Subcutaneous Magazine Fall 2016 - Page 79

dence.” *** After upgrading Missy’s stone, I had a mild heart attack that night and ended up in the hospital. It was my second in four years. The doctor, a youngster I’d never met, asked, “Have you been doing anything strenuous?” “I work at the cemetery. Sometimes it means moving stones.” “Better let a younger man move the stones,” he advised. “You should have been taking blood thinners. And meeting with the dietician would also be helpful.” I let them do their tests and they finally let me go with lengthy instructions I left in the truck. I’d been home a few days, on a Saturday afternoon watching Guns of Navarone, when my phone rang. It seldom rings. I hadn’t yet spoken that day. Clearing my throat, I croaked, "Hello?" A voice, a woman’s voice, soft and what else? Tired? Scared? “Hello. Is this William Davis?” I don’t hear my formal name much. Trying to be polite, I said, “If you’re selling something, I ain’t interested.” “–No. No, I’m not. Selling anything. Are you the caretaker for the town cemetery?” “Yes, I am.” I waited to hear her speak again, but she quieted. “Is there a problem?” I couldn’t imagine such a thing. She sighed. “Yeah, I think there is. I don’t know if you’re the right person to talk to, but did a woman, lastname Dutton, die recently?” I felt a flutter in my chest. “Missy Dutton?” There was always a risk of upsetting folks doing this sort of work. “Why? Are you related?” “Yes, I’m her great-great-don’t remember how many great-niece. My name is Mary Keaton.” She shifted the phone, her voice was stronger. “So the woman you just mentioned, did she die recently?” “Well, what happened is,” and I explained it like it was a municipal project. “So there was this one that needed replacement.” Then I told her how Charles and I had improved it. “So you replaced a stone in the cemetery that didn’t have a name, and put her name on it? Any reason for that?” She didn’t sound angry, not quite, mostly curious. She made me feel stupid. “Is there a problem?” I asked again, feeling panic, which I rarely feel. Of course there’s a problem or she wouldna called. She laughed, a weary laugh. “Well, I think you’ve made a mistake. If we’re talking about the same woman, she isn’t buried in your cemetery.” Then I felt very, very stupid. “She was accused of withcraft and lynched in 1793.” I explained my microfilm hunt. “That’s more or less her. What you found wasn’t especially accurate. She was African, and she had three children, by different men. Our family history says she’s an ancestor, and we have a family plot in back. I’d like to show you her grave.” She gave me her address, and I promised to meet her the next morning. I didn’t sleep well that night, bothered deeply by the thought of someone buried with the wrong address. *** She walked until she tripped, then they dragged her the rest of the way back to the village, the men arguing over how to deliver her fate. “I’ll fetch some rope fit for hanging,” Caleb announced as they returned to the church. “There’s plenty of sturdy trees to deliver this witch.” She held her tongue until Caleb returned with the rope. The rain had ended, and she seemed to fully appreciate her predicament. Lowering her eyelids, she stared at them. “You best think hard on what evil you planning,” she said, her voice low. In another setting, seductive; here, terrifying. “Death ain’t got no hold on me. I’ll go to my Savior. I’ll remember each one of you.” Eyes glanced side to side, and Abraham used the butt of his musket to hit her in the face, the block knocked her down. “Quiet, witch!” Jacob Cannon was still weeping over his daughter’s boots. Caleb fashioned a slipknot, and Melvin climbed a tree and threw it over a thick bough. “I put a curse on you,” she warned as they snugged the noose around her neck. “Every time I am remembered, every time my name is mentioned, someone in this family of man going to die. Die hard. Die unnatural.” She was made to climb a stool, her lovely face bruised. Though her lips were swelling, she said, “Death got no hold over me! Remember what I said. You all cursed for this wickedness. I never laid a hand on that poor girl!” Mennan was praying, his voice louder and louder as the woman’s life grew shorter. The storm seemed to have dried up, heat lightening flashing every twentieth heartbeat, or so it seemed to the minister. “Guide us and protect us as we slay one of Satan’s minions, Dear Lord,” he prayed, “guide us and protect us. Guide us and protect us-" “Protect you?” challenged Missy, glaring at the minister. “You wolf in sheep’s clothing! Your child is in my belly tonight!” Mennan, blushing, stepped forward and stole the moment from Abraham, kicking over the stool and watching her legs sway and dance. “Witch! Lying witch!” Elizabeth bore me no children. Do I kill mine tonight? She seemed to defy them then, her legs dancing in air, her hands still tied as she turned slowly on the tw