Kitty Scott stared at her keyboard. She looked at the blinking cursor on her computer screen.
She wanted to cry, but try as she might, she couldn’t. She tried all the things that usually would do it for her: Listening to Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do, I Do It For You.” She replayed the AT&T commercial about the girl calling her mom “just to say, ‘I love you.’” She even went so far as to sit by the graves of the infants buried in the graveyard—infants killed in explosions at the forts. When she was little they had intrigued her, then terrified her when she understood the importance. Now, they filled her with incredible sadness. Imagining the loss—the most unexpected causalities of war by the most innocent and unsuspecting civilians—usually brought her to uncontrollable tears. But this time nothing came. With reluctance, she got up and trudged back to her desk.
She needed a good cry. It had been a helluva day. She hadn’t even filed her copy yet. But she couldn’t. Her brain felt like mush and her body felt like something sinister.
Like most cub reporters, she started her newspaper career on the police beat. So it wasn’t like she hadn’t reported death before—or even violent death at that.
She hadn’t been following the newly killed with a notebook for three months before they were shot.
One would think growing up in a graveyard would have accustomed her to death, at least more than the average person. Her dad was the director of the national cemetery in Port City, NC. They lived in the lodge at the entrance to the cemetery.
“Housing benefit,” her dad joked.
“Because they don’t pay you enough to live on,” her mother invariably would follow.
The two-story Tudor building housed the office for the cemetery in the front room, and the family primarily lived upstairs. If there had been more children, there wouldn’t have been enough room to turn around.
Kitty’s mother supplemented their income (“provided enough money for them to eat,” she would have said) by working as a secretary at a real-estate firm. In the beginning, it was just eeking out a living. Nothing was really happening in Wilmington in the mid-1970s.
“We are a boom town,” Kitty’s mom announced one night at dinner in 1992. “It’s official. We are one of the fastest growing cities in the country.”
“I, of course, have always been in a growth industry,” her father commented. “People don’t stop dying, especially veterans.”
The national cemetery started just after the Civil War and provided a burying place for veterans.
Among the entombed were the Union Colored Troops—which was a bit of a sticking point at the end of the war when Port City was occupied. Now, it seemed more of a forgotten piece of trivia than anything else.
“Now, there was a story in the newspaper this morning about how we have joined the ranks of the fastest-growing cities in the country. The combination of the university, industry and films have brought tremendous growth. Plus, all the retirees moving here to escape bad weather and high taxes … Kitty, did you read it?”
“I wrote it,” she answered, reaching for the serving bowl of mashed potatoes.
“Oh.” Her mother gave her a surprised look. “I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t notice your byline.”
“It’s OK, it’s not important. But, yes, I read it.”
She smiled and spooned potatoes onto her plate.
“Soon, I will be an endangered species—someone actually born here.”
It was important, even though she assured her mother it wasn’t. To her surprise, after her mother’s death, she discovered every single story she had ever published in the paper was carefully cut out and preserved in albums in her mother’s closet. Even the one about Port City as a boom town.
When you live in a graveyard and your dad buries people for a living, gallows humor is normal. It’s not that you treat death lightly, it’s just you acknowledge it is part of life. Sometimes, the only way of coping with it is to laugh about it.
But that was then. Now they didn’t laugh at all. Not since her mother died. All at once, it seemed like the laughter left their house. You wouldn’t have thought a lodge in a graveyard could be a warm and cozy home filled with a lot of joy, but it really was.
She thought she was used to the loss, but her father wasn’t. A piece of him was missing. People sometimes referred to a rudderless boat, but that was an understatement where Kitty Scott’s father was concerned. Drifting would be an improvement. He couldn’t seem to process the night had even happened. The crashing of the metal as her mother’s car was pushed into the front gates of the cemetery. The drunk driver fled the scene and was never apprehended, but he left two deaths in his wake, from the first car he hit that spun into Kitty’s mom’s car as she tried to make a right-hand turn into the front gate. A few seconds changed their lives forever. Nothing would ever be the same.
It was similar to Kitty’s feelings now. Though still different; she didn’t love Jeffrey the way she did her mother. She didn’t feel like she lost a lifetime of connection and understanding. Maybe she lost a little … hope? A little connection?
He had been so vibrant, so vital, just days ago. Now … now she had seen the photographs. She had read the autopsy report repeatedly: a hole the size of a silver dollar through his abdomen and the foreign matter lodged against his spine. The abdominal bleeding, the rupture…
With her mother’s death, she hadn’t been able to face the hard, factual evidence. With Jeffrey’s, it was her job. Somehow, even knowing the catalog of information made it harder to believe.
She spent the day at the press conference, trying to interpret the material so the lay person could understand it. Even if the internal bleeding and trauma hadn’t killed him, he never would have walked again. She couldn’t imagine him satisfied with life in a wheelchair. For all his love of acting, he was a martial artist, an athlete. He carried himself with the loose assurance his body would spring into action with the slightest provocation ready to execute flips, kicks and strikes in the flash of an eye. To take that away from him and expect him to not wither on the vine? Not curl up and die of longing, dread and remorse? He would beg you to end it all. Kitty wondered if she could have loved him enough to do it, had he asked.
It was enough to drive anyone to drink, she thought. She poured three fingers of whiskey into a tumbler. She needed to get back to the film set. She needed to talk to people who knew Jeffrey and loved him, too.
Gwenyfar Rohler is the fact-or-fiction writer for 2018. Her serial story, “Singing in the Dead of Night,” follows the death of a young movie star and the emotional aftermath that follows, as local media try to uncover the events leading up to the high-profile “murder,” which takes place while filming in Wilmington, NC.
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