I went for a run in mid-April, 2020, right when the Covid-19 threat was serious and pressing.
Of course, death comes to everyone, but as I ran, I tried to wrap my mind around the sudden, seemingly new, nearness of death from an unseeable virus. The day before, I looked at my dog and wondered which one of us would die first.
I came to a choice – either stay on the side of the road without sidewalks or enter the cemetery. A run on this road would present me with all manner of vehicles, which could kill me, or I could enter the piney resting place of so many already dead.
I chose the dirt path that led through the rusted gate despite feeling I was ripping a scab off a recent wound. Maybe immersion in a place devoted to death was a bad choice. Lately, living involved ignoring the risk of terrible illness and death, or ruminating on how to avoid infection by that deadly microscopic automaton. A run among these interred dead increased the mental pressure.
The thought intruded that I could pretend I wasn’t there. Not imagining that this place was someplace different, but that I myself was not present. I adopted an attitude of invisibility. Eyes glued on the path helped me ignore the ranks of stones on either side. My breath and pace came into sync.
Suddenly my hands and feet were not visible in the bottom of my vision. Expecting to see my foreshortened trunk, I looked down and saw only the gravel passing below.
In shock, I looked up.
Skeletons were above the grass among the stones.
In the Christian side of the cemetery to my left, the skeletons were in pairs. All were in couples that faced each other in the formal embraces of ballroom dance. Their steps and rhythms corresponded with waltzing or fox trotting, synchronized to music inaudible to me. In the walled off Jewish section to my right, the skeletons were in a crowd. Two skeletons were obviously more than shoulder height above the crowd. The two chairs were not visible, but two persons at that height above the crowd meant they danced the hora.
My breaths and pace became sporadic.
My body and clothes were visible again.
All the skulls faced me with their dark ocular pits. The skeletons all stepped toward me like a bony school of fish. The closest ones reached out their chalk white phalanges. When the first one touched me, I felt her jealousy of me; jealousy of my blood cells, my flesh, the clear gel filling my eyes. Her envy terrified me. Logically, my flesh couldn’t be stolen but traditional logic didn’t seem to function in this crazy realm.
I sprinted faster than I knew possible. My footfalls felt like they were too quick to steer me.
I burst into the sun at the paved graveyard road while my arms flailed to ward off the skeletal digits and ulnas I’d just left behind. My heart throbbed.
I slowed and stumbled into an uncoordinated walk on shaky legs. My lungs burned.
I turned back and peered into the shadowed wood but saw only random names and years etched into the scattered memorial stones. Still, the sight of those monuments among the mown grass made my skin crawl, especially on my arms.
Rodney L. Aldrich is a poetry and prose writer who lives in Troy, New York. One of his poems was published in the Isotope journal. He won first prize for poetry in the "Exaggerate!" media contest sponsored by The Arts Guild of Old Forge, Inc. He has traveled to Ireland thirteen times to assist peace makers in the reconciliation process from their civil war. He is an environmental engineer who is committed to humanity dealing with the slow motion, ongoing, and worsening climate crisis.