifty more yards down the path. There were three vehicles parked in front, but we were otherwise alone.
I do not visit my father’s grave often. Sometimes years have passed between, but I always experience great anxiety, as if someone is going to ask me what I’m doing there. It’s a completely unfounded fear, but it’s horrifying to imagine someone bothering me at a vulnerable moment. I recalled the local controversy about people playing Pokémon Go out there and I told myself I wasn’t going to take my phone out of my pocket just in case someone thought I was gaming.
I freed the girls from their harnesses, and they sprang from the van and ran across the grass, which the recent frequent rain had made vibrant.
“Which one is it,” Cora asked.
“Right here,” I said. I pointed to a reddish-brown stone.
“What does it say?” she asked.
“‘Robert O,‘ which stands for Owen, ‘Talbot Sr,’ ” I said. “I’m Robert O. Talbot Jr.”
Cora had already noticed what looked like a pile of flowers between us and the red-bricked office building. “Dad,” she said, “I want to go see it.”
“Don’t go over there,” I said.
“That’s where they put the babies,” I said. “You don’t need to be running around in there.”
It had been a while since I’d looked at it, but the free plots the cemetery offers for infants looked a bit crowded. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought it was a dump for misplaced fake flowers. On closer observation from my place up the hill, I could make out rows. The words “mass grave” popped up in my head, but something else in there told me not to be disrespectful. I wondered why it couldn’t be at least a bit larger, in rebuttal to myself.
Well, babies are small.
“Yeah,” I said. “We don’t need to be messing around in there or they’ll kick us out of here. Look,” I said, and pointed to two footstones next to Dad’s grave. “That’s his Mom and Dad.”
Cora returned to my side and looked down. “Ooh,” she said. Bea floated around behind her, shadowing her wanderings.
“What does that say?” I asked, and pointed to their last names.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Yes you do,” I replied. She can read, and she knows how to write her last name, but sometimes she won’t go through the trouble of sounding things out. “Look, it’s T-A-L-B-O-T, Talbot.”
“Oh,” she said. “Can we go look at the other stones?”
“Well we’re not walking,” I said. “We can drive around and look at them from the van.”
“Okay!” she said, and walked toward the van with Bea in tow.
I turned and looked back at Dad’s headstone. “Welp,” I said. I clenched my teeth and popped a quick two-finger salute.
The girls were behind me and they’d started to touch the Forbis crypt. “Hey,” I said. “This isn’t a playground. Someone is buried there. Don’t play on it.”
“I’m not,” Cora said. “I just want to feel it.”
She ran her hands over the stone. Bea stood beside her, barely visible. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my S7, and fired off a quick series of photos before shoving my phone back into my pants in record time.
I looked around. No alarms went off. No one rappelled out of a black helicopter.
“Come on, guys,” I said. “Let’s get back in the van.”
We loaded up and I drove around the back side of the graveyard. Occasionally I let my eyes wander to the dates on the stones. Things got older at the the far end, although there were more recent burials dotted in, and at the rear there was a mausoleum, as well as a field of plots without headstones.
“There are a hundred million stones,” Cora said. “A hundred eighteen million.”
The pavement ended and a bulldozer sat beside a new dirt road. I wheeled the van around and headed back toward the exit.
“I want to see the babies,” Cora said.
“We’ll drive by them again on our way out.”
“I want to see their faces.”
“They’re buried, Cora, there’s nothing to see.”
“They’re dead, that’s why they’re out here.”
“How?” she asked.
“Sometimes babies get sick and sometimes they die.”
“I thought just old people died,” she said.
“No, anyone can die,” I said, “which is why I tell you guys not to run out into the street. That’s what I mean when I say something can kill you.”
“Oh, okay, like when Bea tries to run into the parking lot.”
“Yes,” I said, “exactly like that.”
“If you get hit by a car and die then they bury you!” she said.
“Let’s go to the playground,” she said.
“That’s where we’re going,” I said.
We headed down Fox Meadow Lane and turned right onto Caraway Road. There’s a wonderful playground right down the street from our house at Miracle League Park, which is connected to the Southside Softball Complex. A couple of happy families were already there playing, and the girls joined right in.
We swang, and swang, and swang, which is Bea’s favorite thing. She loves to go high, as she says, and I pushed her as hard as I could. Her swing hit bar level over and over. The line went slack and she jolted down.
“I’m flying!” she yelled. “I’m flying! I’m flying!”
All the children were immediately Cora’s “friends” even though she’d never met them before, and she had no problem telling their parents what to do. “Help me up here,” she’d say to one if I wasn’t within arms reach. I spent my time pushing, swinging, or climbing. The playground is a great place to exercise, so I got some in while the girls got theirs.
Bea pulled herself through a rolling-bar conveyor contraption and counted each rung overhead out loud on the way through. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” she said with a grunt between each number.
There was a hammock-like swing at the back side of the playground and it was vacant, so I went over and reclined in it. All I could see was the sky and the candy red bar overhead. I put my boots up on the chains. The first quarter moon was up to my right, its white half glowing against bright blue. The wind occasionally gusted, which swung me a bit, and I could hear the soft, high-pitched squeak of hinges, the low rumble of the breeze, and children playing.
“It would be a nice day to fly a kite,” I said to no one in particular.
Fluffy light and dark cumulus clouds raced across the sky, and I considered them through my borrowed shades. I pulled my phone out of my jeans pocket and snapped a photo, then I zoomed in on the moon. It was pixelated and blurry. I clicked it off, lifted my butt, and shoved my phone back into my pocket.
“Nope,” I said to no one, again. “Can’t take a picture of that.”