The cemetery is an awful place to be even in day light. It has been neglected for so long, not even ghosts walk among its weeds anymore. Only decay and abandonment stalks here — the kind that stinks, the kind you try to scrub but it lingers for weeks.
I had woken with an awful dream of places and faces I didn’t know; with a feeling of being unwanted that only drink can take away. And so I drank to forget. And walked. And like the bounce of a ball that is launched from great height, carried by its own impulsion, my walk walked itself. (And I remember such a ball once, it was wonderful. I would bounce it off walls alone in my room, and sometimes cast it from my bedroom window just to watch it spring and skip along on its own. It never faltered. And always came back. I would sit and write about all the places this ball had visited.)
But wait. There I go again, babbling old fool! Always missing the point, always going around the houses and forgetting my path.
So, here I am in the cemetery, intoxicated, not knowing how I got here, and wanting to leave. I hear a whisper. Yes, something whispers where even the dead fear to tread. A soft, gentle voice that draws me nearer. It helps me navigate the graves like a lighthouse standing proud in a storm oversees a battered ship to safety.
In my drunken torpor, staggering, cursing my legs, despising my arms, disbelieving everything in my mind, I drag myself past open graves — I don’t know if are waiting for someone (for me) or someone has just risen. I want to rest in them.
But the voice carries me past the gates — heart beating, gasping, drowning in air, my hands stained with sweat and mud — I make it through the dead place into the woods. Here it is quiet, with a comforting silence. It sounds like being forgiven, I forget about the dead and their fears, about my dream. With clarity I remember mother, and why she left, of father and why he had to beat me with a stick, of work tomorrow, and tomorrow. But it doesn’t matter.
Because in the darkness of the forest it doesn’t seem dark at all. It is a separate darkness, a verdant, lush dark that lives and breathes, wraps its arms around you — it comforts and heals.
I sit against a tree, massaging my back against fungus and bark when from out of the cemetery, like it has been gathering momentum for years unaided, my ball comes bouncing back and hits me in the face!
Yes! My ball, the one I had when I was young, small and red but pitted now, but unmistakably my ball. It has skipped over fallen grave stones and dead flowers like a master running back to its dog. Oh! What joy to hold it again.
And like Pavlov’s bell, its bouncing sound makes me reach into my pocket. I am surprised by what I find. My pen is still here. Its ink is dry, so I suck it until my mouth goes blue. And here in the dark woods, in silence, surrounded by growth and rot, I write about the ball again, of the things it has seen, the places it has been, and how it found its way back.