The Groundskeeper

by Devin Kelly Read author interview June 18, 2018

Things happened at the cemetery that I had no name for.

When they told me they lowered another man’s coffin into the ditch reserved for someone else, that they filled the plot with dirt that should have been atop another soul, well, I nodded, and watched the next day as the wrong family came to pay respects. I didn’t say anything, is what I’m trying to say. I found it almost funny to watch other people believe while I knew for certain. Not ha-ha funny. Not even a laugh.

Just funny in the way you sometimes pray for sun and get a whole week of rain.

Like I said, I had no name for this, no name for the time I was told a lover put all that she had left of a lover — just a handful of teeth left unburnt in a fire — in a coffin the size of a body. I mowed the grass between the stones. That’s all. After a year I knew the names of each dead soul like a line of children waiting to be called into a ballgame. One row went William, Jeffrey, Dina, John, Margaret, and Mark.

It’s not hard, if you’re asking. Only when I have to drop down upon my knees to trim the tough grass growing right along the stones. In the distance, sometimes, I spot a service gathered round an unfilled hole in the ground. I cut the mower’s engine and catch a prayer murmured through the air.

Sometimes I think all that we have left of ourselves is ourselves and that this makes us unhappy. So we go to the dead to ask if where they are is better. It’s selfish, in a way, how we don’t say how are you, how instead we say take us with you, wherever you’ve gone.

It’s like how once, after a service, I saw a girl just older than a child wait for everyone to leave. Some people looked back, gestured for her to come along, and she waved them further on. I heard her say it’ll just be a minute. When they were out of eyesight, she sat on the dirt’s edge, legs hanging over, and then lowered herself in. I almost ran to her but didn’t. I kept the motor off. I tried to hear something, but never did.

I imagined her lying on the coffin like it was a mattress, looking up between the tops of trees, the stars beyond the daylight blue and even further beyond that. I imagined her saying how is it where you are, is it better than where you were. I waited before I turned the motor on. I waited a long time. I always like to make sure the grass is cut two and one half inches. I never know who needs what. There are only small things I can do. Like I said, sometimes I have to get on my knees. I have seen a lot of people get on their knees here. Sometimes they cry and sometimes they smile. If the grass is too long, they won’t be able to read the names. If the grass is too short, there won’t be enough softness for their joints. It’s a small thing, I know.

When the girl got out after what seemed like the longest time, she kept looking back and smiling. I wondered if she got an answer. I bet she did. Like I said, I had no name for any of this. I only found it funny. Not ha-ha funny. Not even a laugh.

Just funny in the way you sometimes pray for sun and get too much of it. What can you do but smile. It makes the grass grow.

About the Author:

Devin Kelly is is the author of the books Blood on Blood (Unknown Press), and In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen (CCM), and the winner of a Best of the Net Prize. He is the Interviews Editor for Full Stop and co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in New York City. He works as an afterschool director in Queens, teaches at the City College of New York, and lives in Harlem.

About the Artist:

A Best Small Fictions 2015 Winner, Dave Petraglia's writing and art have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, bohemianizm, Cheap Pop, Crack the Spine, Five:2:One, Gambling the Aisle, Hayden's Ferry, matchbook, Medium, McSweeney's, Necessary Fiction, North American Review, Per Contra, Points in Case, Popular Science, Razed, SmokeLong Quarterly, Up the Staircase, and others.