Photography © by Tammy Ruggles from RSR Featured Art
Gerald Hughes’s wife, Gloria, died peacefully. Now he was alone. He kissed her hands and left the hospital room. A nurse ran after him.
“Sir, are you going to make arrangements for the deceased?”
“Then what do you want us to do with the body?”
“That’s not our job, sir.”
“Give it to science,” he shrugged.
“Sir, you’ll have to sign papers, legal papers. They take a while to draw up. Can you wait in the guest lounge?”
“I don’t have time.”
Hughes stepped into the elevator.
Going down to the first floor, he reflected on his marriage. It had to be counted a success, he thought. Of course there was the problem with John McIntyre. Gerald Hughes sometimes thought that Gloria had had an affair with John McIntyre, but at other times he doubted it. McIntyre was too shy, too gracious to be considered an adulterer. Not like Flora, his friend, with whom he had shared hotel rooms many times.
A few months later Gerald Hughes went to the cemetery to look for his wife’s cemetery grave. He thought that possibly there was no grave because there had been no body to bury. Still, it was the family lot, and he could honor her memory by leaving some flowers somewhere, perhaps under the bushes at the entrance to the burial plot.
After a few years had gone by, Gerald Hughes decided he had made a mistake. He wished he had created some marker where she was-or-was-not buried. The cemetery was the burial site of most of the townspeople, so, he thought, she must be in it somewhere. He paid a visit to the cemetery office and spoke to the director.
The director tapped lightly on the keys of his desktop computer. He studied the screen with a squint and shrugged. “Her name was Gloria Hughes?” he said. “It doesn’t come up on my screen. But I’ll keep trying.”
“The quicker the better,” Hughes said. He still regretted his behavior at the hospital when his wife died, but he had been pressed for time, having made an appointment with his friend Flora at a small hotel down the street.
Next day the cemetery called him. The director said, “Mr. Hughes, did you say your wife’s first name was Gloria? We have a Gloria, but she has no last name. She is buried in lot 47E. I doubt if a visit would establish her identity but you’re welcome to visit.”
Gerald Hughes drove to the cemetery and was given a map. The director had carefully marked out the path to lot 47E. When Hughes first entered the lot, he saw nothing but a field of gray tombstones, but gradually a tombstone marked Gloria came to his attention. It seemed a lighter color than all the others, almost flesh-toned.
Then he noticed the stone next to it. It read John McIntyre 1936-2016. On the back of the stone were chiseled the words requiescat in pacem. He noticed the same words—requiescat in pacem—were carved on the back of the stone marked Gloria. Then he noticed, beneath the sign marking lot 47E, a brass plaque with the words McIntyre Family.
He leaned against his cane, staring at the two stones. “So there they lie,” he thought, “death has brought us the hideous truth. McIntyre, the shy adulterer, has his decaying putz installed in my wife’s rotting pudenda for all eternity.”
He rushed home, determined to find his friend Flora. Perhaps he could resume their relationship. Perhaps she had died by now and was buried in the same cemetery.
If so, he would notify the cemetery director. He knew exactly what to do with her body.
Richard Bentley served on the board of the Modern Poetry Association (now known as the Poetry Foundation). Before teaching writing at the University of Massachusetts, he was Chief Planner for the Mayor’s Office of Housing in Boston. Bentley is a Yale graduate with an MFA from Vermont College.