Stones on Stones
By: Ilanna Sharon Mandel
My hands shook as a fierce blast of snow blew across my body. I stood at the gates to the cemetery. Brittle steel under my palms shook with the force of a bitter December wind. My mother's ghost beckoned to me.
"No," I cried, my anguished voice floating away into the cold air. "There's nothing for me there."
I followed her into the cemetery as if an unknown force pushed me forwards. I kept reminding myself I didn't believe in ghosts, yet here she was, in front of me, a pale, white, luminous presence. Pain shot down my left leg, as the frigid weather played havoc with my aging spine. The bones of lovers, parents, children, and all their ancestors who died before them lay here, inside their eternal homes. As if on their own accord, my legs stopped., and I found myself at a standstill. Shallow, ragged breaths forced themselves out of my lungs. Marble and granite headstones hovered over me. Each one begged me to look at the names, the engravings, the many who had died here whose last desires were now faded into the ground. Bones had long since disintegrated into ash and dust, and I couldn't explain it to myself, but I felt the dead knew a living being was inside their cemetery.
My mother's fingers beckoned me onwards. She pressed one to her lips as if to say my voice had no place here. Soon her dead shroud ceased to fly. Her ashen face, sunken and unholy, shed no tears as she hovered over my father's grave. As I approached, I heard a thud as his plain pine coffin hit the ground. The image of the Star of David on its lid pressed itself into my eyes. Strains of "El Malay Rachamim", the chant for the Jewish dead, escaped the cantor's lips. His voice trembled, straining to be heard over the shrill gusts of the season's first winter storm.
The ground beneath me felt stiff as ice, as I crashed down to the ground beside his grave. Tears drenched my face, mingling with the newly-piled dirt.
"Speak to him," my mother's ghost said. "Tell him."
"I can't. It's too much. Why did you bring me here?" I shouted.
"Because you asked me too," she whispered to me as she draped herself about my shivering frame.
"Dad, I'm here," I said. "I only want to know where you've gone. Where are you?" If only his soul would speak to me, I could lay my worries to rest. I ached to hear him one last time. Where had God taken him? To a vast universe where I couldn't follow. In that moment, I wasn't sure I believed in a divine creator who could allow us to experience so much pain in one lifetime.
A rumbling from within the earth forced me onto my feet, and the ghost of my father floated before me.
"Abba," I cried. "Father, what is it you want from me?"
"It is not me who desires, but you," he said, his form fading in and out of existence. "Let go, my darling daughter. Let go of those desires that bind you to the past."
I shook my head. Even now I could see my parents being buried, the bodies of my mother and father cocooned in soft, white linen shrouds, their faces peaceful, betraying nothing of their final moments.
Mourners shed tears, whispered prayers, held on to each other as if afraid they might be next. Someone picked up a shovel and spilled dirt into the grave. More dirt. Each time it fell with a finality of a person's life in this world.
The time had come for me to move on. I had grieved long enough. A small, black stone appeared in my right palm. I placed it on my mother's headstone and laid my cheek on its edge. I pressed my lips to her headstone, and offered a tender kiss.
Slowly, I ambled out of the cemetery. Dusk dissolved into night. A plain sky drifted into starlight. I walked for hours until my weary legs could no longer keep me upright.
Somewhere, that night, I laid down in the soft grass, and the next morning woke up in my bed. The tiny, black stone I had placed on my night table was no longer there. A black and white photograph of my parents on their wedding day sat in its frame beside the lamp. I lay on my side and closed my eyes. "Sleep in peace," I said.