It was like the day was treading water. We’d pulled over to look at a gravestone, one of those family plots in the corner of a cotton field. It was surrounded by a low wrought-iron fence, a young pine tree standing guard. The main house seemed far enough to ease my worry about some farmer coming out to yell at us, but I still kept my back to the road as we stepped over the fence. The headstone read BENNISON with no date, blue violets popping out from either side of the granite. It wasn’t a monument: if you asked a kid to draw a grave, it might’ve looked like this. A simple semicircle in dirt, a little flourish of color.
The lattice of broken cotton stalks sagged underfoot and reminded me of that line from Old Crow Medicine Show – something about a girl getting all dressed up but walking like she’d been in a field. I took a few steps around, hugging the fence. Wasn’t it disrespectful to step directly on a grave? I tried not to think about falling through damp earth.
He plucked a violet top and handed it to me. I circled my thumb across the velvet petals.
He’d been silent in the car, but I noticed his eyes fall to this dark corner as we passed. I turned back so we could stop, and he still didn’t say anything.
Cars passed us through the four-way. Some starlings chased a crow in the field over, caws and peeps and whistles.
What is it about reminding us about the dead? he asked. The crosses you see along the road, something like this, he said, picking needles off the pine. People either pick ash or dirt and that’s all we remember.
I think I’d want to be a tree, I said. Don’t they have those seed pods now where they stuff you in and you grow into a tiny tree?
I’m serious. Why do people care?
Same reason why people do anything, I said. They’re only thinking about them. No one is going to be able to read about you if you don’t do anything with your life, but hey – everyone on this road is going to know Benny here.
I heard him sigh, saw the breath come out. Someone might’ve thought he was smoking if they were watching us. My brother never smoked, but he could’ve pulled off the image. I never knew why more girls didn’t go for him. I guess that was part of the problem. He started back to the car, and I followed.
I think we ended up at Watson Mill Bridge that day, watching the water fall over the rocks. We wouldn’t of been out all that way just for a drive. I don’t remember what happened to the violet either. Maybe I dropped it on the way back to the car or cleaned it out later, a tiny lump of brown rot stuck in the cup holder. Maybe I’ll find it in a book one day, but I’ve already gone through them all.
Sometimes I dream about knocking on that farmer’s door and asking him why there’s a grave in the corner of his field. Is his family buried under that dirt, one Bennison stacked on top of the other? Did he see us that day? Would he pick ash or dirt or tree?