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Jim Meirose

An Appreciation for Statuary

Cemetery at Dusk by Staff with Jasper AI.
Cemetery at Dusk by Jasper AI from a prompt by O:JA&L staff 


The grey car moves along grassy tracks, between rows of stones, urn-topped pedestals, grieving stone figures. The sun sinks beyond a rim of trees, patterning its way through the leaves, nearing evening. Mid-summer. What’re you doing in the cemetery? Killing time going home from the office in this peaceful park, is what; attending to an appreciation for statuary, clad in a respectable pinstripe costume. The dead lie macabre beneath you shrouded in the pretty grass; cigar-ashes swept under a rug, dissolving innocently. The alone microwave waiting on the blonde counter at home doesn’t care to tell time. At one mile an hour the grass flowing up hides a drop waiting in the path ahead; a grey slate slab’s weeded over, rotting with knifelike flakes. The car rolls off the edge while you’re looking to a statue beyond gravel tracks in the next row. A woman shrouded in granite grey over grey, cradles an empty tablet infant-like. The front of the car drops. Feel, don’t hear, a great bang. Stop. Some figure moves far off among the stones. What. Let’s see. The speedometer had said five. Slow to be sure, but even stopped can’t avoid certain dangers. Gun the gas; gun it. Speedometer goes to thirty. Fifty. Front wheels can’t touch the ground. Back to zero, sit. The sun’s poised on spidery lacework tips hiding rock hard trunks shooting down among the dead. You can’t move. Sliced brake cables, fuel line; better get out. Dry grass. Crunch. Kneel. Its all right. No damage, just the front wheels turning slow an inch off the ground and the car frame pressed tight to the slab with all the weight. Drive right out of this. Right out. How. Head-scratch a solution, but. Just, just—just don’t panic. Sun sinks around varying heights of stone urns, statues face the three-quarter mile to the main road, calm summer sculpture, scattered charnel houses squat unvisited. A stained-glass window smashed open makes a dark wedge. Yet the wheels turn. Stand, push weight onto the hood. Grey metal presses in. The car’s solid on the lip. They don’t make them like they used to. Who was that figure before? The watch says only a minute’s gone. The car’s falling expanded time. The sun’s crescented, jagged with razor leaves slicing through the dim blue inside its yellow. Intuition at the magnitude of this problem says a half hour at most and—oh. The idea. Get two small gravestones, push them under the rubber. Maybe three. Look around, walk around. Play with the problem. Walk out past a thirty-foot obelisk capped with a K toward a row of white older stones. They’d be easy to get. But then your stomach jumps banging the top of your head as you run into a live woman head-on. Wide eyed, she pauses.

“Oh! Hello.”

Her jeans flare from a green man’s shirt with a wave of hair flowing off the side of her square face. She’s got tired yellowish eyes.

“You’re stuck over there.” She points.

Things don’t fit together. A cemetery visitor with too-wide eyes. Walk by, but this isn’t a supermarket aisle. Parking lot. Sidewalk.

“No, not really. It isn’t bad. I can get out.”

She nods, framed in deep black shadows pulling. Go past her, just go on into leaf domed headstone rows across the cropped grass, among stones leaning loose, easy to tear out, populated here and there with mildewed urns, stone robed figures of solemnity, and sharp peaked middle-class obelisks. She’ll walk off then, vanish. Don’t say you’re going to tear out stones.

“Maybe I can help you. I saw you get stuck.”

“I don’t know -”

Look back. The grey car’s an animal sloping down the bank of a mud water hole in an Africa movie, drinking still water full of unknowns. It seems meant to laugh at; you catch yourself laughing quietly with her, so you stop. She studies you. People only come here to grieve. You grave-robbing stinking person going to rip up tombstones, hands pale and puffy from digging in mud too much. Her finger snakes suddenly back through her hair as you say “I need to walk out and get a wrecker to pull it off, that’s all. There’s no damage.”

She peers to the car, looks your suit up and down. Sweat drips hidden down your side; if only you’d grow bigger, form a wall to kill her interest, make her say good day nice to meet you and walk off gaily humming.

“You don’t need a wrecker. We can get the car off there.”

“I tried already. Its stuck good and solid.”

“We could jam some slabs under the front wheels.”

Grave robber, shut up, shut up. Bite your lip.

“Slabs? You mean headstones?”

“Sure. Then you drive right off on them.”

Go away and manage your own sins already woman.

“Let’s go,” she says—”Two stones ought to do it all right.”

