Janet stamped on the accelerator. A bottle of Jim Beam slid toward the gas pedal, and she kicked it sideways as she drove, wiping angry tears.
When she reached the cemetery, darkness had settled like a heavy blanket of silence. She climbed out of the car, her cowboy boots crunching in the gravel. She grabbed the bottle of bourbon, slammed the heavy Cadillac door shut with a thud and surveyed the locked gate.
“Never stopped me before,” she muttered, and climbed an oak tree, slid out on thick branch and dropped on the other side of the stone wall.
The moon filtered through a cloud and she saw the freshly dug grave at the top of the sloping hill, a mound of dirt that infuriated her. He wanted to be cremated. He told her so. Told her that. Told her a million things she bet no one knew. Secret things.
Janet hiked up the hill and sank to her knees in the fresh earth, the scent of mowed grass and damp soil making her heart ache as surely as if someone had squeezed it. She unscrewed the bottle and took and healthy swig. She splashed a little on the grave. Then a sob sprang up, and she tried to choke it down, choke it with another swallow of bourbon, but it refused to be choked.
She slid down, almost in slow motion, pressing her face to the earth and whispered. “I know you loved me, but I couldn’t go to the funeral. I just couldn’t. Couldn’t watch them put you in this box, Professor.”
She stretched her arms, hugging the dirt, then rolled over on her back and stared up at the stars.
He had been 72. She was 23. He taught her things. Like Shakespeare. He listened to her. She made him laugh.
The stars made the squeezing in her heart hurt more. They used to sit on his back deck and drink red wine—from Napa, really good red wine. He taught her about finish and the scent of laurel. And he gave her his old Cadillac, and a bunch of books, and a telescope. A really good one that let them see the rings of Saturn. And they looked at stars. He showed her Orion and Canis Minor. Then they would make love. He took his time. She loved his eyes.
“But no one would understand,” she said to the stars and the dirt.
When he got sick, near the end, he made her promise. You will find someone young. Someone to grow old with in your own time. Someone to have babies with. Promise me.
She had nodded. But she never spoke the words. Never said “I promise” out loud, so it didn’t really count.
The pain was worse thinking of him sick. She sat up and sipped the bourbon. Her face was wet and mixed with the dirt, she was muddy and tired. She whispered Shakespeare,
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose Worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved
She let the words linger with him in the soil. Then she brushed her hair back, dirt on her palms, and stood up. “I won’t come back,” she said to him, firmly. “Not here. This isn’t where you really are.”
She made her way down the hill. She would go use the telescope he gave her. The one that showed her Saturn. The one that let her dream of things beyond her world.
He wasn’t in the dirt but in the stars.