The paupers cemetery crowns a hill alongside a fenced dog park and no one pays it any attention. The second headstone from the left in the back row tilts slightly to the right and has no name engraved on it. I wish someone would straighten that particular headstone. The county comes in a few times a month and mows the sparse patches of grass that checkerboard the grounds. But no one straightens the second headstone from the left in the back row.
You walk by almost every day shepherding Feefee the lap dog to the park where she runs around sniffing other dog’s butts before she squats in the grass off to the side of the trail. You look around and pick it up if you think someone is watching. You leave it laying there if they aren’t. You never glance at the cemetery when you walk by. You never see the dogs that lift their legs and desecrate the fence just to mark their territory. Feefee stops and sniffs though. Every time you walk by.
There’s a quarry about four miles up the road from the pauper’s cemetery. There are four headstones on the back row in the cemetery. Does one have anything to do with the other? No, I just like pointing out the similarity of the numbers. It gives me something to do from my perch beside this window. The big trucks drive by going to and from the quarry. You and Feefee wait at the stoplight smelling the diesel exhaust and hearing the gears grind. But do you ever notice the trucks? Do the truck drivers notice the pauper’s graves? I often wonder if any of you sitting there at the stoplight, waiting on it to turn green, ever notices the cemetery. Probably not; you just sit there in your world texting and changing radio stations and sipping your lattes. God forbid that you would ever look over at the nameless headstones to acknowledge something so far removed from your world.
Do you know the lady who comes to the cemetery every Sunday? I bet you never noticed her. If you did you pretended not to see her the same way you pretend to not see Feefee’s deposits in the grass. I’ve seen the lady in the sunshine and I’ve seen her in the rain. It can be cold or it can be hot and the wind can be blowing like the breath of hell but she comes every Sunday. And she puts fresh flowers at the base of the headstone on the far right in the front row. I wonder if she knows who is lying there under that headstone. If she does then why is there just a cross engraved on it instead of a name? And why is it in the pauper’s cemetery? And if she doesn’t know then why does she bring flowers every Sunday?
I notice a parade of life’s activities that you don’t. You wouldn’t have been here the night the four young men stood on the sidewalk next to the cemetery and exchanged fistfuls of dollars and little plastic bags. You and Feefee would have turned and walked quickly away when the voices turned mean and the accusations flew. You wouldn’t have seen the knife and heard the shouts and curses. Sharp violent movement and one of those young men bled his life out on the sidewalk before the sun rose. He’s under the headstone on the other end of the front row from where the lady puts the flowers on Sundays. I bet you didn’t even notice the stains on the sidewalk the next day when you took Feefee to the park.
You probably don’t notice the erosion in the corner of the paupers cemetery either. It’s a narrow shallow rend in the earth working its way under the fence on the right hand side. The guy who cuts the grass doesn’t seem to pay it any attention so I wonder how big it will get before they do anything about it.
What do you notice in the part of the world you occupy? Do you notice the homeless guy who stands on the corner with his bags and hand drawn sign begging for scraps? If you did would you show mercy? Do you notice when that guy at work seems depressed? Do you notice his wife’s picture isn’t on his desk anymore? If you did would you show concern? Yeah, what do you notice?
Did you notice the little girl who stood at the fence looking in at the pauper’s graves? She asked her daddy who was buried there. “Nobody important”, he said. And then they walked off with their big overfed fat Labrador to the dog park gate. “Nobody important”, he said. Well to hell with him then. The one under the headstone on the right side of the front row must be important. A lady puts flowers there every Sunday.
I notice a lot because I don’t have much else to do, confined as I am to my own little part of the world. I see the dark spot in the dog park about twenty yards from the back of the cemetery fence. You haven’t noticed it because you don’t come out here at night. You failed to notice that the gates to the park don’t have locks. The teenagers noticed. So they go into the park at night and sit in the dark spot drinking the gin they stole from daddy and smoking the pot they bought at school. Sometimes their clothes come off and sins of the flesh are committed. But nobody notices.
The sun rises and sets. The wind blows and the rain falls and all of you walk by with your Feefee’s and Fido’s to pee and poop and “good doggy”. A hawk rides the thermals. The quarry trucks go back and forth all day long dropping rocks and dirt and you don’t notice because you’re too busy sitting there reading emails at the stoplight. As people get sick and people die and wars are fought and calamities occur I wonder how much you notice. You certainly don’t notice the headstone in the back row that tilts to the right. And you have no idea the impact on one old soul if you would step in and straighten it up.
I would straighten it if I could unleash the chains of this wheelchair. But I can’t, so I just sit here at the window with a blanket over my useless legs and notice things. Do you want to know about the things I have noticed? How about the ones I noticed before this wheelchair existence?
I noticed the flicker of the candle light filtered through her hair as it hung down and shrouded my face when she knelt over me in bed. I noticed the way her breath would catch as her lips chased mine in a race across each other’s bodies. I was not in a wheelchair then. I could walk and we walked every evening and we noticed the music from open windows in the neighborhood just south of Lombard Street.
Do you notice anything outside your world of portfolios and the next deal? Did you ever wake early and gaze at a naked woman and notice the way the tiny hairs glint in the morning light along the small of her back? I did. And I cried hallelujah. And she gave me her benediction.
I was not in a wheelchair then. I was young. I promised her we would grow old together when neither of us could comprehend such a thing. And she promised she would kill us both before that fate befell us. She was optimistic like that.
I noticed that the window of this room looks out over the pauper’s cemetery. So I insisted that it be mine. Do you ever notice me at this window? If you did would you wave? If I waived back would you come to visit? Would you ask me for my story?
I would tell you about travels with no destinations. I would tell you about odd jobs and the handouts that came in between. I would tell you of the kindness contained in other people’s sofas and those little hairs on the small of her back in the early morning sunlight. I would tell you about living in blissful ignorance. Could you comprehend such happiness against your world of mortgages and stock options and golf club memberships?
I would tell you how I noticed when she slept longer in the mornings and how the sleep did not leave her rested. How I noticed when her breathing started to labor on the climb from the park to the house where we shared rooms with the others that drifted in and out. I would tell you how I noticed every step she declined as winter grew grey and how she stopped breathing on a late afternoon during the bloom of spring. Would you notice that the telling would deplete me?
Do you have a wife? Have you had several? Do you still notice her? Do you women sitting at the stoplight working in rouge and mascara still notice your husband? Do you assume countless years before living a postponed bliss?
I sit in this wheelchair and notice all the things that happen around the paupers cemetery. I rarely speak to anyone because no one comes to visit and no one really listens to what I have to say. And no one straightens the second headstone from the left on the back row. The one she lies under.