A Visit to Potter's Field
by Marva Dasef
Rap Rap Rap
"Now who? More of those darned kids?"
RAP RAP RAP
"What do you want? Can't you just leave me alone?"
RAP RAP RAP
"Oh, for Pete's sake . . . some people have no manners."
Griselda reached up through the hole in the coffin and pulled a clod of dirt downward. Grunting with the effort of digging herself out of her grave, she also muttered a few very unkind words about the visitor and his parentage.
RAP RAP RAP
"I am doing my best. Quit being so impatient. Hmmph."
She managed to break away another part of the pine box lid and pulled more dirt into the coffin.
"A damned good thing those city employees are so lazy," she muttered. "A real grave would be six feet deep. We get maybe two feet at best in Potter's Field. Then, all the time, it's rap rap rap, with some fool wanting to ask a question."
RAP RAP RAP
"I SAID I'M COMING!" Griselda shouted as she dragged more dirt into the coffin and shoved the clods down to the foot. She noticed her words came out more like "I YED I COING."
Her knees were now bent and touching the inside of the coffin lid. She shoved her left elbow to the side and knocked out another piece of wood. As she suspected, there was some open space around the edges. She pushed the dirt out of the coffin.
Finally, her groping hand felt a breeze above her. Something grabbed it and began to tug at her.
"Wait! You idiot! The lid is still in the way." Whoever had pulled at her let go. She felt two fingernails give way. Damn. She only had three left.
She grumbled about lost body parts as she pushed upward on the inside of the lid with her knees. A screech from the rusty nails pulling loose set what was left of her teeth on edge.
Pushing her hands through the widened hole, she gripped both sides of the coffin and pulled herself upward. Dirt, worms, and other unidentifiable material fell off the top of her head and down to her shoulders. She shrugged to loosen the gap even more. Her head popped above the surface and she gasped the cold night air, her first breath in over ten years.
She looked left and right, then swivelled her head around to look behind. A young man stood with light flickering on his pallid face. His eyes were open so wide she thought they might pop out (a lovely thought), the round O of his mouth a frozen rictus of horror.
"Just what did you expect? A burlesque dancer?" she said in disgust. After all, he called on her, not the other way around.
"What?" he stammered.
"Hmmph," Griselda grunted as she pushed herself up out of the grave. She sat on the edge of the pine coffin and looked around. The graveyard looked much the same as it had when they'd buried her. She thought some things must never change.
"Well, what do you want to ask?" she said as pleasantly as possible, though speaking properly without lips and tongue was difficult. Ah, wait. A bit of tongue was still attached to the back of her throat. She coughed and spit out a beetle that had made a comfortable bed against her tonsils. With a bit more tongue, she asked more clearly. "What do you want?"
"I I I . . ."
"Spit it out. Hee hee," Griselda cackled at the joke, since she'd just spit out a bug.
The boy cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "Miss, uh, Gypsy, I heard you have to answer the question of whoever digs you up," the boy began.
"Yes, I do have to answer," she said, then muttered under her breath, "Stupid curse."
"I want to know if Emily is my true love."
"Emily who? Come on, boy, give me some details. I don't exactly get the daily news down there."
"Emily LaFleur. She's my girlfriend, but she's been going out with Beau Richards. You know, he's just a jock. He can't offer . . ."
"Tut tut tut. Too much information. Let me see if I've got this straight. You love the girl and the girl loves the jockey and you want to know if she's your true love?" Griselda sighed. She wished these young pups would come up with some better questions. What about world peace? What about death, famine, and pestilence?
"The simple answer, my foolish boy, is no. She can hardly be your true love if she's gallivanting off with a . . . jockey, did you say? They're kind of small, aren't they?"
"Not a jockey. A jock. He plays football."
"Foot . . .? I assume that's some kind of game?"
"Uh, yeah. You don't know about football?"
