I had just sprayed some swastikas on my father’s shiny new headstone, and was two letters into a nice double-underlined “BURN IN HELL, NAZI” when I saw her.
Her flowing white dress fairly glowed in the full moon’s light. Her skin and hair were so dark, the way she walked so light and graceful, that my first thought was “ghost”. But disembodied spirits don’t usually carry duffel bags, or pause their spectral wanderings to shift the straps awkwardly. Having more to fear from the living than the dead, I swung behind dad’s elaborate (now slightly moreso) stone, and hid.
The clank of cans in my hoody’s kangaroo pouch probably gave me away, because I heard her jump and gasp out a “Fuck!” Perfectly appropriate responses to noises in a graveyard at midnight, really. I suppressed a nervous giggle, and resolved to wait her out. Again, she surprised me: In a strong, mellifluous voice, she called “Is there someone else present?”
A little formal for a bump in the night, I thought.
“If there is,” she continued, “reveal yourself.”
My jaw dropped. She thought she was talking to a literal ghost. It took an effort not to make “OoooOOo” noises, but I managed. I heard soft footsteps close deliberately on dad’s grave and the hope that she’d give up faded. She’d snuck into a graveyard alone at night; she was probably psyched to meet a ghost.
“If there’s anyone else present,” she started again, then let out another “Fuck”, this one carrying a tremulousness that the first shock hadn’t put there. I saw a flash of light on the grass; she’d pulled out her cell phone. Probably after spotting my decorations. Dialling 911 wouldn’t take long, and defacing the grave of a beloved public servant wasn’t the sort of illegal dad’s friends on the force usually ignored, so I took a breath and started talking.
“There is totes someone else present.” I heard her jump again. “But, I’m not, like, dangerous.”
She laughed; a nervous, jagged-edged sound. “Right, you’re just fucking up the mayor’s grave. Totally stable behavior.”
I took another deep inhale. She’d definitely seen my artwork. “I’m not fucking it up. I’m finishing it.”
“What the fuck…” she trailed off.
One more slow breath and I settled my back against the stone; I’d never told anyone this. “The inscription: Husband, Father, Statesman, Man of Faith? It left part out.”
She held her silence. I filled it with more honesty.
“The obituary? The memorial service? They left out the bit where, behind closed doors, he was an angry bigot who never missed a chance to fuck over someone who wasn’t a rich white Christian.” I heard her shift, and continued. “I think, in fairness, that he should be remembered for both.”
Another pause, and then she said. “Can– can you come out please?”
I squared my shoulders and pulled myself up by one of the patriotic decorations on the gravestone. I stepped around the grave and met her gaze as best I could in the dimness. She shone the light from her cellphone onto my face; I winced like she’d pepper-sprayed me. “Holy shit,” she murmured “You’re Robert Delacourt. You’re his son.”
“Well. Yeah.” I tried to blink my night vision back. “But I prefer Bob.”
She laughed again. Still an edge of nerves to it, but it was a big, warm, relief-filled sound, like handcuffs falling away. “Well, Bob, your painting scared the shit out of me.”
“I’m sorry.” I sincerely was. “What’s so scary about ‘BU-?” I pronounced it “buh”, because I was also a fucking clown.
That laugh again, with a shake of a natural afro and a smile so bright I swear I could see her whole face by it. “More your symbology, I guess. Those” she waved at the swastikas “usually only get drawn by their fans.”
I nodded and grimaced. “This is my first time…” I gestured vaguely at the grave.
“Posthumously calling out racism?” She said, her smile widening.
I blinked, was she… teasing me? “I was leaning toward ‘using this medium’, but that works.”
She pointed her cell light at the grave and tsked. “Next time,” she grinned at me askance “use some primer and acrylic housepaint, spraypaint scrubs right off.”
My mind whirred too fast for my mouth to do anything but laugh. I stammered out “How did… Are you here to…?”
She straightened, shook her head, and looked at me gently. “Actually, I’m here for
earth. From his grave. To scatter it in the river, that the darkness he spread in life might be cleansed in death.”
I leaned against dad’s grave in disbelief, “Holy shit, are… are you a witch?”
“Well. Yeah.” Her smile flashed again, “But I prefer Simone.”
I grinned back, shook my head, and muttered “a graveyard at this hour? Just vandals and witches.” I met her eyes, and tried to think of a good witch topic, but only lame jokes about her religion came to mind, so I switched gears. “How did you know about…” I gestured at the unfinished message on the big granite marker.
A layer of pain added itself to her smile, and she shook her head slightly; “I know.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Through, um, tea leaves?”
That laugh of hers warmed the night, and it was her turn to take a deep breath. She shook her head, and looked away from me. She looked back up, her eyes filling with a determined fury that gradually overtook her voice as the words flowed out. “My grandparents were pushed out of the apartments Mayor Delacort stripped the rent control off of, my brother Jarron hasn’t seen the outside in years thanks to his ‘Crime Doesn’t Pay’ bill, and that’s not even getting into what my ex and her girlfriend go through every time they go out since he replaced the police commissioner.”
Her hands had clenched into fists, and she was almost shaking with fury. I kind of wanted to ask about the ex-girlfriend, but this was clearly not the time, and she wasn’t even done “those are just the ones that affected my loved ones most. It wasn’t some big secret that he never tried to make life easier for people like me.” Her anger, her passion made her hypnotic. “At least not to people like me.” We held eye contact for a long moment, then I replied the only way I could.
“Damn.” I muttered. “I’m sorry.”
She shook her head again, a version of her smile tinged with sorrow pushing back the righteous wrath, “Thank you.”
I decided to fend off the impending silence with a possibly stupid question. “So this…ritual, you’re doing? Is it complicated?”
My interest seemed to surprise her, and she sent her afro bouncing with another shake of her head. “It’s really straightforward.”
I took a half step closer to her and glanced briefly back at my dad’s flag-bedecked tombstone before swinging my head back toward her. “Aaand, it’s not, like, gonna curse his descendents for seven generations or anything?”
She let loose that glorious laugh of hers, than said with a smile that almost made me miss her words, “No, Bob, you and your great-great-grandkids are safe from my witchy wrath.” The wattage on her grin dropped slightly, and she continued “it’ll cleanse the darkness of his influence, lessen the burden of his hate and ignorance on the world.”
I nodded, and heard myself say “When I’m done here, would you mind if I helped with your cleansing, Simone?”
Her smile turned night into day. ”I’d like that, Bob.”
A quick “RN IN HELL, NAZI” later, and a boost over the cemetary’s wrought-iron fence, we were on the riverbank. Simone unfolded a sheet bedecked with symbols and placed a few candles on it. I strained to catch the invocations she whispered through the noise of the river, until she lit the candles and beckoned me into her circle.
She sang a soft, haunting song in a language I couldn’t identify, and drew out the tiny mason jar of my dirt we’d scraped off dad’s grave.
“And with this, we release the darkness of Richard Delacort’s deeds. We release the anger, the hate, and the pain he’s caused.” She stepped to the bank, and scattered some of the grave-dirt out into the flowing water. She took my hand and placed the jar in it.
As I turned it over, the wind snuffed the candles and roared like a man screaming at a child. I choked out the words “bye dad.” I felt tears on my cheeks, and Simone’s hand squeezing mine.