Single

1.

Julia had begun taking long walks in the evening. She would take a turn through a sprawling, attractive cemetery near the apartment complex where she had recently taken up temporary residence for work. The large acreage of this necropolis probably exceeded a mile square. There was no way to see the entirety of the burial grounds at once, since the terrain was so varied, unless one cheated and counted aerial views. A surprisingly large number of narrow roads crisscrossed the graveyard’s hills and dales. The little avenues and culs-de-sac all had their own names and weathered street signs. Julia found it a charming place to walk, this city of the quietest citizens.

She had once joked with a co-worker that cemeteries were her Prozac. She liked the way the wild birds serenaded the peaceful dead, even if they did, immediately afterwards, despoil the dignity of their monuments with those paint-bombs dropped from beneath their tail feathers.

One spring evening, Julia was out on one of her regular roundabouts, walking in that zone between the newer burials and the truly old parts of the cemetery that included some rough-hewn settler graves. She found herself drawn, for some indiscernible reason, to the grave of a dead youth. Julia would occasionally read some of the tombstones closest to the path. She realized how little could be gleaned of the lives of those that lay hidden beneath six feet of worm’s playground, a full fathom of earth.

His was a low, brown stone. Nothing ornate or special. He had died just over a century ago. That was the period when the town had just begun finding its way, industrializing and coming to national prominence (a position which it had later lost through the vagaries of economy and history). This poor unfortunate had died at the age of fifteen or sixteen, depending on whether he had reached his birthday before his death day in that long ago year. The tombstone didn’t specify.

Julia felt a twinge for him. To have died without having known any of the major joys of life! Had he loved? Or, rather, had he thought he had loved? And why was his grave isolated? Usually, when a child dies, the parents later join him or her. Perhaps they had moved away to another city or another state? It just made the young man’s grave seem all the more forlorn.

Julia felt herself standing there beaming love at the poor waif. She stood there alone on a spring evening in a cemetery on the outskirts of a town largely new to her (she had relocated as a high-level trainer in the banking industry) and pined for a boy who had been dead for over a century. She giggled at herself. How could she not laugh at her own silly pathos. But she did try to speak to the dead boy. She did not speak aloud. She spoke in her mind the name she had read on the tombstone, asked Reginald if he could hear her. She “told” him a few facts about herself and wondered at what sort of person he might have been. What were his likes, dislikes? Would he care to tell her?

Then she shook her head at herself and moved on.

2.

Julia had not expected her initial attempt at “conversation” with the dead youth to turn into any sort of ritual.

But she surprised herself by making a regular stop at his tombstone every time she took a turn through the cemetery. And this was at least five times a week, sometimes six.

She found herself looking forward to telling the lost boy about her day at work, the particulars of her life and history. She didn’t spend long at his grave, maybe five or sometimes ten minutes. And she would still ask him questions about his own life. She had new questions every time.

“I have been single too long,” she said aloud one day as she walked away from the young man’s grave, after giving the stone a caress.

She had caressed the tombstone as if it had been a young man’s cheek.

3.

It was in the third week of Julia’s visits to Reginald’s grave that the young woman had her first shock.

As she sauntered towards his modest monument one unseasonably warm evening in mid-spring, she saw the flower. A purple iris! It was tall and perfectly formed. Right there on the boy’s grave. Alive as anything.

“I must be seeing things.” Julia found herself speaking aloud, although she was the only one in the cemetery, as far as she knew or could see.

She sped up and dropped to her knees on the young man’s grave. She wanted to examine the colorful flags of the gorgeous flower more closely. Such a display of purples! Tyrian and wine petals and some lighter lavendar blushes all composed a flower so splendid she thought of stealing it. She really wanted to take the thing home. But she would not harm its growing. You don’t rip magic out at the root.

“Surely someone planted this here?” she thought. But the weird thing about it was, she noted, that the ground had not been disturbed. The iris had not been transplanted. The flower had not been growing there the previous evening. About that shocking fact, Julia had no doubt.

Julia had seen no other irises blooming yet, purple or otherwise. And she walked for miles each evening. Don’t they not appear later in spring or, more properly, in early summer? She tried to remember.

But had she not told Reginald last week that it was her favorite flower?

The purple iris.

Yes.

A good partner listens.

3.

It was in the fourth week that Julia told Reginald the saddest stories of her life. It was their month anniversary, so she figured it was safe to broach those things now, the poisons of life which had made the flower wilt.

He seemed to take it well. Certainly, he did not run away.

As Julia was talking to him, sometimes in her mind, but more and more now aloud, she noticed a shape in the grass before the grave.

She could see there was the shape of a body that had lain there. On the bed of the grave. The grass, now long and luxuriant from the rampant growth of spring rains, appeared to have been pressed down. Julia stared and realized it looked like the figure of a young man.

Maybe the wind did this, she thought.

The wind must have done this, she reassured herself.

But she went to the form and lay down within it. Like an embrace.

It was so warm and comfortable that she wanted to fall asleep there.

4.

In the second month, Julia began to feel the first stirrings of fear.