Damned grave robber. All right.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

Around the corners of her mouth, semicircles form flooding deep within, one upon another, disappearing into her face. A waist high white stone with weathered off lettering seems a good prospect. Rock it together; doing it alone you’d be bound for damnation, but with her its all innocent. No one’s bad as you. Hands touch cool stone next to hers.

“Push, come on.”

It jars back and forth but won’t come. Iron runs unseen through its foot. Step back.

“Too solid.”

A minute later two smaller newer ones fall forward from almost your look—or, her touch.

“We’re lucky they don’t make them like they used to,” she says.

They lie face up. Stranger’s names. Marcus. Martha.

“Right,” you say—and can’t think what to say next. It’s funny isn’t it, back when they made headstones immovable, there weren’t any cars to unstick with them. Maybe horses though. Right, sure. Unstick a horse with a tombstone? Sorry, no. There’s no clear way. Lean on a neighboring crucifixed black stone pedestal yelling out WILLMAN; rub your glistened forehead.

“Okay. Let’s bring them over.” she says.

“Right,” you say, loosening your tie, your collar. Life’s always able to trap you in something. You never know what’s next, you know. Sitting in a room somewhere smoking in rough cushioned chairs, you told a co-worker.

“That’s right, you never know.” she responded, dressed in orange, hair dyed to flames. Nod together. Yes, yes. Every next moment could hold wonderful strangeness but it ought to be at one’s leisure and suit one’s desires. Sweat shouldn’t burn wet in your collar. No brown ring.

No mold. What are your desires.

She stoops, says “Come on,” fingers wind beneath the rough edge. Step forward, yes, you know its true wonderful things are right around the corner, but they can’t be grey stones hid in the grass to snare your car and end up getting ordered by a woman to not miss your dinnertime. Pick up and carry the headstones with her, making long shadows. Three stones end up under your Goodyears, but it doesn’t work. Rubber burnt clouds flare from a whirring whine carrying much too far. Get out, look underneath, your lighter to show you. The sun’s gone in the trees. Suit and all you sit on the ground given up. Like at the office; fresh cut grass, humid tips oozing green, fearful, sweating.

“Well, I guess I better walk out.”

“No, wait.”

She’s up brushing grass stained knees, hopping over a black family plot railing. One quick stoop reaching into the grass and a long iron bar with a pointy end appears before her.

“Let’s try one more time. Get in the car.”


“Just get in. Try one more time. Maybe I can pry the slab. Tip it forward to let go the car. Get in.”

She jabs the rod deep in the dirt behind the slate. Get in.

“Go. Go!”

Gun the engine. She leans eyes closed full weight on the bar. Ah yes, rock forward; you might slide free. Dashboard instruments glow across zeroes to thousands, swinging pointing lines, speedometer needle blurs, rubber burns, he jagged monument horizon and further spider laden trees pull light from the sky making dusk in her face, all her weight intent in prying with the rod. Her mouth moves, the engine. Roaring whining stench for words. Maggots writhe deeper fearing the pounding. Let off the gas, it’s no use, let go, get out. The bar drops swallowed in the grass. Reflexes, habits; foot off the gas, slide out the door, the tires spin on, a dream starts; you step out glancing down at fanned out rubber dust calmly, coolly, stepping up to tell her it’s not working, the dream expands; the car falls away; the engine fans the headstones out like bad cards in an angry archangel’s poker hand. Stones slam your ankles, pain, jump away—yes, jump away in the middle off a fall, hands tangling in the grass, the car jolting forward, its pedal stuck, showering twilight sparks underneath, slate chips needle the air peppering your face, and the car runs away alone lights off. A shape. A bear crashing away in thicket brush in the night produces relief but a car’s the opposite. It plows down a plot railing, wrought iron flies, three obelisks go down like dominoes, the car jolts left motor racing, white vapor spiraling in the air behind rises, thins, though it’s no old-time steam train. The Olds mows down a row of a million or so cheap modern stones—yes, very true, they don’t make them like they used to—then blasts off a rich man’s thick pedestal, ricochets away in a grand shower of sparks, to disappear behind a nest of cross-topped stone houses, gone in the dropping night. Run, go, slip in the grass. Burnt rubber gasoline and fear pack your nose. Slip, fall—falling.

“Oh, my God, my car! ”

“No, wait. Stop. Listen. Listen!”

Sirens whoop in the distance as a hollow crash bulges the air too far off to catch. Get up.

“But my car! I got to go get it!”

“No, no! Hear the police? They’re in the cemetery. Somebody called. The caretakers maybe called—let’s go.”