Griselda glared at the callow boy until he turned his eyes away. She wasn't sure whether it was in shame or because she had a bit of pus dripping from her left eye. She'd been dead for more than a hundred years and they expect her to keep up on sports?
"So, she's not my true love?"
"No, she's not. Now, pick up that shovel and get me back in the ground. This damp air isn't good for me."
The boy set the lantern on the ground and picked up the shovel he'd brought along. Griselda noticed he had cleared away a considerable amount of the dirt covering her before he started rapping on her coffin. That was very kind of him. Most of them just poked a pole down to the coffin lid and expected her to do all the work.
She felt a bit sorry for him. At least he'd gone to some trouble to ask his question of a dead gypsy with a curse on her.
"Uh, can you get back down into the coffin by yourself?"
"A little shy about touching a lady, boy?" Griselda relented at his trembling lips as he tried to form an answer.
"Oh, that's okay. I'll get back in myself. First, dig some of the dirt out from inside the box, will you?"
Now, she liked that response. He was showing respect for the dead. Better than most of the yahoos that came to dig her up and ask their stupid questions. Who made up this silly idea about asking the dead questions that they must answer? It certainly wasn't her idea, Griselda thought. Just because she'd told fortunes using a crystal ball when she was alive, didn't mean she wanted to continue the practice after death. Still, word got around and the curse had plagued her ever since she died.
The boy shoveled the dirt out of her coffin, giving her a chance to think. She decided to help this boy. Why not? She'd been left to lie for over ten years since the last time someone dug her up. What was that last question? Oh, yes. Who was going to win the World Series? Now, that was a selfish question. At least this boy wanted to find his own true love.
All right, I'll actually put some thought into this. She strained a bit and moaned for good effect. The boy jumped back at the sound.
"I see a vision. Yes. It's you. You're older." Griselda tried to close her eyes, but the lids had rotted away. She touched her bony hand to her temple to provide some show for the silly boy.
"What do you see?"
"I see you with a dark-haired girl . . . a beautiful woman. You look very happy. Two children stand by you. Let me think."
The boy looked at her, hopeful for an answer from the dead, the dead who can tell no lies.
"Yes. I see the dark-haired woman and the two children." Griselda thought furiously. What could she tell this boy to give him hope?
"You'll marry and live happily ever after. There. That's your answer. You won't marry Emily. Face it, she's a strumpet, boy." Griselda winced at the sad look on the boy's face. She wondered if it was too late to learn some tact. Probably so.
"Thank you, ma'am. I appreciate the answer. Now, if you'll just, you know, get back in the coffin, I'll put the dirt back in."
Griselda started to wiggle down through the broken coffin lid.
"Could you, uh, replace those boards so dirt won't fall on my face?"
The boy knelt by the grave as Griselda lowered herself back into her coffin. He pulled the splintered boards from the dirt pile and lined them up. As Griselda laid herself back down, he carefully replaced the boards of the lid.
"Thank you," he said again.
"You're entirely welcome," she responded, happy now to have helped the polite boy. The dirt clods plunked on the top of the lid, then the sound became muffled as the grave filled. Griselda quieted her mind, feeling good about herself.
* * *
RAP RAP RAP
"Now what? I just get back to sleep and here they are again."
Griselda dug herself out of her grave once again. Squinting in the darkness as best she could without eyelids, she saw it was the same boy as before, but older now.
"What's wrong? Didn't you find the dark-haired girl and marry her?"
"Yes, I did, and I'm here to register a complaint about your advice."
"So, what's wrong? Nice girl, two kids, right?"
"True, but she ran off with the football player and left the kids with me. You didn't tell me that would happen."
"Sorry, boy. I only tell what I see. It was up to you to follow through. Maybe you should have married Emily."
"But . . .," the young man stammered.
"None of that. You got your answer. Only one to a customer, you know." Griselda dropped down into her coffin.
"Now, fill in my grave. That's a good boy."