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The Field of Machpelah

From: New England Review
Volume 33, Number 4, 2013
pp. 103-110 | 10.1353/ner.2013.0025

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Josh returned from his midnight rounds at the cemetery to find a late model Volvo idling outside the cemetery gate. Was the driver lost? he wondered as he watched him from the cemetery’s security car, inside the gate. Should he wait for whoever it was to back up and drive away? Should he do something more? Unable to see the occupant or occupants because the lights on the gate went off at eleven, Josh eased the security car a few feet forward, and then again, and then he activated the car’s emergency light. When there was still no response, he activated the car’s public address system, filling the night with short bursts of static by turning the system on and off until, frustrated, he drove to the guardhouse at one side of the gate and got out and turned the gate’s floodlights back on. And there he was: not a carful of murderous thugs but an old man. He sat in the driver’s seat, holding the wheel with his right hand while fumbling with his left to open the window.

“The cemetery’s closed,” Josh told him when, with a whine, the glass lowered.

“As it must be, of course.”

“Then what do you want?”

“To come in, if possible. To convince you to let me in.”

“How do you plan to do that?”

The man smiled, and Josh noticed that he wore no hat and no coat although it was March and only forty degrees.

“By telling you about my wife,” said the man. “By telling you that she’s over at the hospital and she’s dying and they want to stop her machines.”


“So, I want to know where she’ll go. I want to see the place before I give my permission.”

“You can do that tomorrow, in the daytime.”

“I’ve seen it in the daytime already. I’ve seen it plenty, we both have. I want to see it when it’s dark, when it’s scary. I’m sure you understand.”

“No,” said Josh, at which point the man got out and came toward the tall iron bars that kept them apart.

“You’re going to let me in,” said the man. “I know you are. And I know something more. Something here, something right here. What is it?”

He looked at the bars. He looked at the car, at his car and then Josh’s car, through the bars. Then he looked at Josh as if seeing him for the first time.

“It’s you,” he said. “You don’t belong here either.”

And what could Josh say?

He’d gone to Brown, intending to become a doctor like his father and brother, but had dropped out and traveled for a year and then worked for a year. He’d moved to Boston and tried restaurant work and then driving a taxi and then data entry and telephone solicitation and then selling clothes. To make rent, he’d worked two and sometimes three jobs at once and still hadn’t made it and was about to give up when he re-met a girl named Rochelle. He’d met her at the restaurant and re-met her at a party, and, once they were going out, she called a cousin who called a friend who called another friend who knew about a job that made Josh laugh when he heard. The graveyard shift at the graveyard. Guarding Forest Hills Cemetery from eleven to seven, five nights a week for twelve dollars an hour. Rather than serve people food or drive them around Boston or to the airport, he drove around the underworld, night after night, halting his progress along one or another of Alexander Dearborn’s ghost-filled thoroughfares to explain himself to the ghosts who were famous. Eugene O’Neill. Anne Sexton. Edward Everett Hale. William Lloyd Garrison. e. e. cummings. And a smattering of Massachusetts governors, Revolutionary and Civil War heroes, and—safely dead—several famous doctors. He told them about the B he got in Genetics because the professor was a jerk and the C he got in Organic Chemistry because the...

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