Silence engulfs the tombs. Turn around. Her hand waves; shirt flapping, she’s spinning in the grass dancing, ready to run. Yell loud, get sense into her.

“Go where? My damned car, damn it! My car’s wrecked, I got to go see!”

“Wait. Wait, listen.”

The sirens move closer. Gravel crunches out at the perimeter road. Her face reddens with urgency cutting the dusk.

“Come with me. My place. It’s not far. Look at all the stones knocked down. They’ll lock you up and ask questions later if they catch you here.”

Stone splinters lie like a bin of loose rubble dropped from a quarry in the sky. A raw Z shaped gash cracks the rich man’s pedestal. Tire tracks furrow black under the stones. A chrome strip shines bent double, close by the tombs flickered with sudden yellow red flashes. Siren-lights come closer.

“Come on!”

She grabs your arm hard, sharp bones in her hand pushing sense into you, shooting pain through your pounding blood.

“Let’s go. You can call the police later and report the car stolen. That’s the best thing to do. Come on!”

Yes, run. Spiral away from the war-whoops. Run with her through stone houses, trusting. Yes; you weren’t here. Someone’s to blame. A classic way out of troubles. Layered black sky presses the light into the ground. Oaks snarl loose bark across your sleeves. Carvings; a faceless woman holds a stone black lantern to the sky. Follow her into a town of mold shaded crypts. Wait till you tell them this story at work. Weed-hung walls. Nobody will believe, but, nobody should. The back of her head. The insurance money. Her hair swings. What’s her age? Moist lips. She stops against a grey stone wall. You stop watching her tucking her shirt tail, wrinkles shifting in the cloth throw deeper shadows feeding the gathering dusk to the ground. Catch your breath.

“How much further?”

Breathe. Listen. Try to sense the cemetery’s edge.

“We’re almost there, come on.”

Around a corner, down stone steps, to a large crypt with lawn clippings blown across the wall. Twelve-foot-tall wrought iron doors catch the last light of day. A brown oval lock rattles at her touch. A name arcs across the pediment.


What? No one goes in these places. The door swings open. You’re going in.

“What is this?”

She moves aside with the door. An old man steps out, squinting hard from a chinless face, pawing shocked out hair.

“Who’s this, Kathy?” he says. “I was sleeping.”

One last whoop goes up far off; like police play with sirens in a patriotic parade. The dead sleep inside, only walk in movies. The old man’s wrinkly blue pants and shirt lean toward the sound. It’s gone.

“Oh,” she tells him. “This gentleman’s car ran wild before and broke up about a million headstones.”

He quivers snapping off her words.

“So what? That’s not my problem.”

She whips her hair out, moving forward.

“Listen, grandpa. Cops are around. Let’s go in. I’ll tell you inside.”

Go in the crypt. Your mouth’s open.

“Oh,” says the old man, stretching his neck, beaconing his head across the sky, piercing the silence with watching. Follow her into the door past him. You’re in a dark crypt, but the old man follows, giving no chance to ask why. She pulls the doors shut behind, finally emptying the cemetery. You leap; electricity; a switch snaps a neon ring to life in the ceiling. The crypt’s a twelve by fifteen stone room. Four levels of sealed coffin niches on all sides. Dull brass plates tell names and dates, but a refrigerator hums chrome trimmed in a corner. A desk and chair sit against a wall. Army-style bunk bed with legs rusted solid presses against the opposite wall. A silver pipe clothes rack stuffed tight with clothing stands against the back. A pine-stained dresser bulks in a corner. Words of surprise form, making sense at last.

“This looks like—hey, no. Look at this! You made an apartment out of a tomb.”

Proud, she smiles dimpling one cheek. The old man leans.

“Don’t think of it as a tomb,” she says. “Think of it as—prime real estate space.”

She nods all around. The old man falls into a loose knit thicket of split wicker cane, by the desk. Broomstick arms spread with livered skin bring spider hands onto his knees. The woman pulls a beige folding chair up and tells his eyes your story.

“Sounds like a smart idea to claim the car was stolen,” says the old man, chewing his lip. “Cops will blame you otherwise and the cemetery’d sue. So, you come out here visiting a grave, or what?”

“No, just to drive around. Just looking.”

“Doesn’t seem right to just look around a cemetery. You’re supposed to visit a grave.”

You say, “But its peaceful in the cemetery.”

The old man makes a snarling face to the floor.

“Oh grandpa,” she says. “Maybe he’s got an appreciation for nature. Or grave sculpture.”

