The following excerpt originated somewhere between journal pages and coffee shop napkins, which I scribbled on during my early visits to the cemetery. The gravestones, statues, flora, and even fauna all triggered random thoughts that eventually gelled into this scene and others. And, yes, there really is a Charlotte Pidgeon.
Margot edged closer to a tomb that echoed loudly with buzzing insects; when she peered into its blackness, a cool, ancient scent wafted to her face. Continuing to idle along, she scanned the moss and vines that clung to and devoured the markers sprouting all throughout this garden of marble and granite, the Gothic juxtaposed with the Romanesque, Celtic crosses with Grecian urns.
Stopping at another grave, she saw Christmas décor rotting away by her feet. A depressing sight in summer, the winter wreath made her fancy how the cemetery’s atmosphere must change with the seasons. She wouldn’t be in London long enough to see it burn in rust and gold, the falling leaves mimicking the footfall of a pursuing stranger and the plucked trees revealing more of the sky and buildings beyond. Yet she could imagine how, on one chilled day that would paint the scene gray, someone would kneel again at a name of diminishing meaning to the present world and place another wreath of scarlet ribbon and silver baubles. Only for it to waste away during another sunny spring and rainy summer as the cycle continued: lather, rinse, repeat.
The effect of time would be noticeable enough, and somehow she felt she’d already seen it all before and would again, her grandest déjà-vu yet. To preserve its enchantment, she didn’t analyze the reasons why this site had come to matter so much. She felt whole here. That was all to know.
But her bladder waited for no man, living or dead. Picking up her pace, Margot hightailed it to the cemetery’s rear exit until a shiver clenched the muscles between her shoulder blades. Despite
her urgency to get back home, she slowed to a full stop in front of a gabled gravestone. An ornate sprig of acacia crowned an inscription she hadn’t seen yet.
UNDERNEATH THIS STONE DOTH LIE
AS MUCH BEAUTY AS COULD DIE;
WHICH IN LIFE DID HARBOR GIVE
TO MORE VIRTUE THAN DOTH LIVE.
IF AT ALL SHE HAD A FAULT,
LEAVE IT BURIED IN THIS VAULT.
Rather than grab her pen and napkin to write the poem down, Margot just stood there, rereading it. Contemplating it. If there was an afterlife, could people really leave their failings behind to putrefy in the dirt, safe from anyone’s memory? She liked to think so.
Her gaze rose to the name chiseled in the stone.
It so happened that Charlotte Pidgeon was born on the same day as Margot, but her year of birth was 1848 and year of death 1874. Despite all the other gravestones she’d recorded onto her napkin, copying anything down from this one somehow seemed blasphemous. So she just kept standing, with gravity fastening her in place. Gawking, until a weight on her breastbone made it more difficult to breathe.
The sensation was strange, no question. Margot had never felt anything like it. But she’d taken enough psychology courses as an advertising major to peg it for what it was: a psychosomatic response. The conditions were ideal for something like that. For one, the general creepy-factor of standing above hundreds of corpses as black birds crowed their ‘Evermores’ left and right. And now this moving inscription that kicked in her sympathies.
There was otherwise no meaning in it – even if, go figure, the given name should be Charlotte. A decent coincidence to add to her diary, but it wasn’t surprising that such a popular Victorian name would find its way on an English grave or the spine of an English book. She must have seen a dozen Charlottes in that lot alone by now, along with all the Alices, Emmas, and Janes.
And so what if their birthdays were the same? The ratio of 365 days to the billions of people ever born on Earth was basically nil. She had to stop pandering to what the human brain did naturally: form correlations when it noted them. Only this and nothing more.
Exhausted with her overactive imagination and fantastically bored with herself, she didn’t want to stand there anymore. But she didn’t want to walk anywhere else either. Breathing heavily through her nose as a numbness dulled her, she didn’t want to be anywhere in that moment, not even in her own skin. The effort and futility of life bore down on her as she considered all the bodies underground, all those who’d borne the burden of existence and thought it mattered until they didn’t exist or matter anymore – just rotted in boxes under her feet.
She had to go back to Rand’s. She didn’t want to; she needed to. Not for the toilet any longer, but a bath sounded nice – something that could warm her against the nip of her fears, wash away the soil she felt falling over her. Drown the thuds each shovelful made on the lid of her inner casket. That sounded purposeful enough.
Forgive my intrusion, Miss Pidgeon. I will leave you to rest in peace.
About What the Clocks Know:
Finding a ghost isn’t what Margot had in mind when she went ‘soul searching’, but somehow her future may depend on Charlotte’s past.
Woven between 21st-century and Victorian London, What the Clocks Know is a haunting story of love and identity. A paranormal women’s fiction, this title is available as of March 18, 2016 from Crooked Cat Publishing.
“A unique tale of the paranormal – as beautiful as it is haunting.”
~ Shani Struthers, author of Jessamine and the Psychic Surveys series