Subcutaneous Magazine Fall 2016 - Page 77

and just then, in a clean office area, I was embarrassed over my uniform and my deodorant was, well, I hadn’t used any. I cleared my throat, not having spoken yet that day. “I’m caretaker over at the Cemetery.” She smiled. “I’ve seen you there. Your wife’s buried up the hill, isn’t she?” “Yup.” I explained my curiosity over the old gravestone. “I’ve got records, but no name was ever recorded for that plot.” “Up the hill?” she smiled with curiosity. “I’ve never noticed it. I may go over on my lunch and look for it. What were the years on it?” I recited them. She typed a few keys on her keyboard (I tried peeking, trying to learn something), looked at the results, clicked and typed a few more times. “Your best bet, I think, are the old newspapers, which are on microfilm. The microfilm is in the basement. The town had a couple of papers in those years. I’d start with the Chronicle. There’s another reel with copies of the Dispatch and Good Deed.” She wrote down numbers for me, addressed me through her thick glasses. "I would start at ‘93 and work up to ‘94. Look for obituaries.” I thanked her and descended the steel staircase into the nicely cool basement. Aside from a janitorial room with an unlocked door, it was all one big room under a bank of fluorescent lights, with columns and floor to ceiling shelves of old town records, mostly in cardboard boxes. The lights hummed and the air smelled of dust and mold. In the middle sat the microfilm machine; I studied it a minute and got to work. The celluloid crackled a little as it rolled. The screen display took some adjusting, and I had to nearly put my nose on the screen. The f and the s in those days seemed interchangeable, and the lens distorted the text, like reading through the bottom of a Coke bottle, but I didn’t have to read too much before I discovered an old neighbor, Missy Dutton. Missy was a black woman who died in 1793, and died most unkindly. As recorded in the Dispatch, according to ‘persons who knew,' she was born in the Caribbean and brought here a slave. She bought her freedom and moved to West Pilsbury, where she lived in the woods and worked odd jobs. There were rumors of black masses and she was taunted when she walked in public, and unnamed townsfolk accused her of witch craft, claiming to have seen her in the cemetery under a full moon in the center of a pentacle. She was blamed for the periodic missing cow or goat or other petty thefts, and at one point the constable and four armed men found her shack and burned it down. She built a new shelter and stayed for another ten years until a child went missing. On the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence and questionable testimony, she was lynched. The story noted that she cursed her killers, vowed revenge, and ‘made unholy statements.' She was ‘interred locally.' *** The smoke of candles tucked into lamps on either side of the lectern rose lazily in the dark, to the rough beams of the church ceiling. Their scent, with the pitch saturated torches just outside the door, mingled with close-in sweat. When the door opened, the flames trembled. It was June, the warm weather upon them, and a storm seemed to be brewing in the night sky, with distant rolls of thunder, flashes of lightning, and gusts of wind. West Pilsbury men, seven of them, gathered in the church on this, a Thursday evening. They talked amongst themselves, a lost child their concern, and what they planned to do. Standing at his lectern, the Reverend Mennan, recently appointed, nodded in greeting to men as they arrived. “Caleb, greetings. Melvin, good evening.” Caleb was forty-seven, and had a thriving farm, Melvin was his eldest boy; both carried muskets. Abraham Burkett joined Caleb and Melvin in the first pew, where he was not accustomed to sitting. Mennan directed the last man in to let the door fall shut. I have lain with her, God help me, and I love her. The minister looked at his Bible, closed on the podium. He was usually drawn to find his answers there, but tonight he declined to take the cover and a pinch of pages in hope of guidance. Instead, he asked of the new arrivals, “Any word yet? Did Little Maggy return? Has anyone found her?” He hesitated on ‘found’ for its awful overtone. “Course not,” said Abraham, his hatchet face always making whomever he argued with feel bested. “We all know what’s happened. Let’s get on with it!” *** Who put in the head stone, I wondered? Why mark her grave at all? What puzzled me further was why that colonial era stone was in the Civil War area, at right angles to the other plots, but I figured that out. They didn’t bury Missy Dutton in the cemetery, but in the woods. The cemetery filled up with the extra business from the Civil War. In 1865, land was cleared for more graves. So she wasn’t buried in the cemetery, the cemetery caught up with her. I read back to 1792, finding lengthy obituaries for folks of sterling character whose stones I already knew. No one else fit the dates, and her circumstances fit the bill, so I felt pretty sure I’d found the occupant. I was surprised at the joy I felt, knowing I’d finally know everyone on the hill. And knowing something of her sad life and cruel death, I thought hard on to how to adorn her new headstone. I decided it was worth teaching the passers-by in this case. ‘Accused of witchcraft, lynched on this spot. May she be remembered.' I’d do the lettering and then I’d let Charles add cherubim or death heads or whatever ornamentation he thought would look good. Missy Dutton’s grave would get a real upgrade. I met him at the plot the next day and gave him a page of note paper with the inscription. “I’ll do the lettering, this is so you can see how much space to leave.” He read it and spoke it back to me to be sure he’d read it right, and he stood there in thought. “Was she really a witch?” he asked, either scared or fascinated. I never really understood him. I shook my head. “Not like they think she was. All t B6V6R6rFRFWfv2FVFpFW'&&RFw2FN( 2BvF67&gB( fR6VV6R7GVf`%2FWv'6FRV'FFW67B7V2'W@FW( BG&V&VW'2fƷ2&6FVvW&RB`v&B( Р6&W2FFVBBGV6VBFRFRFR6&vG2Rv27W'&VFǒvV&rF6&VG2Bv2G'Fv&'WBvF'&VWR6R6vRg&FRRР