Your eyes widen, but don’t let her know you always wondered who made the perfectly feathered angel wings and silken urn drapings, every fold in place. Just smile to her as the old man rises. He makes toward a three-foot square hole in the back wall.

“I need to lay down now, Kathy,” he says.

Reaching the hole, the old man slides himself in feet first, and is gone. She smiles politely meaning please don’t say it, this all looks crazy, and it does, so you look at the round fifties looking light fixture making a shadow halo on the ceiling and pretend this is just a long-ago kitchen daydream.

“I know,” she says. “You’re thinking it’s weird he went in there like that.”

You down your head, you say “No.” cutting her off. Its rude. He can hear through the hole, and you should only talk about people when they’re right there, or behind their backs. Not when they’re just out of sight where they’ll hear you. But she goes on at you, anyway.

“Grandpa says he sleeps in there to make it easy for me. Says that when he finally dies in the night, I should just push that dresser against the hole, and that’s that.”

Her lips glisten. What to say, smile. Press thumb and finger hard on the table edge.

“It’s harmless enough,” she says. “That’s the last empty niche in the wall.”

You smile. She laughs aloud, but softly. So; he sleeps in the wall; she lives in a tomb. How? Why? Coffee pot boils softly on a hot plate. Her hair swings straw colored in the still white light. Your cups fill, and she tells you how she lost her brokerage job and three-bedroom apartment and had no idea what she was going to do, until the idea came as she walked with her Grandfather through the cemetery.

“It makes sense to live here. This could be the newest racket. The deepest darkest homeless person’s secret of this millennium.”

She unbuttons her shirt revealing VIENNA across her t-shirt in script.

“And you’re our first houseguest. Isn’t that something?”

Lick sugar taste loose from the rim of the cup.

“Oh, yes. I feel honored.”

A stupid crack. Too hard-edged. What’s your smile like? Bring up the coffee cup. Hide. Drain yourself, as thank God, she talks.

“Look at this place. Think of all the money they spent just to have a place to sit and cry for the dead. I guess this family had money to burn.”

She points a red nail to the old man’s wall.

“Grandpa’s to thank for this whole thing, really. I took him in when I still had an apartment. He always wanted to go for walks in this cemetery. It’s funny. He’d say ‘Let’s go down and check out my next neighborhood.’  It was kind of a walk, but we always came here. He likes the place. Like you do.”

Her yellow eyes. A condition for sure.

“Like I do?”

No one has yellow eyes.

“Yes. You said you like the cemetery, because it’s peaceful.”

“Oh, right. And for the sculpture.”

Yellow eyes draw inward.

“Oh.” she says, confused.

Remind her. Quick.

“Remember? You told your Grandpa I must like the sculpture.”

A smile comes, pulling her look back onto you.

“Oh, right. Sure. I remember.”

Red nails drum the table. The black rectangle on the stone wall lets out a snort.

“Well. It’s really true,” you say. “I really do like the statues.”

“Is that so?”

She leans closer.

“When we found this place,” she said, “You ought to have seen it. There were benches like church pews, an altar in the middle. But it all had to go. Needed room for our stuff.”

Black robes appear, slope-backed sitting, lit by burning yellow tapers to grieve away an hour like they used to do here. Spooky.

Wave up at the light.

“How’d you get an electrical hookup in here?”

“Oh, that. It was here already. Its why we chose the place. After we forced the door, Grandpa found this switch—and when the light came on, I almost had a panic attack.”

Pale hand spreads onto her chest making a shadow.

“They had an iron lamp there, shaped like an ivy vine. They needed light to pray by, I guess. We have no idea why the power still words. One of those things, you know?”

“That’s something.”

“Right. The family that built this place has died out. I checked the records in town, and at the state house. Nobody’ll ever know we’re in here.”

She smirks cat-eyed. The perfect crime.

“We took the bench and altar apart and buried them in a trash pile of foam crosses and wreaths and dead flowers out in the back.”

What an idea. Worth money; buy up old unvisited tombs. Clean them out. Make condos. Lean back. Tilt the cup.

“But what about the caretakers? They mow here, don’t they? They still do burials over the other side. I saw them a couple times working over there.”

“Oh. There’s ways to not be seen.”

Her shoulder leans into a nameplate set in the grey wall

“This is our house now. We could live here forever if we wanted. No one’d ever know.”

Yes; with neighbors lying behind stones on each side, knowing nothing with their heads propped on brittle arms, staring wide-eyed into the granite trying to see you. The old man lies among them like a kitten or puppy, newborn and innocent of imagined dangers.

She says “Listen. I know I don’t have to tell you this, but make sure you don’t tell anybody we’re here, okay?”

