Holy Water: A Work of Fiction | Teen Ink

Holy Water: A Work of Fiction

May 23, 2018
By Larkin SILVER, Santa Rosa, California
Larkin SILVER, Santa Rosa, California
9 articles 0 photos 39 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Our remedies oft in ourself do lie, which we ascribe to heaven."
-William Shakespeare

It’s a warm day in the graveyard, but it should be cold. Come to think of it, we should be sitting inside drinking hot chocolate by the fire; after all, it’s Christmas time. Instead, we’re here, misery and horror etched into every surface of our being.The sun and our pale faces contrast starkly with our blacks: business dresses pulled out of the backs of closets, lacy blouses bought on sale at Macy's, dark suits usually reserved for business but now transformed into physical manifestations of death and despair. We’re not used to death, aren't ready for it. I still can’t even believe we’re here. Looking around, long rows of tombstones look almost picturesque, like a child’s play garden: a stone here for the apple tree, here for the cherry, driven into the lush and vibrant grass.
As I stand in the sun, I reaffirm that I don’t believe in God. Could he possibly be here? No, not here, where each family has a precisely rectangular plot of land over which to mourn; where the object of our grief is underground and unseen; where I have to remind myself that we are not unique, that we are only another family of mourners passing through. Even a cemetery is only a business, a standardized process repeated daily, designed to provide a meaningful ceremony that is, at its base, completely and utterly impersonal. Whether or not I believe in God is irrelevant, though. This ceremony is not for me, so there’s a priest, in soft conversation with the gravediggers, dressed in matching blue uniforms like prisoners to the industry of death.
The wind blows, sending pinwheels spinning and plastic flowers bobbing. You could almost convince me it’s a preschool playground: nicely watered grass, shade trees, bright colors. But no, the only children who have played here have been blissfully unaware, dancing over bodies as their elders crumble. In a sudden gust, the wind whips my hair around my neck, round and round, and I am struck with horrible empathy: a tightening of the throat, a dulling of the senses, and for a moment I too am locked in a coffin, soon to be lowered into the cold and impenetrable ground. I pull it away, snaring it in my clumsy and imprecise hands—no, no, I still have work to do here. I am not so cowardly as to give in.
The priest is still in conversation with the gravediggers. I can tell which man is the lead: he’s oldest and seems most weary, yet most respectful. Deep wrinkles are set into his face from years of working outside—working the land, operating ropes and machinery, witnessing the extents of human suffering. He’s seen it all by now: burials with no one there; burials marred by anger, by jealousy; even the time a desperate young man tried to jump into his wife’s grave, his face a mask of terror and disbelief, forgetting his child, friends, everything. He surveys the scene like a disimpassioned film director in front of a cast of actors: grieving mother, absent father, a row of distraught youth, one spot conspicuously empty.
The digger pulls a plastic vial from his pocket: holy water, blessed by an intern priest from the church across the street. “You need this?” he murmurs to the priest. Sometimes priests forget it—the holy water—so the digger has learned to keep a bottle handy. It’s bad for business when the priests forget. Sad families get upset so easily.
“No, I’ve got my own,” the holy man replies, pulling his own vial out of a deep pocket. That holy water he blessed himself before coming here; he likes to keep it fresh when the young ones die. Once, as the priest was preparing to bless a crowd during one of his sermons, he accidentally flicked some of the holy water into his own mouth. It tasted like the church tap water he uses to brush his teeth every morning. How strange that God, too, is subject to a city’s aging water system.
The gravedigger shrugs and returns his vial to his pocket, making sure to keep the cap screwed tightly in place so it doesn’t spill. No doubt it will be used for some other poor soul, used to give the last drops of water to the dying flowers thrown into the pit before the crush of dirt buries them forever.
As we gather together, the ceremony begins: the priest begins to recite a prayer, the gravediggers back away to their prescribed respectful distance, and overhead a crow launches itself into the wind, cackling at human folly.

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