Saturday 26 June 2021

'Seeding the Cemetery' by Kristina Saccone

Hugo weeded the graves daily, a welcome escape from the mortuary’s cold faces and chemical smell. His mother Magda, a third generation undertaker, said caring for the dead was a cheerless experience so her cemetery would be, too. Even families who laid flowers at the grave found them removed the next day; it was written into the burial contract.

He was pulling dandelions when Hugo met a flock of starlings who recently had migrated north. They told him of vines bursting with blooms; bright stamen attracting delicious, fat insects; and loamy soil squirming with plump worms. This place too, they said, could be just as alive. But Magda insisted ornamentation disrespected the dead.

Eventually, Hugo apprenticed at the family business, sharing stories back to the starlings about embalming and renewing parched cadavers. The birds twittered in reply about the cracked earth between the graves. Could he revive the cemetery, too? His mother still wouldn’t allow it, he said.

Seasons passed, and eventually Magda did too. Standing over her body at the embalming table, Hugo flushed thinking of finally bringing the graveyard to life. Asters, coneflowers, dianthus. Foxglove, hellebore, lavender. Peony, spiderwort, tickseed. The smells would be enchanting.

It was easy, really, to slip seeds into the tiny embalming incisions beneath her collarbone, her intestines, her thighs. After the burial and a few rains, the starlings fluttered at the joy on Hugo’s face and feasted on the beetles and maggots crawling in the fertile decay.

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