Nod yes. Almost time to go. Yes. But, one more coffee. Pouring. Comfortable. Run a finger down the ancient grey wall you can’t tell anybody about.

“We’ll be moving out to Utah soon.” she says. I’m buying into my sister’s flower shop. Its different out there.”

She goes on. Your chin rests in your hand. Even when you can tell people of them, nobody believes really amazing things. When you were ten, huge snowflakes fell from a cloudless sky in mid-June while you walked to the bus stop for the last day of school, alone.

“Actually, if I needed to, there’s really enough money now. I just want to be able to save a little extra.”

You told everybody, but just got stares. Blank stares. Like that time you went to get milk at midnight and the power station transformer blew like a furnace a mile off. The sky lit pale white for seven minutes cracking with arcing lightning bolt thunder. Alone that time too, with three or four strangers in the Seven-Eleven parking lot. Blank stares later.

“Sissy’s out there in a big ranch house, all empty right now but for a cat. Lots of room.”

Big deal. Oh; big deal. Show family slides, wallet pictures, why don’t you? Blank stares deserve blank stares in return. Oh, yes. Yes. Very nice—until her eyes bug wide and lean at you.

“Say. Are you listening to me?”

“Oh, yes. Sure. You’re talking about Utah.”

Stretch the eyelids. Time to go. Utah, Utah; red sandstone pillars and natural bridges and sand too deep, bone dry, here with her in the damp rich earthed cemetery with no one else to believe it all with you. Just this woman in the middle of it herself who you can’t tell anybody about, anyway. Or see again.

“Well,” you say. “I better go. If I wait too long to report the car stolen, the cops will smell something fishy. Thanks for your help.”

You’re rising, but the old man talks suddenly loud in his sleep, from the wall. The woman gets up faster than you.

“All right. Hey, let’s go over there. Our talking’s bothering grandpa.”

She crosses to a bed and sits on the edge. She pats the thin bedspread. The weave’s tight with spring flowers.

“Come. Sit here.”

The ceiling light glows her hair like a meadow.

“There’s still coffee. You could finish the coffee before you go. See? There’s just a about a cup. It shouldn’t go to waste.”

The enamel edged hot plate holds a glass globe with a sliver of black set in the bottom. She pats the mattress one more time.

“You know, with you here, I just realized it’s been ages since I just sat and talked with anybody. Besides Grandpa.”

Nod pleasantly, start to say no more coffee, thanks—but she goes on, again.

“I suppose I hoped to invite you in, even before the car ran away. Just for company.”

Nod politely yas, fine; but somewhere policemen are looking up your name, in a room of dark wood desks and ringing phones. Plus, the dead are all around. So, go.

“Sure, I know what you mean. But I better go now. The car.”

“Yes. The Car.”

This place is for grieving.

“I’m sorry—”


Blood rises in your face—why’d you say that? Why say it?

She gets up. A sigh rises softly from under her flowered weave. Turn away. Toss your paper napkin in a green lined trash can with yellow blooms wrapped all around. Look to the door; look to the door; the nerve the damned nerve of you saying ‘sorry’ as if anything you do would ever matter to her. Blank stare at the door.

“Good bye,” she says. “Good luck with the car.”

Don’t look up. Watch the stone doorsill by her feet.

“Thanks,” you say. “And good luck in Utah.”

She must be nodding as the iron doors open letting you back into the cemetery. The horizon glows dimly beyond the dark. Her crypt’s closed behind you. Press back onto her wall alone, wondering why it needs to be like this; no one’s seen this with you. No one. Now need to get home. Remember the story; the car’s stolen someplace. Got to call the police. Silent stone angels leer in the dark, push you on. Face the gate you drove in through. It’s ages since you came here, since you left the office. And, it’s been ages since you’ve had visitors in your apartment, too. Touch the cold brick gatepost. Stop. Wait. Think. This can’t possibly be. Who in their right mind would live in a tomb? Who would stay dead, when there’s a choice? Turn back toward the dark plain of spires urns and graves. Let the car go, and everything else. All but one joyful thing. It’s time to go home.


About the writer:
Jim Meirose‘s short fiction has appeared in leading journals, and his novels include Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer (Optional Books), Understanding Franklin Thompson (JEF), Le Overgivers au Club de la Résurrection (Mannequin Haus), and No and Maybe – Maybe and No (Pski’s Porch).

Image: Cemetery at Dusk by Jasper AI using a prompt from O:JA&L staff that included the words ‘in the style of Egon Schiele.” Free license available by request .

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

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