She had begun seeing a figure in the distance when she was on her evening walks. It was clearly a young man who was stalking her. She changed the direction of her walks but he always appeared. He kept back many blocks when she was in the city and sometimes she would see him behind trees when she was walking in the suburbs. Julia carried mace and a screech alarm and often held her cell phone tightly in her hand, at the ready. She could never make out his features. But she knew it was no coincidence. It was always the same figure. He had to be stalking her.

All she knew is that he had dark hair and was not very tall. Maybe five feet six or seven at most. Slender. He always seemed to be dressed in grey clothing. She thought it appeared to be professional attire, perhaps even a suit. (So strange on a teenager! For he did appear to be a teenager.) But her shadower was always so far away and dodgy. He was always so quick to hide. She didn’t feel that he was physically all that intimidating, for she knew how to defend herself. And he seemed more of a boy than a man, her shadower. But it was disquieting and disturbing to her. One read and heard more and more of savage attacks on adults by children.

Oddly enough, she did not report her stalker to the police or anyone else. She felt she would sound like a madwoman. Surely, she would have to wait for some sort of true interaction. So she didn’t tell anyone. Who was there to tell, anyway? Julia led a solitary existence and had drifted away from virtually everyone who was not a professional contact. Her parents were dead and she had no siblings. Her friends had married and moved on. She didn’t even have a pet. The apartment complex where she lived didn’t allow them. Her work kept her very busy. She was as disciplined as any general in an overseas war zone. And perhaps as lonely.

5.

One evening in early summer, Julia found herself trapped in a teaching seminar because some of the company’s newest employees had arrived a few hours late due to a missed connection on the East Coast.

She decided not to take her evening walk. Though the days were growing longer, she did not want to risk being outside when darkness fell. And by the time she reached her apartment, the sun was sinking fast.

After arriving home, she went into her bedroom to change out of her stiff business suit and saw immediately that her bedclothes had been disturbed. She fumbled for her phone and made the 911 call within seconds of the observation. The operator stayed on the line with her while Julia checked her entire dwelling, against the advice of the dispatcher actually, who had wanted her to vacate the apartment immediately and wait for police to arrive. But she searched her dwelling, mace in hand. And there was no intruder.

While she had been on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, she had pulled back the covers of her bed and saw what appeared to be a retained impression, the outline of a body which had recently lain there. Julia reached out, almost reluctantly, and touched it. It was still warm. She said nothing of this to the dispatcher. She couldn’t quite explain to herself in her head why she had remained silent on this discovery.

Nothing had been stolen or moved about. The windows and doors were locked. Still, Julia did not feel abashed. Her key had turned in the lock. She hadn’t left open any window or door, any means of entrance to the dwelling. Someone had been there. There was the distinct possibility an employee of the apartment complex who held a key had entered the dwelling. There could be a stalker in the employ of the complex, she thought. A maintenance man or someone who was showing the apartments to prospective renters.

She called the apartment manager’s office, but it was after hours. Nevertheless, her alarmed voice mail resulted in a callback within the half hour. Mrs. Garrity assured Julia that she would check the surveillance system the next day, as soon as she got into the office, and let her know immediately whether anyone could be seen on the recording entering her apartment. The older woman was grave, respectful, and to the degree she could manage, reassuring.

Julia did not sleep well that night. She had a chair propped against the front door of the apartment and her cell phone lying under the palm of her hand below her pillow.

Mrs Garrity, true to her word, called Julia even before the worried young woman had left for work the next morning. The apartment manager had come into work early to review the surveillance recordings. She confirmed that no one could possibly have entered Julia’s apartment by the front door. While she didn’t have a camera watching Julia’s front door, she did have one trained on the stairwells which any intruder would have needed to access to reach Julia’s hallway. And a window breach was clearly impossible since all the windows were locked when Julia arrived home. Julia’s balcony faced the front of the building and a ridiculously tall ladder would have been required to enter the apartment in that manner, in plain sight of countless people. There was no other means of access to Julia’s apartment.

The only conclusion was that no one had entered Julia’s apartment.

She was perfectly safe.

“Thank you,” Julia had said.

And had stared at her bed.

6.

Julia was standing on an old iron truss bridge that dated to Reginald’s day.

The dark river below was so pretty. Was it always this pretty in the middle of the night?

“But why am I barefoot?” Julia wondered. She was staring at her naked feet. Where had her shoes gone?

She had started taking night walks. She realized, by now, that it was easier for him to follow her at night. In the daytime, it was only fleeting glimpses.

In the middle of the night, he would sometimes stand for a long time under a streetlight, letting her stare right at him. She could get close enough now to see that he had a beautiful face. Seraphic. Pale skin and the nobility of an aquiline nose. She thought his eyes might be blue or green, but that was pure fantasy at this point. She had never gotten close enough to know that. At least not yet.

She stood on the bridge and looked down into the moving blackness. She found the sound of the tiny river waves comforting. That odd sort of little chuckling they do.

Night river sounds. Darkness telling other darkness little jokes.

If she climbed over this little bit of barrier, so easy to do, she would have more choices. Once there, if she stepped forward only one foot more, into the unsupporting air, it might all be easier. The distance might close just like that.

It was possible, after all. Wasn’t it?

She looked back towards where the bridge met the land. He was standing there. Smiling now.

“But what about the age difference?” she beamed at him.

He smiled even brighter.

“We are all the same age here,” was the answer he had beamed back.